Such developments are in keeping with Federal policy and guidelines, where the promotion of off-campus study and alternate study modes is a recommended strategy as stated in "A Fair Chance for All" (Department of Employment, Education and Training, 1990). Equality of access to post-compulsory schooling, including higher education, is a priority goal of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy (Department of Employment, Education and Training, 1989).
The recent report of the Australian Education Council Review Committee, on young people's participation in post-compulsory education and training, discusses developments in open learning in Queensland and the Northern Territory that utilise modern communications technology and interactive courseware that are successful in the sense of a high retention of adult Aboriginal learners in distance education courses. (Report of the Australian Education Council Review Committee,1991).
In Western Australia, the report commissioned by the Western Australian Higher Education Council, Networks for Learning, has set a blue-print for the establishment of learning network centres in remote and rural areas of this state (McGregor & Latchem, 1991). At the time of writing, learning centres will be established in Kunnunurra, Broome and Derby in the north of this state, with the possibility of community-initiated and funded centres being established in the Great Southern region, at Narrogin and Merridin. These centres will utilise interactive telecommunications technology and courseware in the provision of courses of study for disadvantaged students at these locations.
Also, in Western Australia, the State Department of Information Technology has initiated the "WestLink" project, which will investigate the Satellite Delivery of Government Services, including education, to various locations across the state, including remote Aboriginal communities in the far north (Report of the Satellite Communications Project Working Party, 1991).
As from 1992, the Department of Aboriginal and Intercultural Studies, within Edith Cowan University, will be a prominent participant in the "Networks for Learning" trial, in that the department's Aboriginal University Orientation Course will be presented at the above learning centres, utilising interactive satellite communication as well as courseware packages. As well, the remote Aboriginal community at Noonkanbah in the Kimberley region of the remote north will participate in a trial of the "WestLink" project.
This paper will review the various trials of interactive communications technology that have taken place in 1991 in preparation for the implementation of the above networks in 1992. These trials have included the use of Edith Cowan University's fibre optic network to the university's Bunbury campus in the south of the state, the use of TAFE's "LiveNet" ITERRA mobile ground station at Geraldton in the north and the first use in this state of the spare 12W AUSSAT transponder in providing a one-way video link with Noonkanbah in the remote far north.
Also discussed is the use of interactive courseware in the provision of distance education material and a model will be proposed that will be followed in the use of such courseware in the Networks for Learning trials. A brief mention will be made of recent experiments in developing interactive two-way audio on the Macintosh platform, with a view to the development of Aboriginal language maintenance, in keeping with recent Federal and State policy on language teaching ( Department of Employment, Education and Training, 1991; Ministry of Education Western Australia, 1991).
Comment will be made as to how such technologies might best be utilised and introduced in such a manner as to maximise Aboriginal participation in the decision-making processes, the prime goal of the National Aboriginal and Islander Education Policy, as well as discussing strategies that will lead to the technology's more efficient and culturally-sensitive use, in the context of adult Aboriginal education.
The first video conference link-up between the Mount Lawley campus and the Bunbury campus took place on July 23, with staff and students from the Aboriginal University Orientation Course, offered at both locations, interacting and discussing the future potential uses of the technology for conferencing purposes. One of the major administrative difficulties in offering courses at multi-campus locations is the problem of communication between staff involved in the administration, delivery and teaching of such courses. One of the prime benefits of the network will be in its use for staff teleconferencing and professional development.
However, the most attractive use will be in the facilitation of the process of communication between the Aboriginal students themselves, whereby such agencies as the Aboriginal Students' Association will be able to discuss issues of importance such as housing and accommodation, social interaction and matters of political concern.
This first video conference was "bull-dozed' through by the writer and was met with a degree of resistance by the Bunbury people. Criticisms of a lack of consultation in the process could be justified. However, this reluctance must be placed in the broader context of staff-members fears of displacement and redundancy by use of the medium. A viewing of the video record of the Mount Lawley transmission will indicate the enthusiasm with which the medium was embraced by the confident Mount Lawley staff and students.
Against this background, it was with a degree of diplomacy that the writer sought the co-operation of the students at Bunbury in trialling a use of the fibre optic link as a medium for lecture / tutorial presentation, in the subject area of Statistics. This approval granted, a trial was conducted in October whereby the medium was tested for its ability to transmit quality visuals via a document presenter and engage the recipient students at Bunbury in meaningful interactive dialogue. The writer was pleased with the degree of genuine interactivity and the students willingness to ask questions and engage in dialogue. A viewing of an edited video which incorporates interactions from both the Mount Lawley and Bunbury sites will indicate that the students were increasingly willing to engage in interaction as the session progressed.
A formal evaluation of the trial was conducted in which students' perceptions of the quality of the transmission, the teaching process and their attitudes were surveyed. (This evaluation was adapted from one used by the University of New England in their trialling of telecommunications). While no clear differences in preference for a normal "face-to-face" lecture were apparent, students expressed a preference for the delivery to take place in a larger room, rather than the fairly small room in which the equipment is currently based. This will not be a problem when the larger lecture-room facilities at Bunbury also come on-line.
