ASET logo
[ OLNT'90 contents ] [ EdTech Confs ]

Olivetti Optel Telewriter

Rob Bresa
Olivetti Systems and Networks

Conference participants viewed a demonstration of Telewriter given by Rob Bresa, and this article was prepared by the Editors from text and graphics provided by Olivetti.


The most commonly used electronic communication medium today is the telephone. There are over 500 million telephones in the world and they are the most widely used form of business communication. The Optel Telewriter operates over a standard telephone line and has been designed to be used by those who have access to a telephone, but need more than voice to conduct their work. The Telewriter is a PC based audiographic teleconferencing workstation for communication of text, data, graphics and images. It gives real time communications with remote sites using the telephone or any telecommunications medium.

Telewriter is designed to reduce the limitations imposed by distance between people and their business and to reduce the costs associated with this barrier. Telewriter can provide point to point or multipoint conferencing with all locations having equal and constant access to the system controls. It is easy to use as well which makes it even more appealing.

Optel Telewriter has been successful in Australia in recent times with installations at the University College of Southern Queensland, Queensland Health Department, Footscray College of TAFE and Outer Eastern College of TAFE in Victoria, Adelaide and Regency Park Colleges of TAFE in South Australia, the NSW Department of Education and Telecom training services. All of these installations are used in distance education.


Most distance education systems allow instructors to talk with students at remote locations with varying degrees of ease. Early audio-only networks in the USA were designed like large conference calls and were the first steps in removing geographic barriers to learning. Audiographics - audio plus some type of graphic interchange - goes one step further, allowing a free flow of conversation, as well as sharing written or visual information among all locations. By designing modules based on the personal computer, Optel has found a low cost way to provide distance education options adaptable to a wide range of teaching styles.


Optel systems allow the instructor and all remote students to converse naturally over the single telephone line required at each site. Audio contact is never interrupted, even when the graphics transmission features are operating. This ensures that the teacher can talk with any student at any time. Instructors who rely heavily on lecturing have the normal interaction capacity they have grown to accept in the traditional classroom.


For the instructor who likes to draw, write (or just scribble) to illustrate key points, Optel offers the Telewriter 2-PC. This simple writing tablet allows the instructor to write spontaneously, with all class sites receiving the written display in two colours on a PC or monitor. Text typed at the keyboard may be used also. If student locations are also equipped with Telewriter tablets, writing can be exchanged among all sites, with any student capable of originating material or modifying what has been previously written. All sites instantly see the results.

Computer text and numbers

More and more classroom subjects rely on computer generated documents. Optel has designed its Telewriter products to operate in conjunction with any IBM compatible personal computer. These devices allow all sites on the distance education network to originate, display and manipulate computer generated material from any location. The material may be transmitted from one site to the others during a conference, or for higher speed, it may loaded from the computer disk at each site. In the latter case, the computer material is transmitted to the sites that require it prior to the conference.


Many classes rely heavily on slides, pictures and other visual images. For this teaching style, Optel has added a still video component, which is part of the Telewriter T3-TGA system. Using a regular colour video camera, the Optel system captures and freezes any image that can be photographed. Thus, the Telewriter T3-TGA can take pictures of students, graphs, charts, maps, illustrations, overheads, 35 mm slides or three dimensional objects, for transmission and viewing at all locations. The images so captured are displayed in full colour on television monitors at the remote locations, similar to a slide show. Usually the images are photographed in advance and transmitted to each site prior to the conference or teaching session, being stored on disk at each site, ready for display upon command by the presenter or teacher. The instructor may also shoot and transmit spontaneous images during class as the need arises.

Many Optel users like to combine the features they use most in personal, hybrid systems. However, many classes are taught successfully using only the audio and writing tablet features, electing to omit the computer based graphics and images features.

Other benefits

Optel systems require little instructor training. The Telewriter tablet can be mastered in less than 10 minutes. Instructors with computer experience should have no trouble incorporating it into their classrooms. Some instructors may like particularly the fact that they are not on camera when teaching with audiographic systems, thus they need not worry about their personal appearance, but can concentrate on the subject matter. Audiographic systems are quickly accepted by students, who think they are fun to use. Instructors soon adapt to this delivery mode, selecting the features that best fit for their personal teaching styles. After a little initial apprehension, the hardware becomes transparent and the teachers concentrate on teaching.

