ASET logo
[ EdTech'90 Contents ] [ EdTech Confs ]

Teaching with Telematics: It's not as hard as it looks, or is it?

Ian Conboy
Ministry of Education, Victoria

Teacher attitudes and their level of professional preparation play a crucial role in whether an innovation is taken up in education. Within the context of The D'Cruz Report, 1990, an evaluation of a project to use communication technology (referred to as telematics or audiographic technology in Victoria) to expand curriculum choice in rural post primary schools in Victoria in order to encourage students to stay longer at school (Resource Agreement 3 - Country Student Participation), an examination is made of some teacher attitudes. Clearly practical issues have been important influences on the relatively small number of teachers who have used communications technology. If communications technology is to be mainstreamed into education delivery where the need exists, then much more attention has to be given to teacher preservice education in communications technology and their continuing professional development.

Teacher attitudes play a crucial role in whether an innovation is taken up in education. Surprisingly, little attention seems to have been given to the nature of the classroom environment and how teachers integrate educational change into what are relatively firmly established educational procedures. This paper examines some thinking about what influences teachers to accept or reject change and it then looks at some teacher attitudes to a project to use communication technology (referred to as telematics or audiographic technology in Victoria) to expand curriculum choice in rural post primary schools in Victoria in order to encourage students to stay longer at school (Resource Agreement 3 - Country Student Participation). This joint Commonwealth and State Government project allocated $3.5m to seventy-nine small, relatively isolated rural schools in Victoria to equip them with communications equipment, software and courseware. Schools were expected to form into clusters across Victoria and use communications technology to share scarce teaching resources.

The project required a significant departure from teachers' established teaching procedures for them to use communication technology to teach students in neighbouring schools in a distance education mode. An evaluation of the project was commissioned in 1989 (The D'Cruz Report, 1990), and this paper is one of a series which will highlight issues which have been highlighted in the report. Why some teachers chose to become involved with communication technology and some did not may provide valuable guidelines for implementing similar innovations elsewhere.

Practical considerations in determining teacher attitudes to new technology

Educational systems while notionally appearing to be bureaucracies function in a much less coordinated way. Teachers, particularly in Victoria have a large amount of classroom autonomy. Rarely if at all is their work supervised in the classroom by another educator. Generally, the classroom door is usually closed and only on infrequent occasions is it opened to visitors. Teaching strategies such as team teaching have not been taken up universally partly for this reason. Nevertheless, new communication technology with its audio, video and computer conferencing capability opens the classroom door and places teachers' work under more scrutiny from their peers. One would expect that this technology would be more successful in those locations where their educational need is readily apparent, and where teachers are able to develop close working relations and mutual cooperation to implement these delivery modes. Such conditions are more likely to be found in small rural schools rather than large metropolitan schools.

One important practical consideration influencing whether teachers use communications technology is their level of preparation. The D'Cruz Report highlighted the importance of preservice and inservice professional development in a range of delivery systems as well as taking full advantage of telematics (communications technology). Recommendation 7 of the report states that

the Ministry further encourages its own relevant professional development and other agencies, and the teacher education institutions in Victoria, to provide an adequate inservice education in a range of delivery systems, including telematics; and to take full advantage of telematics to deliver courses where appropriate,
and Recommendation 11 states
that, as a matter of some urgency, the Ministry encourages teacher education institutions in Victoria to provide pre-service education in a range of delivery systems including telematics through their Diploma of Education courses.
The importance of effective professional development on teachers' attitudes towards using communication technology in education is conveyed in the report. Sixty-one per cent of teacher respondents involved in the project indicated that they had taken part in a professional development activity and nearly fifty per cent of them indicated that their training had some impact on their participation in project initiatives. Conversely, nearly eighty per cent of the respondent teachers sampled in the evaluation study and who have not been actively involved in project initiatives indicate that they had not received formal training in the use of communication technology (telematics).

