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Introducing interactive videodisc to the curriculum: The Australian adult migrant English education program

Deborah Banham
National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research
Macquarie University

Introductory comments on IVD the medium

In this paper I will be looking at the introduction of interactive videodisc programs into the Australian Adult Migrant English Program. Following a few general comments on the nature of the medium and its associated technological gadgetry, I will look more closely at the introduction of the interactive videodisc Aussie Barbie, a program designed and developed to assist adult learners of English in the Australian social context known as the 'barbie', and the design and production of two new programs to assist adult learners in their development of communication skills in English. and their understanding of learning strategies.

Interactive videodisc is a multimedia application which can be used in either a learning situation or as a point of information system for sales and marketing. A videodisc looks like a large compact disc but it differs in that it can store up to 36 minutes of analogue video and has more than one sound track accompanying the video sequence(s). Information stored on a videodisc is decoded by a laser disc player and a monitor. As laser technology works without actually touching the videodisc, it is possible to hold a single image on the screen indefinitely.

Videodisc can be used in several ways in the teaching environment. Most simply it can be used in a classroom by a teacher or instructor operating a remote control. This, is known as a level 1 system. All that is required to use a videodisc in this level 1 mode is a laser disc player connected to a TV receiver with a suitably large screen. The videodisc is a very flexible resource in the hands of a teacher or instructor because it allows almost instant access to material anywhere on the disc.

A videodisc becomes interactive when it is connected to a software program which allows the user to interact with the information presented on the screen. When so connected it can be a very flexible and efficient means of presenting a learning program. Because it allows almost instant access to material on any part of the disc, it also allows learners to follow a path through the material which suits their individual needs and learning styles. The videodisc is also a very flexible resource in the hands of a teacher or instructor, again because it allows almost instant access to material anywhere on the disc.

Rationale for choice of this technology...

In 1985 Adelaide College of Technical and Further Education chose the medium of videodisc for a program for teaching social English to adult immigrants who had recently arrived in Australia. The program, Aussie Barbie was designed and developed by Herb Peppard.

The choice to develop a program using interactive videodisc rested on its perceived strengths: its potential for interactivity, its possible dual function application as both a classroom resource and individual study workstation, its durability, the almost instant accessibility to any frame, its ability to hold a single frame for indefinite periods of time and the potential for ongoing programming.

...and the hardware available when choice was made

Initially the hardware chosen to run the program was a PC XT with a 360 floppy disk drive and fitted with a Multimedia Interactive Control board, a Sony monitor fitted with an Ellinor touch screen and a Sony 1500 laser disc player. The program was supplied with a startup disc.

The Aussie Barbie

The Aussie Barbie interactive videodisc was developed as a result of research and design carried out by a team at Adelaide College of Technical and Further Education headed by Herb Peppard. The research process involved a thorough exploration of the technical features available with interactive technology, literature searches and interviews with subject matter experts on the components theory of instructional design, point of view filming techniques and, of course, the language and cultural content for the program.

It was decided that the program would be designed to support visual choice and that visuals would be tools for content exploration. This approach was seen to be more appropriate to the learning objectives and goals of the adult language learner than the programmed learning approach of linear progression through a text dependent instruction program. A components based design meant exploring options for interaction with the program which would be user friendly and not dependent on previous computer or keyboard experience for access. Touch screen technology was investigated and it had to be imported for trial to ascertain its ability to meet the needs of the instructional design. It was eventually chosen as the interactive interface for the program.

Peppard's design allows the user. to explore the social conversation of an Australian barbecue by making visual choices using the touch screen. The video sequences include the learner in the conversation of their choice, and provide them with appropriate options to respond to simple conversational cues. These sequences are supported by short vignettes for each character, access to one on one conversations with them, and an extensive slide bank of related material.

