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The convergence of teaching and production in media centres

Grahame Ramsay
University of Western Sydney - Nepean
New and amalgamated universities are facing decisions about how best to provide audio visual services for teaching and research. This paper will outline research that the author conducted concerning centres in NSW and Victoria as part of the development of proposals for a media centre for the University of Western Sydney, Nepean. The role of professional production services was one of the key issues that emerged in the research which has implications for buildings and facilities and staffing. The production function by specialists has been traditionally separated from the loan/teaching service for students. Is it desirable or possible for these functions to "converge"?

The issues are not unique to Nepean as questions of facilities, technologies and administration are relevant to all institutions. Multi-campus developments, distance education, videodiscs, teleconferencing and computer network links, all force the management of universities and colleges to make policy decisions about future directions of resources. The narrowing of the difference between broadcast standard and domestic standard video, for example, has led to an expansion of the use of video by students (and staff) with little training in production skills. The apparent simplicity of the technology may hide the skills needed to actually get the best value from it.

Universities have accepted the need for high quality video promotion packages to sell particular courses to students in Australia and overseas. When it comes to production of these, VHS productions by students are not adequate, commercial production houses are often prohibitively expensive. It's more appropriate for an internal production service to provide this kind of service. The same applies to professional still photography, desktop publishing, and the production of high quality graphics. The demand for these technologies has the potential to make media centres more central to the institutions teaching and research program. Thomas Russell from North Carolina State University in USA believes media centres can have a bright future.

Media centres will not only survive, but thrive now and in the future if we make the necessary changes to place our media centres right where they belong: at a critical place in the centre of the parent system (Russell, 1988, 158).
There may be some need for thought of the management of technology in these centres. Television, for example, has become an integral part of the educational resources in most higher education institutions. Television production was undertaken by staff in media centres to produce resources for 53 out of 58 tertiary institutions surveyed in 1987. (Neale, 1987) The extent to which that production is conducted by specialist staff is part of the more general question of media centres as providers of equipment versus media centres as producers of resources.

The term "media centre" is used here to encompass those facilities and departments that physically house audio visual equipment and manage its use. This paper focuses especially on those centres that the author has been able to visit in Victoria and NSW as part of his own submissions for resources at Nepean. In 1986 the University of Western Sydney, Nepean commenced a three year BA (Applied Communication Studies). The existing "media centre" was a small section of the library which mainly lent 35 mm cameras, projectors, cassette recorders and a limited number of domestic video camcorders. An adjacent space designated as a television studio had no working studio equipment, no lights nor sound system and was being used as a classroom. Demand for equipment increased rapidly during 1987 with practical production courses including a Media Production Specialisation, Design, Dance, Visual Arts and Photography courses introduced or updated.

As Nepean has no "specialist" production facilities, I was interested in the role of production services within institutions. An important question was whether production services with specialist staff could co-exist with facilities designed for student use?

Financial constraints

It would appear logical that convergence of the loan and production service functions of centres would be driven by financial restraints imposed on centres.

A study conducted in 1986 aimed to set a bench mark on the state of media centres in Australian CAEs. The scenario found by the 1986 study was not encouraging.

Funding cuts, rising costs, static or reduced staff profiles, aging equipment either past its replacement date or rapidly approaching obsolescence, increased demands for the provision of training albeit with old equipment in insufficient quantities, providing services to multi-campus institutions and providing additional services to new nursing students and staff. (Norman, 1988, 66)
Many of the CAEs surveyed in the 1986 study have now become part of larger universities where the issues identified will no doubt become more pressing.

Despite the financial pressures I found evidence that the majority of centres maintained a clear separation of those resources for "professional" production and those for teaching. Even those centres that appeared to have a sharing of resources between students and professional production personnel only allowed a very small number of well trained students to operate equipment.

Present divergent models

The specialisation within institutions of units for teaching and units for production was evidence of the perceived need to separate these functions. With a few exceptions, the media centres were either predominantly a centre for students or primarily a production service. Media centres were a hybrid of a number of different functions. These included a loan function for equipment for staff and students; on campus production facilities for student and staff use; professional production facilities for developing material for use in teaching or research.

