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Design, implementation, and transfer - the international use of instructional video: The cooperative development process of the Agency for Instructional Technology

John E. Nelson
Agency for Instructional Technology

The Agency for Instructional Technology (AIT) designs curricula and produces learning materials for schools in the United States and Canada. Established as an instructional television research project in 1962, AIT is charged with strengthening education through technology. AIT produces and distributes video, computer, and printer based instructional materials in cooperation with state, provincial, and international agencies. AIT is a non profit organisation located in Bloomington, Indiana, USA.

In the United States, the 50 state governments, not the Federal government, control education. Canada's ten provinces have a similar system. Thus, 60 different bureaucracies are responsible for education in the two nations. These state and provincial departments of education share common cultures and curricula and cooperate frequently in a wide range of activities.

AIT was created by them to manage their cooperative development of new curricula and production of learning materials using electronic technologies. AIT is a non profit organisation governed by leading educators from state and provincial education organisations.

AIT funds design and production of learning materials by forming a consortium of interested state and provincial education agencies in the United States and Canada. Thus far, 29 different consortia have created learning materials which are used throughout English speaking North America and around the world.

A consortium unites as many as 60 education agencies in the design and evaluation of pedagogic materials; AIT manages the project and supervises production of materials. Subsequently, the schools within these member agencies have unlimited rights to use the materials in their classrooms.

These materials have been successful because the cooperating agencies have committed their time and energy, as well as their intellectual and financial resources, to make sure the materials are designed and produced to meet their own needs. The states and provinces are responsible for ensuring that teachers have access to the programming, are trained to use it, and have the necessary related resources to facilitate its effective use.

Map: Members of MATH WORKS Consortium

Members of MATH WORKS Consortium

The states and provinces make a significant financial contribution to the development of these materials. The 29 major sets of materials cost $33,565,656 to produce; the majority of the funds came from state and provincial fees based on student populations, other funds came from grants and AIT. The following chart illustrates the investment made by the entire system and two states:

of Series
Participant ShareTotal Cost of

All 6029 $25,360,481$33,565,656
Alabama11 $355,555$19,253,882
Alaska23 $311,966$28,894,156

Alabama paid more for 11 series than Alaska paid for 23 series because Alabama has a substantially larger population. Note that Alaska received 23 sets of materials for an investment of $311,966; those materials are valued at $28,894,156. Obviously, cooperative development can be very cost effective. More importantly, each member of the consortium helps design and evaluate the materials.

Instructional design and formative evaluation

AIT "strengthens education through technology" by encouraging the use of technology in the classroom, especially video. It also produces computer and videodisc materials and has, in the past, produced film strips and audio tapes. However, AIT does not emphasise the word "technology" in its name; rather, the emphasis is on "instructional." AIT relies heavily on the art of teaching and science of research, recognising that how is as important as what students learn. For example, AIT instructional videos are based on several general considerations about learning An illustration of students learning most effectively when they start with a familiar situation is contained in AIT's "Measurement: Finding Areas of Rectangles" from the MATH WORKS series. The program creates a scene easily understood by American pupils: two "target age" children earn money by mowing grassy lawns for their neighbours (a common practice in the US). Because they base their fee on the size of the lawn, they must know how to calculate the area of a rectangle. The program follows them as they invent the formula "A = L x W" in the context of an everyday, not classroom, situation. The program is designed to emotionally involve viewers as they witness their peers using the discovery process to learn and practice in a familiar situation.

What do pupils learn from watching the program? The formula to determine the area of a rectangle? The skill to apply that information? The strategy to manage their own learning process? The desire to learn more about mathematics? As these questions suggest, learning involves more than just memorising information. There are five broad categories of learning:

information - verbally reporting facts or generalisations

intellectual skills - applying learned information

cognitive strategies - self managing learning

attitudes - choosing personal action

motor skills - executing bodily movement (Gagne, 1974)

The program "Measurement: Finding Areas of Rectangles" does not simply state the information "A = L x W" and tell the viewers to memorise it. By observation and subsequent classroom practice, students learn to use intellectual skills, such as problem solving, to apply known rules to new situations. They learn to use cognitive strategies, such as critical thinking, to manage their own learning processes. They develop positive attitudes towards mathematics by watching peers successfully cope with a difficult problem.

