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The Western Australian networks for learning trial: Overcoming the problems of distance

Geoff Rehn
Edith Cowan University
In this paper the author discusses the various technologies that he has used in participating in the above trial for the first six months of 1992. These technologies include one way video conferencing and the use of telematics/ audiographics and the use of email. Discussed is the process of media integration that evolved in adapting teaching strategies to the new delivery mechanisms. Of special interest have been the experiments in transmitting the Macintosh computer screen via satellite to remote locations, thus enabling the presentation of classes in computer literacy to students with no prior experience of computing. Briefly discussed are some of the difficulties attendant with the establishment of such a learning network, as well as some of the technical problems that are still in the process of solution.

The Networks for Learning trial has received further funding for another year. This paper, along with the presentation to be given at the conference, will provide useful advice and techniques to those parties intending to use similar technologies in the provision of interactive classes to remote students. The paper will be supported by a multimedia presentation outlining the work to date.


The Western Australian Office of Higher Education instituted the Networks for Learning trial towards the end of 1991, when three Network Learning Centres were established in the Kimberely region in the far north of this state. These centres were to be funded for a trial period of approximately six months only and, thus, it was critical that the venture prove itself viable in this short time. The Department of Aboriginal Programmes within Edith Cowan University indicated its willingness to become an active participant from the outset of the trial. This followed experiments and trials during the 1991 academic year that investigated alternative means of delivery to the remote student, including use of the University's two way full motion fibre optic links to Bunbury to deliver statistics classes, use of the two way compressed video Iterra satellite link to Geraldton to deliver a computer literacy class and participation in the first use of the spare 12 W AUSSAT transponder in linking with the remote Aboriginal community at Noonkanbah in the Kimberley, as well as a video conference linking Aboriginal students and staff at the Mount Lawley and Bunbury campuses of Edith Cowan University. Thus, very valuable experience was gained in the varied use of the medium, including the ELMO document presenter as well as an appreciation of the technical difficulties of transmitting a computer lesson via satellite.

Additional experience had been gained in the development of computer based courseware using such software as Authorware Professional, HyperCard and HyperTeacher. However, due to the constraints of time and resources, these latter activities were not of significance during the trial except in the use of Authorware as a presentation medium during satellite delivery of lectures. Nevertheless, skills gained in the use of computer aided learning and effective screen design proved of value in the development and use of the audiographics / telematics software Electronic Classroom during the above trial period.

The Department of Aboriginal Programmes indicated at the end of 1991 that it would be in a position to offer three units of its Aboriginal University Orientation Course as part of the Networks for Learning trial. The Aboriginal University Orientation Course (AUOC) is currently a seven unit programme of study designed to prepare Aboriginal adults for university. Thus, it was particularly fitting that a course, whose design and intent was to increase the access to higher education of a clearly identified disadvantaged group in the remote and rural areas of Western Australia, would participate in the trial.

Three units of study were to be presented using alternative means of delivery including telelecturing by satellite (video conferencing), telematics or audiographics, use of Email and computer mediated communication and facsimile. The three units were Foundations of Mathematics, Foundations of Statistics and Introduction to Computer Applications.

Before the beginning of the 1992 a rushed promotions campaign took place to advise of the availability of the above units to the remote centres at Kununurra, Broome and Derby. This was done by providing the recently appointed Learning Network Centre coordinators with publicity flyers and information on the above course. In addition, external students registered with the Department of Aboriginal Programmes, whose postal address included the above locations, were notified by mail of the plans for delivery of lectures in the above units via satellite.

In hindsight, the above process was not overly successful. Advising remote students of such new initiatives in such a fashion would do little to overcome the reluctance of many to participate in new modes of delivery, of which little information was available. Nevertheless, students from the above three centres, and later Narrogin in the Great Southern, actively participated in the trial.

A two way video conference took place with Kununurra in mid February before the commencement of the academic year to promote the course, Kununurra being the only centre with satellite receive facilities at the time. Only one Aboriginal person belatedly attended this early contact session and, consequently, an occasion for the positive promotion of the course may have been lost.

In early December 1991, a request was made to the Department of Media Services at Edith Cowan University to commence examining in detail the technical problems involved with satellite delivery of the Macintosh computer screen via satellite, to the remote centres. A visit at this time to the Distance Education Centre within the Western Australian Ministry of Education lead the author to appreciate the value of the audiographic software Electronic Classroom and an order for the package was placed, for the purpose of skills development and trialling.

