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Educational media in primary schools: A decade of development?

Allan Yarrow and Jan Millwater
Carseldine Campus
Brisbane College of Advanced Education

The past: 1976/1977

It has been suggested that Rip Van Winkle returning from 100 years of sleep would have little difficulty in adjusting to our primary schools - and in fact could do so by little-lunch.

However, the results of a brief survey undertaken in 1976 leads to the suspicion that this is not the truth. At that period, he would have taken almost a four week period to adjust, or at least to become acquainted with a range of "newer" media. Over that time he would probably have seen six television lessons, listened to four tapes, seen the OHP used four times, seen two slide sets or film strips, seen one movie film, listened to one radio program and listened to one record.

The survey
The details of this survey are as follows:

Third year diploma students at the then North Brisbane College of Advanced Education who were undertaking educational media courses during Semester 1, 1976.

The sample was the entire population. This represented 75 students who submitted 73 useable returns. Eighteen practising schools were involved.

On their return from a four week practising school session students were asked to record:

  1. the number of times they observed in use the various "newer" media in the classrooms in which they were assigned.
  2. the number of times they used the "newer" media.
During the four weeks of practice, the students and teachers would have had approximately equal instructional time.

"Newer" media refers to electronic devices such as 16 mm projectors, 35 mm projectors, tape recorders, radio, broadcast television, heat copiers, and overhead projectors.

The results were collated and totals are shown below in Table 1.

  1. Number of times media used by students.
  2. Number of times media observed in use
Table 1
A878149 26963917034
B8650154 753714710341
Total94 12830310146786 27375

16 mm
Tape recorder

These schools were still "older media" oriented, with very little use by teachers and students of the newer media.

Second survey
A second survey was undertaken in Semester 1, 1977. The details are as follows:

Third year diploma students at the then North Brisbane College of Advanced Education who were undertaking educational media courses during Semester 2, 1977.

The sample was obtained by taking each third name on the roll. This provided 35 useable responses.

On their return from a four week practising school session, students were asked to complete the form as shown in Table 2. A similar form was used to obtain "Time newer media observed in use in instruction" and 'Total observation time".

Table 2


Time newer media
used in instruction
teaching time

Time newer media
used in instruction
teaching time

Time newer media
used in instruction
teaching time

Time newer media
used in instruction
teaching time


  1. Time newer media used in instruction: please include introduction and follow up where used as well as time for television transmission, showing of film etc.
  2. Please show times to the nearest 1/4 hour.
"Newer" media was defined as in the first survey.

The results from the 35 returns were collated giving the following totals:

A.Students' use of newer media
Time newer media used in instruction:
Total teaching time:
Percentage of time newer media used in instruction:
Average time newer media used in instruction:
162 hours
1568 hours
4.6 hours
B.Students' observed use of the newer media
Time newer media observed in use in instruction:
Total observation time:
Percentage of time newer media observed in instruction:
Average time newer media observed in instruction.
75 hours
1464 hours
2.1 hours


  1. These results tended to support the generalisations from the 1976 poll, which were based on frequency of usage of various newer media. This time, in terms of hours used, it is clear that newer media were not finding their way to any extent into the primary school.

  2. It is interesting to note that in this survey the student' use of newer media is more than twice the teachers' use.

General discussion

What these surveys supported in 1976 was the observation that the Australian educational scene was similar to the American educational scene in that educational technology had failed to penetrate to any significant degree. This was a view which was supported by Bassett (1970).

At that time the following suggestions as to why educational technology had failed to penetrate were offered.

  1. Firstly, there was the inertia of the education system itself, resisting innovation and change.

  2. Further, existing power structures did not wish to see another new challenge to their positions.

  3. Additionally, the educational technologists who shrouded their knowledge in a cloak of secrecy aided the status quo.

  4. The outdated concept of educational technology.

    1. educational technology was defined then, as now, as simply a systematic search for ways of improving learning and teaching, utilising media where it can be useful. The outdated view was that educational technology consisted of a shaky film projector whirring away in a hot darkened room showing a film of doubtful relation to the syllabus to the children who didn't make the Friday afternoon sports team.