Each higher education institution had a different way of dealing with these functions. Swinburne Institute of Technology was the most diverse with two separate Faculty audiovisual services and an Information Technology Centre. Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology had diverse solutions with broadcast quality television studios for production of professional quality resources, a Faculty radio station with five studios and an "electronic classroom" which allowed teleconferencing with a group of 15-25 students in the room. Despite the hybrid nature of centres they could still be classified into two categories according to their orientation to students or their orientation towards producing resources for teaching and learning. (This was the situation in January 1989 and may have changed since then with further amalgamations and reorganisations of universities and colleges).

Media centres for students

These facilities had been set up to allow students access to equipment as part of their course work. Their predominant function then was a loan service. Some were staffed and resourced by a specific faculty within the college or university while others were part of the Library. Most had very small teams with typically one or two technicians and loan staff. They had staff to provide very basic instruction to students on how to operate equipment. Some of these centres combined the function of providing audio visual support services to the whole institution with the training of students.

The units that seemed to fit this description included:

Faculty of Arts/Swinburne

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences/University of Technology, Sydney

Instructional Technology Unit/ Victoria College, Toorak

School of English and Linguistics /Macquarie University

Audio visual service/ Melbourne CAE (now Melbourne University)

Audio Visual Service/University of Western Sydney, Nepean.

Audio visual unit /University of Western Sydney, Richmond.

North Sydney Technical College

The loan function of centres

The management of the loan of book and non-book resources has typically been the responsibility of a library. However, as the technology being used by students and staff becomes more complex the skills required of staff lending equipment becomes more specialised and includes the ability to teach how to operate equipment and identify and solve problems with equipment. Industrial disputes have developed at several media centres about where the responsibilities of technical, academic and production staff begins and ends.

What seems clear is that Libraries with their book orientation do not easily incorporate media centres with noisy and complex equipment including video editing, computer and television studio equipment. Of all the centres I have visited in NSW and Victoria only two were within a Library. The unit at what was Melbourne CAE was under review. Another at what was Hawkesbury College of Advanced Education(now UWS, Richmond) was physically isolated from the rest of the library.

The equipment loan function was still a part of the responsibility of media centre staff, but was handled differently from centre to centre. It was considered by most media centre managers as a time consuming and somewhat unproductive role. They had tried to streamline it as much as possible. One unit (Information Technology Services Unit Swinburne) had stopped providing a loan service to students because it was considered to be too labour intensive.

Student use in coursework

The units within Faculties had the least ambiguous role. They knew who their clients were and were well organised because of the known demands on resources and equipment that were tied to specific courses. The role of faculty centres was primarily to provide facilities for students to complete coursework using video or audio equipment. In some Faculties the word processing equipment also came under the media centre (University of Technology Sydney, Swinburne Faculty of Arts). These faculty units have high student usage rates with technical staff typically providing support for students outside class time. Professional production was not seen as possible because most of the equipment in these units was domestic and was used extensively for teaching.

Phillip Institute was the only college I have seen where student use and professional production are combined successfully. This is achieved by having off limits equipment within the unit that a few students operate only after intensive training courses. This requires a disciplined and very well organised management which can enforce such policies. In these days of class sizes of twenty in many Communication courses, one to one specialist tuition is becoming more and more difficult. It would be irresponsible to allow untrained student operators access to very expensive and complex equipment.

