This paper offers an alternate approach to the delivery of offshore programs. Opportunities are being missed by many Australian institutions in their push to enrol students in their twinning programs or to bring them to Australia for study. Communications technologies have the potential to provide a more interactive, participative model for the delivery of international education programs. This may result in two benefits: an improvement in the quality of existing programs and activities and the opening of new markets in the areas of in service training for teachers, staff development for employees in both the private and public sectors, and retraining of workers, government officials and managers.
Interaction has many meanings, including exchange, interchange, correspondence, come together, interplay, interconnect, reciprocation, symbiosis, cross fertilisation and communication. It is almost a truism to state that most learning materials involve some form of interaction. However, current usage tends to focus on interaction with machines (particularly computer games, computer simulations and computer based learning). The emphasis in this paper is on human interaction, particularly the use of technology to help people separated by distance to interact with other people: students and lecturers, students and students.
Cooperative is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "working together to the same end". In an ideal offshore relationship, cooperation would mean involving local partners and ensuring that the program includes strengthening the capability of local institutions.
Localised refers to the need to modify existing curricula and learning materials to suit local culture, learning styles and context. It also includes a consideration of language issues. cultural sensitivities and the use of appropriate technology.
Finally, dumping is used to refer to the practice of western universities selling off the shelf courses to students overseas with little regard for suitability, consequence or support services.
It is clear from information available from our neighbours that traditional delivery methods alone, cannot cope with the demand for education and training. For example, in order to implement curriculum changes Indonesia has 1.2 million teachers to upgrade and the demand for qualified teachers has been intensified by the increase in compulsory school attendance from 6 years to 9 years. It is estimated that it will take 30 years to train these teachers using current methods.
Other countries in the region, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand have similar dilemmas.
The Government is increasingly aware of the brain drain from the country, a major cause of which are students who do not return from their studies overseas. Increased regulations on travel overseas, tor example, the imposition of a travel bond or similar for students going overseas, has been explored by the Malaysian Government. Should such restrictions be imposed, the number of students able to pursue overseas study will decline.
At a recent distance education forum held in Adelaide, Hong Kong educators expressed concern about the way Australian and other western universities were in effect dumping courses on that country's students. Their research showed that students were largely left to fend for themselves with few foreign institutions offering adequate support (Back, Cheng, Lam and Godfrey, 1993). There were also serious organisational shortcomings in that courses were often incomplete, non-accredited, or the content not adapted to local contexts.
Australian institutions have a significant time zone advantage over the long established and well respected American, Canadian, British and European institutions. The use of communications technology to provide interaction and contact between offshore students and Australian academics has the potential to provide this edge. A catch cry might easily be "We keep you in touch with your Professor".
Fitness for purpose
"Distance education has in some ways been more a model of cultural imperialism than a model of appropriate development. Attempts have been made to export models of Western systems to cultures and contexts which render them unfit for their intended purposes. Perhaps this is not too surprising if it is considered that aid assistance comes under conditions that do more to support development in the land of the donor rather than the recipient." (Meacham. 1993)Distance education for all?
"Assertions that distance education is for all, unrestricted by geography or other dimensions of isolation, are simply not tenable in many rural areas of the developing world ... The system should accommodate a critical analysis of the existing infrastructure, the potential for cost effective improvements and an acceptance of the limits of accessibility; such a view being predicated on a rejection of equity of access as the purpose of distance education" (Meacham. 1993)From a historical view of developed world assistance
... developed to developing world assistance in education has tended to be provider driven and/or aid politics driven..."The need for student support
In future, it needs to be "more aware of its undermining potential with regard to local education, expertise and education for long term development; and more appropriate in terms of its transferred cultural, economic and social models." (McMechan and Matthewson, 1993)
"... where North Island College has offered non-traditional learners greater structure and support (especially in our live televised courses) completion rates and student satisfaction have soared" (Persons and Catchpole, 1992)The need for two way communication in distance education
"If distance learning is to be provided it is essential that adequate student support be provided and that overseas students are not treated as second class students who receive less support than 'home' students" (Back, Cheng, Lam and Godfrey, 1993)
"In distance education there is a growing need and appreciation of sustained two way communication in the process of analysing and developing knowledge. Meeting the demands of an educational transaction at a distance is dependent upon communications technologies which provide frequent and regular interaction between teacher and student, as well as student and student ... Replacing the teacher with a package of course content does not make learning more student centred. It simply risks making learning more private and therefore less likely to transform the views and perspectives of the learner in a positive developmental manner" (Garrison, 1990)Effective use of telecommunications
"A technological revolution has occurred, and it has produced so many opportunities for enriching and enhancing instruction, for connecting people who are geographically distant. and tor redefining the classroom that the challenge is not whether to use telecommunications as part of higher education. but how to use it." ("Going the Distance", 1992)
The cost of communications hardware and services is on a rapid downward spiral, as advances in technology and increased competition take effect. Each educational scenario needs to be considered on its merits and cost benefit studies undertaken to determine the appropriate level of support for students.
The perpetuation of such myths through ignorance and prejudice limits the opportunities tor activities in the region.