Orders were placed for the necessary computer equipment to facilitate the trial, including a Macintosh QUADRA 700 which had the ability, with additional VRAM (video ram) on board, to provide the PAL composite signal necessary for satellite delivery. An application for additional seed funding was placed with the Networks for Learning steering committee and seed funds of $4000 were provided by the WA Office of Higher Education

The Aboriginal University Orientation Course

The AUOC is a two stage course designed to increase the participation of Aboriginal people in a wide variety of higher education programmes. The first stage is concerned with the development of literacy and numeracy skills of those whose early education was minimal. Stage two is concerned with the development and refinement of these skills, with a clear focus on higher education. AUOC is the only course of its type in Western Australia to be available in both the internal. on campus mode and the external, off campus mode. Only stage two of the course is available full time in Perth, at the Mount Lawley campus of Edith Cowan University. This is significant in that the author would be required to present the above mentioned units of study to both his internal, on campus students as well as to those remote students who were to participate in the trial.

An awareness of this requirement enabled the writer to book a suitable lecture venue at Mount Lawley that had video conferencing / satellite transmission facilities, as well as the necessary satellite time with the WestLink project at State Information Technology. Thus, the necessary bookings took place at the time of standard timetable arrangement towards the end of the 1991 academic year. Lectures in the units of mathematics and statistics would be given to the internal students in Perth and be beamed out to the remote learning centres. Thus, several units in Stage Two only of the AUOC would be part of the trial. There is certainly a need for use to be made of the new technologies in the meeting of the needs of less well prepared stage one students. However, this was not pursued.

Coming online

The academic year commenced at Edith Cowan University on Monday February 24. Lectures to the internal students at Mount Lawley commenced on this date. The first lecture in Mathematics took place on Tuesday February 25, with only Kununurra online with its two way video facilities. The satellite receive facilities had not yet been put in place at any of the other centres. However, no students were in attendance at Kununurra, the enrolled students being Stage One only. However, the author's personal opinion is that had any students been in attendance at the initial classes, there may have been ongoing interest and participation at Kununurra. In hindsight, the fact that two way video was installed and operational at Kununurra may have lead any potentially interested Aboriginal students to shy away from the experience. To expect Aboriginal people to readily participate in a process that involves quite a degree of invasion of privacy, at such an early period of familiarisation with new technology was to expect too much. Despite an "open day" at Kununurra on February 28 whereby promotion from Perth of the AUOC programme took place, transmissions to Kununurra in the units of Mathematics and Statistics discontinued after about three weeks into the semester, due to lack of students.

The author had intimated on many occasions previously the strong desirability for the lecturer to be known as a person before transmissions to the Aboriginal communities at the various centres took place. A request for a personal visit to the remote locations was not met. Human contacts with prospective students and promotion of the program and technologies might have produced a situation whereby more students would have participated throughout the trial.

The first links with Broome and Derby took place in the week beginning March 16, some four weeks after the internal, on campus classes began. Students were present at both locations. However, no students continued at Broome in Mathematics and Statistics as they felt the course work was too difficult. It was a great shame that the satellite facilities at these two centres were not installed earlier by the commencement of the academic year as was intended. Any student who commences a course of study three or four weeks into a course is penalised, a remote student doubly so. Of course, the andragogic style used by the lecturer was such that those students who commenced at the beginning of the course would not be intimidated by the gradually unfolding content. Such benefit would not be felt by students coming into contact with content some four weeks old, especially in statistics.

So no students continued in Mathematics and Statistics at Broome. However, it is to the great credit of the students at Derby who continued throughout the courses and gave me much pleasure in their presence and interactions.

In early April, the learning network centre at Narrogin came online and participated in the mathematics classes. Despite the very late start, the Narrogin connection has been a successful and ongoing one, with four or five students enrolled in the mathematics unit and intending to sit for examination.

Experiments in the satellite delivery of the computer screen were taking place from the outset of the academic year. This was a demanding process of technological innovation and perhaps it was well that the computers and other hardware and software did not arrive at any of the remote learning centres until late March. These developments will be traced in greater detail later when discussing the unit Introduction to Computer Applications.