Media centres for production

These units combine support for academic staff for resources (but not usually students) with the production of high quality video, photographic, graphic and audio resources. Most had a small television studio for use by professional staff and employed graphic artists and photographers.
Teaching Services Unit/ Victoria College, Burwood

Communication Services Unit/RMIT

Audio Visual Unit/Melbourne University

Education Unit/ Chisholm Institute

Audiovisual Services Information Resources Centre/Macarthur Institute(now UWS)

Sydney University Television Service/ Sydney University

Production Services /UTS (Kuringai)

Media and Production Services Unit/Phillip Institute of Technology

The larger Universities and Institutes of Technology had professional production services. Melbourne University employed sixteen specialist staff in production including a television producer, chief technical officer, three graphic designers and a full time stills photographer. Typical services provided were photography, black and white printing, computer graphics, graphic design and desktop publishing, and the production of videos for publicity, teaching and research. Video production has become more sophisticated, with several units completing production work for outside organisations. There is a recognition that resources need to have a "broadcast quality" look to compete with other video material that is on the market and to have the professional "look" that student and staff have come to expect. There are some marketing success stories from these media centres. A video on bushfires by Production Services of Melbourne University gained an International Television Association award and has achieved impressive sales.

The emphasis is on portable professional quality video equipment and broadcast quality post production facilities.

There is an increasing specialisation of professional staff required to complete work such as computer graphics, video editing and production. Freelance staff are being engaged in some institutions on a program by program basis. The production services within universities are better equipped to mesh into telecommunication links than the "low technology" teaching centres.

The obvious need to develop links within and between campuses has been led by technological developments which allow the delivery of existing materials (Television programs, audio and OHP material) via satellite. These developments have been prompted by commercial and community groups using satellite facilities which has prompted the interest of higher education staff. In NSW the State teachers union have made extensive use of SKY Channel to broadcast meetings live around the State. In the commercial sector an Australia wide educational network has been developed by IBM for its own training needs. It consists of a transmission studio in Sydney from which two pictures and the teachers voice are transmitted via satellite around Australia to eleven classrooms in the six mainland capital cities. Students at all locations can ask the teacher questions and talk to other classrooms on the network. IBM have introduced the system to increase the productivity of their staff by deleting unnecessary travel and duplication of courses around Australia. (ED TECH NEWS, 1989)

The IBM ISEN development is less production oriented than traditional media centre models. These developments have implications for media centres. If they are part of national networks then questions of equipment compatibility and standards have to be considered.

There may indeed need to be some reorientation of media centres in the way they use resources, as the ISEN network shows. However, I still believe there are specialist functions which need to undertaken with these changes to technology. Teachers will need to be trained in some of the techniques of on air television presentation. There are high capital costs in establishing such facilities and they require specialist staff to maintain them.

To converge or not?

The investigation of media centres in NSW and Victoria, although by no means exhaustive, has led to some practical suggestions for plans for facilities at the University of Western Sydney, Nepean. The detail is not relevant to this paper but areas covered include the location of the centre, staffing, relationship to the library, teleconferencing and other telecommunication systems. There are management and University wide issues that are yet to be resolved.

I found evidence that the professional services offered by media centres may need to change. Computer technologies, photography, graphics, video digital post production and desktop publishing provide new opportunities for centres. Rather than there being a diminishing of skills required the new centre may need to employ more specialised professionals. The advent of cheaper technologies can provide opportunities for student use. But such use still needs to be properly managed.

These issues are also relevant to older Universities who now find themselves with a number of former colleges with different levels of equipment, staff and facilities. These amalgamations provide the opportunity for there to be a central production unit which can produce the high quality resources needed by education.

Media centre developments have the potential to be central to the rationalisation of video, audio, radio, teleconferencing, computers and other digital technologies. The greater accessibility of desktop publishing and VHS video editing can lead to a do it yourself mentality that underrates the services that can be provided by more professional media production services.


Neale, K. (1987). A Directory of audiovisual and television production centres in Australian tertiary institutions.

Norman, M. (1988). In flight or in plight? Audio Visual Departments in Australian Higher Education. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 4(1), 59-69.

Ramsay, G (1989). Report of a visit investigating Victorian media centres. University of Western Sydney (Unpublished) 20pp.

Russell, T. (1988). Media centre administration: An alternative for success. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 4(2), 146 159.

Please cite as: Ramsay, G. (1990). The convergence of teaching and production in media centres. In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and M. Mooney (Eds), Converging Technologies: Selected papers from EdTech'90, 135-140. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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