ASET logo
[ EdTech'92 Contents ] [ EdTech Confs ]

Identification of suitable distance education technologies in the Anangu Teacher Education Program

Rigmor George
University of South Australia
The Anangu [1] Teacher Education Program (AnTEP) at the University of South Australia provides teacher education to traditionally oriented Aboriginal people in remote community situations. A research project is investigating the use of distance education technologies to enhance the delivery of the Program. The five stage process developed by the Telecommunications Development Centre at the University of Minnesota is used as a framework for the adoption of suitable technology. This paper documents the first stage in that process, an analysis of the factors considered critical in the successful adoption of technology. In particular the concept of distance is explored. Suitable technologies are identified and some specific applications are proposed.

The Anangu Teacher Education Program (AnTEP) at the University of South Australia (U-SA) provides teacher education for traditionally oriented Aboriginal people. Graduates of the Program teach in primary schools in their own communities in remote Australia. A research project is currently being conducted to explore ways of enhancing the educational experience of students through the use of distance education technologies.

The adoption of technology by an organisation is a complex issue. Morehouse and Stockdill (1992, p57) see it as:

the result of interrelated actions, forces and political decisions.
In cross cultural situations such as this, there is another array of issues. These cultural issues add a further layer to this complexity. Though there are profound differences in world views, Anangu people have consistently demonstrated their willingness and capacity to embrace innovation where they recognise it to be of value in their cultural context.

The AnTEP model of delivery

AnTEP is offered to some 50-60 (mainly full time) students in remote parts of Australia. At present there are students at Fregon, Ernabella, Amata, Indulkana, Mimili, Nyapari and Pipalyatjara in the north west of South Australia, at Warburton and Tjukarla in the adjacent central desert area of Western Australia, at Yalata in the west of South Australia, and at Yipirinya School in Alice Springs. There is significant variation in the isolation of community contexts, the Alice Springs site being the least affected.

The curriculum is delivered primarily in face to face workshop sessions conducted by specialists in the various aspects of the curriculum. This model of delivery has been developed to take account of specific sociocultural and pedagogical concerns in the context of teacher education. The workshops are conducted at one of the local communities and are usually one week in duration. Students attend several workshops a term and for the remainder of the time continue their study in their own communities under the supervision of on site lecturers or tutors.

Study undertaken in the home community on a continuing basis includes assignments and follow up work arising out of workshops, modules of 'course work' which do not require intensive face to face input, and school classroom based activities. Because the primary delivery method of AnTEP is face to face, the program is best designated as an example of the off campus mode.

Impetus for the consideration of distance education

In the present economic climate, there is considerable pressure to provide quality education at bargain prices. Distance education incorporating communication technologies is an attractive proposition since it holds the promise of reducing the cost of the human capital component in delivery. Recently federal bodies have funded significant research activity with a technology focus. It is seen to be the key to achieving significant reductions in the costs of higher education while meeting unprecedented demand for places from the community and in catering for access of disadvantaged groups.

Funding for AnTEP has always been problematic. Because of the delivery mode, AnTEP costs considerably more than other mainstream campus based programs but current funding models do not take these extra costs into account. Because the levels of funding do not match the actual cost of delivery, there is considerable pressure to reduce costs. It is acknowledged that costs are inevitably a consideration in offering any program, and that accountability for the costs incurred is only reasonable. However, there has been a deliberate strategy to treat reduction of costs in a different context.

Instead, the focus of the inquiry has been on the provision of quality educational experiences for students, and appropriate working environments for staff, in the very remotest corners of the state. The use of distance education technologies and methodologies to complement the face to face mode of delivery is seen to be a way of achieving this.

A model for the adoption of technology

While acknowledging the economic backdrop to the current higher education enterprise, the selection of technologies needs to take into account a range of other issues. Morehouse and Stockdill (1992, p57) advocate the Technology Adoption Model which involves five stages.
  1. front end analysis
  2. prototype development
  3. small scale implementation
  4. organisational adoption
  5. institutionalisation
These five stages indicate the focus of various kinds of activity which are undertaken in the adoption of technology. However, the reality of the adoption of technology is a more dynamic and iterative process than the linear one implied here.