    2. educational technologists themselves who were considered either:

      1. as the broken down heavyweight football coach who should not be spoken to at morning tea. or
      2. dangerous men with gadgets which broke down. These should also not be spoken to at morning tea or any other time.

  5. Media discrimination - content of the primary school still emphasised the 3 Rs. Such content should include courses in television (both production and critical evaluation) and other mediums. This point of view was supported by Mialaret: The Psychology of the Use of Audio Visual Aids in Primary Education (UNESCO: 1966, 199). He said:

    All this does not mean that the era of the ballpoint pen is past and gone, but we must recognise that the day of the camera or tape recorder as a means of expressing and translating thoughts and feeling is not too far distant.....

    ...If the children of today are to be able to stand up to tomorrow's audio visual assault, the techniques involved must cease to be mysterious and esoteric.

    When discussing the question of "how shall we teach", there was need for media to be an integral part of the curriculum and not an extra. As Bruner (The Process of Education: 1963, X8) said the objectives of a curriculum and the balanced means of attaining it should be the guide (emphasis mine). There was a need to reverse the position of the newer media being grafted onto the educational setting and not being present in the inner sanctuary of curriculum decision making (Hooper: 1972).

  6. Lack of coordination and compatibility in media development was also seen to be a factor contributing to failure.

  7. Poor quality materials and accessibility of materials were other causes of failure.

  8. Teacher education. Hooper (1972) writing on the United States scene said:

    The present situation is that few colleges of education require their students to take courses in educational technology. And so another generation of teachers goes out into the school unequipped to deal with, and probably antipathetic to, technology. They were taught without educational technology as children, and were taught to teach without technology at college. The sins of the father are yet again visited upon the children into the third and fourth generation.

    Whilst the Australian situation was much better in 1976 in this regard, it was still possible to enter the teaching service without undertaking a formal course in educational technology.

    What was more serious, however, was the absence to any great extent of in service courses in the field.

  9. The use of media for the wrong purposes had further brought it into disrepute.

The present: 1988

A similar type of survey to the 1976 one was undertaken with the fourth year (Graduate Diploma in Teaching students) on the campus (now Carseldine Campus, Brisbane College of Advanced Education). Thirty-five students responded and they were reporting on experiences in 26 schools. The first section of the survey and the results were:

Survey of media use (during practice teaching)

Please record below:
  1. the number of times you used the following media in your teaching for whole class; and
  2. the number of times you observed the following media in use in your classroom for whole class
Table 3
A01059 128204219986 428
B2976 121409013032 2290
Total2 191351310160 13232911826118

16 mm projectorSlide/film stripAudio recorderRadio
Heat copierOHPRecordsComputer

Some surface comparisons which could be drawn are:

  1. The 16 mm projector has almost disappeared from view (and use, presumably).
  2. Slides and film strips have also had a decline.
  3. The audio recorder usage remains fairly steady. This is puzzling with the wide availability of cassette recorders and tapes.
  4. Radio has been neglected further as an educational medium.
  5. Television is a big winner.
  6. Heat Copier. Increase in use here suggests that classes continue to be overrun with print material.
  7. The OHP use is steady.
  8. Records are in decline.
  9. and the Computer appearing for the first time does very well indeed.
(Please note: comparisons made on quantitative measures only.)

For this survey a second part was added as follows (with responses inserted):

Table 4
16 mm projectorSlide/film stripAudio recorderRadio
Heat copierOHPRecordsComputer

Some observations

  1. The computer is certainly living up to its reputation of being capable of personalising instructions.
  2. Television (broadcast and VCR) is also beginning to be seen as a medium which groups or individuals can use.
  3. The audio recorder similarly.
  4. Very little activity with other mediums.
A second "new" part to the survey form was as follows. Again, the responses have been inserted.
List the number of times you observed the class participating in creative production of any of the following.
Number of times
Audio tape
Slides or slide and tape
Computing, eg. desk top publishing

Although small in number, the reports of children making/creating media samples are potentially exciting. Again, computing and video are to the fore.