Audiographic systems have the added economic advantage of telephone line transmission. In other words, instructors need only a regular telephone line to initiate a distance education class. This means cents per minute, rather than dollars, as in many satellite networks. Audiographic systems are economical from a staffing perspective as well. Video systems routinely require a camera operator and technical production crew, whereas most audiographic systems can be operated easily by the instructor alone after a little practice.

Audiographics offer flexibility in configuring a network. In many video systems, satellite or other equipment must be installed at the receive site prior to the programme broadcast. Audiographic systems can allow more flexibility because they are often portable and can be installed in a matter of minutes wherever there is a telephone line. As student populations change, an audiographic network can shift to new locations.

Audio, video, graphic workstations

The Telewriter 2-PC is a simple writing tablet, interfaced with a PC, allowing the instructor to write spontaneously, with all class sites receiving the written display in two colours on a PC or monitor. If student locations are also equipped with Telewriter tablets, writing can be exchanged among all sites, with any student capable of originating material or modifying what has been previously written. Basic user operated controls are incorporated into the tablet, which also supports the drawing and annotation capabilities of the pen.

The Telewriter T3-TGA (Figure 1) provides users with all of the capabilities of the Telewriter 2-PC plus the ability to capture, store, transmit, and annotate still-frame, high resolution, colour video images. Such images may be input into the T3-TGA from a video camera, a video cassette recorder, videodisc player, or any video source, and displayed on a video monitor attached to the workstation. The software has been designed to be as user friendly to the non computing person as possible.

Figure 1

Figure 1

A typical corporate or educational system will have such colour picture sources installed at one site only, or will use portable equipment (such as a camcorder) shared between several locations or functions. Each site may be equipped with a single analog RGB colour monitor, or may use a two monitor system, one for an electronic blackboard and software generated graphics and text, and the other for colour video pictures. The T3-TGA's Image Capture Board allows any participant to add coloured pictures to a file, integrating them with, for example, Lotus 1-2-3 bar charts, Wordstar text pages, Chart-Master generated graphics and hand drawn sketches entered with a tablet and a stylus.

Thus, a Telewriter T3-TGA can be used to provide varied visual support for a training session, creative or technical discussion, high school or college course, or business meeting. All the various types of visuals produced by the T3-TGA can be annotated by any participant, at any of the meeting sites. Every location has equal and constant access to the system's controls. Thus, at any one time, any participant at any location can speak, call up a particular visual, create a new chart or drawing, make modifications or annotations, or use the electronic pointer.

Real time, interactive audiographic teleconferencing capability is provided over a single telephone line using the Optel Voice-Too modem. This operates at 1200 bits per second in half duplex mode to allow voice and data simultaneously on a single telephone line. By using a teleconference bridge, or a teleconferencing service such as Telecom's Conferlink, multiple sites may be linked for multipoint audiographic conferencing (Figure 2). For higher speeds in transmitting pictures, the BT Datacom 4960FTX modem may be used also, on a second telephone line. This modem transmits at speeds up to 9600 bits per second point to point, or at 4800 bits per second through a conference bridge for multipoint mode.

Audiographics in practice

A hypothetical example shows how all Optel features might be used in a single class, for example in health sciences. The instructor begins with a brief lecture, using the audio feature. Questions from the class may be taken at any time. Next, a patient at a hospital is shown by still video from a picture just taken, to depict a particular ailment or symptom being studied by class. Now the patient's laboratory results, stored in the computer are displayed on the screen at all sites. Various students are asked to annotate the most relevant findings in the laboratory results, by circling them. Finally, the instructor brings up passages of the textbook which define the ailment or symptom, as it relates to the factors identified in the lab work.

Audiographic systems are a timely solution for distance educators whose subject matter can benefit from the addition of visual images and writing. Individual teaching styles and the requirements of different subject areas can be accommodated, within the same system, by flexible combinations of lecture, writing, text, graphics and images. Other benefits include minimal needs for instructor training, low cost transmission and flexibility in changing class sites.

Figure 2

Figure 2


Zelkin, Carol. (1988). Variety in distance education: The Optel Telewriter. International Teleconferencing Association Journal, Dec 1988.

Persons requiring full and correct details should contact Rob Bresa, Olivetti Systems and Networks Australia, PO Box 216, Leederville WA 6007.

Please cite as: Bresa, R. (1990). Olivetti Optel Telewriter. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 52-57. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter.

[ OLNT'90 contents ] [ EdTech Confs ] [ ASET Home ]
This URL:
© 1990 The author and ASET WA Chapter.
Last revised: 28 Apr 2003. HTML editor: Roger Atkinson
Previous URL 30 Sep 1996 to 30 Sep 2003: