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January 12, 2021

Remote learning at Deakin: from 1978 to now

Unlike other Australian universities, we have been leaders in remote learning and distance education since the beginning – all the way back in 1978! Before the internet, before computers were commonplace, Deakin found innovative ways to help mature-aged and rural students take advantage of a university education right from their homes.

The University Archives has an important responsibility: to preserve the story of Deakin. Our unique history with remote learning has been highlighted in recent weekly social media posts under the hashtag #DeakinDistanceEd, featuring a series of photos from Deakin Archives.

Follow us @deakinlibrary to see more of these posts, and read on to learn more about the incredible history of Deakin’s remote learning programs.

Background to distance education at Deakin

Student working on early computer monitor

Distance education fits with the University’s social democratic ideals around access to education and the notion of education as life-improving. It was enthusiastically championed by Deakin’s first VC, Fred Jevons, who before taking up his role at Deakin spent five months scouring Britain for the most innovative ideas and found them all at the Open University. Sir Walter Perry of Walton, Vice-Chancellor of United Kingdom’s Open University, contributed to the planning and operation of Deakin and its distance education programs.

Deakin welcomed our first off-campus pupils in 1978. Many had applied to join the academic adventure and 1250 were accepted. Some 300 hailed from the Geelong region, the others split between Melbourne and the rest of Victoria. Off-campus studies suited people from all walks of life but were especially popular with country women, many mature-aged working with families from rural regions. ‘The housewife from Wycheproof’ was the archetype for which units were written.

Students talking at dining room table

Weekend schools

The Humanities model had small numbers of tutors travelling the state, and the Social Sciences model had teaching staff with the support from library, Student Services and other administrative staff. Both models involved teaching in study centres or ad hoc locations. Weekend schools were also a place for isolated students to meet and mingle.

Expanding the program

In 1980 Deakin opened a study centre in Melbourne on Flinders Street, giving the city a presence. Further Access Centres were successfully trialled throughout 1983 and 1984 to provide information and support for remote students. They offered study materials and viewing rooms for videos, cassettes and slides.

In the mid-80s, Deakin joined other universities in exploring further possibilities in off-campus and distance education. An informal cooperative arrangement was made with Macquarie University, the University of New England, Murdoch University and the University of Queensland to facilitate inter-university enrolment and access to individual, external units. The group also explored the establishment of a course combination drawn from a common pool. Deakin was also a major participant in the first International Conference on Distance Education held at La Trobe University in 1985.

Students in group discussion

Learning materials

To support the off-campus model, Deakin established a reputation for the creation and delivery of high-quality teaching materials that engaged with a much greater variety of students than just school leavers.

Margaret Cameron, Deakin’s first chief librarian, was a key strength behind the open campus program. Under Cameron the library allowed off-campus students the same level of service as the on-campus students. Books would be transported to distance ed students within 48 hours of receiving the request. In 1978 nearly 1500 items were dispatched. Cameron believed books should not be on shelves but in the hands of users. The library was so instrumental, it was said you could close down Deakin as long as you kept the library going.

Print materials were created through the Development Unit within the Centre for Educational Services. Deakin’s modest print run of study material became an avalanche with a range of top-quality publications to make it the largest academic publisher in Australia. It earned several design awards from the Australian Book Publishers Association. Audio-visual resources were developed. Deakin’s library services set world standards at being able to provide material to students at short notice. Study guides, readers, case studies, plays, photographs, books and audio-visual materials had to be quickly dispatched.

Deakin had a media unit producing their high standard of film, video and audio material.

Peter Lane in media studio

Study materials

Deakin’s study materials became commonplace all over Australia. While conducting research in far north, sociology lecturer Nevile Millen Queensland noticed a solitary figure tucked away in the sand dunes working through a familiar looking study guide. It was from Deakin!

Picture of the book 'Nudism in Australia' taken out in the country

What has happened to the materials?

Today, Deakin still holds much of this material, transferred to or sourced by the Archives, from areas such as the library. We have more than 100 boxes of hardcopy study guides and tens of thousands digital guides.

Approximately 250 boxes of film, video and audio recordings were transferred to the Archives around 2010. The formats were predominately reel-to-reel and audio or video cassettes – including VHS, U-Matic, Betacam and variants – and some early digital material (e.g. CD-Rom discs).

The collection covers:

It also illustrates the evolution of audio-visual technologies and their role in Deakin University’s pioneering of distance education. With no master listing, when the materials were examined, we only knew the contents by what was written on the tapes themselves. Some good fortune came our way with an offer of additional archive space at the Burwood Campus.

Workers measuring a room with concrete floors

We had this fitted out to suit storage of AV items.

New archives room

Some priority or at-risk items, such as records of important University events and early broadcast videotapes, are being digitised to enable preservation and access. To do this, ageing players of now redundant media are being sourced from wherever we can – our BetacamSP player was traced to a garage in Gippsland!

Old audio-visual materials in Archives

The Archives has just completed a master listing of the 4500 items in this collection and many gems have emerged.

Archives shelves photo 1

Archives shelves photo 2

Archives shelves photo 3

Archives Team photo

Researchers are already accessing our newly digitised copies of course material and lectures of noted Deakin academics for papers or conferences.

Preserving these and other materials is a crucial part of the mission for Deakin Archives. If you’d like to learn more or see items in our Archives, check out our website.

Archiving old technology photo 1

Archiving old technology photo 2

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