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The Remote Area Teacher Education Program (RATEP): An interactive multimedia computer application

Lyn Henderson
RATEP Course Coordinator
Department of Social and Cultural Studies in Education
James Cook University of North Queensland


The Remote Area Teacher Education Program (RATEP) prepares and delivers higher education teacher education courses to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students on site in remote locations using interactive multimedia information technology. This paper will focus on the delivery of the Diploma of Teaching to students at Badu and Yorke Islands in the Torres Strait. RATEP is an affirmative action initiative in an area of national priority, and is driven by the concepts of social justice, culturally appropriate education, empowerment and multimedia information technology.

Rawls (1971) argues that the allocation of resources in a society that values democracy and justice must advantage the most disadvantaged in order to remedy past and current institutional inequalities. Empirical and historical evidence of racial discrimination, economic exploitation, educational marginalisation, land alienation, enforced dependency and geographical remoteness places the indigenous communities of Torres Strait (and Cape York) in the centre of the equity problem. Education can be a significant part of the solution to redress such social, economic and cultural disadvantages if it is designed and delivered in ways that empower the least advantaged by taking account of the multiple cultures involved in education, particularly that of minorities.

The transmission, acquisition and validation of multiple "knowledges" can be affectively approached by situating specific activities in an integrated system of interactive multimedia information technology in the context of a multiple cultural framework. Indeed, the success of RATEP as evaluated by Willett (1991) and Logan and Sachs (1991) has been significantly shaped by the interplay between various implicit and explicit cultural logics. One of these is the academic culture of the institution in which the program is embedded. Another is Torres Strait Islander culture. The third is the cultural logic of the ways in which the various interactive multimedia information technologies were (for example, in the preparation of computer courseware materials) and are intended to be used in teaching and learning.

Theoretical rationale

Vygotskyls learning theory which transcends the seemingly sharp distinction between psychology and sociology provides a worthwhile framework for examining how interactive multimedia computer technology can promote learning. The adoption of a context specific approach views the psychological reality of knowledge acquisition as essentially and inescapably a sociocultural process: consequently, it can be grasped only by situating individual development in its socio-culturalpolitical contexts (Nicolopoulou and Cole, 1990). This theoretical position is called by Vygotskians: the "culturally or socially based notion of cognitive development" (Trueba, 1989). Thus, individual development is not limited to dyadic or small group interactions, but is the sum of socio-cultural experiences, background knowledge, and conceptual synthesis with which the individual infers meaning. RATEP has utilised this theoretical perspective in utilising interactive multimedia computer technology. It has been accomplished through personalising rather than individualising learning.

Personalised learning

In their evaluation of RATEP, Logan and Sachs (1991) argue that individualised programs create learning experiences and materials designed to aid a student's mastery of predetermined content and skills to common standards. They are confined to catering for quantifiable characteristics such as rates of progress and achievement levels based on group testing or criteria established for a particular task or subject. On the other hand, personalised approaches include both quantitative (for instance, competency and attainment levels) and qualitative (for example, culturally appropriate learning styles and motivation) learner characteristics. The implicit assumptions in the definition of personalised approaches need elaboration.

Personalised learning through RATEP's interactive multimedia curriculum design caters for the integration of multiple cultural contexts.

Firstly, it incorporates Torres Strait Islander culture including "current traditional ways" of learning. This description has been coined to emphasise that ways of learning are not static. Western ways of learning as occurs in schools, in meetings. in business procedures, etc. have impinged on traditional methods which, nevertheless, are still practised, particularly in home and community contexts. Islander culture, local knowledge and preferred ways of learning are thereby legitimised by systemising them in RATEP's interactive multimedia learning system.

Secondly and concurrently, RATEP is imbued with the specific requirements of academic culture; for instance, the selection of content to be interrogated, assessment, and written and oral genres; in effect, the culturally specific western ways of promoting cognitive development in universities.

