IIMS 92 contents
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Interactive multimedia and curriculum orientations in professional education

Bob Hardingham and Roy Lundin
Queensland University of Technology

1. The Australian context

The norms of contemporary educational thought in Australia have been largely engendered by an orientation towards instrumental reason based on mechanistic and technological parameters. This philosophical stance promotes values of control, efficiency, predictability and accountability. Such values reflect the educational structures which have served Australian education well for many years. During those periods of relative economic stability associated with the pre-industrial and industrial phases of development in Australia, our educational systems were remarkably successful in accommodating the needs of a large country and a relatively small population.

The Australian scene, however, has changed substantially in recent times. Economic, political and social developments worldwide have made it increasingly difficult for Australia to maintain its relatively high living standards and compete in changing world markets. The nation has not kept pace with the multitude of new international developments. The north Atlantic and north Pacific regions continue to dominate the world economic scene through the restructuring of traditional industrial practices and the development of new trade arrangements. Employment opportunities worldwide are moving from agricultural and manufacturing industries towards information industries, human service areas, consultancies and financial investment. In addition to these economic changes, there are enormous political and social reconstructions underway in Europe, the Soviet Union, South Africa and other parts of the world. Whilst it is not yet possible to determine the significance of such developments, it is clear that the world scene is changing rapidly.

A central element of the problem facing Australia is that our current education systems have not been geared to accommodate the modem world economy, large and sudden social and political upheavals influencing international relationships, or the cultural, economic and political influences flowing from developments in the Asian Pacific region.

Governments, unions and industry are only now seeking to remedy our situation in a post-industrial world. The need for a multi-skilled and flexible workforce is recognised as an essential element to be addressed in developing a "clever country". The strategy for achieving such a goal, however, seems to be predominantly shaped by economic or economic rationalist policies. Within this context the focus is on competency based standards which tend to reflect a mechanistic, controlled, and deterministic view of teaching and learning. The general curriculum orientation which supports such a focus is linear in nature.

Such a system militates against uniqueness, creativity and individual autonomy. Yet these elements would seem to be critical in addressing the multitude of complex problems facing the nation. The complexity of current and future national concerns will not be well served by development programs which emphasise preconceived ideas about innovations, plans, employment or education. Opportunities should be provided for students to interact with the curriculum in order to extract some personal meaning from it which may broaden their intellectual understandings in directions which may or may not have been pre-specified. The reform process should at least accommodate a range of strategies and not be dominated by competency based standards defined in a narrow sense by economic rationalist decision makers.

The most noteworthy example in Australia of an attempt to reconcile the competency based and open learning (or learner centred) orientations is to be found in the TAFE sector. National competencies are being defined for literally every aspect of technical and vocational training. At the same time a national strategy has just been developed (Widdowson, Lundin and Stanford, 1991) to introduce a range of alternative delivery systems and other elements consistent with open learning in which learner autonomy is emphasised.

This is also a time in our history when interactive technologies are becoming more readily available for the ongoing development of teachers and other service professionals. Governments and industry are recognising the value of using these technologies to convey programs across the nation and, in particular, service employees in their workplaces.

Overseas, both in Europe and North America, the use of all forms of broadcast and interactive (e.g. teleconferencing) technologies has risen dramatically in the past five years. In Australia, over $10 million has been spent on video conferencing systems in the three years, 1988 to 1991. There are now over 10 systems across the states and territories and across all sectors of education and training. Furthermore, the Commonwealth government has established a National Open Learning Policy Unit which has, in collaboration with the Australian Education Council (AEC) Working Party on a National Education Communication Framework, commissioned six consultancies to develop a coordinated system for educational use of technologies. A '6th Channel' for national educational television is being mooted as part of this planning.

The growing popularity of such technological means of educating professional calls for a clear understanding of the conceptual frameworks likely to be adopted by this approach. There are a number of curriculum orientations underpinning approaches to professional development in general and the relationship between these orientations and the interactive technologies should be examined. Do the technologies favour a particular curriculum approach, are they able to accommodate a range of curriculum possibilities or do they, in fact, facilitate new modes of learning and teaching not generally recognised in more traditional forms of professional development? Answers to such questions may be used to strengthen, weaken or modify the direction and form adopted by users of various technologies.

At a time when governments and industry are seeking to improve the performance of the Australian workforce through a competency based strategy where the goals, objectives and levels of performance are all pre-set, it is important that the potential use of interactive technologies be fully appreciated and understood. Otherwise there may emerge an unhealthy link between the competency based movement and interactive technologies. This relationship could be unwittingly strengthened by the users of the technology not fully appreciating the alternative approaches to curriculum development including the need to incorporate adult principles of learning.

