This paper discusses the development of community learning centres in rural and remote areas of South Australia and outlines how they have become the focal point for a range of learning delivery systems aiming to provide access, equity and participation for off campus students in Technical and Further Education (TAFE) courses.
The philosophy behind their development is summarised in the following quote from Mr Peter Kirby, the Chief Executive Officer for the South Australian Department of Employment and TAFE.... For the future we have to find creative solutions for the critical task of managing the resources of TAFE to produce greater access to a wide variety of programs all of which meet the needs of a diverse range of clients.... It will mean breaking away from the constraints of buildings and fixtures.... We will have to reach out with unconventional learning systems. (Open Learning Newsletter No. 2, November 1989)
With the majority of mainstream courses offered being centrally located either in Adelaide or large country towns, the choice for country people was either to travel to the particular TAFE campus, use external studies print courses (where these were available), or simply miss out. The travelling often meant long hours on the road or a move to the city, and disrupted families and businesses. In many cases, the need to study is a legal business requirement.
For many students, studying alone using just print materials presents a daunting prospect, with the result that course dropout rates are high. By providing a place with some simple but effective technology, the learning centres have met student needs for immediate feedback, interaction, and a group learning experience.
Early trials that were conducted with learning centres, indicated a range of other benefits for students studying this way. These included increased motivation, decreased dropouts, and students being more responsible for their own learning. The use of audio conferencing also produced improved concentration and verbal skills.
Typically, the learning centres are located either within an existing TAFE campus, a local area school, or in a community building. Access is needed during the day as well as the evening. The centres aim to provide a warm, inviting atmosphere, catering for the needs of adult learners. Each centre is equipped with a DUCT audio conferencing terminal, a facsimile machine, video replay facilities, and a range of distance education course materials.
Some of the centres have already been equipped with specialist technologies as part of on going trials (see the section on technology), and interactive computer links are currently being planned for others.
The centres are managed by part time managers recruited from the local community, or by full time TAFE lecturing staff as part of their duties. Through their promotion of the services offered by the learning centres, the managers have become a focus for TAFE in their own communities.
Aboriginal Education conducts courses in a variety of learning centres throughout the state, the South East College of TAFE has a network of seven centres, Eyre Peninsula College in the far west has four, the Riverland College is currently establishing five, Murraylands uses area schools, and Port Augusta in the far north has a network of five learning centres.
The ever growing number of courses delivered through the network make extensive use of audio conferencing techniques. This includes the delivery of word processing courses by multipoint audio conference for up to eight adult students studying on remote cattle stations. In addition to receiving their study materials, these students may receive a hands free telephone and/or a laptop computer on loan from the college resource centre for the duration of their study.
The majority of the courses offered in this manner are mainstream certificate courses. They include Introductory Accounting, Financial Accounting, Communication Concepts, Human Development, and a number of courses for office trainees. The Introduction to Tertiary Study is a popular offering providing a valuable link to adults wishing to undertake additional study, or return to study.
The centres are managed by lecturing staff as part of their normal duties.
The desire to supplement the range of courses available from the college, resulted in the use of video conferencing to tap the resources of the much larger, metropolitan Adelaide College. This trial has proven most successful in that its level of both visual and aural interaction closely approximates the face to face situation. A diverse range of courses involving tutorials, role playing, lectures, and practical demonstrations totalling nearly thirty hours each week, has been delivered to the country students in this way during the first half of 1990.
Part time learning centre managers recruited from the local community, tend to the needs of local students. They also act as a valuable focus for TAFE within the community, providing a service well beyond their ten paid hours of employment.
Students at both Light College, and the South East College make use of videotaped lectures supported by tutorials. Study groups with local tutors use external materials designed either by country college lecturers, or by external studies lecturers from Adelaide College.
Use is also made of audio conferencing for courses provided both from within the country college, and from city colleges (eg Marketing from Adelaide, and Real Estate from Kensington).
The network began as a trial in 1985, and quickly spread to many remote communities in the following years. It covers some 13 centres catering for over 200 students. Not only was the network the first of its kind in Australia, but it was also the first to introduce facsimile machines as a means of providing rapid feedback during a session, and for transmitting student's assignments. The majority of the tale-tutorials are conducted by lecturers at the School's Wakefield Street campus in Adelaide. Here, a suite of rooms has been set up with three audio conference terminals to allow classes to be delivered to different locations simultaneously.
The methodologies that have been developed, changed the thinking of many educators involved in aboriginal education, and have been adopted by many other institutions. The courses delivered by teletutorials and interactive fax include literacy, numeracy, current affairs, community management, and aboriginal studies.