Another feature of this trial was the use of facsimile machines for the transmission of lecture material to the students prior to the delivery. The author can see strong use of two-way facsimile transmission as well as use of the document presenter in the transmission of students' work, especially in the area of the quantitative sciences.
Within the Aboriginal University Orientation Course, which is offered at various off-campus centres around the State, it is currently the practice to employ "on-site" tutors to assist in the delivery of the course at these locations. While the writer considers the continued involvement of such tutors as essential in the on-going support and delivery of the course, the role and involvement of such persons in interactive delivery of lectures and tutorials needs to be re-appraised. The focus of interactions is to be the learners themselves and it will be necessary in future developments for "on-site" tutors to be cognisant of their role.
In 1992, it is hoped by the author that the Bunbury campus will participate in the trialling of the "Networks for Learning" and that they will also become a node in the network. Such a development will place no additional constraints on the system, given the existing send / receive facilities at Bunbury.
Prior to the delivery of a two-way satellite lecture in basic computer literacy to the students at Geraldton, using the facilities at the Geraldton Regional College of TAFE and those at the Central Metropolitan College of TAFE in Perth, the author had met with the students at Geraldton and had held classes with these students in basic Mathematics and Statistics. That the Geraldton students were familiar with the writer as a person and that he had endeavoured to become a part of their community prior to any distance communication, is a most significant point. It is the writer's strongly - held opinion that the success of experiments in the use of interactive communications technology, with adult Aboriginal learners, will depend to a large extent on the presenter being known and accepted by the recipients of the telecommunications. Thus, in the future implementation of any Networks for Learning trials, it is considered imperative that Aboriginal students recognise the deliver as a person known to them.
The ITERRA experiment explored the suitability of focusing on a computer screen at Perth for the transmission of a lesson in computer education, along with a document presenter and a face-on camera. While the quality of the image produced from the computer screen was not first class, it was acceptable. The writer would like to explore direct computer linkage for the down-loading of visuals and lesson content to students at remote sites. While TAFE are currently exploring this, it would appear that such facilities will not be immediately available for the Networks trial in 1992.
This satellite trial was successful in that there was a good degree of interactivity, given the fairly descriptive nature of an introductory session on computer literacy and skills. Student evaluation, in the form of a subjective personal appraisal as a word-processing assignment, were most positive, with words like "exciting", "effective", "stimulating" being common. Such positive post-appraisal came somewhat as a pleasant surprise to the writer as the students did not give the impression of being over ebullient during the trial itself.
One "error" in this trial was to have the camera at the Geraldton receiving end focusing in on the students, rather than their work on the computer screens. I should have been more culturally attuned to this as several students were "shamed" by the presence of the camera focused on them.
With good camera work, it is certainly possible to use satellite technology to illustrate and demonstrate both the uses of a computer and its parts (or any other object), in a non-threatening and highly interactive manner. I personally found this trial very rewarding but demanding, in that the session was over one and a half hour's of intensive work. However, the success of the trial was perhaps dependent to an extent on the fact that I was known and accepted by the students prior to the trial and I allude to this point again later.
In response to this, the author drafted a proposal entitled "The application of AUSSAT telecommunications technology to distance Education in remote and rural Western Australia " (Rehn, 1991). At the time of writing, the author was unaware of the work progressing in the report of the Western Australian Office of Higher Education, "Networks for Learning" (McGregor & Latchem, 1991). In hindsight, both the title and content of the author's proposal were percipient of the later report. That the author was not aware of concurrent independent work and developments was a reflection on the state of play across the higher education institutions in an area that should exemplify inter-institutional co-operation.
The Noonkanbah initiative is one in which various interested parties will be able to explore the possible provision of services to the remote community, in a manner that is controlled and managed by the community itself. The question of ownership and control of the service is a paramount one that must be addressed at every stage in the project's development.
Edith Cowan University has had a presence at Noonkanbah since 1987 when the Traditional Aboriginal Teacher Education (TATE) programme was established. However, the community has long aspired to a broader provision of educational and community services, in a form reminiscent of a network learning centre (Reynolds, 1991). That the community has granted its permission to trial further use of satellite communications is a privilege to all concerned, that must be treated with the greatest respect and sensitivity.
The community were initially resistant to any trialling of satellite communications. However, a viewing of an unedited video of my earlier transmission to Geraldton, via the ITERRA satellite, gained the approval of the community for a limited trial. The first use in this state of the spare 12W AUSSAT transponder took place on September 20, with a one-way video, two-way audio link-up with Noonkanbah. In this session, students from the TATE programme, who had come to Perth for the Aboriginal Youth Issues Conference at Edith Cowan, transmitted from the Media Studies television studio at the Mount Lawley campus, via the fibre optic network to Telecom's Television Operation Centre and then out via satellite to Noonkanbah.