In relation to the content of professional development courses, there was a plea from respondents that those conducting inservice education courses should include experienced telematics teachers as facilitators. They also felt that there should be an emphasis on the development of confidence and self esteem amongst teachers in the practical use of equipment. Contextual issues such as the notion of sharing in a rural environment and links between technological changes in society and education should also be included in professional development courses. Respondents suggested that inservice workshops that went beyond 'wires and switches' to include curriculum based issues were very desirable. Clearly, access to training which extends beyond practical issues is crucial. Practical issues should be seen in the context of an educational framework which in the case of Victoria's Resource Agreement was the need to expand curriculum choice for rural students.

Apart from the level of teacher preparation, the nature of the innovation process in schools is determined partly by circumstances (eg. access to expertise, available finance PTA support) and partly by any innovation's capacity to persuade teachers of its real worth in terms of the need for it, its innate worth and its practicality (Wright, 1987). Teachers need to see a purpose to any innovation in a way which ascribes a place for them and a function. Both the need for and innate worth of an educational innovation tend to be subject and context specific. However, teachers' notions of what is practical for classroom use and how this leads them to view an innovation are far more transferable between innovations and worthy of detailed study.

Their willingness to adopt new ideas has something to do with the way they are implemented and the practical nature of teaching as well as the nature of educational organisations and teacher orientation to change. Teacher behaviour tends to be influenced by what is practical in the classroom (Doyle and Ponder, 1977-78). They tend to modify new innovations to fit their classroom procedures; they adapt rather than adopt. Technical expertise and professional competence are acquired by a process of trial and error and assimilated into existing classroom practice. They seem to add on new elements rather than reconstruct curriculum patterns (Wright, 1987).

Teachers describe their work in individualistic terms which reflects the uniqueness of each classroom; they tend to be concerned with immediate outcomes and this is reflected in their concern for student outcomes rather than long term gaols. Their decision making is oriented towards the concrete and procedural rather than the abstract and general. The complexity of classroom often makes a mockery of prior educational trials in "controlled settings". Innovations which ignore the classroom setting and how teachers behave in that setting generally fade away usually when funding starts to taper off. In other words, teachers are practical individuals largely governed by the contingencies of having to teach large groups of non-volunteer students over long periods of time.

The notion of practicality for teachers is largely influenced by three criteria: instrumentality, congruence and cost (Doyle and Ponder, 1977-78). Instrumentality relates to how well an innovation is described in concrete procedural terms as well as general goals. Doyle and Ponder suggest that teachers often complain that new innovations are seldom communicated clearly and this appears to be directly related to the absence of procedural content in the description. Congruence describes the extent to which the proposed change is similar to teachers' own perceived situations. It tends to be determined by three things. Firstly, how closely the procedure proposed fits in with the current way the teacher teaches in his or her classroom. Secondly, the origins of the proposal and finally, the compatibility of the proposal with teachers' self image and preferred mode of relating to students. The cost measured as the rate of return from a given amount of investment is the final factor determining the practicality of an innovation for teachers. This issue is far more complex than might appear in the first instance. There is some evidence that teachers will adopt innovations despite some scepticism about its personal cost if there is some reward for innovation. This does not necessarily have to be monetary remuneration. Recognition from peers and administrators and student enthusiasm for the innovation may be sufficient (Stephens, 1974).

Educational innovations in schools involving technology are different are different in some respects to other curriculum innovations. Inevitably, they tend to be more costly; teachers as a group may have a lower knowledge base at the beginning of the innovation, some students are likely to be well informed about some of the technology particularly computers and there may be some negative social and cultural attitudes about technology generally which may not be part of other curriculum innovations. In discussing the factors which influence teacher responsiveness to change in educational technology, Kefford suggests three: the uncertainty which exists regarding the development and evaluation of new educational technologies; the organisational characteristics of the school in which the teacher works and the teacher's perception of his or her role (Kefford, 1983).

