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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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Students prefer dialogue and multi-media interaction

Gary Kirby
Gary Kirby is Assistant Director at AccessEd, an Education Queensland publishing house. AccessEd supports the education community, from preschool through to Adult Education by producing and distributing multi-media educational resources

Today's students exist in a world of simultaneous multi-media use. Growing up with television, radio, the Internet and mobile phones, young people are skilled channel switchers. The key difference between now and five years ago is that there is a much greater choice of channels through which to start and maintain interactive relationships. The days of monologue and uni-directional flow of information are numbered. Each channel adds a new dimension to the communication.

AccessEd produces learning tools for Education Queensland's Distance Education program, serving students who are travelling interstate or overseas, living in an area more than 16 kilometres from the nearest school, or who are studying at a school but want to increase their curriculum choices. Since the beginning of this year, the Distance Education initiative also includes digitising assignment resources that were previously paper-based.

The students of today act in groups. Communities and groups are now formed irrespective of geography, and may be based on shared views of the world, or common global interests such as the environment and music. The world of computer gaming is a case in point. Young people around the world log onto game sites and play with their mates who may be geographically remote from them. Likewise, students do not need to be physically present to belong to a school community.

Face-to-face communication still holds its place at the distance education teaching table. Most of Queensland's Schools of Distance Education arrange 'outreach' activities such as sports musters, and science and art days, where students and parents can meet fellow students and teachers. This demonstrates how, rather than replacing existing technologies and approaches, new technologies complement them. Where radio communication to outback properties was once the predominant form of interaction, it is now supported by the Internet, CD-ROM learning tools and email.

Forget the old days when information was only accessible for a certain period. If a relationship closes down or is unavailable, it is rendered non-existent in the world of young people. When researching for assignments, students need only enter a subject into a search engine and the whole world is opened up. She or he who clicks the mouse can access libraries and resources the world over at any time, day or night.

In this new world of information, students expect and require instant responses, so supporting telecommunications and hardware is crucial. As students are accustomed to accessing what they want when they want, download times have to be reduced. File size matters. Levels of memory and download allowances vary across different portals. It is likely that large memory sapping files will remain unopened or unused.

In the context of distance education, 'instant' means providing immediate access to learning material and faster turnaround times. Previously, students posted their assignments back to the teacher who would correct them. Immediate feedback was difficult. Students either moved on to the next part of the course without knowing how they fared previously, or continued working unaware of how they could improve. New technology has transformed educational effectiveness by reducing this feedback loop.

With this in mind, AccessEd has designed interactive learning tools that can be downloaded quickly and used individually. Learning Objects need to enable the student to focus on the task inherent in the Learning Object, rather than the learning tool itself. The host system and technical capability need to be considered at the outset.

It is clear that the way we build relationships with students of the current generation, as wells as those of future generations, is dramatically different from what has been practised previously. However we should be wary of the illusion that new channels supersede existing ones overnight. But with the rapid onset and uptake of new technologies, the nature and scope of relationships also evolves. Media that promotes instant access to information and supports frequent and quality dialogue will underpin this growth.

Subject Headings

Computer-based training
Computers in society
Distance education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)