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Equalising educational opportunities for Aboriginal teachers via computer based courses

Melvin Lang
University of Hawaii, Honolulu


The Remote Area Teacher Education Program (RATEP) was designed by James Cook University and Cairns College of Technical and Further Education to extend its instruction beyond the traditional limits of their geography to remote sites in the Torres Strait Islands and Aboriginal communities in Northern Queensland, Australia. RATEP used computer based interactive multimedia courseware with which to equalise educational opportunities for its students who were teachers wishing to improve their teaching qualifications and who wished to study in their own communities. Preparation and delivery of the interactive courseware was based on Computer Assisted Learning processes using Macintosh computers, CD-ROM players, and PLI drives with Authorware Professional as the main scripting language. The computer materials were augmented with video, workbooks and teleconferencing.


Four instruments were designed to collect information. One was the 23 item Student Survey: Evaluation of Teaching. The purpose of the Survey was to obtain some measures of the effectiveness of RATEP from students rating their own learning via computer based courses compared to non-RATEP students rating their campus based courses. The format and items of the student Survey were adopted from the Teacher Evaluation (TEVAL) program currently being used at James Cook University (JCU) and administered by the JCU Staff Development Unit to give lecturers feedback on specific aspects of their teaching. In order to gain additional insights into students rating on the Survey an interview instrument was designed for them as well as separate interview instruments for their on site tutors and campus based lecturers at Cairns TAFE and JCU.

Questions on the Student Survey and three interview instruments were derived from:

  1. statements of RATEP goals,
  2. recommendations of the professional literature for designing computer based multimedia based distance education courses, and
  3. issues raised by RATEP in action by its participants.


The Student Survey: Evaluation of Teaching data revealed that not only do RATEP courses compare favourably to JCU courses but much more favourably than could be accounted for by chance alone. The categories of the 23 questions evaluated included:
  1. the presentation of course materials through the computer
  2. the assessment of students and their workload
  3. students view of their own involvement with RATEP
  4. course resources such as study guides, readings, computer access
  5. the role of tutors and tutorials, and
  6. RATEP's overall effectiveness as a program
The statistical analyses showed that on 17 of the 23 items in the above described categories, the RATEP means exceeded the means of JCU students rating their on campus courses. To maintain an overall criterion of statistical significance across all two tailed t Tests (ANOVA) the Bonferroni procedure was employed which divides the desired significance level (.05) by the number of statistical tests performed (23 items). Thus for each test item an alpha level of .002 (.05 + 23) was used to assess statistical significance. On 17 of the 23 items in the Survey the means were statistically significant in favour of RATEP. For the remaining items there were no differences between students rating RATEP and JCU campus based courses.

In order to get additional insights into students evaluation of RATEP on the Student Survey an interview instrument was designed for them.

Separate interview instruments for their tutors and lecturers were also designed, administered and evaluated, in order to help understand staff or professional acceptance of RATEP's purposes, content and methodology. In addition to the above mentioned six categories about which students were questioned, tutors at the remote sites and faculty lecturers at JCU and Cairns TAFE were asked to view their own roles, especially in relation to:

  1. the advantage or disadvantage to their own professional development,
  2. their understanding of the courseware and technology (software/hardware) system,
  3. appropriate academic standards and workload in the design of the courses,
  4. relating course goals and content to students' academic, cultural and English language backgrounds, and
  5. philosophical and pedagogical assumptions about distance education computer based learning in general and RATEP in particular.
The interview ratings and associated comments of students, tutors and lecturers revealed that features of RATEP that were judged especially effective included:
  1. Student satisfaction from working through the computer based courses so that they looked forward to returning to them voluntarily during evenings and weekends.

  2. The presentation of materials in an interesting way via the computer courseware which made good use of examples and illustrations.

  3. Students being able to work in private so that their errors were not publicly threatening.

  4. A focus on learning English as well as content knowledge so that students reading, writing and language skills improved.

  5. The Authorware Professional programming system which kept students focused on the course content rather than on the programming system.

  6. Courses were driven by good content knowledge which was maintained by its lecturers.

  7. Student satisfaction with the way their on site tutors understood their learning problems and organised study groups and discussions on how to approach difficult assignments.

  8. A tutor leadership role which focused on promoting student self concept; especially of women which let them show what they knew.

  9. Lecturers belief in the RATEP goal that Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders should be involved in developing, delivering and evaluating their courses so that they maintain their cultural relevancy. (This strong belief in collaboration was not always matched in practice because of the hurried process to get the first courses started).

  10. A serious attempt by faculty lecturers and tutors to use students' personal and professional experiences in course problems being studied. This intuitive or deliberate leaning toward a constructivist view of the nature of learning tended to legitimise students' own culture.
Other aspects of RATEP which the student, tutor, and lecturer interviews revealed needing more attention or modification included:
  1. Better articulation between the Cairns TAFE 2 year Associate Diploma (Community Teaching) and JCU 3 year Diploma of Teaching courses so that students can see better how they relate.