Foundations of Mathematics and Foundations of Statistics

The unit QAI 0175 Foundations of Mathematics is concerned with basic mathematical literacy that will enable the intending non specialist higher education student to approach elementary mathematical situations with confidence. It is also intended to meet the incoming numeracy skills of the education student at Edith Cowan University. The typical client group of Aboriginal adults have a very diverse range of mathematical experience ranging from some primary of many years back to recent Tertiary Entrance Examination (TEE) level exposure. The unit treats content from basic number work to rectangular Cartesian coordinates and graphing.

The unit QAI 0276 Foundations of Statistics looks at basic descriptive statistics from elementary graphing through to cumulative frequency graphs and the calculation of measures of central tendency and dispersion. As well, it contains a look at probability and the normal distribution occurs, as does an elementary study of relationship and causality. The focus throughout the unit is towards higher education, with constant reference to where the intending university student can expect to meet further statistics in his/her studies. The unit is unique in that the traditional emphasis in numeracy skills for accessing courses for Aboriginal people lies in basic mathematical skills, with little attention given to such necessary applied areas as statistics. The unit compares well with other units offered within Edith Cowan University that bridge into Statistics, as well it should. It is a personal view of the writer that intellectually challenging courses are appreciated by the Aboriginal student and that such students deserve the same, given that they will face the same demands as others when they enter higher education itself.

Evolution of media integration

The lectures were to be delivered using one way video and two way audio, enabling interaction from the remote sites. The first lecture was delivered in a very conventional sense with the whiteboard at the front of the lecture theatre in Perth serving as the presentation medium. Use of coloured erasable whiteboard markers enabled the usual development of a class in mathematics to proceed. The camera was required to pan over the length of the working space. The writer is / was inclined to spread his work out into the largest available working space. This presented some difficulties for the camera person in the projection / console room at the back of the lecture theatre. In the next lecture (in statistics), clear vertical boundary lines were first marked out on the white board, thus confining the work space.

This method of delivery is reasonably effective and provides a sense of "being there" in a very real way to the remote student. The lecturer can be seen and heard in the context of a whole classroom , as the material unfolds and there is an integration between the voice, the person of the lecturer and the content presented. However, it was difficult to ensure consistent professional quality of the presented work as whiteboard work is limited in its graphic capabilities. Besides, the continual panning and focussing by the camera person made his task the more difficult.

The next step was to use the standard overhead projector as the primary presentation medium, with the images focussed to the projection screen at the front of the theatre. This was more acceptable to the camera person, as the image projected is essentially a fixed one, not requiring the continual focussing of the camera. The use of broad thickness overhead pens of a variety of colours produced material of a very satisfactory and visually appealing kind. The camera person could set the camera at a fixed position and simply alternate between the projected image and the lecturer/presenter.

This in itself required an evolution of empathy between the camera person (Mr Jerry Thompson from the Department of Media Services at Edith Cowan University) and the lecturer. In the lecturer theatre situation, as it currently is, the control of when to alternate between the vision of the lecturer and the projected screen image of the working space lies with the camera person in the remote console box. In the early stages of the delivery of this unit, the lecturer was concerned that the image that was beaming out to the remote students was too dehumanised in that constant focus was on the projected mathematics. Protocol systems were thus developed whereby, say, the O/H pen placed on the O/H projector indicated to the camera person that the lecturer wished the camera to be focussed on himself, rather than the mathematics or the statistics. A growing personal empathy and an awareness of the lecturer's personal style as time went by obviated the need for such a formal mechanism of transfer of control. However, this area is still a problem (to the writer) in the lecture context. The problem does not arise in the video conferencing format of, say, the computing classes where all control lies with the lecturer / presenter.

With the use of the O/H projector, despite the positive response of both internal and remote students, it was difficult to produce consistent quality work "on the fly", as the mathematics was worked for the students. O/H pen work is prone to smudging, especially when ruling lines and it was for this reason that the lecturer moved on to the consistent use of the ELMO video document presenter. Nevertheless, the O/H projector is an extremely powerful presentation medium when used well by the lecturer / presenter, especially in the use of prepared overheads with colour and suitable size of writing. The size and quality of the printing / writing is critical. If material is prepared using a computer wordprocessor with a suitable font and size such as 14 or 18 point Times, and overhead transparencies then made, the effectiveness cannot be faulted.

For each lecture in both Mathematics and Statistics, the students were presented with a statement of formal objectives for the lecture as well as a set of class exercises and review exercises. The class exercises would form the basis of the lecture presentation and the review exercises were for consolidation and use in the associated practice/tutorial session. These prepared materials were faxed out to the remote centres in the morning of the lecture. Some of this was done very much in keeping with the "just in time" philosophy of management!

