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The implications of the convergence of computing and communications systems on education

Gawain Duncan
SA Technology School of the Future

This paper deals with the role that communications systems are playing now in facilitating effective education. It also attempts to present a view of what will be possible in the near future and the impact that this will have on learning. During the presentation 'online' and audio visual examples will be demonstrated.

During the eighties there was a surge of interest in computer based communication systems. This interest died down when many educators realised that the paradigm of the computing system was not consistent when it involved communication, in particular telecommunications. For example, secondary schools utilised computer networks. Workstations used text and graphic based tools and could transfer data at a rate that did not detract from the level of productivity that users were enjoying. This rate was typically from 20 kb/sec to 1 Mb/sec. When communications devices where added data transfer slowed to 30 bytes/sec. Not only did educators have to work at slower speeds but the type of information and application was therefore very limiting. Text only systems offering limited databases and data transfer. It is said that after the Modem boom during the eighties came the modem cupboard boom. Things are changing in the nineties. Remote data transfer speeds via the phone network have increased to 1800 bytes/sec. With systems like Appletalk Remote Access, Remote Windows, AppleLink and CompuServe the desktop paradigm has been maintained. Telecom has made a commitment that Australia will have a totally digital phone network before the turn of the century. Using current ISDN technology this would mean that home phones could increase their throughput to 64 kb /sec. Hardly the 1 Mb/sec of Ethernet or 10 Mb/sec of FDDI. It is these later transfer rates that will enable media of all forms to be transferred.

What can we do with current systems in education?

By using graphics based search systems the resources of libraries and educational institutes are easily available to educators, if not at a cost in both consumption and learning curves. However the amount of useful information and the ability to draw together educational teams from around the world to pursue communications projects is compelling. The problem now is one of information overload. With over 5000 nodes on the Internet searches can yield a lot of data, much of which may not be relevant. Systems such as Gopher and World Wide Web are emerging to enable users to traverse this sea of data. These systems are first attempts at constructing 'Intelligent Agents'. Systems designed to navigate through and filter relevant data based on parameters set by the user. Current generation communication systems also provide real time video transfer.

We are seeing the emergence of the videophone although no standards have been established to date. These systems clearly have a role to play in humanising remote education and enabling documents and AV material to be transferred in real time to anywhere on earth. Satellites are providing a one version of this concept (Vic Homework channel).

What's next?

It would seem that communications and computer technology are converging. This in fact is at the heart of the 'Super Highway' concept. 'Set Top' boxes will take the familiar computer game system form and connect to your TV along with satellite, cable TV, phone and data network. What are the implications for education for this type of system? Telecommuting. We might expect to see work and education become decentralised. An increasing number of tasks will be done out of the office or school. The implications for this are interesting to say the least. This seminar will explore the possible implications for education of this model.

Author: Gawain Duncan is Technology Across the Curriculum Coordinator. Internet:

Please cite as: Duncan, G. (1994). The implications of the convergence of computing and communications systems on education. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 56. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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