  2. A better compromise between the. amount of time allowed for remote "abbreviated" courses and the inclusion of content comparable to on campus courses.

  3. More clarity of the role of lecturers and tutors especially their orientation to the technology in developing courses. "Our first steps were hard but we did take them!"

  4. More opportunity for lecturers and tutors at the remote sites to discuss course purposes, academic content, instructional strategies, assessment techniques and evaluate what worked and did not work so that courses might be revised.

  5. Tutors helping their students to cope better with the everyday pressures they faced such as crowded accommodations, family obligations, financial needs and managing conflicting demands on their time. Several tutors suggested that they would like to have formal training in mediation or crisis intervention techniques to be able to help their students cope more effectively with their pressures.


The RATEP approach has serious implications for all education and training programs. It can change the power relationship between teacher and learner. It challenges traditional linear ways of presenting knowledge at all levels. It calls to question many assumptions that we have taken for granted for so long about learning. It offers a new method for staff development. Above all it offers an effective maims of accountability to students and the public by removing knowledge delivery from the privacy of the classroom to the public arena of the computer screen.

Remote delivery: Teaching with computer technology

RATEP (Remote Area Teacher Education Program) was brought about by the Open Learning Project.

It is responsible for preparing and delivering teacher education courses via interactive multimedia courseware to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on site in remote areas.

Students can study to Associate Diploma of Education through Cairns TAFE and to Diploma level with courses from James Cook University.

Courses are delivered on Apple Macintosh computers incorporating text, sound, graphics, animation and video, plus specially prepared support work books, videos, audio tapes. fax and telephone as required.

The multimedia concept encourages interactive learning, at a pace controlled by the student.

Through on site tutor support, and immediate feedback, courses can be modified and improved. The courses are competency based and in modules which provides for flexible entry and exit.

RATEP is an affirmative action initiative providing access to teacher education programs in remote areas. It provides:

  • delivery in the workplace with minimum disruption to production
  • courseware designed with the employer/client to meet their training needs
  • competency based, modular programs with flexible entry and exit
  • accredited awards that articulate between school, TAFE and University

Figure 1: The Remote Area Teacher Education Program

Figure 2

Figure 2: RATEP multimedia in action

Evaluation of Teaching

Courses being evaluated: Remote Area Teacher Education Program (RATEP)

Student Survey

Please read each of the statements below and circle the number which corresponds most closely to your experiences with this program.

SA- Strongly agreeA- AgreeU- UncertainD- DisagreeSD- Strongly disagreeNA- Not applicable

Concerning the presentation of materials through the computer ...
1.The computer courseware makes good use of examples and illustrations 1 2 3 4 5 0
2.The computer courseware presents material in an interesting way 1 2 3 4 5 0
3.The computer courseware stimulates me to follow up points that are raised 1 2 3 4 5 0
4.The computer courseware links material to activities in the classroom

1 2 3 4 5 0
Concerning the assessment of students and workload, feedback given to students and their progress through RATEP course ...
5.The lecturers give adequate feedback on written work 12 34 50
6.Assignments tie in with the course objectives 12 34 50
7.The workload is appropriate for a subject of this credit point value 12 34 50
8.The lecturers set high standards 12 34 50
9.I have enough opportunity to demonstrate what I have learned in this subject

12 34 50
Concerning students' view of their own involvement with RATEP ...
10.I am learning to think critically 12 34 50
11.I am receiving a good introduction to the field of teaching 12 34 50
12.The computer courseware encourages me to participate in class activities with other students. 12 34 50
13.I am learning to feel responsible for my own learning 12 34 50
14.Interaction with other students is encouraged

12 34 50
Concerning resources for RATEP courses ...
15.Study guides assist my learning 12 34 50
16.Learning experiences outside the classroom (eg, field work, observations) are rewarding 12 34 50
17.There is enough opportunity to use the computer 12 34 50
18.The reading materials help me in my learning

12 34 50
Concerning role of tutors in RATEP courses ...
19.The tutor helps me understand the computer material 12 34 50
20.The tutor demonstrates how the work should be tackled 12 34 50
21.The tutor encourages me to play an active part in the tutorial 12 34 50
22.The tutor corrects errors without causing embarrassment

12 34 50
23.All things considered, how would you rate RATEP's overall effectiveness as a program?
  Very poorSatisfactoryOutstanding 

Author: Melvin Lang, Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822

Please cite as: Lang, M. (1994). Equalising educational opportunities for Aboriginal teachers via computer based courses. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 260-263. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/km/lang.html

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