General discussion

Some of the arguments listed after the 1976/77 survey about technology's failure to penetrate still hold but there are heartening trends. Some of these are:
  1. Increasing usage through recording or programs.
  2. Disappearance of the mystery around technology. (Make it easy, small, robust, cheap - and it has a place in education).
  3. Media studies are finding their way into curriculum studies.
  4. Materials and availability of materials have improved.
  5. Teacher education. Pre-service and in service courses are more available (and accepted?)
Two surveys conducted in the United States complement the findings in both our surveys of media usage. Siedman's survey of media utilisation in 1986 supports the notion carried by ours of 1978 that teachers do not use much of media and materials at their disposal. When they do employ media, the simplest and most accessible are usually selected, eg. OHPs, tape recorder/cassettes and television. The more complex are sometimes avoided and 35 mm slides are apparently under utilised.

Nelson, Prosser and Tucker (1987: 48-49) supported the figures that the increased usage of computers and VCR;s was recurrent, in present day usage. This survey also concluded that if present trends continue most media used previously in classrooms will indeed be obsolete with the exception of VCRs and computers. Dependence on older media is vanishing.

What the teachers say

A brief survey was also made of teachers in three schools using similar questions to those posed to the student teachers. Although the number of responses was small (18), earlier trends were confirmed. Computers are very popular and television is widely used. Print copies are also high (working from the use reported on the heat copier).

Also, there is use made of small groups or individual work with computers, television and to some extent audio recorders. Further, the reported trend to creative exercises with the media was reinforced.

Finally, the teachers indicated their reasons for using or not using educational media. These are reported in full below.

Reasons for using mediaReasons for not using media

Usage is dependent upon requirement; could not specify a reason for non usage.

Enhances the lesson. "Picture says a thousand words". Holds children's attention.

Availability and suitability of materials to topics and themes.

Computer - suitability of software and word processing programs in relation to current class programs. Television - one program weekly - BTN for current affairs.

To assist in providing a number of different learning experiences.

P.E. - Aerobics to music. Music appreciation - instruments. Maths and Social Studies - more economical to show illustrations using OHP. Social Studies - BTN current affair; slides, film strips can illustrate better than teacher talking.

Material available suitable for theme. Extending children's awareness and experiences.

Good educational aids.

Children are mostly very interested in presentations. Concepts are explained/ displayed so children can easily understand.

Children respond well to it.

Availability and suitability. Some very good material available.

Adds interest. Is often more pertinent than literature. Provides variety of teaching methods. Important to expose children to a variety of media.

It varies the way in which you present information. It lends itself to whole class/group and independent work. Makes it more interesting. Makes children independent users of technology.

Educational potential.

Software available. Suitability of software.

A most useful aid. Resources are prepared for the teacher. The problem appears to be in choosing material suited to the class program and level of development of the children.

They suit the work I am doing and help demonstrate concepts to the children.

Change of pace/interest level. Children more likely to aim for perfection if recorded.

Difficulty getting the item when it was wanted. Lack of funds to buy film etc.

Availability and suitability of materials to topics and themes.

Not suited to current class programs.

Unable to obtain items easily (that is - few of the items available for whole school use).

Not available.

Organisational problems.

Needs teacher organisation to integrate television programs with work/themes being covered in classroom.

Lack of organisation. Finding it hard enough to organise time involved in media.


Some, eg. video recorder not readily available. Time - both for setting up and actual use. Equipment (eg. older slide projectors) is often difficult to operate. Lack of familiarity with some equipment.

My teacher training did not prepare me for creative, effective classroom computing. I would like very much to use creative production of film by the children but these resources are not available.

