Live interactive television is a popular medium for delivering educational programs to students in remote areas in Australia. The medium uses television to deliver a live one way video signal and standard telephony to provide two way audio communication between the instructor and students. Much of the potential of this medium is derived from the interactivity between the instructor and students that it supports. Because all interactions are ultimately student initiated, the medium has a number of unique and characteristic features. This paper describes a study that sought to identify different kinds of interactivity employed by instructors and students and to investigate the impact and role of these interactions on the subsequent instructional activities.
Live interactive television (LIT) is commonly used in Western Australia and other states in Australia, in the delivery of educational programs to school students in remote and rural areas This technology appears to provide a cost effective means to deliver educational programs in a variety of formats across vast distances. LIT involves a one way video link between the teacher and student through conventional television delivery and two way audio between teacher and students brought about through standard telephone communications.
The popular use of LIT as a delivery medium among local institutions stems from a variety of reasons. It is a relatively inexpensive delivery medium and uses technologies that are widely available among rural areas (Oliver & Grant 1994). A key component in the choice of this technology is the interactivity that it supports between the instructor and students and the ensuing educational advantages to be derived. This paper describes a study that was undertaken to investigate the form and nature of the interactions that are evident in LIT programs. The purpose of this investigation was to establish the impact of the interactivity provided by the technology in enhancing the quality and form of the instructional programs. The study sought to identify the means by which instructors use the interactive capabilities of the technology and the impact and role of the interactions within the instructional sequences.
A common alternative to a full audio conferencing capability in teleteaching is the use of a telephone communication link initiated by the student. This alternative significantly reduces the cost and equipment infrastructure needed to support the teleteaching program. The system enables students to phone the instructor during a lesson usually on a toll free number. Instructors provide opportunities for students to make the link during the lesson and when students do so, the teacher student discourse contributes to the lesson delivery. Many studies report that optimal use is frequently not made of the interactive capabilities of teleteaching technologies. In such settings, students often express dissatisfaction with the lack of direct communication with their instructors (eg. McCleary and Egan, 1989; Pirrong & Lathen, 1990).
The interactivity that is frequently sought in distance education and open learning is that associated with conversations between the teacher and the student. Whereas conventional interactions between teachers and remote students tend to be asynchronous in nature, classroom conversations tend to be synchronous and in real time. This is the sort of interactivity afforded by such technologies as teleteaching and LIT. Apart from offering support to teacher-student interactions, these technologies also provide scope to include the two other vital forms of interaction into distance education, learner-learner and learner-content (Moore, 1989; Mason, 1994).
Juler (1990) describes interactivity as a principal aspect of conventional face to face teaching that has traditionally been absent from open learning and distance education environments The potential of new technologies to overcome this problem has been met with high levels of enthusiasm by instructional designers and education providers. Interactivity provides a means to motivate and stimulate learners and provides the means for instructors to cause students to consider and reflect on the content and process of learning. Few would dispute the advantages to be derived from the inclusion of interactive elements in teaching and learning and the implicit assumption that interactive environments are superior to others appears to drive much of the activity and development in this field.
Many other technologies, for example, multimedia and computer mediated telecommunications, provide a form of one to one communication and conversation between the teacher and student. Previous research has identified the importance of this teacher-student dialogue if the maximum learning potential of the interaction is to be derived (eg. Laurillard, 1993). Many forms of technology used in distance and open education make the provision of one to one communication and interaction extremely difficult to achieve as a single teacher often needs to communicate with large numbers of external students. Strategies that have been used to overcome this problem include a range of 'off air' communication technologies including facsimile machines, email and telephone (Gunawardena, 1990).
An important question, frequently asked by researchers, is whether the attributes of effective face to face teaching are the same as what constitutes effective interactive television teaching? Gehlauf, Shatz & Frye (1991 ) found that instructors tended to use only a narrow range of instructional strategies and these tended to be based on their conventional teaching practices. There is an acceptance among many researchers that there are new skills that must be developed to effectively teach through interactive television. Chung (1991 ) provides a detailed description of student perceptions of important attributes of telecourses and a large number of the factors described by the students as essential relate directly to instructional strategies employed by the instructors.