The resulting program was a first in Australia In its use of innovative design features which allowed learners to choose their own pathway through the program, and in its flexibility as either a classroom resource or a stand alone learning program. The learner is invited to an Australian barbecue and then chooses to join different groups of people to participate in all the usual topics of conversation in such a social setting. The exercises are arranged for two levels of proficiency and learners can speak directly to any of the people present and find out more about them. Additional slide material arranged in subject categories. The program includes a comprehensive Teacher's Guide detailing all the frames on the videodisc, a Learner's Guide in 14 languages and transcripts of all the video sequences. It has been widely acclaimed both in Australia and overseas and programs have been purchased in Demark, Norway, Canada, and New Zealand. In 1988 Aussie Barbie won The ASET Award for Excellence in Educational Media Production; The Educational Computing Award, awarded by the Australian Society for Educational Technology.

Initially two copies of the Aussie Barbie program, both level 1 (classroom) and a level 3 (self access) hardware systems, were supplied to South Australia and New South Wales for trialing and feedback. Teachers using the program were asked to record the time they spent on a particular lesson, the students responses, difficulties with the program and difficulties with the equipment. At the end of the trial period teachers who had been using the program were interviewed individually to further ascertain the usefulness of the program. The results of this early trialing and research are documented in Anderson, The Use of Technology in Adult Literacy Programs (1990).

The specific hardware choices

The Adult Migrant English Program, (AMEP, formerly the Adult Migrant Education Program) in Australia was established by the Commonwealth Government's Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to assist migrants who did not have sufficient English to be able to access community services and employment opportunities. In 1987 it was decided to make the Aussie Barbie program and appropriate hardware available to the Adult Migrant English Program throughout Australia. This time the hardware chosen for the level 3 (self access) workstation was the Pioneer laser disc player LDV 4100 bolted together with a PC XT. The Aussie Barbie was loaded into the hard disk and accessed through a menu program. The Sony monitor and soft membrane touch screen were also chosen for delivery. Where the program was going to be used in the classroom as a level 1 resource, a Sony 1500 laser disc player was used with a remote control and whatever TV monitor was available. Thus the two different modes of operation were kept quite separate.

Equipment was allocated to the different Australian states on the basis of the number of clients the AMEP was serving in that state. New South Wales and Victoria were the two largest states and received 8 level 3 and 8 level 1 workstations each. Victoria distributed and installed the equipment soon after it was delivered. The other states received one each of the level 3 and level 1 hardware set ups. All states were offered an initial teacher training session at no cost, and an opportunity for further sessions upon request. Victoria and South Australia arranged for further workshops early in the implementation stage and in these two states there are a core of teachers who have used the program extensively.

Where there were teachers and program managers who were offered a comprehensive workshop there were always those who became very interested in the program and saw it as offering alternative learning strategies to students. The program was readily accepted in these teaching centres. Teachers who offered the level 3 (self access) workstation to learners reported that students enjoyed using the program and generally seemed to learn from it (Anderson, 1990). Some of the teachers who became interested in using the program in NSW, NT and Tas have developed print exercises to extend the program and further challenge the learner.

Reports done to date have focussed on the content of the program and comments from those who have used it have consistently pointed out the students' appreciation of the material. Anderson (1990) interviews only one Deputy Principal for comments from an administrator's point of view and this person had had no problems with the hardware and service and support in a centre where a technician is always on hand. Not an centres have technical support and it has become increasingly important to provide backup and support as the original hardware ages.

For further comments from both teachers and learners see the reports by Anderson (1990) and Cox (1990). In Language Learning with Laser (1989) Peppard outlines the initial difficulties of introducing any new technology into the teaching context and underlines the importance of adequate teacher training and preparation as part of any new initiative.

2 new videodiscs

In 1988 the National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research decided to fund 2 more interactive videodiscs for the Adult Migrant English Program; one from the existing footage of the Special Broadcasting Service's television program for migrants called Hello Australia and one which would be produced from original footage and focus on communication and learning strategies. A steering committee was set up to oversee the production and development of these two videodiscs. Hello Australia and Communicating: getting the message across were pressed in 1989, and the software for the programs was developed over the following year. Both programs are now available and include comprehensive teacher's guides.