The provision of a telephone line, an audio conferencing terminal and a fax machine, are the first requirements of all learning centres, and provide the backbone of the network. VHS video replay facilities are also provided for students needing to view video tape materials, either individually or as a group, and a range of the more popular external studies print materials are also stocked by the learning centres. Other print resources and practical kits needed for courses are available on demand.
In 1989, four of the most northern learning centres (Amata, Indulkana, Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta) were equipped with TVRO satellite earth stations to enable them to receive a full PAL television signal from Adelaide College via Imparja TV in Alice Springs. This was part of a ten week talkback television trial (one way video with two way audio by telephone conference link) undertaken to determine if the addition of a video image to an audio conference would enhance learning.
A further development has been the installation of video conferencing technology (two way interactive video and audio) into three sites to determine the effectiveness of all participants being able to see each other as well as converse with each other. The Light College centres at Clare and Nuriootpa have been equipped with a compressed digital video link with the Electronic Classroom at Adelaide College for a video conferencing trial during 1990.
The most popular methodology is the use of tutorials following the setting of work from a study guide or textbook. Ideally, the students are roughly at the same point in their study, and have common experiences to discuss with the lecturer and fellow students. Group sizes are kept to a manageable level of no more than 12-15 students, and sessions typically run for between one and two hours.
It is often believed that practical subjects or those including visual concepts cannot be learnt via the telephone. However, Word Processing A & B have been successfully taught at Port Augusta, and accounting subjects have been taught in a variety of places. The theory of diesel mechanics was successfully taught to Eyre Peninsula farmers using a combination of audio conferencing, study guides, and facsimile transfers.
Role playing also proved to be a successful way of teaching communication concepts by audio conference from Adelaide College to students in various parts of the state.
People wishing to present lectures with minimal participation by students are encouraged to use either audio or videotapes of a regular class in action. These have been very successful with some business studies subjects when combined with print materials and group discussions on site, with either local tutors or an itinerant lecturer.
Audio conferencing, through the learning centres, has also been used to share lecturing expertise between campuses, and for discussions with guests and VIPs. These people are able to interact with the students from the comfort of their own home or office, without having the expense or hassle of travelling to remote regions.
For most of the country colleges, a stipulated minimum class size requirement prevents a number of courses from commencing in outlying branches. At least 15 students must enrol to justify a lecturer travelling to the branch to conduct the class. For many of the smaller towns and communities, these figures are unattainable.
The learning centre networks provided an ideal solution for this problem. Students within the college's region could enrol in the desired subject, and then travel to the nearest learning centre to be linked together into a class group by a telephone conference call. This aggregation had a significant advantage for the country colleges: the students that would have previously enrolled in external studies at Adelaide College, were now part of their local programs. They were also included in their statistics. In this way, the concept of hub or networked classes is a key factor in the viability of the learning centres.
The concept also allows courses to be conducted from any of the sites in the network. Classes do not always have to originate in the major centre or hub campus and local expertise can be available to all the students with a minimum of travelling and expense.
The talkback television and video conferencing trials predominantly used existing methodologies with a few modifications. Videotape material and graphics were used to enhance the teletutorial techniques by the lecturers involved in the first trial. Lecturers involved in the video conferencing trial were encouraged to increase the levels of student interaction and participation during the sessions.
Through the Electronic Classroom and adjoining rooms, the centre provides a base for lecturers to interact with off campus students in a number of ways:
The long term viability of the networks, however, hinges on a number of critical factors.
|Author: John Kirk is the Senior Lecturer in Communications Technology within the Centre for Applied Learning Systems in Adelaide. He returned from working in the Northern Territory in 1985 to help conduct the Aboriginal Education Teleconferencing trial with remote aboriginal communities in South Australia. The learning centre concept was modified from similar ideas operating both interstate and overseas, and was first applied to the then Naracoorte College of TAFE (now the South East College). He has worked with other country TAFE colleges to help establish their learning centre networks, as well as working as an instructional designer on the Aussie Barbie interactive videodisc, participating in the 1989 Talkback Television trial, the 1990 Light College Video conferencing project, and the development of the Electronic Classroom.
John Kirk, Centre for Applied Learning Systems, Adelaide College of TAFE, 20 Light Square, Adelaide SA 5000, Ph (08) 213 0111, Fax (08) 231 7165.
Please cite as: Kirk, J. (1990). Rural and remote learning centres: The point of convergence for the provision of further education by alternative delivery systems. In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and M. Mooney (Eds), Converging Technologies: Selected papers from EdTech'90, 97-107. Canberra: AJET Publications. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech90/kirk.html