2. Technology in education

Technology has become a key issue in education from two angles: firstly, as a subject within the curriculum and, secondly, as a tool to enhance teaching and learning. With regard to the first, it is part of the national reform agenda for schooling that technology be a top priority in the curriculum so that Australia can become the 'clever country'.

The second area has its roots in the audiovisual history which can be traced back to Skinner and the behaviourist tradition based on the work by Pavlov on his dogs. The proponents of this tradition say that technology, in its widest sense, has been the basis of a major shift from teacher centred education to student centred learning through providing new options for 'individualised instruction'. The phrase 'individualised instruction' could be interpreted as reflecting a point of view of how teaching and learning takes place, and is inherent in such closed systems as programmed learning. The notion is still very much alive, however, and is now being found in the competency based curriculum developments in TAFE and in the teachers' job analysis activities in some education departments and national projects to determine what teachers do and what training is necessary to develop the necessary competencies. This may have considerable implications for teacher training programs.

In terms of such competency based notions, communications and information technology is being seen as a way of providing the necessary training. Does educational technology by its very nature lead to competency based training or can it also support more open and personalised learning approaches? There is now a major push towards developing more open learning and 'open access' options in training and professional development.

With regard to the schools sector, teachers' demography is congruent with Australia's population which means that about half are in non-urban areas. A majority of teachers is women, and almost all teachers work full time. Flexible, open access to teachers' professional development is essential if there is to be equity. The use of communications technology may be the only way to ensure this at a reasonable cost.

In terms of both teachers' professional development and school curricula the use of communications technology for delivery could result in a form of central control or it could support the coordinated decentralisation of education and training thus empowering the learners to be able to make more choices about their learning. With regard to control in teachers' professional development, for example, there is a great interest in the federal government in the use of satellite video for this. One could envision the federal Minister for Education using that system to 'baptise' all the teachers in Australia with a sprinkling of in service by satellite! Whether the balance tips one way or the other will be dependent upon the policies adopted by our educational systems.

With regard to curriculum delivery one can refer to a recent newspaper article, 'Class sizes of 10,000 on way' (Courier Mail, 13 April 1991) which talks about the agreement among all the Ministers of Education on the previous day to endorse a national policy to take satellites and advanced telecommunications into schools and TAFE colleges within the next few years. The same infrastructure which is set up for curriculum delivery can be used for teachers' professional development as well as for that of other professions and the whole range of community education and training activities.

There are several concerns being expressed by some educators with regard to the pedagogical implications of such a system. On the other hand, there are numerous examples from the USA and Canada of such systems in operation. These may be of relevance here:

Another concern is that the use of these technologies for school curriculum delivery may result in teachers becoming redundant and that the students in rural and remote Australia may be being taught by technology rather than by 'a real live teacher. Firstly, the fear of technology replacing teachers has never yet occurred and is not likely to in the foreseeable future. It is more likely that teachers at the local level will need even greater expertise than before to make the. professional choices about why and when to use the technologies. Secondly, when teaching has been conducted via the technology, the results have been very positive both in terms of student satisfaction and achievement. The American Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in its report, Linking for Learning: A New Course for Education (1989) includes the following in its major findings: Experiences in Australia are confirming these findings.

Ideally, the use of existing and emerging technologies should provide equity of access for everyone who wants to learn something and empowerment of the learners. Technology should be perceived as a neutral channel providing new options regardless of curriculum orientations

3. Curriculum orientations

Current literature refers to a number of curriculum orientations associated with the ongoing development of teachers and other service professionals. An orientation refers to a set of ideas about the goals of professional development and the means of achieving them. Such ideas should give form and direction to such elements as program planning, course development, instructional strategies and evaluation processes. The orientations identified in this paper are not mutually exclusive. Indeed a number of them may well be incorporated into the one program. The characteristics of some of the more common orientations are highlighted here to indicate the challenge that should be addressed by the users of the technologies. It is important that the interactive technologies be promoted as accommodating these and other learning orientations if this emerging form of delivery is to be fully accepted as a genuine alternative to more traditional modes of delivery.