Thirdly, two design features provide students with the means to control matching learning tasks with cultural and individual ways of learning: random access and branching (Logan and Sachs, 1991). Random access refers to the student's ability to access different resources such as the computer courseware package,' readings, workbooks, audio, video, teleconferencing, peer discussion, tutor assistance, radio, keylink and facsimile. Branching refers to alternative pathways, sequences. sources, presentation modes and assessments. The degree of control is determined by the nature of each subject which, in turn, is dependent on the ability of the coursewriter to move outside his/her traditional pedagogical framework when developing the subject. Overall, through random access and branching, RATEP has welded coherently various aspects of the different cultural contexts. RATEP effectively acknowledges the validity of multiple realities through promoting the maintenance of Torres Strait Islander culture which consequently facilitates mastery of the academic requirements of the course. Personalisation through a multimedia interactive learning system, that supports individual and collaborative study, empowers minority students in contrast to the general experience of exclusion or marginalisation as occurs in many on campus courses.

Interactive multimedia computer technology

This section of the paper will focus on how effectively RATEP coursewriters, that is, lecturers, have incorporated these elements of personalised learning within the interactive multimedia computer component of the course.

Unfortunately, a few coursewriters have been unable to stand outside their culture and rethink their pedagogical philosophy and practices so that they take account of Torres Strait Islanders culture and utilise the computer software package, Authorware Professional, to provide students with multiple pathways to ways of knowing (O'Neill, 1987). The presentation of their subjects is often one of "electronic page turning" where large blocks of text contained in aesthetically pleasing boxes (well, at least in terms of a western sense of colour, size and shape) fade-in or zoom-in in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent boredom (Henderson, in progress). They eschew hypermedia, that is, the ability of the designer to link units of multimedia knowledge (text, graphics, movies, sound, colour, video) together in an almost unlimited number of ways to form a sophisticated non-linear knowledge network (Barker, 1990). (To date, video has not been utilised in RATEP's computer packages because of the costs involved).

Those subjects that exploit the software and demonstrate the coursewriters ability to be pedagogically innovative contain a number of effective instructional design techniques that promote learning for Torres Strait Islanders (Henderson, in progress). The point to emphasise is that the design for interactive learning include Torres Strait Islander culture in ways that are not tokens.

Firstly, and probably most importantly, academic content that may be specifically part of Western knowledge can be taught in specific cultural ways that promote learning for minorities. For instance, the current traditional ways of learning in Torres Strait culture is through observation, demonstration, immediate feedback and, if the task was not performed correctly, further observation and/or practice, demonstration, feedback. Some subjects incorporate this learning style: there is presentation and explanation of a particular concept (observation); this is followed by an interaction to demonstrate understanding; feedback is immediate and explanations are given as to why the student's answer was correct or incorrect - just in case the correct answer was a fluke. This cycle is repeated as many times as necessary and is in direct contrast to the consecutive presentation of large blocks of text and a testing interaction at the end of, say, three or four screens of page turning information.

Secondly, Torres Strait Islanders are visual and oral learners. Accompanying text with diagrams, graphics or animations to illustrate a concept or process provides a more holistic picture that just text and taps their preferred learning style. Along with sounds, they utilise more than one of the senses in the learning process. The use of voice allows the lecturer to personalise the explanation or express the information in a different way to the text version on the screen. Employing music and pictures from the students' own culture is not a gimmick or tokenism. Pedagogically, they provide of a feeling of comfortableness and the realisation that the lecturer is including their identity in the learning task.

Thirdly, research reveals that certain facets of learning through computers can promote knowledge acquisition among indigenous groups (Fleer, 1989; Jacobi, 1986; Folds, 1986; Sower, 1987). The computer allows privacy for the learner to work at an individual pace without shame if answers are incorrect. Current traditional learning by Torres Strait Islanders occurs in a non-threatening environment to avoid shame and withdrawal from the activity. RATEP does not give negative sound feedback (such as buzzers, though this was recommended by the instructional design experts) to incorrect answers for this reason. Only correct answers have sound feedback. Positive feedback to the students' answers in the students' first language have proved particularly motivating in terms of the students' desire to work out a thoughtful response to questions so that they get the right answer (Henderson, in progress).

