Use of “e-learning” @ CQU up to 1996 (or so)

The following is the next completed (to a rough first draft stage) section of chapter 4 of my thesis. It follows on from a post from yesterday that started defining the problem being faced. This section completes the definition of this problem by giving a broad summary of the use of “e-learning” at CQU up until 1996.

Apologies to all those folk at CQU whose work I have not referenced. If you are such a person, please let me know what I’ve missed and I’ll add your work in. You should be able to see a bias towards work from the Department of Mathematics and Computing which was the organisational unit I belonged to back then.

Use of e-learning

In defining e-learning, this thesis draws on the OECD (2005) definition in which e-learning is “the use of information and communications technology to enhance and/or support learning in tertiary education”. By 1996 there was a long history at CQU of individual experimenting with e-learning (Buchanan & Farrands, 1995; Chernich, Jamieson, & Jones, 1995; Clayton, Farrands, & Kennedy, 1990; Philip Farrands & Cranston, 1993; Phillip Farrands & Lynch, 1996; Gregor & Cuskelly, 1994; Jones, 1994, 1996b; Dave Oliver, 1985, 1994; Zelmer & Pace, 1994). The limitations, problems and lessons learned from these experiments contributed to the understanding and definition of the problem to be solved. This section offers a brief overview of this work, using the broadest possible definition of e-learning, to illustrate this contribution. The previous work is divided along the lines of the technologies used and includes: audio and video; multimedia and computer simulations; and computer-mediated communication and the Internet.

Audio and video

For much of its existence the nature of learning and teaching at CQU has been characterised by significant geographic distance between individual students and the teaching staff. Given the established expectation of learning and teaching involving face-to-face interactions this geographic distance has created significant disquiet amongst both students and staff. As a consequence CQU has a history of fairly significant usage and experimentation with various technologies intended to provide students with audio and video and in some way re-create the face-to-face learning experience.

For distance education students audio teleconferencing and telephone tutorials have been used to provide better access and support (Davison, 1996). For many distance education students the telephone remained the main form of interaction with academic staff. The importance of this medium led to a variety of hotline services, first provided by the central distance education division and subsequently by at least one academic department, that provided a managed approach to answering student queries (Jones, 1996a). By the mid-1990s, the installation of an institutional telephone voicemail system enable some academics to create short lectures and responses to study questions on the voicemail system that students could access as the need arose (Davison, 1996).

During the early 1990s conditions became conducive to more widespread consideration of audiographics (Rehn & Towers, 1994). Ellis, Debreceny and Crago (1996) define audiographics as the linking of educational sites into a distributed classroom to provide a combination of audio, over a telephone line, and graphics, shared by computers linked by modems. During the mid-1990s there was some encouragement and use at CQU (Crock & Andrews, 1997; Thompson, Winterfield, & Flanders, 1998) thought there were some problems with the preparedness of students and staff and the accessibility and cost of the required technology. The use of audiographics at CQU mirrored the broader context and it largely disappeared with the increasing availability of the Web (Rowe & Ellis, 2008).

During the early 1990s, audio cassettes were used in a first year programming course, primarily for distance education students, to provide an example tutorial sessions between lecturer and student (Jones, 1996a). Tutored Video Instruction (TVI) was a more organised approach to the use of recording media to capture face-to-face interaction, in this case video-tapes-tapes, aimed primarily at students on CQU’s regional campuses. The identification that school leavers, the primary students at the regional campuses, did not have the independent learning skills to study successfully from predominantly print-based distance education materials was a major reason for the adoption of TVI (T. Andrews & Klease, 1998). TVI was first experimented with in 1983 and used more broadly thereafter (McConachie et al., 2006) TVI involved the production of videotapes of regular classroom lectures at the main delivery campus and the physical distribution of these tapes to non-delivery campuses at which they were played for students while in the presence of a tutor (T. Andrews & Klease, 1998). TVI was first experimented with at CQU in 1983 with broader use to follow. Some conclusions about TVI were generally positive (Appleton, Dekkers, & Sharma, 1989). However, this only worked if the TVI was not used simply to watch the tape, but instead was used as a stimulus for discussion by students and interaction with the tutor (T. Andrews & Klease, 1998).