Seemingly endless rapid technological innovation can have a number of diverse effects on teachers and administrators. It can act as a stimulant to that relatively small minority of teachers who either become interested in the equipment or the software. In one sense, the technology is like a stamp collection with adherents vying for the latest equipment or software. On the other hand, some teachers may be bemused and completely disenchanted by the rapid change. They might consider learning how to use it futile in the light of rapid advances or use the ploy of postponing any investment in terms of money and time until a new improved version becomes available.

Administrators might be reluctant to invest in equipment which can through a technical development, suddenly depreciate at an alarming rate or be completely superseded. Notwithstanding the rapid improvements in communication technology, the educational requirements of teachers often outstrips the capacity of technology to provided them. Teachers' lack of understanding of the technical problems involved in trying to meet their requirements may lead to disillusionment and frustration with technology. Very little technology is designed solely for educational markets and often 'instant solutions' are not available. Introducing technology in a school situation can often be a tenuous process of trial and error.

Organisational characteristics of schools have a big influence on teacher attitudes towards using technology. Schools which are prepared to change class times to coincide with timetables in other schools can smooth the way for teachers to use communication technology to teach students in neighbouring schools.

However, Kefford suggests that the most critical element is the teacher's own perception of role in relation to technology. Gilcher and Johnstone surveyed nine major tertiary users of audiographic communication systems in the US and Canada including Knowledge Network in Vancouver, University of Calgary, Utah State University and Boston University School of Medicine in relation to teachers' perceptions of audiographic technology (communication technology) and concluded

It is not surprising that faculty members who volunteer to teach on an audiographic system are more satisfied and more successful than faculty who are assigned to teach on the system. It is also the case that the volunteers who are given greater amounts of preparation time seem to feel better about their performance than those with less time. Other critical variables that affect the instructors' attitudes include: availability of on-going technical assistance, help in "translating" their courses into distance modes, prior practice on the system, good quality audio equipment, administrative or peer recognition for their efforts and the level of training that the student users of the system have had. (Gilcher, Kay W. and Sally M. Johnstone (date unknown)).
In a revealing case study, one US teacher documented a range of concerns about computers (Office of Technology Assessment, Congress of the United States). Inservice education programs delivered too fast and accompanied by confusing manuals; deep scepticism about the purpose of computers - "What's it for?"; a desire to preserve the "performing" aspect of the job and seeing computers intervening between teachers and students to prevent this; a concern that teachers relinquish their instructor role to become mere facilitators and a concern that students will lose valuable feedback from teachers if they resort to large scale drill-and-practice sessions provided by computers.

One means of overcoming at least some of the above concerns is to involve teachers themselves in the planning process. Naisbitt refers to this as the high tech/high touch approach (Naisbitt, 1982). Most technology innovations are introduced by 'high tech' people in the sense that they have a strong interest in the field. High touch techniques are interpersonal activities goal setting, self evaluation, group meetings and so on. For a successful introduction of technology in schools, there should be a balance between the high tech and high touch approaches.

Teacher involvement in implementing Victoria's Resource Agreement 3 - Country student participation

Teacher involvement in the project was not mandatory. It was left to individual clusters of schools to identify their curriculum needs and then approach the teachers in the cluster to see if they were agreeable to use communications technology to teach students in neighbouring schools as well as students in their own school. Initially in the project, individual teachers in the Mallee Cluster were consulted about what technology they would require to teach effectively in the hub class to remote student distance mode and were strongly involved in final choices (Loddon, Campaspe, Mallee Regional Technology Group, 1987).