Our previous research has demonstrated that LIT is not necessarily inferior to face to face teaching despite the reduced levels of teacher-student discourse that can be achieved (eg. McLoughlin, 1994). In fact minimal amounts of teacher-student interaction are frequently observed in many face to face teaching settings. The instructional design processes that accompany conventional teaching planning appear to make little use of interactions with individual students as a means to develop lesson content. Despite the many different forms and functions for interactions to take, many teacher-student interactions occur for reasons other than providing individualised feedback to aid individual learners (Cazden, 1988).
|Type of interaction||Description||Example|
|social||teacher/student talk establishing and developing rapport||T: Hello Mandy, how are you?|
S: Very well thank you.
T: Great to hear from you, what are you going to do for us?
|procedural||teacher/student dialogue involving information exchange on course requirements and procedures||S: Mr Gray, can you tell me how many pages you want us to write?|
T: I'm looking for about 2 pages in total.
S: Can we use a topic of our own choice?
|expository||student or teacher demonstrating knowledge or skill in response to a direct request from another||T: Can any one tell me the correct name for this animal?|
S: Is it raptorus maximus?
T: No, but it is from the raptorus family.
|explanatory||teacher using student responses to explain knowledge and develop content||T: This is how we place our fingers to play the note A. Can you play an A for me Mandy?|
S: Mandy plays an A.
T: That was good but you have to blow a bit harder and make sure your fingers are covering the holes completely.
|cognitive||teacher providing constructive feedback to a student response causing the student to reflect and to consider an alternative perspective/ reality||T: Can you tell me what you think was the main reason for his actions?|
S: He was angry and wanted to get even.
T: But was that all? What about his wish to improve his position and standing?
S: I suppose but he did but I thought that he would done it differently.
A more recent scheme developed by Henri (1992), based on the findings of cognitive psychology, aims to delve deeper into the different levels of meaning in messages in order to study the complexity of the learning process. Content analysis, as this approach is known, is an analytical approach which highlights the critical dimensions of the learning process: participative, interactive, social, cognitive and rnetacognitive. Content analysis was chosen for the present study because of its potential to provide a multilevel understanding of the learning process. As the original framework was developed by Henri (1992) for computer mediated communication, a modified version of the approach was used to create a framework for our investigation of LIT interactions. The need for students to initiate interactions in LIT has the potential to influences significantly the type and form of interactions which occur. An initial analysis of the videotaped lessons led to the identification of 5 types of communicative interactions evident in LIT teaching environments. Table 1 describes each of these interactions and provides an example and description of each.
All interactions in this series of lessons involved a social dimension as well as some other purpose. The teacher took the time to chat with each student who called, many of whom were known previously to him. The majority of the interactions also served an expository purpose with a child playing a piece on the recorder. In almost all instances, the feedback was positive and general. There was minimal use made of the students' playing to provide feedback that caused reflection or that caused some change in performance or activity. There were a number of instances when the feedback was used to make a general and explanatory point to all students. There were no procedural interactions. The television instruction was designed to supplement a correspondence course framework . Procedural matters were dealt with through independent interactions between the students and their course tutors.
This series of programs proved to be quite interactive. Each program typically received 6 to 8 calls from viewers. There were few social interactions among these. This was brought about by the open nature of the course delivery and the change in expert from program to program. There were only two social interactions observed and these occurred when viewers identified themselves as having called previously and greeted the presenter in a manner that led to a social exchange. The explanatory interactions in the program were brought about through the presenter and expert discussing aspects of the topic. The presenter frequently asked questions and sought clarification in much the same way as face to face students do in normal classrooms. At the same time, the expert often spoke to the presenter and sought feedback as an instructional strategy.
Viewers were frequently reminded of the talkback facility and encouraged to call in with questions. The presenter tended to follow a planned course of instruction and provided little opportunity for student participation other than direct questions. Whereas in other settings, the presenters planned and sought interactions through direct questions, offering incentives and appropriate presentation of content, this course offered a general invitation to callers but did not have an established place for interactions in the lesson design. As a consequence, few interactions resulted and those that did were mainly of an expository nature, being direct questions from students requiring specific answers.