The remainder of this paper will consider the front end analysis undertaken by the project as part of the first stage of the adoption model.

Factors in the selection of distance education methodologies and technologies

Stockdill and Morehouse (1992) have identified five critical success factors in the development and use of innovative technologies. They specify these as:
  1. educational need
  2. user characteristics
  3. content characteristics
  4. technology considerations
  5. organisational capacity
In addition, it is necessary in this particular consideration to include another:
  1. the capacity of the telecommunication infrastructure available in the target areas.
It is the degree of fit at the interface between these factors and the technologies that determines whether the technology will be successful. This framework will now be used to consider the AnTEP situation.

Identification of educational need

Stockdill and Morehouse (1992,p57) emphasise the importance of identifying the generating needs as an initial step in the first stage, and then selecting specific technology to meet those needs. This is in sharp contrast to the more usual tendency of finding an educational use for an identified technology. In AnTEP, this is a particularly important point because the technology must fit in with a variety of other forms of delivery which together make up a distinctive configuration of educational activity based on social, cultural, political and pedagogical givers. In particular, the Program has a fundamental commitment to the empowerment of Aboriginal groups and individuals in society through education and a recognised need for the student group to remain in their own communities.

The focus of the need is encapsulated in the notion of 'distance'. There is a need to both reduce distance and keep distance.

Geographical distance needing to be bridged results in three clusters of concerns:

distance from the resources (human and other) available at the main campuses of the University

distance of individual students from their peer group

distance of individual staff from the University environment (and in most cases from each other)

In addition, there is a further but just as pervasive notion of 'distance' operating. In the interests of the preservation of Anangu culture this distance needs to be maintained. It is best described as:
'distance' from the dominant culture
Distance education approaches and in particular telecommunications systems have the potential to address these concerns. They bring a range of educational benefits to students while maintaining the all important social and cultural context. Furthermore, they provide the possibility of quality professional support to academic staff.

Distance from the resources of the main campuses of the University

Locating the Program in the communities of the students concerned is essential in terms of social and cultural considerations. Using distance education technologies and methodologies, the distance of the remote locations from University resources can be minimised. Specifically at issue is easy access by students and staff to:

the expertise and services of academic and administrative staff,

research facilities at the Library, and

administrative information.

Distance of individual students from their peer group

The numbers of students at each community is small. Furthermore, the students at any given community are usually working on different parts of the course and so the opportunities for peer group interaction concerning AnTEP work is minimal. Interaction among students is an important aspect of the Program. It is through critical practice and reflection of students in their own context that a distinctively Aboriginal pedagogy develops. Group activity is considered to be an important part of this process.

Though workshops do provide opportunities for students from various communities to interact in peer groups, ongoing interaction with those from other communities is an issue.

Distance of individual academic staff from the University environment

On site lecturing staff in these remote communities are entitled to at least the same levels of research facilities, systematic access to the University decision making processes, and professional development opportunities that Adelaide based staff enjoy. Collegiate support is important for staff morale and cohesion, and so that the unique contribution of each lecturer can be maximised. Though this is clearly an issue affecting the professional lives of individual lecturers, it also impinges on students through the quality of the educational environment on site.

'Distance' from the dominant culture

This notion of 'distance' refers to cultural distance. It is only as the Anangu keep their distance, that they are able to preserve their culture. The problematic here is not in reducing the distance but in maintaining it. The need is to offer an educational experience which minimises cultural intrusion. It needs to be flexible enough to work within both worlds: to fit into the cultural context of the students while fulfilling the requirements of the University.

User characteristics

The vast majority of students are mature women. Many of them have had long term experience as Aboriginal Education Workers (AEWs) working along side European staff in the communities' schools. Generally, students have had little background in technology though they show an interest in applications such as word processing and laser disc.