The objectives for each lecture were increased to the above 14/18 point Times and laid out as a suitable O/H transparency for presentation. This provided a suitable start and focus to the lecture, in keeping with instructional design principles that are consistent (in the author's opinion) with the learning of such disciplines as mathematics.

Experience had been gained in the effective use of the ELMO document presenter during the 1991 trials by the writer. However, the use of the document presenter does require that work be well prepared beforehand. After several weeks, the various other administrative and logistic duties of the writer enabled sufficient time to explore the use of the ELMO video or document presenter further. Exercises were presented to the students using the document presenter. This requires that the work be confined to a 4 : 3 ratio rectangular A4 page for full focus of the ELMO presenter. For suitable legibility of the work, the writer experimented and chose to work with 3mm thickness calligraphic type pens of various colours. These provided a very effective graphic and text presentation tool of strong visual appeal.

It needs to be said that the image produced from the ELMO is projected to the front of the local lecture theatre at Edith Cowan University by an overhead video projector so that local internal students see what is done. The same image is also sent out by satellite to the remote centres. However, surprisingly enough, the quality of the transmitted image is better than the local image because of the resolution of the local installed overhead video projector.

Using the desk top publishing package Pagemaker, the writer developed a standard 24 cm by 18 cm template blank with black borders (with the necessary 4 : 3 ratio) that was used to provide a framework for the lecture exercises as they were done on the ELMO. This technique proved to be a very real boon to productivity and effectiveness. In addition, the lecture's objectives were laid out using this same template and suitable 14 / 18 Times font.

Then the next stage in media integration was to prepare the exercises that the students received by pasting each exercise into one of the above 4 x 3 templates. The working out and solution of the exercise then proceeded with the exercise itself clearly shown at the top of the template. This was very sound practice.

It then occurred to the writer that the students themselves might value the set of prepared working sheets that were used, containing (large print) objectives and each exercise on a separate template page. Thus, a resource had been created for the student that would enable the student to concentrate solely on the task at hand and have a thorough record of the exercises and their solutions, as well as the objectives.

Such templates would also prove of value as blanks for the production of O/H transparencies for those involved in the support of the teaching of these units, such as remote tutors or contract staff who might teach the course at such centres as Karratha College, in the Pilbara region of this state. Also, the templates might form part of the remote tutor's arsenal of teaching aids, for photocopying and use while tutoring students.

Towards mid semester, after technical problems with computer transmission via satellite had been solved, the writer developed computer based Authorware Professional presentations of the objectives for each lecture class. These were then projected up to the front of the lecture theatre and beamed out via satellite. They included an Edith Cowan University logo, a scanned image of some Aboriginal students from Perth as well as a point by point run down of the objectives. Although offering little extra in the way of instructional design, this added a touch of finesse to the professional presentation of the lecture.

Also to be noted is that each transmission would begin with an attractive Edith Cowan University logo placed on the ELMO document presenter while the uplink to the satellite proceeded. Thus, unsightly images of pre-lecture activity within the lecture theatre were avoided and a professional start to each lecture could commence. As well, the audio link was muted.

Introduction to Computer Applications (Macintosh)

This unit within the Aboriginal University Orientation Course provides a general introduction to the use of an integrated software package, in wordprocessing, spreadsheet and databases modules and their integration. Internally, at the Mount Lawley campus, the unit has been based around Microsoft Works. However, a decision was made by the Networks for Learning Technology Sub-Committee to purchase the new ClarisWorks software package for use in the centres. The writer resisted this move as it implied even more learning required by him at a critical time, given that he was to be the person actually teaching the use of the computers to the remote students. However, the writer can report that the decision made was a very sound one and that the merits of ClarisWorks are many, not the least being its communications module which has been used by the centres in computer conferencing and Email, as well as ClarisWorks seamless integration across application modules.

The overcoming of the technical difficulties involved in transmitting the Macintosh computer screen, with its RGB video signal, out via satellite through the fibre optic system of Edith Cowan University, with the system's overall requirement of a PAL composite signal, was the source of the greatest personal satisfaction to the writer. There was a fair degree of scepticism by several parties as to the technical feasibility of such an achievement but it was done, with the collaboration and support of the Department of Media Services at Edith Cowan University. Foremost appreciation must be given to David O'Brien for his professional approach and perseverance in solving the difficulties, as well as Hugh Cleverly for his assistance.