Non availability of hardware/ software.

Insufficient time. Unsuitable classrooms - poor lighting etc.

Because resources are not adequate (eg. broken), not enough to go around, take too long to organise/set up.

Not enough in school.

Availability and organisation.

The literature suggests that media attitudes of teachers can be changed. With expanded teacher education courses in educational technology, teachers would not only become more enlightened members of the technological community but also more technically involved. Objectives for such a course practices of educational technology but also the ability to acquire skills and knowledge necessary to design, develop and evaluate educational materials. These must be cooperatively formed in the design of curricula and the diagnosis of communication. Once in schools, teachers appreciate well organised resources. Day and Scholl (1987: 23) state that school principals are able to affect attitudes. Resource or media specialists are far better engaged in creating resource ware and caring for it rather than disseminating "the hard sell" role.

The future

We have demonstrated through data collected that media use in schools is not static and therefore will not be in the future. The two time frames so far examined have shown clearly the interdependence of the past and the present and so to better forecast the future. Historical perspectives are necessary for the futuring process for the past reveals the present. All the research data provides clues on how we have arrived at where we are now, eg. the present popularity of the video cassette emerged from the need for flexibility with a widely used broadcast medium.

The present establishes a sense of reality for unless there is some agreement on present characteristics it would be unlikely that any consensus could be reached. To exemplify, the overuse of photocopiers suggests that the "print" era has not been brushed aside in education even with proof that the "computer", the defining medium of the "technology" era, is gaining in use.

The future is where the action is. All decisions are future oriented. This is the one area where changes can be made before the data is collected and analysed. We plan through the present to any number of futures. Surveys of media usage should therefore lead us not into the temptation of repeating our mistakes or enlarging our shortcomings but by capitalising on the messages being conveyed.

The message from the teachers spells out loud and clear that any media or any technology will not open the classroom door and enter unless there have been determined:

  1. appropriate uses for the tool;
  2. positive and negative effects;
  3. that monies be allocated and the tools purchased.
The impact of any technology pivots upon its accessibility, purpose and use. "Teachers are still the gatekeepers of instructional technology" (Gibson, 1986: 37) as can be seen by their past commitments to traditional curriculum.

To be future oriented teachers must move from the perspective of the curriculum where multimedia is regarded as largely optional accessories supplementing the teachers own factual knowledge of their subjects and the textbooks at his/her disposal. Teachers have previously decided at will whether to use or not to use resources available. Should specific resources considered for use have been unavailable, their absence would scarcely be regarded as necessitating restructuring of the lesson. The media would not prove integral to the learning situation. McLuhan's edict, "The medium is the message", was not given credence within a traditional curriculum structure.

However, in the case of an innovative curriculum designed to achieve the educational aims of the era of information technology, the dominance of the tools will control educational decision and directions taken. The tools may create conflict, confusion, anxiety, despair or as Alvin Toffler wrote, future shock. Indeed, the quantum leap from print to computer demands more than a commitment to implementation of an innovative curriculum. It invokes long range planning with a pro-active approach, with several major moves.

Firstly, we must realise the fact that the days of isolated media usage has gone and that we have entered an information era with knowledge accumulating at an exponential rate. This fact touches every aspect of education and must change the system as we know it. We can determine the current situation with a close look at the surveys noted earlier. What technologies are out there? The cautious approach education extends towards acceptance of technologies which have been invented fifty years, bears witness to not only the lack of acknowledgment of their existence but also of the influence and possible effectiveness of them.

Educators only accept a stable technology that has passed the process of "becoming" (McMeen, 1986: 42). It is only when a technology develops a high level of "proofability" in industry and business that educators seek to maximise its benefits. This comment also promotes the reason why education needs to maintain and encourage close links with the technological invention and advancement that industry and business diffuse. The youth of today experiences more technology in the home and the fun parlour than in the classroom.