3.1 The discipline studies orientation

The discipline studies orientation views the professional as being primarily concerned with acquiring an in depth knowledge and understanding of the relevant disciplines. The teacher's role, according to this orientation, would be viewed as academic leader, scholar, or subject matter specialist. Good professionals are those who know the factual information, concepts and procedures associated with their particular field of endeavour. Such assumptions, however, are being challenged by scholars such as Ball (1988), Leinhardt and Smith (1985), Shulman (1987) and Stodolsky (1988). The knowledge of one's discipline area interacts with other kinds of knowledge to influence professional practice. Linear forms of transmitting knowledge consistent with the Tyler model of delivery are appearing to be inadequate.

Hence interactive modes of learning to incorporate the complexity of discipline knowledge within professional practice situations would be more desirable.

3.2 The technological orientation

The technological orientation focuses on the principles and practices derived from the scientific study of the profession. This movement assumes that a certain number of behaviours are necessary for the professional to operative effectively and these behaviours are identified by researchers in the field. This technological or scientific approach is the foundation for the competency based movement. Critics of the movement point out the inadequacies of the research to describe the complexity of professional practice. Clift et al (1990) indicate that 'teacher behaviours, like those in other professions, such as medicine, are driven by decisions and judgements made in uncertain, complex environments'. The competency based model according to Tuxworth (1989) is unsupported by research evidence and the effects of this movement over many years has been minimal. It is therefore, surprising that there continues to be such a strong international movement for the Professions to adopt such an orientation.

3.3 The personal orientation

The personal orientation places the professional individual at the centre of the development process. Professional development is construed as a process of learning to understand and develop oneself effectively. The professional learner is in control of the learning agenda. The program is driven by principles of adult learning whereby the learners take responsibility for their own development by seeking to address their perceived inadequacies. Traditional modes of instruction where goals and strategies are pre-set by instructional planners are incompatible with this form of development. This more open approach to professional development is generally associated with in service development where the student has had some considerable experience in the field. Hence it would benefit greatly if the interactive technologies were able to accommodate the demands of such a flexible process.

3.4 The critical/social orientation

This particular orientation focuses primarily on the need to create a more just and equitable society. The strategy is generally designed to promote democratic values, to empower students, and to link the professional development program with experiences in the wider community. The process promotes critical analysis of current practice and the means for bringing about constructive change. It is a highly interactive approach designed to help students inquire into their current behaviours and resulting implications for those whom they serve. Interactive technologies are able to support such an orientation and should be promoted as being well equipped for this purpose.

3.5 The practical orientation

The practical orientation is primarily concerned with the skills, techniques and strategies used by effective practitioners. The main source of knowledge emerges from experience in the workplace. Professional development becomes an interactive process between practice and theory. Insights by Schon (1983) about the nature of professional practice illustrate how professional performance is associated with the practical orientation. Schon examines the concept of 'knowing in action' held by competent practitioners in their work. He notes that many situations are not adequately addressed by established theory or accepted practice and describes how thoughtful practitioners engage in on the spot reflection and experimentation. By conversing internally with the situation, these professionals are able to consider different interpretations or courses of action to develop an appropriate response.

The ongoing development of professionals from this orientation comes about through a combination of lived experience and interaction with peers and teachers regarding troublesome situations. Through such experiences the beginning professional is introduced to a community of practitioners and a profession of practice.

Interactive technologies can help facilitate this network of professional practitioners.

4. The place of communications technology

Although basic technologies such as videos, radio, audio tapes and more recently microcomputers have been increasingly integrated into the mainstream of the curriculum, electronic communication technologies such as audio, audiographic, video and computer-text teleconferencing have been viewed as belonging to distance education. These are now penetrating internal programs as well. The shift is now to use all technologies to create new options so that differences between 'internal' and 'external' studies are disappearing (Stewart, Keegan and Holmberg, 1989; Smith and Kelly, 1989).

Garrison (1986) focussed specially on microcomputer based audiographic teleconferencing as being 'The Third Generation' of distance education. There is, however, a Fourth Generation as indicated in the extension of Garrison's figure below:

Medium Correspondence Teleconferencing Computer basedComputer based
Message/ communication channelPrint/ visualAudio/ auditoryVideo, audiovisual and auditoryVideo, audiovisual and auditory
Delivery systemMailCommunications networkComputer terminal and communications networkComputer terminal
Method of instructionIndividual GroupIndividualIndividual and group
Mode of deliveryAsynchronousSynchronous Asynchronous and synchronousAsynchronous and synchronous

Figure 1: Technology and Media Distance Education. Adapted from Garrison, 1986, p.27.