The ability to provide a more interactive learning experience across campuses became possible in 1992, when interactive video-conferencing facilities were introduced at CQU using a ‘rollabout’ system in which all the technology was located on a trolley that could be wheeled in and out of rooms as required (Luck, 2009). In 1996, to address attrition and in order to become a true regional institution students were able to complete the second and third years of some degress at the non-Rockhampton regional campuses (David Oliver & Van Dyke, 2004). The interactive videoconferencing facilities were significantly expanded to support the necessary multi-campus teaching of advanced courses (Luck, 1999).

Multimedia and computer aided learning

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, in keeping with the broader history of technology-mediated learning (insert cross reference to chapter 2), a number of CQU-based projects were experimenting with computer-mediated and computer-assisted learning (CML/CAL). Zelmer and Pace (1994) report on such work in disciplines including biology, chemistry, mathematics and health science. By the mid to late 1990s the rise of multimedia capable personal computers increased interest, especially given improving audio and video capabilities. By this time the CQU distance education centre had created an Interactive Multimedia Unit that included instructional designers (Macpherson & Smith, 1998). The unit provided assistance in the production of multimedia resources to supplement traditional distance education resources (e.g. Stewart & Cardnell, 1998) and the development of multimedia training materials for external clients (Bennett & Reilly, 1998). While some useful multimedia resources were developed, there remained problems around this approach including inadequate development tools, incompatible computer platforms, large development costs and concerns about equity and access (Zelmer, 1995; Zelmer & Pace, 1994). By the mid-1990s, with growing recognition of the benefits of the World-Wide Web, such personal computer based applications were no longer considered state of the art (Zelmer, 1995).

The nature of print-based distance education is such that approaches often used to help students understand difficult concepts, such as live demonstrations, are not possible. CQU staff, especially those within M&C have developed a number of computer aided learning packages to address these problems and assist student learning (Jones, 1996a) with concepts such as calculus (Clayton et al., 1990), procedures and parameter passing (Buchanan & Farrands, 1995) and the internals of operating systems and the operation of concurrent programming (Chernich et al., 1995; Chernich & Jones, 1994). Even with the use of computing project students the development of quality computer-aided learning tools still requires considerable resources in providing suitable documentation and the integration of the tools into teaching (Jones, 1996a).

Computer-mediated communications and the Internet

Australian universities are linked to each other and the broader Internet through the Australian Academic and Research network (AARNET) which was introduced in June 1990 (McCann, Christmass, Nicholson, & Stuparich, 1998, p. 4). Until this time the use of e-learning was limited to dial up terminal access to mainframe computers. As early as 1985 the university provided access to mainframe computers for information technology students via dial up terminals (Dave Oliver, 1985). Difficulties associated with this practice arose from the poor quality of telephone exchanges and the high cost of telephone connections due to the distances involved (Dave Oliver, 1985). In the early 1990s the cost of these connections was addressed by the formation of the Australian Distance Education Network (ADEnet) as a way to provide low cost computer communications capabilities for distance education students from anywhere in Australia (Atkinson & Castro, 1991).

The main form of computer-mediated communication used by staff and students was still provided by institutional main-frame computers through text-based email and discussion forums such as bulletin boards and Usenet newsgroups. Oliver (1994) reports on the use of Usenet newsgroups as forums for discussion about a collection of readings in a software engineering course in 1990 and 1991. Gregor and Cuskelly (1994) report on the use of similar technologies within a postgraduate information systems course. While experiencing high levels of participation there remained significant usability were problems with learning the primitive software and low amounts of social student/student and student/instructor interaction (Gregor & Cuskelly, 1994).

Throughout the early 1990s the application of computer-mediated communication moved away from a host-centric approach towards a more Internet and distributed approach increased. The use of Internet mailing lists with M&C commenced in 1992, with 13 courses having a course mailing list in 1995 (Jones, 1995) and 22 courses in the first semester of 1996 (Jones, 1996a). Other applications included use of email for individual student/teacher communication, use of email for automated assignment submission (Jones & Jamieson, 1997), and starting in 1994 the use of the World-Wide web for the distribution of learning material. By 1995, the Department of Maths and Computing had 11 courses with a web presence. By 1996 at least three of these courses were making significant use of “hand-coded” web sites to distribute course material including the institution’s first fully online course (Jones, 1996b).