Teachers cannot create tools like MATH WORKS by themselves; they lack the time, materials, expertise, and funding. Successful learning materials must have high technical, creative, and instructional quality. They should be integrated with other media so that they complement other classroom activities. They should have a carefully considered sequence of instruction, with each lesson building on preceding lessons. Finally, the content of the series of lessons should be new enough to facilitate improvement in classroom practice, but not so new as to require disruption of existing curricula (Middleton, 1979).

These learning materials must be created by experts with the appropriate training and resources. For example, AlT's instructional designers cite the following principles of learning:

Active participation - encouraging students to think along with the presentation.

Sequencing - from the simple to the complex, the familiar to the unfamiliar.

Chunking - presenting the right amount of information for the development level of the students.

Congruency - eliminating whatever is not tightly relevant (Thiagarajan, 1988).

Adherence to these principles allows the creation of highly sophisticated materials. The MATH WORKS program features two children coping with a mathematical modelling problem. One of them has a rigid, literal perspective and cannot comprehend abstractions (this requires a cognitive strategy); the other child gradually offers enlightenment with the recurring use of one simple word: "pretend." The program also presents the same information about the mathematical formula in three different situations: drama, teacher lecture and animation. Thus, students are exposed to repetitive messages from different points of view, each presented in highly motivating situations.

The instructional design of AIT programming is verified and refined through formative evaluation by teachers and other subject matter experts; subsequent production of provisional learning materials is based on that design. The preliminary drafts of scripts, videos, and teacher's guides are thoroughly tested in classrooms and revised as the research suggests. Formative evaluation focuses on four criteria: student attention to the lesson, student comprehension of content, the nature of classroom interaction stimulated by the lesson, and the appeal of the lesson to students and teachers (Middleton, 1979).

Teacher planning

Once developed and released, materials must be accepted by teachers. Education researcher Bill Taylor (1981) lists five essential questions that teachers ask when selecting instructional materials:
Are these materials within my curricular area?

Will these materials be available when I want to use them?

Is the preparation time reasonable?

Are these materials compatible with my classroom management style?

Will these materials help me engage the interests and energies of my students?

Finally, Taylor quotes a teacher on the importance of immediate access:
Availability means nothing; accessibility is everything! Films are available in the county library - so what? You have to order weeks in advance, and there's no guarantee that you'll get them when you need them. For teachers to use media properly and effectively, it must be accessible to them in the building - at arm's length.
Obviously, creating quality videos is not enough, by itself, to ensure learning. The distribution system must be as thorough as the development system.

With pre-produced instructional videos, a teacher can create a lesson that draws on resources far removed from the classroom. For example, sequences from GLOBAL GEOGRAPHY show deforestation in Nepal and resulting soil erosion and population shifts. Or, PRINCIPLES OF TECHNOLOGY sequences about mechanical resistance teach "drag force" by showing airplanes in flight, with graphic overlays illustrating the concepts. They teach "friction" by showing the brakes on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier stop a jet airplane - in two seconds. Through video, teachers can bring experts and their demonstrations into classrooms while maintaining control of interaction with the students and the way the program is shaped into learning experiences. By doing so, teachers are finding that more students are engaged in learning more of the time, that those who miss the impact of one method may be affected by another.

Final responsibility for and control of technology in the classroom rests with the teacher. Instructional video programs are designed to facilitate teacher adoption: a typical teacher's guide contains a summary of each program; a statement of objectives or goals; suggestions for preparatory activities; follow up activities; a glossary of vocabulary; lists of useful equipment; readings; and a textbook or curriculum correlation matrix. For example, The US versions of MATH WORKS and GLOBAL GEOGRAPHY contain charts in the teachers' guides that correlate the videos with units in commonly used math and social studies textbooks.