New and existing communication technologies provide new options for sharing educational expertise, resources and research. These options go beyond the traditional notion of distance education (Barker, Frisbie and Patrick, 1989; Garrison, 1987; Lundin, 1988). The challenge for educators is to develop new models and program designs for exploiting the special attributes of these technologies to enhance the quality of teaching and learning programs, and this can be done regardless of the curriculum orientation adhered to by a particular lecturer or institution.

4.1 Correspondence courses to open learning

Another development during the past 10 years has been the progression from 'correspondence' and 'external studies' to 'distance education' and 'open learning. Communications technologies are not specific to distance education - in the geographical sense. It is now possible to use these technologies to bring in education and training as well as send it out. New options for sharing among institutions, teachers, researchers and learners are now available regardless of location.

In the recent past the use of communications technology tended to be seen as a way of making up for what was missing in traditional external studies/correspondence education - a deficiency model of distance education. There is a realisation now that interactive electronic technologies - audio, audiographic, video and computer-text - can contribute to the quality of education for both on campus and off campus students - a value added model of education. As such, this new model can provide new forms of flexibility and extension for the creative development and delivery of education. In this sense 'distance education' is giving way to the broader concept of 'open learning' (Garrison, 1986, 27).

Open learning is a philosophy and a system whereby all options for post-compulsory education are kept open. This approach is characterised by flexibility in terms of entry, program components, modes of study and points of exit. Learners are encouraged to negotiate learning arrangements to meet their special needs. As such, this approach is well suited to adult learners pursuing continuing professional education and training. This is the basis, for example, of the Queensland Open Learning Project (Qld Working Party on Decentralised Delivery of Higher Education, 1989).

4.2 Australian developments

Recent developments in Australia with regard to these kinds of systems provide useful examples at this point:
  1. Pilbara Trial
    In Western Australia a four way compressed video conferencing system is being trialled for TAFE training, government services and administration, industry training and law services, linking Karratha, Tom Price, Paraburdoo and Perth.

  2. Edith Cowan University - Curtin University
    The new Edith Cowan University and Curtin University are establishing a full inter-campus video conferencing system.

  3. Adelaide College of TAFE
    In South Australia there is a four way interactive video conferencing system joining the four campuses of the Adelaide College of TAFE. Over 40 hours of programs per week are being produced. The system will soon be expanded to 8 centres.

  4. Victorian TAFE Off Campus Network
    Audio and video conferencing have been used for a number of years for a range of programs, including adult literacy and numeracy - including the delivery into prisons. Microcomputer based audiographic systems are now being introduced (these systems now exist in over 140 schools in Victoria).

  5. Uni-net and TAFE in NSW
    In New South Wales there are three university video conferencing systems in place:
         University of Sydney
         University of New England
         Charles Sturt University
    TAFE in NSW has carried out several trials using audio and satellite video conferencing and propose a Statewide Open Learning Network.

  6. Queensland Open Learning Network
    The Queensland government has provided $4.5 million for the decentralised development and delivery of TAFE and higher education. Included is the establishment of Open Learning Centres in 40 communities with the capacity for facsimile, electronic mail, audio teleconferencing, and satellite video conferencing (formerly 'Q-NET' and 'TSN-11'). This network is already being used by physiotherapists, doctors, teachers, corrective services and accountants. Other groups, such as AIM, the Institute of Engineers and the Queensland Quality Centre are proposing to use it also.
There are just a few examples of TAFE and university systems currently being developed. There are many school level systems evolving as well.

It has recently been revealed that the National Distance Education Consortium (NDEC) of the 8 DECs has committed some millions of dollars to providing a national video conferencing network and for the production of first year university courses in the video format. (Minutes of the NDEC Working Party on Technology, 1990.) Telecom Australia has also expressed interest in this network for its own training needs and to market it externally as a value added service (personal communication with Brian Penhall).

The special technical development which will make national and international dialup teleconferencing very effective is the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN). This will provide a cost effective and flexible way for all education/training providers and learners to connect as required and by whatever level (data-text to video) required.

4.3 Needs of the professions

Another major element in the discussion in this paper is that there are new developments stimulating continuing professional development needs among most professions and throughout industry and business. The award restructuring and training guarantee legislation are putting pressure on organisations in Australia to develop training programs for their staff. The real need is for such training to be delivered to the place of work so that productivity is not seriously interrupted. In North America (National Technological University) and in Europe (European Program for Advanced Education, 'EuroPACE') these systems are already operating.

Similarly, many professional groups are looking at ways of delivering professional development programs to their members - and in some cases continuing education is becoming compulsory. The accountants, nurses, engineers and medical practitioners are examples of groups setting up systems to use new communications technology. A team of researchers has just completed a 'national cooperative policy for the application of distance learning for in service teacher education' (DLITE) in which communications technology is a significant element (Lundin and others, 1991).

In the private sector, several companies like AMP, Lend Lease, Telecom, Westpac, Hamersley Iron, and others are putting in place systems wide telecommunications facilities for education and training. Most notable is the IBM Interactive Satellite Education Network (ISEN) now in place throughout Australia and extended to New Zealand. The Australian base will serve the whole South Pacific region.

4.4 Need for design models

It is evident, therefore, that there needs to be research into the design of teaching and learning programs using communications technology if the large investment into these systems described above is to be effectively used and not become biased towards, for example, a strictly competency based training system.

The notion of design models can be dealt with on two levels:

Structural level design
At this level the concern is to place one or more forms of teleconferencing in a context. Included here is the decision of which form of teleconferencing to use for certain purposes.

Internal level design
During an actual teleconferencing session there may be various activities which exploit the special attributes of the medium. To some extent these could be the direct transfer of face to face strategies (lecturing, brainstorming, panel, etc.) but in some cases various adaptations will be necessary, and some innovative strategies may evolve.

Curriculum and application decisions will take into account:

4.5 Need for standards

There is a justifiable concern in academia that any alternative to face to face teaching is, at best second rate. Although research is beginning to discount this concern (OTA Report, 1990) it is important that criteria be established for assessing the quality of programs being produced via these technologies. Criteria for evaluating 'good' telecourses will provide standards to ensure quality for accreditation purposes. The National Universities Teleconferencing Network (NUTN) of the USA has already produced an initial standards statement. (Ed, 4:3 March, 1990).

4.5 Need for training programs

What is needed immediately is the development of pre-service and in service training programs -

4.6 Research in the field

In recent years, a wide range of reports have emerged regarding the effectiveness of these technologies. For example, Bacsich, Kaye and Lefrere (1986) made a survey of the information technologies for education and training; Stahmer (1987) surveyed the Canadian initiatives in communications technology and distance learning; Chute and Balthazar (1988) summarised the research and development projects at the AT&T National Teletraining Centre in the United States; Gilcher and Johnstone (1988) focussed on audiographic teleconferencing systems, especially the Optel system; and Johansen (1988) investigated computer based teamwork models. While these, and like reports, highlight the advances that have been made over the last decade in electronic communications technologies they also focus on the fact that only a limited amount of research has been undertaken to determine how learning can be promoted best using these technologies. There is little evidence to demonstrate how a model for delivering education using these technologies can be effective.

All the literature indicates very little research having been done in this field. The situation seems best summarised by the Report of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) of the us Congress on technology in distance learning, which states that little research exists is limited in scope and often anecdotal. It continues:

Research on technology mediated learning and interactivity, instructional design and innovative approaches, and applications of cognitive theory represent good investment for the federal government in order to meet the long term needs of the field. Evaluation would be most usefully concentrated on practical questions about educationality, such as what are the learner outcomes of various teaching techniques and technology models (Ed, 4:3, March 1990; p.5).


It is clear that a number of orientations and approaches exist because we are dealing with complex human behaviour and a range of values and different expectations for organisations and professionals. Each orientation highlights different issues that should be considered but none provides a complete framework to guide the total development of a program.

The critical orientation highlights the professionals obligations to clients and society. The technological and practical orientations illustrate different ideas about the sources and nature of knowledge about professional practice and how this knowledge can be obtained and developed. The personal orientation focuses attention on the formation of the individual while the discipline studies orientation is concerned with the academic content underpinning the profession.

As the interactive technologies continue to develop and expand, it is important that they accommodate a wide range of conceptual orientations. It would indeed be unfortunate if the technologies became unwittingly associated with the technological or competency based movement because of the current economic situation in Australia. There it much to be gained by adopting a much broader focus of professional development and ensuring that the interactive technologies remain flexible and open to promote a creative and innovative workforce to produce a "clever country".


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Authors: Dr Bob Hardingham is a Lecturer in Education, and Dr Roy Lundin is a Senior Lecturer in Education, Queensland University of Technology.

Please cite as: Hardingham, R. and Lundin, R. (1992). Interactive multimedia and curriculum orientations in professional education. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 585-596. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/hardingham.html

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