One of the main factors governing the operation of the project was the participation of teachers and Principals in setting goals and directions for the program within their local districts. At the outset, planners were determined that schools would decide how they could use technology in their own settings. While alternatives such as using satellite to mass educate rural students were theoretically available, they were rejected on the ground that they would disenfranchise schools and teachers from key decisions about how they would apply technology. It was also felt that at this time in the Ministry's development, teachers and students required low cost technology which they could use and learn on themselves. One of the characteristics of computer technology is the willingness of many teachers to teach themselves (Grundy et al, 1987). The teachers indicated that they required voice, document and a remote electronic blackboard links. They sought to create when teaching students in another school, a teaching environment as close as possible to their normal working situation.

Even though, for the majority of teachers using the technology, decisions about the equipment and software to be used were made centrally, some advice was obtained from them about the performance of the equipment chosen. Voice and facsimile links were provided readily as proprietary products existed on the market. However, creating an electronic blackboard which allowed both the teachers and their students in neighbouring schools to 'write' on it proved much more difficult to achieve (Elliott, 1989). Macintosh computers were selected as the most appropriate vehicle because of their graphics capacity and relative ease of use. Graphics tablets and modems were attached to the computers and a variety of software was tested to determine what would combine reasonably legible images with an adequate speed of transmission and ease of use. Towards the end of the third year of operation, the problem was resolved.

Approximately fifty teachers used the audiographic links to teach or tutor students in cluster of schools during 1989. The system was used in two ways. Some preferred to plan their 'blackboards' in advance and save them on computer disk. These teachers naturally worked particularly hard during their first year of using the system. Others preferred simply to treat the mode as they would a normal class environment and use the graphics tablet to explain visually a point they were making during the lesson. They would then invite students to join them in using the 'blackboard' to modify or embellish the work already on the screen.

Teacher use of telematics for instruction - some observations

One of the crucial questions facing planners of Victoria's use of communication technology in rural schools project is whether after nearly three and half years of use teachers as a group see a need for telematics and if they think it has innate worth and are convinced of its practicality.

Whether teachers as a body in rural schools see the need for communication technology is in part determined by their perceptions of other Ministry policies such as district provision. Using communication technology is seen as one of several strategies to be used by small rural schools to provide a richer choice of curriculum. Other alternatives include travelling teachers, flexible staff deployment within schools, composite classes at lower levels and so on. In addition, the location of the equipment in small storeroom type locations has tended to relegate the use of communications technology in instruction to the periphery of school activity.

Certainly, perception of need is a crucial factor determining involvement. When a sample of non-involved teachers was asked for reasons for not being involved with project initiatives, seventy-one percent of those responding indicated that their school simply did not require them to be involved (D'Cruz, 1990). This suggests that school administrations do not perceive the need for telematics to provide a wider curriculum and maybe do not see providing a wider curriculum as having much impact on retention rates in rural locations. Initially in the project, there was some quiet questioning of this assumption but recipient schools perhaps not wishing to jeopardise their involvement did not pursue the issue.

In relation to the question of total teacher perception of the innate worth of the communication technology used, no reliable data exists for the teacher population in isolated rural schools as a whole. Informal observations would suggest a degree of scepticism but informal discussions with teachers involved with the project suggest that this is slowly breaking down. One of the key factors causing this change of attitude is the positive student reaction to the technology which teachers notice and the successful results obtained by students when they use communication technology for part of their instruction (Education Victoria, February 1990).

Whether teachers see communications technology as a practical solution appears to vary considerably with each individual and how they proceed to use it. In relation to its instrumentality, that is, the degree of concreteness of the innovation, once again it is difficult to obtain a general conclusion for teachers as a whole. Because of the innovatory nature of the project, it is fair to say that most advice provided to teachers using communications technology was general in nature apart from some excellent hands-on training activities with equipment and software. Individual teachers developed procedures for integrating technology into lesson structures and these were compiled into a booklet and distributed to participants of one professional development activity (McNamara, 1988). There is a growing awareness of the importance of concrete procedures to teachers and they are beginning to develop these themselves (Behrendt, 1989).