The nature of the lessons from week to week was a discussion of relevant topics inviting responses from the viewers mingled with feedback on materials and work submitted by the students as part of the course requirements. The interactive component within this series of lessons formed a significant part of the teaching and learning. The instructor relied heavily on discussing issues and problems with the students as a means of presenting the course content and causing students to reflect and consider. The lessons were planned with interactions as a critical teaching element. This was a course in which cognitive interactions were evident. The presenter used the cognitive interactions to draw information from students and to cause them to consider responses and to reflect on their own impressions and attitudes.
The form of dialogue that was encouraged saw many of the interactions being of an explanatory form where the teacher encouraged other students to help present course content. These forms of interactions tended to involve many short exchanges between the student and instructor. In this way a considerable part of the teaching in any session was actually as a result of student explanation with the instructor guiding. At times, these explanations became cognitive interactions as the instructor probed and questioned students to further understanding.
This set of lessons revealed a large number of procedural interactions. Students frequently asked questions relating to course requirements when they called. These interactions tended to be handled quickly by the instructor who then took the opportunity to establish a dialogue with the student resulting in forms of exchanges representing other forms of interactivity. Frequently a procedural interaction with a student was followed immediately by an explanatory or expository interaction.
Table 2 shows a comparison of the relative frequency of the different forms of interaction observed across the 5 teaching programs.
The nature of the course and the viewing audience appeared to have a large impact on the forms of interactivity evident in the teaching episodes. in courses where there were enrolled students, for example Child Care and Women in Australian Society, the instructors tended to use the interactions as teaching instruments. Explanatory and cognitive interactions were quite prevalent. In situations where the audience was open and the instruction less focused on a course, for example Computer Applications and Science Matters, the interactions were expository in the main and less linked to a planned instructional program.
|Playing the Recorder||56%||0%||38%||6%||0%|
|Women in Australian Society||32%||0%||0%||29%||39%|
Students were observed to play a major role in the interactive episodes in all the lessons that were observed. In the first instance, the students initiated the interaction and did so with some specific intent. This tends to be quite different from normal teacher-student interactions where the teacher is usually the initiator of the interaction. When the teacher initiates the dialogue, the student usually responds directly to either a question or an imperative. In LIT settings, it is the teacher who initially becomes the respondent, It is only after the student's request has been answered that the teacher can perhaps initiate some further dialogue or communication. In this study, it was clear that many instructors chose not to further the communication after the initial dialogue. This resulted in a large number of exchanges being observed that tended to be short in duration and involving low levels of cognitive activity on the part of teacher and student. It was evident however that cognitive interactions are possible and relatively easy to implement through appropriate instructor led communication and dialogue.
It would appear that instructors may he under-utilising the potential of LIT as a medium capable of supporting cognitive interactions. Most instructors appear to use the interactive capability in a secondary capacity in their teaching and learning. Using the interactions for other than short exchanges in LIT has its inherent difficulties. As stated earlier, the instructor must wait for the student to call before any form of dialogue is possible. Once a call has been received, the instructor has to take control of the communication in order to initiate interactions of a higher cognitive order than might normally occur. This requires a degree of skill and experience on the part of the instructor and would appear to be a skill that might take some time to develop. At the same time, the instructor needs to be able to incorporate interactive elements into the planned instructional program. In this regard, LIT appears to require particular instructional design considerations that could he explicitly stated as a guide for intending instructors.
It is likely that LIT will continue to be used in the local context as a delivery medium for a range of open learning programs. The outcomes from this research have demonstrated possible shortcomings in current instructional design for this medium. Most instructors appear to make only limited use of the interactive capabilities and there appears to be considerable potential to extend learning outcomes. In our future research we plan to investigate strategies that can be employed in teaching with LIT to increase the level of cognitive interactions while maintaining an environment that is supportive and stimulating for all participants.
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|Authors: Ron Oliver and Catherine McLoughlin, Edith Cowan University|
Please cite as: Oliver, R. and McLoughlin, C. (1996). An investigation of the nature and form of interactions in live interactive television. In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and S. McNamara (eds), Learning Technologies: Prospects and Pathways, 115-122. Selected papers from EdTech'96. Canberra: AJET Publications. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech96/oliver.html