Experiments are still progressing in the improvement of the quality of the transmitted signal but the current solution is the use of a NeoTech encoder that converts the RGB Macintosh signal to a PAL composite that can be transmitted out via satellite. Also, the Macintosh QUADRA is using extra VRAM (videoram) on board, with a total of 2 MB. A NEC MultiSync monitor is used to monitor the signal that is output from the system, as the standard 13 inch Macintosh screen, using non-interlaced RGB, will not work with the NeoTech encoder. The quality of the computer screen image that is transmitted is good, with a little to be expected degradation, and this has enabled the conducting of computer classes to the remote centres to proceed.

As intimated earlier, it was well that the necessary computers and other hardware and software did not arrive at the LNCs until about mid to late March. In the mean time, trials were being conducted in the use of the NeoTech encoder and by early April, the video conferencing network was used in a very creative fashion to take the remote learning centre coordinators through the process of setting up their local area computer networks (LANs). For interest, the LANs consist of a LC or a IIci running under System 7, with single drive Classics hanging off them, using System 6.0.7 start up disks. Thus, the networking capabilities of System 7 are employed and the host machines act essentially as file servers ( although students use the host computers as well), with the ClarisWorks software installed on the hard disks.

Thus, the LANs were set up by early April and lessons in the above computer applications unit could begin. It needs to be stated that the writer spent not a small number of hours mastering the intricacies of System 7 and how to essentially administer a network - something that was unfamiliar. Thorough mastery was required as the writer would be taking students through a process that is difficult enough even in the usual face to face computer laboratory environment where the lecturer can see the student's screen and difficulties. In the situation of one way video and two way audio, the audio connection was to prove critical indeed.

Lessons in computer literacy began in the second week of April, with students at all centres, Kununurra, Broome and Derby. This involved straight front on "talking head" work, use of the ELMO document presenter for transmission of preliminary instructions and procedures and, of course, the Macintosh computer screen itself. This teaching proceeded in a video conference type setup, with no internal students to contend with. It is the writer's opinion that multipointing to so many locations and dealing simultaneously with local students would be difficult indeed and would require a change in learning methodology by local internal students.

Indeed, there would have to be a limit on the number of points that could engage effectively in interactive audio with the lecturer. however, such audio interaction is essential for the skills to be developed by the remote student. Any experienced computer user is aware of the problems and difficulties that can arise in using a computer. Thus, strong reliance was placed on quality voice interaction and the clear verbal description of what was going on when assistance was required. It took some time to illicit such interaction but such effort was justified in that the interactions became increasingly spontaneous and relaxed.

Of interest to the educational technologist was the use of the Apple Control Panel Device CloseView which enabled the magnification of the screen image for the viewer. Thus, pull down menus could be greatly magnified for ease of visibility and dialogue boxes could be presented in a meaningful fashion. CloseView proved to be a very powerful tool and it is of interest that Apple describe it as an aid in increasing access.

So a course of wordprocessing was transmitted out to the above remote centres enabling access for many people who had had no previous experience in using computers. The last wordprocessing session focussed around the design of a letterhead using a logo developed with the ClarisWorks graphics module and saving the document as stationery, so that it could be used for all letters, etc.

The major difficulty in the delivery of the computing was the developing of sufficient local area network maintenance skills by the LNC coordinators. A poorly maintained host computer's hard disk makes access to necessary files, folders and applications software by the students very difficult. Also, the prime purpose of the computers at the LNCs is to enhance the use of the machines by the students. The writer at times wondered if the machines were being used at all, from one weekly lecture to another!

As a consequence, one of the major recommendations of the writer is that suitable software such as Timbuktu Remote or Apple's AppleShare Remote Access be purchased and installed at the LNCs and Perth, to enable the remote management and accessing of the host machines hard disks at the LNCs by personnel at Perth. Until sufficient skills are acquired by all LNC coordinators, such measures will be necessary. This leads to the question of the process of the training of the LNC coordinators. All training in the technology used has been done by the writer on an "as needed" basis, using the video conferencing system, as time and staff availability permitted. It is recommended that the issue of suitable training of future coordinators be considered a priority.

Despite the above, my full commendations are extended to all the coordinators for achieving as much as we did given the time and conditions under which we operated.