Delivery of instructional video programs

There are a variety of delivery systems available: broadcast television, microwave, satellite, cable, and video cassette. Each has its own attributes and all can be used successfully to deliver programs to the student. Broadcast television, the original delivery system, is still a powerful force because of its ability to beam programs to a large geographic area simultaneously. A growing number of schools are recording programs off air and keeping the tape in their libraries, giving flexibility to classroom schedules. Copyright clearances are prearranged in those cases.

Increasing, the video cassette is becoming the medium of choice because it permits teachers to control scheduling the programs. A video cassette player in the classroom permits the most accessibility, flexibility, and freedom for the teacher and class and allows the teacher to interrupt the program to answer questions and lead discussions. Another advantage of video cassettes is economy. It is far less expensive to supply thousands of classrooms with VCRs, monitors, and entire libraries of programs that it is to construct even one television station.

Accessibility to the programs is essential. A good instructional video can be useful for many years; each year a new group of students will be ready to view it. Therefore, the delivery system should encourage long term accessibility and use.

Adapting AIT materials

AIT is actively seeking mutually beneficial curricula sharing projects around the world. For example, AIT worked with geographers and television crews in 14 countries to produce GLOBAL GEOGRAPHY. AIT also assists educators in other countries in importing learning materials that were originally developed for United States and Canadian schools.

To use AIT programs outside English speaking North America, many changes may have to be made: translations, technical conversion of videotapes, and cultural adaptations. The adaptation process relies on the original AIT instructional design to produce quality, locally attuned, educational materials. AIT offers, and encourages agencies to use, its formative evaluation process during adaptation, ensuring that the new programs are suited to the new setting.

In some cases, English speaking schools outside the United States and Canada use the programs. In other cases, the programs are translated, a local host is added, or new printed material is created to assist student understanding. Occasionally, new video footage is produced to ensure that the programs present local cultural values. In all cases careful attention is paid to the creation of programs that meet local curriculum needs.

There are several examples of this transfer of instructional technology. PRINCIPLES OF TECHNOLOGY is being adapted for use in nations as different as Australia, Bophuthatswana, Brazil and Mexico. In all four cases, AIT's design and evaluation methods are being used to enable producers to create materials that meet the special needs of each country. Just as this transfer of technology can be a shortcut for developing nations, more industrialised nations are also adapting North American materials to save time in the development cycle. For example, by adapting MATH WORKS and IT FIGURES rather than producing new programs, one developed nation was able to introduce its new mathematics curriculum ahead of schedule and under budget.

Those are two of AIT's three favourite phrases: "ahead of schedule" and "under budget." Of course, the first is "teaching."


Gagne, R. and Briggs, L. J. (1974). Principles of Instructional Design. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Middleton, J. (1979). Cooperative School Television and Educational Change: The Consortium Development Process of the Agency for Instructional Television. Bloomington, Ind: Agency for Instructional Television.

Taylor, W., et al (1981). Secondary School Video: A Facilitator's Guide. Bloomington, Ind: Agency for Instructional Television.

Thiagarajan, Sivasailam (1988). Quoted in "Instructional Design Process Starts with Needs." AIT Newsletter, Winter.

Address for correspondence: To receive free copies of the AIT newsletter or obtain additional information, write to:

John E. Nelson
Manager of International Activities
Agency for Instructional Technology
Box A, 1111 West 17th Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47402 USA
Telephone: (1-812) 339-2203
Telefax: (1-812) 333-4218

Please cite as: Nelson. J. E. (1990). Design, implementation, and transfer - the international use of instructional video: The cooperative development process of the Agency for Instructional Technology. In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and M. Mooney (Eds), Converging Technologies: Selected papers from EdTech'90, 91-96. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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