Hello Australia

Hello Australia was commissioned to provide additional interactive material for both teachers and learners. A videodisc based on content with which teachers were already familiar was seen as desirable to assist them to focus on learning to use the technology. For the learners the self access program provides consolidation for work covered in the classroom or, alternatively, it may be used as a stand alone program by the learner The dramas and sequences included on the videodisc were chosen for their relevance to highlighting strategies for learning about language and culture. The exercises are arranged in simple multiple choice form, and focus on developing the learner's understanding of cultural conventions, learning strategies, communication repair strategies, and specific language and vocabulary items. The material on the videodisc is accessible through two menus. The Main Menu is a visual representation of the main dramatic sequences presented; the Language Menu arranges short vignettes and exercises by language function. Early feedback on learners' responses to the self access program suggests that they enjoy using it.

Communicating: getting the message across - research and production

It was decided that Communicating would be designed to assist newly arrived immigrants at beginner to intermediate level English proficiency in the development of communication and learning skills and strategies. It was to consist entirely of natural language interactions between native and non-native speakers. Researchers were engaged to establish the contexts most appropriate to the needs of the target audience. Their research involved a literature search, a diary exercise on the part of learners and interviews with both learners and teachers. From the research 12 specific locations were chosen to cover a range of service encounters of varying complexity. The research process is documented in Mah (1990).

Five learners were selected from volunteers of post-beginner to intermediate levels of oral English language proficiency. taken to the various locations and asked to perform a service encounter task with no opportunity for rehearsal. They were filmed in the task using a minimum of equipment and preparation to keep the encounter as natural as possible. The resulting videotape footage was edited to highlight the communication strategies and difficulties of both the English speaking service providers and the learners of English as a second language. An interactive videodisc program was developed to exploit the learning potential of this material.

Communicating: getting the message across, the interactive videodisc package, is now available and includes the videodisc, the software program and a Teachers Guide. The program has been written to run on the hardware listed above with upgraded interactive software which will allow either touch screen or mouse interface.

The package has just been released and the response from both teachers and students to the program is still to be documented. However, at an introductory workshops held in Adelaide, Darwin and Sydney for teachers in the Adult Migrant English Program, it was received with enthusiasm. Teachers involved in the workshops appreciated that this program is not designed to model "correct English", but is designed to provide learners with an understanding of different communication strategies available to them to assist them in their acquisition of a new language.

Possible future directions for NCELTR in the area of educational technology

Possible future developments from NCELTR could include software for NCELTR's existing videodiscs to run on a Macintosh platform, the development of simple authoring programs using options such as barcode so that teachers can develop programs to meet the individual needs of their learners, and enhancements to incorporate voice recording and playback. Research into new platforms which have been developed in innovative technology will be vital in the consideration of any future developments in interactive multimedia, as will be the ongoing development of teacher training to implement any new programs.

For further information about the interactive videodiscs Aussie Barbie, Hello Australia and Communicating: getting the message across, please contact Marketing and Sales, National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research, Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia.


Anderson, J. (1990). The Use of Technology in Adult Literacy Programs. Canberra: Department of Employment, Education and Training.

Anderson, J. and Field, A. (1988). The Aussie Barbie: A National Education Project. Adelaide. Adult Migrant Education Program.

Cox, E. (1990). The Aussie Barbie Interactive Video Disc. Melbourne: Adult Migrant Education Program.

Mah, D. (1990). Designing an Interactive Videodisc: Applying Theory to Technology. In G. Brindley (ed.), The Second Language Curriculum in Action. Sydney: The National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research.

Peppard, H. (1989). Language Learning with Laser. Journal of Reading, 32(7), 628-633.

Please cite as: Banham, D. (1992). Introducing interactive videodisc to the curriculum: The Australian adult migrant English education program. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 47-52. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/banham.html

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