Steve Towers and John Dekkers
University College of Central Queensland
The provision of distance education using study centres or open learning centres as integral components of student support systems have considerable application, particularly in the highly decentralised regions of Australia. The use of study centres is not new in Australia. However, this paper details two of the projects funded by the Queensland State Government for the establishment of an open learning centre network for the delivery of distance education that is shared by all the higher education institutions and TAFE in Queensland. The paper also addresses the development of preparatory and remedial courses that have been funded specifically to take advantage of such a network.
Considered are the roles of technology and the roles of an open learning centre in fulfilling the needs of community members, students and institutions providing distance education courses.
For some years there has been concern about the accessibility of and participation in higher education, particularly by those people who live in remote areas of the State. This issue was addressed by the Government, Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education Places in Queensland (known as the Sherrin Committee, 1989). This committee subsequently allocated $4 million in the 1988/89 State budget to pilot a decentralised State-wide system for higher education delivery.
The main goals of this State-wide system are to increase access, equity and participation. Achieving these goals was seen to depend upon a number of factors:
The State plan has been developed to ensure that people throughout the State would have access to all the resources of all education providers through on-campus and off-campus studies as far as practicable. The two basic elements of such a plan are:
There is an acknowledgment that electronic technologies using audio, video and computer-based systems interaction can contribute to the quality of education for both on campus and off-campus students. This use of technology can provide new forms of flexibility and extends human and other resources for the creative development and delivery of education.
The projects now in progress have taken a relatively cautious approach to the use of new and emerging technologies. The first steps towards a State-wide system are being based on sound experience, affordable systems and the pervasiveness of the carriers. By using the existing terrestrial telephone system for audio teleconferencing, electronic mail and facsimile and the postal service, it will be possible to reach almost everyone in the State. The projects have been mindful that they should not exclude people through decisions to use technology not widely available. However, some experimentation with emerging technologies is to take place for courseware being developed for use.
The challenge of the projects is for courseware designers to ensure that the advantages of the interactive power of these technologies are built into the programs and that their use is appropriate both in terms of the media and the educational objectives. These technologies have the power to facilitate interaction between students and lecturers in ways not previously possible and should improve the overall educational quality and access to programmes.
This document addresses the development and implementation of the Open Learning Centre Network Project and the Preparatory and Remedial Education Project.
The use of communications technologies is an important aspect of an open learning model as it provides a range of learning opportunities to meet the needs of students wherever they live and an infrastructure for educational providers to share resources. For this to occur, there needs to be a basis for cooperation and coordination. The Open Learning Centres will provide this basis by enabling all the higher education institutions and TAFE to deliver programmes and other educational activities and information through a decentralised educational network.
By the end of 1990, there will be 35-40 Open Learning Centres throughout Queensland. Already 25 Centres have been established and Coordinators appointed to manage them and act as local advocates for higher education and the TAFE sector.
The successful operation of the Centres depends on the management and dedication of the Coordinator appointed, the equipment placed in the Centres, financial support based on a user-pays system and the local community giving its full support to Centres and the Open Learning Centre Project.
In the above figure, community refers to commerce, industry, community groups, teachers, parents, secondary school students and private providers. Community needs for the OLC are as follows:
Students enrolled in tertiary institutions and TAFE Colleges are able to use a centre for activities such as:
Thus the following equipment will be placed in each OLC:
"Project Pathways", an on-line course information service, will be available to all people in the community who are seeking information on all accredited higher education courses, including postgraduate courses and TAFE courses. It is envisaged that the Open Learning Centre will have an important role for course and career information for students and other members of the community. On-line links will ultimately be provided to CES offices and other government services to action information at an Open Learning Centre.
In order to maintain the currency of information and to include any improvements, it will be necessary to provide two updates of the information disks at centres per year.
Open Learning Centres have been established to serve the needs of communities. Community groups will be able to use these facilities for participation in multipoint communications. Thus, an Open Learning Centre may be used by different professional groups in a local area to communicate with another area or to participate in State-wide training programs or for the delivery of in service programs and regional meetings of special interest groups.
In service and training programs for education and industry can also be delivered to Open Learning Centres via communication media for a fraction of the cost of face-to-face delivery. The cost advantages and ease of use should increase the support services and network strengths in remote areas.
At the present time a number of professional organisations (eg. Australian Law Society) and community groups such as Rotary and Jaycees are expressing interest in using centres as communication bases. Also Government departments such as Education, Police and Primary Industries are seeing value in the concept and are potential users of the network.
Coordinators have to be well trained to do their work efficiently and to feel comfortable with the communication technology provided in the centres so they in turn can train the students and others in the community. Coordinators must also be skilled in handling students who have difficulties with their courses and they need to have a very broad knowledge of course and career information so that they can help students and the community. In addition, the Coordinators need regular or on-going support as they are very much working in isolation and to be able to feel that they can be in daily contact with the main officer of the Open Learning Centre Network in Brisbane if necessary. They must also be made to feel they are important staff members at each of the three Distance Education Centres. In the past, tertiary institutions, without realising it, tended to keep their 'Liaison Officer' as they were called, relatively uninformed. Lack of communication caused liaison officers many problems including a feeling that they were making little contribution to the operation of the Centres.