Telematics and Electronic Classroom

In the literature, telematics will refer to both terrestrial links of computers using the telephone network as well as motion video transmission using satellite transmission. A term used to describe just the subset of interactive computer based dialogue, with screen sharing, and two way voice interactivity is audiographics and that is the term this writer will use in reference to the trials in telematics using computers that have taken place.

The audiographics software used was the Australian developed Electronic Classroom, which enables the interactive sharing of both text and graphics between remote Macintosh screens. a standard audio link using, say, Telecom's Conferlink or a conferencing bridge or the South Australian DUCT system, enables the interactive sharing of sound across the remote sites.

A Macintosh without additional serial cards installed can link up to at most two remote sites, via the modem and the printer ports. Any site can be the "teacher" or originator. Trials only have proceeded in the use of Electronic Classroom, with link ups to all centres occurring and a multipoint link to Derby and Kununurra happening towards the end of semester. Multipointing required the purchase of an additional modem by the writer. These test links enabled the checking of the quality of the phone lines for the modem links as well as the appropriate baud rates. Connection at times appeared to be unpredictable although they were occurring with greater reliability towards the end of the six month trial period.

The aim of the audiographics was to provide tutorial material in the above units of Mathematics and Statistics that supported the lectures given by satellite. This was done on several of the test occasions with the transmission of prepared "lessons" in mathematics going out to students at Derby. The system itself requires a little training in its use, in learning how to use the text and drawing tools with confidence. Thus, time was spent in this training of both the LNC coordinators and students.

The LNC coordinators are thus in a position to link up amongst themselves using Electronic Classroom and learn its capabilities. The point being that each of the LNCs could itself become an originator of lessons, seminars or tutorials at all levels of education. The medium is a powerful one indeed, as well as being cost effective.

A bid for funding under the Apple University Consortium was placed in early May for funding for an additional serial card as well as modems to enable delivery to more than two remote sites. It is hoped to deliver tutorials to other centres such as Narrogin using the medium of audiographics. Also, the bid included the cost of a datashow for one site to enable the projection of the remote site's computer screen onto a larger screen so more students could conveniently watch and interact. The current version (Version 1.13) of Electronic Classroom is not compatible with an AppleTalk network, although the next version (version 2) in development will have the capability of being used by ten or so machines at each site or node of the network. At the moment, its use is restricted to just two machines per site, one the host computer such as the LC connected via modem to Perth, and the other machine a Classic connected directly to the remote host computer by the printer ports. Thus, even with the current software, it is possible to connect to two other sites remote from the originator (eg. the writer in Perth) and have two machines running at each site.

An exciting feature of the Electronic Classroom is its ability to support colour and some fun times have been had with students and LNC coordinators playing with the colour and graphics capability of the Electronic Classroom. The writer looks forward to using audiographics to a greater extent in the second semester of the Networks for Learning trial and, again, recommends strongly its consideration as a presentation medium for remote students at all levels of education. The ability to download prepared text, graphics and whole lessons make it a very versatile medium. In conjunction with aids such as a data show, Electronic Classroom and other similar telematics software offers an alternative to the very expensive video conferencing technology. The potential for use across a wide variety of disciplines and areas is large indeed, with great possibilities in the area of teaching literacy. The combination of text, graphics, sound and colour is an unbeatable one.

Further, the writer has been exploring the use of Apple's Quicktime to compress the graphics and text files for faster file transfer. At 2400 baud, the transfer of prepared files on Electronic Classroom can be annoyingly slow. However, with suitable compression and perhaps the use of 9600 baud modems at all centres, the transfer rates will increase appreciably. It is an area of intense interest. Robert Crago, the Queensland developer of Electronic Classroom, has developed a Quicktime literate version that enables the down loading of PICT files such as scanned images and video frame grabs. Experiments by the writer with the beta test version of this software are proving very encouraging and thus the potential scope for the use of Electronic Classroom has expanded further. The writer must express his appreciation of the support and assistance when asked of colleagues at the Western Australian Ministry of Education, Chas Bray, David Lockheed and Rob Black. The Ministry has pioneered the use of audiographics in this State and their advice and support is gratefully acknowledged.