It needs to be stated that suitable receiving facilities are already located at Noonkanbah, along with the 25 or so other members of the Broadcasting to Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme (BRACS) in the remote areas of the Kimberley. While the WestLink trial will be able to supply some mobile send facilities, at this stage of trialling the proposed programme is looking at one-way video only.
In the September 20 trial, the TATE students made their presentation, along with transmitting a video the community had produced at Noonkanbah that communicated the community's expectations of the project. While the trial session was not strongly interactive, in that it might be described more accurately as interactive television, the effect upon the author of the first words coming from Noonkanbah at the end of the session was electrifying. Hearing the community elder's simple but affirming appraisal of the session and seeing the smiles on the faces of those in the studio when hearing these words filled me with optimism for the future of further links with Noonkanbah.
The next intention is to have another link-up in late November of 1991, whereby a graduation ceremony will take place, with dignitaries from Perth participating. This will be followed by an interactive teleconference whereby the community will be able to discuss with interested parties some various services that might be of value. The point being that the control and selection of services will lie with the community and Edith Cowan's role will be as a facilitator.
Authorware Professional has been used with success in the Queensland Open Learning Network in the RATEP programme (Learnware News, May 1991; James Cook University Campus News, March 1991; Report of the Australian Education Council Review Committee, 1991; McGregor & Latchem, 1991). The author will be taking a study tour of the Queensland Open Learning Network in late November 1991 to further investigate the use of Authorware Professional in the QOLN. Student response to the use of this authoring language within the orientation course have been most affirming, with appreciation of the non-threatening and interactive nature of the courseware materials. Particular value is seen in the use of Authorware Professional as a means of providing detail about courses and units.
Of interest to the author has been the use of the above mentioned HyperTeacher . This package enables the very easy development of interactive computer-based tutorial material as well as testing materials in a variety of modes - practice with feedback, practice without feedback and formal teats (without feedback). Tests have been developed in the area of basic Mathematics that complement the coursework and provide students with the necessary practice in taking formal mastery tests, in a supportive and non-threatening way. Students reactions to such tests generated through HyperTeacher have been most positive and they will be incorporated in future coursework development in the forthcoming Networks for Learning.
Within the Aboriginal University Orientation Course at Edith Cowan University, one of the prime goals is the enhancement of a sense of Aboriginal identity and self-esteem. The writer has recently produced prototype interactive two-way language teaching software using a stand-alone Macintosh computer, for both HyperCard 2 and Authorware Professional. A prototype Nyungar Aboriginal language programme has been developed that has met with approval from interested parties. In view of recent Federal and State policy developments in language learning (Department of Employment, Education and Training, 1991), further work will be done on language development using interactive two-way audio that will be incorporated into the orientation course, with a view to maintenance of Aboriginal culture and affirmation of Aboriginality. Interest has also been shown in this work by primary schools currently trialling Aboriginal language programmes in this State.
At the time of writing, Edith Cowan University is unsure of the success of its National Priority (Reserve) Funding bid concerning the development of multi-media packages for open learning for rural, remote and disadvantaged students. Should this bid be successful, the University will establish a production and training centre concerned with the development and delivery of multi-media packages using Authorware Professional as the authoring language.
In the mean time, the writer is in the difficult position of being committed to the Networks for Learning trial with a minimum of resources for necessary development. While some additional funding will be available, the major developmental work will rest with the author. Valuable skills have been gained in the presentation of lectures and tutorials via telecommunications technology, in the development of interactive computer-based courseware and multi-media as well as the editing and presentation of video material.
The model that the author proposes at the time of writing is the further refinement of existing written materials, their incorporation and further development into Authorware Professional packages and the further development of computer-based assessment material using HyperTeacher. In 1992, satellite transmissions will be video taped and edited for distribution to learning network centres.
The writer proposes that the limited currently available funds be used in the employment of competent students in the area of computer education who are familiar with Authorware as part of their training. Thus, it will be possible to develop courseware prior to the February deadline, with the writer acting in the dual role of instructional designer and subject specialist, in the areas of Mathematics, Statistics and Computing.
While the project is daunting in its magnitude, the author is confident that the Aboriginal University Orientation Course will be presented using a variety of interactive learning technologies in the first trialling of the Networks for Learning in 1992. This trialling will need to be conducted with great sensitivity and respect for the unique needs of the distant adult Aboriginal learner in particular and the participant will need to be acutely aware of their role as providers of a service in a community-based context. Thus, the instructor with a humanistic and student-centred orientation will be the one to gain the confidence and respect of the learner.
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Rehn, G. (1991). The application of AUSSAT telecommunications technology to distance education in remote and rural Western Australia. Unpublished paper. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/edtech/pubs/rehn/westlink/westlink.html
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|Author: Geoff Rehn firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Rehn, G. (1992). An overview of the application within Edith Cowan University of interactive learning technologies in distance education for adult Aboriginal learners in remote and rural Western Australia. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 629-634. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/rehn.html