The project appears to be relatively congruent with teacher perceptions of their role. Although superficially, the task of teaching with an audio terminal, a facsimile machine and a computer used as a remote blackboard appears daunting, all the teachers who used the system in 1989 were prepared to continue using it again in 1990. Seventeen of the twenty-three teachers who responded to the evaluation of the project as practising users of the communications technology indicated that using it made them more effective as teachers (D'Cruz, 1990).

These finding are obviously influenced by the context in which teachers in general use the technology. Most teachers link small groups of Years 11 and 12 students in the remote sites. These students are motivated and responsible. Where communications technology has been used with large groups of younger children in the remote sites, extraneous noise levels interfere with the audio link and detract from the quality of instruction (O'Grady, 1990).

Congruence is also influenced by the origin of an innovation. In the case of this proposal, the technology has to be seen as appropriate for rural locations and capable of addressing rural problems. While the project was premised on groups of schools identifying how they could enrich their own curriculum to improve the student retention rates, the reality is that only about six teachers were directly involved in selecting or modifying the communication technology used in the project. From time-to-time, other teachers using the audiographic system provided verbal advice, delivered sessions at professional development conferences and contributed articles for publications but they were not involved in initial decisions.

However, because of its close links with the Country Education Project approach to rural education, it is likely that teachers saw the project as in general being congruent with their own situation. A body of knowledge is developing in Australia related to applying communications technology in rural education and several government reports have focused on this issue during the eighties (Australian Education Council, 1985;. Commonwealth of Australia, 1989)

The project has had a positive impact on teachers' self image and their student relationships. Teachers have indicated that the use of communications technology creates a certain amount of informality with students which is helpful for personal relationships (Lipscombe, 1988). There is a feeling of learning together which is in part due to the novelty of the innovation.

The personal costs of being involved with the project did not outweigh the benefits gained by students according to most teachers (D'Cruz, 1990). These include a greater degree of independence, improved organisation skills, a greater willingness to ask questions and take part in discussions, improved diction and an awareness and concern developing among face-to-face students for their distant class members. Because the group surveyed includes teachers who made extraordinarily heavy commitments to developing technology studies resources (tekpaks),

it is likely that most telematics teachers did not consider the effort of learning to use the technology to be a constraint. In the evaluation of the project, one of the most frequently quoted unanticipated favourable outcomes was the large amounts of professional satisfaction obtained by staff (D'Cruz, 1990). On average, teachers involved in the project either through developing resources or teaching students with communications technology have fourteen years teaching experience.

For many of them, the Resource Agreement came at an opportune time in their careers when they were looking for fresh challenges. For some, it meant an opportunity to continue teaching their most cherished discipline. Others grasped the opportunity to communicate with other teachers and saw the professional isolation of working in a small remote country town start to disappear. In general, for those teachers who had the confidence in themselves and their students to use communication technology, it appears to have been a professionally rewarding experience.

Teaching with communications technology is probably as hard as you care to make it. It can never be the same as face-to-face teaching, even with some expensive technology added to provide fully interactive television. It is not a substitute for personal contact and in fact, regular visits between teachers and students are an integral part of the Victorian project. These help to break down the inhibitions which might otherwise be present and help to develop the learning partnership which seems to be a feature of Victorian teachers' procedures.

Remote teachers can never handle large groups of young students without strong onsite support and then this brings into question the cost effectiveness of using communications technology. The very opportunities opened by technology can create more work for teachers and make the job harder initially (Congress of the United States: Office of Technology Assessment). However student gains seem to make it all worthwhile. Students from Southport State High School in Queensland reporting on their Telelearning German Project suggest that they have been forced to become more self motivated: they have had the opportunity to work with modern technology and have developed skills of cooperation with others and group interaction (Upson et al, 1990). Similar comments have been made by some of the Victorian teachers interviewed by D'Cruz (The D'Cruz Report, 1990).