The technological background of staff in the remote locations is variable. Because local expertise to support such endeavour varies from community to community, students and staff will need to attain relatively high levels of self management. Language is an issue. Most students generally have low levels of literacy, and operate in social situations where English is not their first language.

Content characteristics

Content is a determining issue in the selection of appropriate distance technologies. In respect to students, content in this context can be defined as the curriculum. In respect to staff, content concerns functioning as a professional within the University context.

Curriculum concerns, specifically identified for delivery by distance means, should drive the technology for students. The AnTEP curriculum is dynamic, requiring a high degree of interaction and negotiation, essentially because of the cross cultural nature of the activity.

Where staff are concerned, the content focus is related to the provision of a climate which enhances professional activity. Facilitation of communication within the institution and throughout the academic world is an issue. As a matter of equity, lecturers in remote locations need access to the decision making processes of the University. Infrastructure for research activity is also required.

Technology considerations

There are a large number of distance technologies currently in use in Australia. Elliott (1991) and Robson et al (1991) outline the various technologies and their characteristics. In the context of this project, the following have been considered:

Analogue technologies:audio conferencing, video conferencing, talkback television, educational television, talkback radio, fax.
Digital technologies:advanced learning technologies (laser disc, CD ROM, interactive computer learning packages), audiographics, laser disc, electronic whiteboard.

The analysis of educational needs, user characteristics and content indicates that there are two essential characteristics for the successful use of technology in AnTEP:


Increased opportunity for interactivity is a major issue for AnTEP students. A number of the technologies considered offer either synchronous or asynchronous interactivity. Synchronous interactivity such as use of the telephone gives immediate feedback, but has the disadvantage of tying both the sender and receiver to a specific time. Asynchronous interactivity such as email provides flexibility in respect to time but does not provide immediate feedback.

Both synchronous and asynchronous technologies have the potential to contribute in valuable ways to the Program. For example, interactive potential of electronic mail is considered by D'Souza (1992) who points out the considerable interest in using this technology in general academic settings.


Flexibility is an essential aspect of AnTEP. If students are to be successful, the Program must take into account cultural and social obligations of students. For example, interactive broadcast which locks students into a tight time frame is likely to be difficult to maintain. Audio conferencing, on the other hand, has greater flexibility. Even though it is synchronous, there is a greater degree of flexibility because of its considerably lower costs, and the fact that it is not dependent on the use of special facilities.

Another aspect of flexibility is in respect to the equipment itself. Because of limited funds, it would be an advantage for the technologies selected to be multifunctional. Computers have such a capability. They can be used as word processors, to send email, searching the library catalogue, to run instructional packages etc. Electronic white boards, on the other hand, are limited to one use, important though it might be. Using these criteria, a number of technologies were selected for the prototype development (stage 2 of the adoption model).

Organisational capacity

The organisational capacity to sustain and support the technology innovation is a major consideration. As indicated above, costs are a significant constraint. Because there is pressure to reduce costs, realistically there is little likelihood of significant amounts of additional money becoming available. Costs incurred for both capital and recurrent costs should be met through either the present internal costing structures of the University, or through the acquisition of specific outside funding.

A substantial computing system already exists within the University. Remote access to the Library catalogue, and the facilities of AARNet including email, bulletin boards and file transfer are currently available.

The capacity of the telecommunication infrastructure in the target areas

The telecommunication infrastructure in the remote locations (all except Alice Springs) in which AnTEP operates is limited. There are small numbers of telephone lines in most places and these are unreliable. Because of the limited number of lines, there is considerable competition for existing services. Access to the telephone lines must be negotiated through the community Councils.

A new system which will double the capacity and increase reliability is currently being installed at Ernabella, Fregon and Mimili. It will provide a limited ISDN service and is expected to be completed by 1994.