Computer conferencing

Experiments have taken place in the area of computer conferencing, which is different from audiographics in that the activity is purely text based communication via the computer alone. Audio connection is, of course, available if one use the phone as well. Computer conferencing has been done in a simple point to point fashion only, using the communications module in ClarisWorks. Thus, it is being used in the "chat" mode within interaction between two sites only occurring. This has been stimulating for both parties . There is something about interacting in real time via text on a screen that has its appeal. There is only the cost of the STD modem call and night off peak rates might enable a student and a lecturer/ tutor to interact effectively, providing, of course, that both parties have access to modems. Perhaps further use of computer conferencing might encourage the effective night time use of the LNCs with tutor's in Perth. Investigation should proceed on the use of suitable gateways or pads that would enable the use of cheaper AUSPAC rates for connection. The medium has strong potential for developing literacy skills in a non threatening fashion that is yet still personalised and human.


As part of the Networks for Learning trial, Roger Atkinson from the External Studies Unit (ESU) at Murdoch University had seed funding to implement an Email project using Telecom's KeyLink. Due to a variety of factors, this project did not get fully implemented until the final week of the semester. KeyLink accounts were not provided by Telecom until late May and Roger had implemented the necessary KeyLink hierarchy by the first week in June.

All the learning network centres are account holders, as well as Roger and members of the ESU at Murdoch, Dr. Wally Howse as Chair of the WALNC committee and Gay Short as Executive Officer of the WALNC project, as well as this writer. The writer, the LNC centres and Roger have KeyLink addresses; the rest hold AARNet addresses. Hence, part of Roger's problems as the KeyLink administrator was to work out addresses that would enable the exchange of Email from AARNet to KeyLink and vice versa.

The system is now operational and functional, although there are limitations. The writer has transferred binary files of prepared work to the LNCs to be downloaded by students at the other end for use in the wordprocessing computer classes. Thus, formatted documents etc. can be transferred to the LNCs. Such documents, however, will not be transmitted across the AARNet gateway and can only be transmitted as unformatted text files. However, this is not significant as there is no real need to transfer such files across the AARNet gateway.

The writer is excited by the potential of the KeyLink connections with the LNCs and a question to consider is the cost effectiveness of using the Email process to download at the LNCs prepared lecture notes for classes in Mathematics, Statistics and Computing for the coordinators to then print out as a usual WP document, photocopy and then distribute. The current procedure of faxing the prepared lecture material induces a loss of quality in the final distributed product at the remote sites.

At the very last satellite computer session for the semester, the writer had tremendous pleasure in working with students at Broome and Derby developing an automated log in process for the 2400 baud AUSPAC 01924 number and gaining access to KeyLink for the first time at these centres. This was done without the LNC coordinators being there! We went through the User name and password process and Email was received by the students. They then composed a letter off line using the word processing module in ClarisWorks and mailed this to ALLCENTRES. Thus, all addresses on the WALNC KeyLink network received Email from the students at Broome and Derby. At the time of writing, it gave me great pleasure to be told that members of the KeyLink network are now replying to this mail.

The writer has developed elementary documentation for the logging on and composing mail process. The logon process has been automated to an extent by the use of a stationery ClarisWorks comms document that dials AUSPAC upon opening. Also, the writer has developed short cut key stroke macros that will enable the full automation of the log in process, although there is pleasure to be had in logging on and entering passwords and the like.

It is hoped that extensive use will be made of the Email facility in second semester to enable the transfer of files of work to and from students, to maintain contact with both the LNC coordinators and other members of the network.

Fax modem

The last development that can be remarked upon is the potential for the use of fax modems for the downloading directly from a computer of a wordprocessed or other documents, to be delivered as a facsimile at the remote receive site. At the time of writing, the author has just received a NetComm FaxModem 24 having placed an order for one nearly six months ago! Experiments on its use will take place shortly. However, the availability of Email via KeyLink might obviate the need of a fax/modem to a certain extent. The down side of down loading of prepared files at the remote site is that the coordinator or other must access KeyLink, down load the chosen binary file, open it with the appropriate application such as ClarisWorks, and then print it out on the printer. This would, however, produce a document with the same quality as the original, in comparison with a faxed copy either by conventional means or by a fax/modem.


Much developmental work in a variety of educational and information technologies has taken place in this trial period. There has been much to learn and master in order for the trial to proceed with some semblance of quality. The Department of Aboriginal Programmes within Edith Cowan University has transmitted satellite lectures in the areas of mathematics, statistics and computing, for six hours per week for the semester, that have been based on sound instructional design principles, as well as performing innovative work in the integration of the new technologies and media. Additional time has been spent in using the video conferencing facilities to train the coordinators in various necessary skills. Experiments and trials have taken place in the use of audiographics, computer conferencing and Email as means of delivery to the remote student.

Problems have been encountered in the use of interactive audio in satellite delivery and video conferencing. The writer recommends that further work on improving the audio links proceed with urgency. Consideration should be given to the Harvard Elite system. A means for incorporating the remote student's interactions such that they can be heard by students in Perth needs to be developed. A recent solution in the video conferencing situation has been the use of 008 dialin numbers from the remote centres through to the conferencing studio or lecture theatre. This enables all on the network to hear incoming calls clearly over the satellite broadcast and eliminates some of the feedback problems present in the ConferLink system. However, such 008 dialins will not provide the necessary ready access to the lecturer that is required in intense interactive situations such as the computer classes. The mechanism of mobile microphones used in the lecture theatre in Perth for on campus students is technically effective but not conducive to spontaneous interaction by local students. Thus, the remote students miss out on local interactions. A compromise between spontaneity and the general good will need to be made and adapted to.

The trial has, in a sense, been hijacked by the video conferencing / telecturing aspects. The concurrent State Information Technology's WestLink Project, with the ready availability of satellite receive dishes to the remote learning network centres and other sites , has meant that little time has been spent on exploring the other means of delivery such as audiographics. It is hoped that some resources will now be available to explore this medium more fully. Such development may well be essential as the WestLink trial comes to an end towards the end of this year and free use of satellite time will no longer be available. Increasing development of the ISDN network across the state will mean a growth in such modes of delivery as the PictureTel system which is cost effective but still beyond the means of the Learning Network Centres. Serious consideration needs to be given to exploring and developing alternative means of delivery other than concentrating on satellite telelectures. What will be the situation for the LNCs in 1993 and beyond if reliance is placed on this ageing and expensive technology, the cost of using which will presumably be borne by the LNCs? Recent developments in desktop video conferencing, such as the Cameo system, may well provide many, if not all, of the features of satellite conferencing at a fraction of the cost. These developments are being followed with close interest by the writer.

The writer has found the last six months the most intellectually stimulating and creatively satisfying of his career. It has also been the most stressful. If development of new technologies is to continue, it is essential that staff involved in research and development be given release from some duties to achieve these ends. The developments undertaken by the writer during the Networks for Learning trial were in addition to his usual teaching responsibilities. However, as a result, the quality of teaching provided both internally and to the remote students has improved markedly. Internal on campus students, despite the change in delivery style, have commented positively on the delivery of the lectures. Remote students now have access to education that was not previously available.


McGregor, A. and Latchem, C. (1991). Networks for learning: A review of access and equity in post-compulsory education in rural and remote areas of the State of Western Australia. Perth: Western Australian Office of Higher Education.

Rehn, G. (1992a). Chapter 7, Networks for Learning Trial: A Review. In A. McGregor (Ed), Networks on Trial. Perth: Western Australian Office of Higher Education.

Rehn, G. (1992b). An overview of the application within Edith Cowan University of interactive learning technologies in distance education for adult Aboriginal learners in remote and rural Western Australia. Proceedings International Interactive MultiMedia Symposium. Perth: January 1992.

Rehn, G. (1992c). Aboriginal programmes delivered by satellite. WestLink News, 1, June 1992. Perth: State IT., Department of State Services.

Rehn, G. (1992d). Developments in communication technology have potential for literacy. Adult language and Literacy Quarterly, 2(2),1. Perth: Adult literacy Services Bureau.

Rehn, G. (1992e). Telematics and Teaching. LiCs Newsletter August 1992. The Department of Library and Information Science, Edith Cowan University.

Rehn, G. (1991). The application of AUSSAT telecommunications technology to distance education in remote and rural Western Australia. Perth: Edith Cowan University. Unpublished paper.

Report of the Satellite Communications Project Working Party. (1991). Satellite delivery of government services. Perth: State IT, Department of State Services.

This article has been published also in Rehn, G. (1992). Networks for Learning Trial: A Case Study. In McGregor, A. (Ed), Networks on Trial, Chapter 7, pp37-46. Perth: Western Australian Office of Higher Education.

Geoff Rehn

Please cite as: Rehn, G. (1992). The Western Australian networks for learning trial: Overcoming the problems of distance. In J. G. Hedberg and J. Steele (eds), Educational Technology for the Clever Country: Selected papers from EdTech'92, 17-30. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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