Doyle and Ponder's analysis provides a useful framework for looking at teacher reaction to using communications technology for teaching students in neighbouring schools. However, practical issues should be considered within a wider educational framework which must to be spelt out in detail. Where they exist as ends in themselves, they can lead to a negative form of instrumentalism which can be harnessed to any end. Clearly practical issues have been important influences on the relatively small number of teachers who have taken up the challenge to use communications technology in Victoria's rural schools.

However if teachers are to become equally as competent with communications technology as they are in a conventional classroom and it is to be used to provide a curriculum which provides a high level of interaction between the teacher and students, then much more attention has to be given to teacher preservice education in communications technology and their continuing professional development.


Australian Education Council (1985). Education and Technology Task Force Report.

Behrendt, H. (1989). LOTE Distance Education. In I. Margitta (Ed), Curriculum and technology in schools: Expanding alternatives in rural schools. Ministry of Education, Victoria.

Commonwealth of Australia (1989). An Apple for the Teacher: Choice and Technology in Education. Report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment and Training February.

Power On! Congress of the United States, Office of Technology Assessment.

D'Cruz, J. V. (1990). Technology in Education: A Study of Policy and Practice in Rural Schools. Ministry of Education, Victoria, Australia.

Doyle, W. & Ponder, G. A. (1977-78). The Practicality Ethic in Teacher Decision Making, Interchange, 8(3), 1-12.

Education Victoria, February 1990, Ministry of Education, Victoria.

Elliott, N. (1989). Victorian Telematics Manual. Ministry of Education, Victoria.

Gilcher, K. W. & Johnstone, S. M. (date Unknown). A critical review of the use of audiographic conferencing systems by selected educational institutions. International University consortium, The University of Maryland University College, Office of Instructional Telecommunications.

Grundy, S., Bigum, C., Evans, P., & McKenzie, D. (1987). Teaching Teachers - Educational Computing and the Professional Development of Teachers. In Coming to Terms With Computers in Schools, Report to the Commonwealth Schools Commission, Deakin Institute for Studies in Education.

Kefford, R. E. (1983). Teacher Responsiveness to Change in Educational Technology. Unicorn, 9, 272-277.

Lipscombe, B. (1989). The Bal-Cas Music Program: Making Music in the Far West Cluster. In Curriculum and Technology in Schools: Expanding Alternatives in Rural Schools, (Ed. Ivan Margitta), Ministry of Education, Victoria.

Loddon, C. (1987). Mallee Regional Technology Group, Proposed Uses of Communications Technology, A Brief Overview.

McNamara, S. (1988). Distance Education by Interactive Telematics: A Checklist for Teachers. Unpublished manuscript prepared for conference participants.

Naisbitt, J. (1982). Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. New York: Sphere Books.

O'Grady, G. (1990). Telelearning Project: Interim Report 1989 Trial. Unpublished report, Department of Education, Oueensland.

Stephans, T. (1974). Innovative Teaching Practices: Their Relation to System Norms and Rewards. Education Administration Quarterly, Winter, 10.

Upson, B, Lowe, Y. & Stewart, N. (1990). Southport State High School: Report on the Telelearning German Project. (Unpublished report).

Williams, C. (1986). Educational Technology in TAFE: Research Report. Australian Journal of TAFE Research and Development, 1(2), 45-48.

Wright, A. (1987). The Process of Innovation in Two Primary Schools: A Case Study of Teachers' Thinking. Educational Review, 39(2),1987.

Please cite as: Conboy, I. (1990). Teaching with Telematics: It's not as hard as it looks, or is it? In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and M. Mooney (Eds), Converging Technologies: Selected papers from EdTech'90, 14-23. Canberra: AJET Publications.

[ EdTech'90 contents ] [ EdTech Confs ] [ ASET home ]
This URL:
© 1990 The author and ASET. Last revised 13 May 2003. HTML editor: Roger Atkinson
Previous URL 1 Aug 1998 to 30 Sep 2002: