With the interest in new forms of delivery of staff development and training, there has been an increased interest in the use of self-study and open learning methods in continuing education. With the rationalisation of higher education proposed in the Australian Government's White Paper, the provision of new courseware has been identified as being the province of only a few institutions. This paper examines the development and needs of this area and in particular, the advantages of using technology to prepare open learning and continuing education materials without the need for large bureaucratic infrastructures. It looks at the software and hardware available for this activity. The paper presents arguments to support the idea that computer technology has enabled individual designers of materials to operate without expensive infrastructures.
In higher education we are presented with some interesting challenges as we reorganise our operations in line with government policy directives. The advent of the White Paper on higher education has suggested some restructuring and some rationalisation of the use of technologies in the provision of educational delivery and external studies in particular. In this context of change and increasing control over educational processes from Canberra, it is interesting to examine government policy as it relates to the development of technological capability.
At this point I can imagine that many graphic artists will complain that their work has been very important in the delivery of instruction. I do not underestimate the impact of very good graphic design and layout on the reception of learning materials, however, as we move progressively to the era of templates, a design decision can be made and the remaining task of laying out the material can be left to a typist. There are increasing skills involved in the preparation of printed materials at a level of typist/graphics composer/page layout compositor. The main player in this rework of tasks and roles has been the microcomputer. The availability and accessibility of this particular technology has enabled individuals to work directly with the material which is going to be used in the teaching process. The immediacy and closeness with which individual authors can work on their material has meant that the centralised bureaucracy, set up to handle course production, can in fact be antagonistic to the technology and the way in which people approach technologies.
There is the possibility, in New South Wales for example, that distance education provision will occur outside the Sydney metropolitan area. There are four major providers currently offering external and distance education programs and the number is likely to be reduced to two. Already the one provider operating within the Sydney metropolitan area has been told that they are not to continue and that the remaining competition exists within three country centres. There seems to be a basic illogicality in assuming that that is the final solution to this particular problem. The major research subject matter expertise lies within a number of institutions which are all outside and over 100 km distant from the nearest proposed distance education centre. If we can expect an increase in individual authorship linked with professional instructional design expertise and a good typist and a computer, then it would be foolish to believe that all the production of materials will be transferred across the great dividing range.
Propinquity is a major factor in achieving a product. The fact that the subject matter expertise, the design expertise and a computer are within walking distance of each other will help the production of materials in ways not envisaged in the centralised bureaucracies of distance education centres. And it is in this assumption that the White Paper, while looking at the rationalisation, has failed to address the real issue. The real issues are in fact: 'what courses should be offered ?' 'who should write them ?' and 'how should they be managed?' To link course production and course management is not a necessary relationship - it might be useful but it is not the only model that might be employed. In fact if Australia were ever to establish an Open University then one distance education centre might take on the total management role for the whole of Australia. At this level some economies of scale and management might be achieved.
However, it is very unlikely that any economies can be achieved without a coordinated curriculum authority, particularly if five or six institutions are still operating largely independently and without appropriate exchange of courses and planning.
Many organisations who must manage the production of open learning materials operate on the just in time method for their generation. The cost of inventories, the complexity of multimedia storage and the deterioration of electronic media with poor storage and time has meant that many packages are produced on demand. These factors do not necessarily require a centralised production source. Most reasonably large organisations already possess the infrastructure to produce materials without the need for further bureaucratic centralisation.
These arguments contradict the notion that a centralised bureaucracy is an obligatory requirement for course production. In fact, the notion is generally antagonistic to trends of development in information technology and the way in which people adapt and implement new technology.
If the tasks required of the authors and designers are listed then there are a number of computer programs which might support my contention that it can all occur with very few personnel. This list is biased towards the Macintosh environment but there are many equivalents also available for the IBM style systems. Consider for instance,
|Word processing||programs to prepare basic textual materials - the content could be delivered either as hard copy or conceivably on floppy disk. The relative costs for distribution are about the same for around 100 pages and may favour the disk in quantities beyond that. Many word processing programs also allow graphics to be inserted into the text, thereby allowing for the presentation of ideas visually with explanations.|
|Graphics programs||can now present the same ideas as multiple overhead transparencies. Consider MacDraw II which allows a series of layers which can be overlaid on the basic graphic. By distributing the template then the student can manipulate the different levels and hence learn the relationship between the concepts presented.|
|Page layout||programs can present relationships between graphics and words, these might be presented by disk or hard copy. Have you thought about presenting a structure in a page layout template? The student could return the completed template on disk or more simply just print out the reply pages and return those through the mail or even download them onto a bulletin board.|
|Graphics templates||can simplify the layout process for the authors and designers. Once a template has been generated linen the content can be placed into the prepared design.|
|Project Management Packages||are available (eg. MacProject II) to simplify the standard processes which the design might flow through. These can be used as a checklist for production and monitor the progress of the development.|
|Communications software||can enable any computer to become a bulletin board and hence be left on to receive information from student and instructor, or even between students in a class.|
|Authoring software||Presentation of ideas can also be made using standard CBT authoring software (eg. Course of Action). Specific instructional sequences can be presented by computer to explain difficult sequences. This type of software has available sound and vision including animation to present the concepts. Presentation could include digitised sound description with annotated graphics if the concept so requires.|
|Visual presentation software||(eg. Videoworks II) can replace the need for complex video production. A simple concept presentation can be prepared in this software and later included in a course presentation in the authoring system or simply used to present a visual single concept.|
|Student feedback||can be achieved through all different software packages. A file in Excel, MS Word, or MacPaint will all enable the student to present ideas and concepts, analyse results and generate theoretical relationships.|
|Spreadsheets and databases||Other packages such as spreadsheets and databases can fill out the complete range ~ possible packages which can help in both student record management and manipulation of concepts from numbers to graphical representation.|
This scenario might sound expensive and beyond the current capability of open education. But already, the planning for Bond University includes a Macintosh on each student's desk, direct links into the information systems nationally and internationally. A library does not always have to hold all the materials if they can be provided quickly through data links, CD-ROM and other large storage devices which are growing in popularity. A sensible hardware system to handle all the above communication and software links can be envisaged to cost around $6,000 for the Computer with 20 MByte hard disk, Dot matrix printer and Modem. Student station and instructor development station would be approximately the same, the major difference would be in the price of the software used in the system.
White, M. A. (1986). The future of education and the technologies. Paper presented to the Florida Instructional Computing Conference, Orlando, Florida.
|Please cite as: Hedberg, J. G. (1988). Technology, continuing education and open learning or Technology 1 - Bureaucracy 0. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (Eds), Designing for Learning in Industry and Education, 90-94. Proceedings of EdTech'88. Canberra: AJET Publications. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech88/hedberg.html|