Fourthly, building in timed waits between different segments of information, explanation and feedback to the student's response to a question utilises the attributes of computer technology with impact. Large blocks of explanatory text can be broken into smaller components that are brought onto the screen sequentially and accompanied by graphics, animation and sound to ensure that each crucial concept receives deliberate consideration by the student before the next appears. It also allows the logic of explanatory and analytic discourse to occur visually and implicitly. It is a particularly good strategy for feedback to incorrect responses.

Fifthly, the coursewriters broke some design shibboleths, such as only four colours and two different fonts on one screen as well as presenting an uncluttered image. The purpose of the information being presented should dictate screen design. For instance, a screen can build up to a crammed screen of text and value added images because everything on that screen supports the argument under discussion. To promote understanding and rational debate, students need to be able to understand the logic of academic genre without having to go back or forward to other computer screens for the information and risk losing the thread of the argument. This is particularly relevant for students for whom English is their second or third language. Sixthly, for the above reasons it is important that point form summaries are used sparingly. If English as a second language (ESL) learners are to understand content independently of tutor assistance, then text must be presented in ways that model good English structures as well as highlighting meaning. Lines that show that this point is causally linked to the next point are effective as is the use of colour or font style and size for connectives, such as however or nevertheless which indicate a rebuttal of the previous point.

Seventhly, Torres Strait Islanders appreciate bright colours and the use of more than four colours on any one screen would not cause aesthetic discomfort. However, research is revealing that colour within text should be used for emphasis to enhance understanding of the topic (Henderson, in progress). This is one area that shows a coursewriter's ability to step outside western preferences for pastels and deliver that which is appropriate for another cultural group.

Eighthly, tries and time limits have special value in assisting students via feedback. They enhance learning in ways traditional distance education cannot do. Tries limits give students the opportunity to have a go without the fear of failure or taking risks but with the knowledge that the correct answer will be given after their own efforts of understanding are stretched. Tries limits promote independent learning because each student is prompted to give the correct response thereby optimising thinking skills. Contrast this with the inability of face to face question-response-feedback to push every pupil/student in class on every concept without loosing student interest. Tries limits avoid delivering content "on a plate" by not being provided immediately on the first incorrect response. Time limits can nurture quicker thinking and, in appropriate places, beating the clock is fun and satisfying. Both tries and time limits prevent the possibility of students being trapped in one part of a course whilst simultaneously providing a challenge and allowing adequate consideration to critical questions (Macindoe and Henderson, 1991).

Ninthly, the navigation system allows student control over pathways, access to data banks, and revision. Research argues that students do not learn effective if they have unlimited choice to go anywhere in a computer delivered subject (Macindoe and Henderson, 1991). Students tend to skip about, often in panic, without consolidating understanding of any one particular segment. There should be a blend of choice and programmed sequencing for optimal learning and empowerment. Most RATEP subjects have adopted this method, ensuring that the theoretical topics have to be done before illustrative topics or case studies. Pull down menus allow the students to see the nature of the subject with ease. It presents a holistic view of curriculum development. This also reflects Torres Strait Islander preferred learning styles where the whole is then broken down into its parts to master. This is different to Western education which starts from the part and builds to the whole.

Subjects that have used these techniques have received positive feedback from students (Henderson, in progress). They believe that the strategies enhance learning and motivation. They willingly sit at the computer long after they would have given up hard copy texts and the "electronic page turning" computer subjects. Students believe that such techniques promote personalisation of learning because they feel that they are involved in an interactive relationship with the lecturer, and not an electronic box.

The effects on students are those of self motivation, independence in learning, enthusiasm, empowerment through the content and ease of learning, and legitimation of their culture and learning style, for instance, through the avoidance of shame through private rehearsal of their understanding. Although the use of computer technology is not neutral and power resides with the educator, RATEP has developed subjects utilising current technology in culturally empowering ways. One student is adamant that interactive multimedia information technology can be, and is being, taught in a way that is, after a century of white Western education, appropriate to their learning style (Henderson, in progress).


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Willett, F. J. (1991). Report to the Minister for Education, The Honourable Mr Paul Braddy, on the Queensland Open Learning Project. Brisbane: Queensland Open Learning Project.

Please cite as: Henderson, L. (1992). The Remote Area Teacher Education Program (RATEP): An interactive multimedia computer application. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 89-95. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/henderson.html

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