The rise of the Internet and commercial Internet Services Providers (ISP) during the mid-1990s both reduced the cost of such access and helped improve the ease-of-use. However, for some CQU students, asking them to use this technology represented a misunderstanding of their reality with the necessary costs of having a computer and using an ISP being equivalent to the deposit on a reasonable care the subsequent higher purchase repayments (Davison, 1996). For some, this and other work was seen by some as indicating that CQU was evolving into a fourth generation university through the incorporation of interactive multimedia and computer-mediated communication technologies (Crock & Andrews, 1997).

There remained, however, the issue of widespread staff adoption and use. By 1996, many CQU academics used no more than the written word for distanced education, with some making little or no attempt to utilise other existing technologies such as teleconferencing, audio-cassettes or even pictures within study materials (Davison, 1996). It was also observed that although pockets of expertise existed at CQU, and there had been some useful dabbling in online delivery, the majority of academics and administrators had little or no idea of what this new approach to teaching was all about (Macpherson, Bennett, & Priest, 1997). This was in line with the broader recognition that it was difficult for educators that lack technical background to create sophisticated WWW-based courses (Goldberg, Salari, & Swoboda, 1996).

It was recognised within M&C that the Web and online learning offered one approach that could address problems with existing teaching media and methods, improve the overall learning experience of the students, and possibly expand the student base (Jones & Buchanan, 1996). However, given the difficulties and time-consuming nature of web-based learning, it was believed that for web-based learning to become widespread within M&C it would be necessary to implement appropriate tools, automated systems, procedures, documentation and training to reduce the burden (Jones & Buchanan, 1996). This was the problem set for the author when he was given teaching relief for the second half of 1996. The task was to lead the development of a system, processes and resources to support the use of web-based learning in all of the department’s courses (Jones & Buchanan, 1996). From the perspective of M&C it was expected that the resulting system would enable the use of online learning in all department courses and provide M&C with a distinct advantage over its competitors (Jones & Buchanan, 1996). As an additional requirement it was expected that the same system would be used to provide the organistional website for the Faculty of Applied Science, the broader faculty to which M&C belonged.


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Appleton, A., Dekkers, J., & Sharma, R. (1989). Improved teaching excellence by using tutored video instruction: an Australian case study. Paper presented at the 11th EAIR Forum.

Atkinson, R., & Castro, A. (1991). The ADEnet project: Improving computer communications for distance education students. Paper presented at the Quality in Distance Education: ASPESA Forum 91, Bathurst, NSW: Australia.

Bennett, S., & Reilly, P. (1998). Using interactive multimedia to improve operator training at Queensland Alumina Limited. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 14(2), 75-87.

Buchanan, R., & Farrands, P. (1995). Can simulations help students understand programming concepts: a case study. Paper presented at the The Twelfth Annual Conference of the Australian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, Melbourne, Victoria.

Chernich, R., Jamieson, B., & Jones, D. (1995). RCOS: Yet another teaching operating system. Paper presented at the First Australasian Conference on Computer Science Education, Sydney.

Chernich, R., & Jones, D. (1994). The design and construction of a simulated operating system. Paper presented at the Asia Pacific Information Technology in Education Conference, Brisbane.

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Rehn, G., & Towers, S. (1994). Audiographic teleconferencing: The Cinderella of interactive multimedia. Paper presented at the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, Perth, Western Australia.

Rowe, S., & Ellis, A. (2008). Can one size fit all? Using web-based audio-graphics to support more flexible delivery and learning. Paper presented at the ASCILITE’2008, Melbourne, Victoria.

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Zelmer, A. C. L., & Pace, S. (1994, 23-28 January, 1994). Unrealised expectations: Developing (truly) affordable multimedia. Paper presented at the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, Perth, Western Australia.

2 thoughts on “Use of “e-learning” @ CQU up to 1996 (or so)

  1. Pingback: The intervention – Webfuse design 1996-1999 « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

  2. Pingback: PhD Update #19 – Falling just a little short « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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