Audio conferencing using loud speaking (hands free) telephones can link multiple parties of remote groups or individuals creating the effect of one gathering. The telephone provides an essential link between remote trainer and trainee: it facilitates tutorials amongst groups or individual students separated by geographic or other circumstances; it can be used for meetings between busy executives, reducing the need to travel, thus creating savings in both costs and productivity.
The Universiti Sains Malaysia (Penang) evaluation of its teletutorials was consistent with findings from similar activities. It was noted that they:
It is a one way at a time technology requiring some discipline for effective use. However, experiences in Australia over many years have proven HF radio as an effective method of providing both social and educational interaction tor isolated children and adults. The technology is well established in most countries where an HF Radio Call Service (RCS) for subscribers in rural or remote areas is linked with the public telephone network.
Recently, the Malaysian Ministry of Education has successfully undertaken some test trials using HF radio for fax and data transfer in addition to voice communications, with the aim of reducing the isolation of both children and teachers in its most remote areas.
By using broadcast technology, talkback television is able to provide interactive learning to people in the most remote areas using comparatively cheap reception equipment. Viewers within the satellite footprint are able tune in to the sessions, which are usually open for telephone calls to discuss issues with lecturers and guest experts.
Presentations (lectures, conferences, seminars, workshops, tutorials) are uplinked to the satellite from central classrooms or lecture theatres, or transmitted via video conferencing links from regional centres, if a network exists. In this way, students in remote areas can participate in activities occurring in any of the major regions across a country.
In addition to being able to broadcast programs to a wide area, a number of narrowcast options exist with satellite communications, particularly those with an encoded signal like the B-MAC system used in Australia and elsewhere. Programs are transmitted to preselected sites as a 'closed' session, ensuring privacy and confidentiality. When students enrol in a course of study, unique identification numbers are used by the control computer to activate each decoder. The concept of narrowcasting may alleviate some concerns about satellite broadcasting held by governments in the region. Talkback television:
Most commonly, video conferencing refers to fully interactive, two way video and audio communications between a network of sites using digitally compressed video technology with the signals transmitted via digital telephone links, often through optic fibre cable. It is essentially a point to point business communications tool, that has been successfully adapted for the delivery of education and training. When used with appropriate methodologies, video conferencing is able to provide a learning environment between remote locations that very closely approximates face to face classroom activities. Practical demonstrations, tutorials, role playing and seminars are often more effective than traditional lecture presentations as they encourage greater interaction between participants.
This may be culturally appropriate for those preferring traditional delivery methods and could be considered as an alternative for some residential in service activities as well as for meetings and seminars. For industrial applications, the technology has the capacity to provide cost effective communications links from training providers to work sites, reducing the need for costly overseas travel and providing more personnel with access to a wider range of courses.
The great advantage of this form of delivery is its potential to maximise limited expertise both within countries and throughout the region. Human resources that are often concentrated in a few centres can readily be shared with clients in widely separated areas while minimising travel time, accommodation costs and lost productivity.
Video conferencing offers:
Computer based training, computer managed learning, and other forms of computer involvement in education have also been around for decades. Refinements in hardware and software have enabled program design to transcend programmed learning. The availability of low cost desktop systems, providing high level graphics and sound, has overcome the previous dependence on high cost, high powered computers for the creation of interesting and stimulating multimedia learning environments.
Innovative applications now include surrogate laboratories where students can experiment with simulated equipment without fear of accidents and explosions, language learning programs that provide both aural, visual and written training and multi media programs that provide a rich mix of moving image, graphics, sound and text. Progress through the programs can be carefully monitored by the computer which is also able to provide reports on achievement to both the student and teacher.
Audio graphics (electronic whiteboards, and other computer based interactive graphics systems) also fall within this category. Software like The Electronic Classroom being used extensively by students in schools throughout Victoria provide a visual dimension to voice and print based activities.
Advantages offered by interactive computing include:
The technologies suggested in this paper have proven to be effective in a variety of situations throughout both the developed and the developing world. There have also been a lot of expensive and spectacular failures. Ultimately, it is the choice and application of the technologies together with appropriate methodologies and training that will ensure success.
Eckermann (1993). Quality Issues in International Distance Education Programs Offshore. Paper presented to IDP National Conference, October 1993.
Garrison (1990). An analysis and evaluation of audio teleconferencing to facilitate education at a distance. American Journal of Distance Education, 4(3), 13-24
Going the Distance (1992). Annenberg/CPB and PBS Adult Learning Services publication.
McMechan and Matthewson (1993). A Commonwealth Asia/Pacific Distance Education Network. Distance Education Futures (ASPESA).
Meacham (1993). Quality and Context in the Developing World: Fitness for Purpose, Whose Purpose? Distance Education Futures (ASPESA).
Persons, H. and Catchpole, M. (1987). The addition of audio conferencing to interactive telecourses: An experimental analysis of dropout rates. Distance Education, 8(2), 251-258.
|Author: John Kirk, Principal Lecturer, Innovative Learning Systems, Adelaide Institute of TAFE, 20 Light Square Adelaide, South Australia 5000, Phone (618) 207 8524; Mobile 015 394 785; Fax (618) 207 8555.
Please cite as: Kirk, J. (1994). Using communications technology to increase participation in the delivery of international education. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 151-157. Canberra: AJET Publications. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech94/ak/kirk.html