To ensure that all Coordinators are able to effectively fulfil their roles they are provided with an intensive training programme as a group. This training focuses on the development of skills needed to manage and operate the centre; becoming competent in the use of the technology available at each centre; and learning about the courses and other aspects of higher education and TAFE. The group training also is an opportunity for the Coordinators to better get to know each other.
Isolation, that can be experienced by all Coordinators, is overcome by weekly reports on activities occurring throughout the whole network, monthly newsletters, a 008 number to ensure constant contact and feedback on problems, an answering machine in the main office in Brisbane, monthly teleconferences linking up all the Coordinators in Queensland and the Management Committee. There will also be regular once a year training workshops for all Coordinators.
The use of technology in education should facilitate communication with students and between campuses and institutions. However, it must be acknowledged that it may never be possible to make available to all students the same type and level of communication and resources. For instance, students at remote homesteads and isolated farming and mining communities could have fewer opportunities for face-to-face contact with institutional staff and other students. Thus the range of communication options and access to resources for students in these locations will be more limited than is the case for students in cities and towns.
In the future, it is intended to broaden the scope of OLCs to include other sectors of education. It is envisaged that over the two year trial period, an overall State-wide system of management and organisation will be worked out. This will include the development and introduction of a user-pays system to ensure the longer term viability and extension of the network functions and capabilities. If a proper user-pays system can be developed and aspects of the OLC Network can be commercialised, the systems could become self funding. This is deemed possible, particularly if funding support is provided from commerce, industry and government authorities who use the Centre Network for the delivery and promotion of courses for training and upgrading course activity. At present there is a strong sense of cooperation, shared interest, and determination by institutions and community groups to ensure that the network will succeed in its endeavours.
Finally, it is likely there will be integration with overseas institutions, especially institutions in countries close to Australia. By communication with open learning universities in the Asian-Pacific countries, the Open Learning Centre Network could set up sharing arrangements for language education, middle-management courses and training in the use of communication technologies for open learning.
Although the courses to be developed by PREP will be primarily print-based (as print is the most accessible medium for the majority of students), there are a number of learning-mode options to supplement and enrich the student's learning experience. Some of the learning options such as audio tapes, video tapes and teleconferencing will be available to the students at their homes whereas electronic mail, facsimile machines and Computer Aided Learning (CAL) will be available at the local Open Learning Centre.
Computer Aided Learning is seen as one of the innovative uses of technology for this project. Because of the nature of preparatory, bridging and remedial courses it was decided to use a software and hardware platform that offered maximum flexibility for the intended target audience. The authoring language 'Authorware Professional' running on a Macintosh CX was selected as the CAL standard for the project. This software and hardware combination offers the student a variety of stimuli for learning, for example, sophisticated video graphics, colour graphics, animation, quality typographical layout and digital stereo sound. In addition, components produced in a variety of media and software applications are easily integrated into Authorware (without loss of quality) and provide users with a consistent interface across a variety of applications. It is also possible to export courseware produced in Authorware Professional to an IBM PC or clone (with some loss of features).
It is envisaged that the variety of stimuli and user friendliness will provide students with a highly motivating learning environment. The use of windows, icons and a mouse allows students to complete many learning tasks without using a keyboard, minimising the need for computer literacy and extensive keyboard skills.
PREP has invested substantial resources to develop appropriate CAL Instructional Systems Design protocols to ensure quality assurance procedures for courseware development. This was seen as being vital because courseware is to be developed by a number of institutions throughout the State. The CAL protocols are being developed by a number of higher education institutions in Queensland and focus on all aspects of instruction design, including screen specifications, authoring templates and training.
The Authorware Professional software facilitates the development of learning materials because the WYSIWYG environment avoids complex programming and makes CAL more accessible to writers, designers and other materials development team members.
Board of Advanced Education (1989). Queensland Access to Higher Education: On the road to Open Learning (Report of the Working Party on Decentralised Delivery of Higher Education: Queensland.
Lundin, R. (1988). Communication and Information Technologies in Business and Education. Report on a professional experience program in North America, 28 February, 1987 to January, 1988. Brisbane: Brisbane College of Advanced Education.
Towards a Student Support System for Distance Education (1988). Proceedings of a workshop organised under the auspices of Australian Committee of Directors and Principals Working Party on External Studies and the Australian Distance Education Consortium, Canberra, 16 June 1988. Toowoomba: Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education.
|Authors: Anne Gooley, Open Learning Centre Network, Brisbane, Queensland, 4000.|
Steve Towers and John Dekkers, University College of Central Queensland, Rockhampton, Queensland, 4702
Please cite as: Gooley, A. Towers, S. and Dekkers, J. (1990). Open Learning Centre Network Project and the Preparatory and Remedial Education Project for higher education in Queensland. In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and M. Mooney (Eds), Converging Technologies: Selected papers from EdTech'90, 4-13. Canberra: AJET Publications. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech90/gooley.html