Secondly, after identifying technology in education, its use should be "needs driven, function oriented and planned for" (Foster, 1988: 7). Leadership is a vital component of any force within change and to this end retraining of teacher educators would stimulate an effective measure. To revise courses and even to delete programs suggests the eradication of ignorance and fear in the teaching population. In light of these ideas, changing Teacher Certification may include such levels of competence as training in telecommunications or being able to provide lessons by satellite. Theoretical perspectives should be explored just as much as the practical. Any students from a primary to tertiary level need a full range of skills, knowledge, understanding, values and relationships in order to understand and function in a technological society.

Thirdly, educators need to challenge the myth that schools will disappear the more technology oriented we become.

Perelman (1986: 13) believes "The age of schooling is over. A new, post industrial 'learning enterprise' is about to replace the outworn infrastructure of industrial age education. The technology we call 'school' will have as much place in the 21st century's learning system as the horse and buggy have in today's transportation system". Will this happen? Does everyone remember the threat of teaching machines? Is the computer - it? What new alternatives to schools will there be? If our forward looking curriculum states that the practice of such skills as (access to information, thinking clearly, communicating effectively, understanding man's environment, understanding man and society and personal competence) do we the human, disappear from the teaching/learning situation.

Scanlan and Slattery (1982: 12) suggest that teachers should "re-examine their personal philosophy of the teaching/learning experience, the nature of the teaching role, national and educational long term goals and present teacher/student outcomes of the educational process". Our importance still lies in the control of instructional strategies, the process of teaching. Research in this area needs to be promoted to dispel the myths of man or machine.

Finally, the last move is simply to increasing funding for the changes. Suggestions for cost effective ways of using technology in education will encourage business and industry to become vested interests in education.

In forecasting the future and considering the information of the past and present, technological change in schools will not be a rapid one. However, we should realise the great promise within our grasp as improved access to learning would result in the adoption of many of the new technologies. We hold the means of making the learning process more immediate, interactive and appropriate to the individual. No longer will primary school children live in the "BC" (before computer) classroom involving only television, video and the overhead projector - the more dynamic of the technologies will come to the fore.


Bassett, G. W. (1974). Innovation in Australian Education. Administrators Bulletin, Vol.1, No.2.

Bruner, J. (1963). The Process of Education. Random House, New York.

Cuban, L. (1986). Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920. Teachers College, Columbia University.

Day, J. and Scholl, P. (1987). Media Attitudes of Teachers Can Be Changed. Educational Technology, January 1987.

Foster, D. (1988). Technology Implications for Long Range Planning. Educational Technology, April 1988.

Hooper, R. (ed) (1971). The Curriculum: Context, Design and Development. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh.

Komoski, P. K. (1987). Beyond Innovation: The Systemic Integration of Technology and the Curriculum. Educational Technology, September 1987.

Marche, M. M. (1987). Information Technologies in Education: The Perceptions of School Principals and Senior Administrators. Educational Technology, April 1987.

McMeen, G. R. (1986). The Impact of Technological Change on Education. Educational Technology, February 1986.

McMeen, G. R. (1987). The Role of Forecasting in Educational Technology. Educational Technology, March 1987.

Mialaret. (1966). The Psychology of the Use of Audio Visual Aids in Primary Education. UNESCO.

Nelson, C., Prosser, T. and Tucker, D. (1987). The Decline of Traditional Media and Materials in the Classroom. Educational Technology, January 1987.

Perelman, L. (1986). Learning our Lesson: Why School is Out! The Futurist, March-April 1986.

Scanlan, N. and Slattery, D. (1983). The Impact of Computer Based Instruction upon Teachers: Two Perceptions. Educational Technology, February 1983.

Seidman, S. A. (1986). A Survey of School Teachers Utilization of Media. Educational Technology, 1986.

Please cite as: Yarrow, A. and Millwater, J. (1988). Educational media in primary schools: A decade of development? In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (Eds), Designing for Learning in Industry and Education, 178-189. Proceedings of EdTech'88. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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