Appropriate distance technologies for AnTEP

Stage 2 of the adoption model focuses on the construction of a prototype. After consideration of the above factors and the nature of the various technologies, the following technologies have been identified as appropriate for implementation or development:
audio conferencing


computer connections to University networks including AARNet, Quickmail, etc.

The selection of computer and audio as the basis of the technology to be used, gives the kind of interactivity and flexibility required. It is within the funding structures and can be supported by existing staff. Other technologies already in use, such as fax and video, will be incorporated as appropriate.

Applications of distance technologies and methodologies for AnTEP

Stage 3 of the adoption model is the small scale implementation of the technology. Three sites have been selected for the trial. Sites will be equipped with a graphic user interface system consisting of a computer, modem, printer and software. Hands free phones will also be installed.

A number of applications which encompass both student and staff use have been identified for trialing. There will be ongoing monitoring, evaluation and review by staff and students through the procedures currently in place. These include student evaluation questionnaires, (staff) Workshop Reports and staff meetings.

The following specific applications are planned:


Teacher education for Anangu and other Aboriginal students serviced by AnTEP is an essential link in the social empowerment process. Distance education technologies have the potential to enhance the educational experience of traditionally oriented Aboriginal people in remote parts of Australia by providing access to human and other resources. By delivering these services through technology there is increased access and less intrusion into the culture.

For staff in remote locations, the technology has the potential to increase access to the collegiate networks of the University and facilitate the involvement of staff in the decision making processes of the University. Computer based technologies and audio conferencing are considered the most appropriate technologies to trial in the Program.

The five stage Technology Adoption Model is a framework for understanding the aspects of the process. However any human endeavour, particularly in cross cultural contexts, cannot proceed in the linear fashion implied by the model. The model has been adapted to include ongoing evaluation and review of former stages with the resultant realignment of direction.

The first stage of the model, front end analysis, seeks to identify appropriateness of technologies by analysing six contextual factors. The degree of match at the interface between these factors and the technology is considered an indicator of the likely success of the technology. Though such an analysis is useful it should not be seen as definitive. So much is unknown and unknowable before the implementation stages. Furthermore, what works in one location with one group may not work at another location with another group.

As indicated above, this research project involves a small number of students in one course of the University of South Australia. Though it is of significant value to even this small group, there is potentially a wide application at the institutional level.


[1] Anangu is the word used by Pitjantjatjara people to refer to themselves.


D'Souza, P. V. (1992). Electronic mail in academic settings: A multipurpose communications tool. Educational Technology, 32(3), 22-25.

Elliott, N. (1991). The telematics manual. Bendigo Victoria: Ministry of Education and Training.

Morehouse, D. L. and Stockdill, S. H. (1992). A technology adoption model. Educational Technology, 32(2), 57-58.

Robson, J., Routcliffe, P. and Fitzgerald, R. (1991). Remote schooling and information technology: A guide for teachers. Canberra: Australian Catholic University.

Stockdill, S. H. and Morehouse, D. L. (1992). Critical factors in the successful adoption of technology: a checklist based on TDC findings. Educational Technology, 32(1), 57-58.

Author: Rigrnor George is a lecturer in distance education at the University of South Australia where she teaches in the graduate programs in distance education. Currently, she is involved in researching the use of distance education technologies in the Anangu Teacher Education at the University of South Australia. She can be contacted through the School of Advanced Studies in Education, University of South Australia, Underdale Campus, Holbrooks Rd, Underdale SA 5032.

Please cite as: George, R. (1992). Identification of suitable distance education technologies in the Anangu Teacher Education Program. In J. G. Hedberg and J. Steele (eds), Educational Technology for the Clever Country: Selected papers from EdTech'92, 236-243. Canberra: AJET Publications.

[ EdTech'92 contents ] [ Ed Tech Confs ]
This URL:
Last revised: 8 Sep 2003. HTML editor: Roger Atkinson
Previous URL 20 Sep 1998 to 30 Sep 2002: