Multimedia Across Disciplines

Humans are often unaware of how profoundly the constant barrage of visual images, sound, and motion in mass media affects them, yet the advent of multimedia has changed the way humans communicate. Much of what would have been conveyed by text 50 years ago is now routinely communicated through visual and audio imagery. As internationally known education consultant Tom Cyrs has said, "Human communication is evolving into pre-Guttenburg expression." In other words, communication is moving from written text back to word pictures, visual representations, and storytelling.

An Evolving Technology

What exactly is multimedia and what role d'es it have in education? Technically, multimedia is simply the use of multiple types of media to convey a message. What constitutes "cutting-edge" multimedia has much to do with the historical backdrop. Slide shows with synchronized audio tapes, the instructional multimedia of the 1960s, evolved into the use of 16mm films and educational television by the 70s. Videotape, the multimedia of the 80s, constituted one of the first forms of multimedia that truly put production capabilities in the hands of typical teachers, who were eventually challenged in the 90s with new technologies like CD-ROMs, video games, and the World Wide Web.

Currently, cutting-edge multimedia consists of all the elements of the past enhanced by extremely high-quality digital visuals and audio in an interactive package that invites user involvement. This can be delivered on CD-ROM, DVD, or over the Webalthough high-quality delivery over the Web is still in its infancy. Virtual reality will likely be an integral component of the multimedia of this decade.

In meeting its goal to transfer knowledge and understanding, education has traditionally incorporated different forms of media. But the predominant mode of knowledge transfer has been the written and spoken wordthrough textbooks and the lecture. Words, however, are the most abstract means of communication. Spoken words are slightly less abstract because they are often communicated with gestures and inflection. Visual images are more concrete. Today, mass media is such an effective communication tool because concrete experience is so powerful in conveying meaning and experience.

Project Implementation

The multimedia of this decade, through the use of virtual reality, will be enormously efficient in recreating reality and true experience, the most tangible mode of information transfer. The goal of multimedia in education is to immerse the student in a multiple sensory environment in order to transfer and infuse knowledge and understanding by mimicking experience as closely as possible. One can write about a walk through the woods, but upon addition of pictures, the impression becomes more palpable. With the addition of sound, motion video, even tactile sensation, the experience of walking in the woods becomes more real. Through multimedia, the goal is to get as close as possible to the most visceral means of experiencing a walk in the woods without actually walking there.

In this way, multimedia "speaks" to different learning modalities: auditory learners, visual learners, tactile learners all benefit from multimedia's varied presentations of information, sometimes choosing for themselves the most meaningful information avenue. These different learning modes are essential considerations in the instructional design of a multimedia project. They relate directly to learning objectives and what students need to do/think/understand to meet those objectives.

For example, if the objective is to help students understand a period of history, one might attempt to recreate that period through a documentary-style treatment of existing documents and photos, adding to that voice narration, video, and possibly animations. To help students appreciate a literary work in a way that books cannot achieve, one might incorporate dynamic hyperlinked text with images, literary criticism resources, translations, and related Web sites. To drill and test students on what they have learned, a designer needs to build in interactive elements and assessment and tracking features. A developer who hopes to immerse students in experience without leaving the classroom will need sophisticated tools for building 3D worlds that may require sophisticated servers and workstations. Only when one has a clear sense of the learning objectives and the necessary student responses d'es one then decide what media will best facilitate the learning and what design tools and delivery mechanisms will be necessary.

Some exemplary uses of multimedia in the support of higher education are featured here. While not an exhaustive sampling, these examples give an idea of some ways in which the strengths of multimedia are being directed toward education. Production quality varies among the examples, but what is exceptional is the instructional value of these programs.

Information Distribution

Distributed Multimedia Computing Laboratory

University of Texas-Austin
Multimedia over the Web is something that is still out of the reach of many users who operate with slow-speed modem access. As the Web matures, the need for high-speed access to multimedia information is increasing. The Distributed Multimedia Computing Laboratory at the University of Texas, Austin, is attempting to develop products that will help bring multimedia to the Web. It is currently developing integrated multimedia file systems to aid inthestoring,transporting,and processing of multiple types of information, operating systems for next-generation distributed applications, fault-tolerant systems and congestion control algorithms, and traffic-management products for integrated services networks.

Of particular interest to educators, however, is its InfoWeave project. Currently, video and audio information d'es not lend itself to database searches as readily as d'es text-based information. Further, mosthypermediais,atitscore, text-basedfor now. InfoWeave seeks to incorporate the best features of text, audio-visual, and hypermedia information into a visual environmentforthe dissemination of digitaleducational material, supporting next-generation distributed multimedia applications. The project builds upon research on digital library projects, speech recognition systems, and multimedia file system design techniques. It intends to enhance delivery of educational material by using video as the primary delivery medium and associated text as the primary means of searching for specific video segments. Various types of links will be supported, some applied at the time of creation and others at the time of publication, and information will be organized into modules to facilitate access.

Dynamic Text and Construction of Scholarly Analysis

Digital Dante

Columbia University
Called a "study space," Digital Dante, from the Institute for Learning Technologies at Columbia University's Teachers College, provides students access to a 21st Century illumination of The Divine Comedy, one that takes advantage of the existing technical possibilities to allow reading of La Commedia in a way not possible in a non-digital media.

Dante chose to write The Divine Comedy in Italian, rather than the more scholarly Latin, to reach the widest audience possible. Likewise, Digital Dante extends its reach beyond that of Dante's original written work through visual imagery and hyperlinked text commentary.

To expand the concept of text, Digital Dante makes use of networked digital media to allow cross-referencing of ideas and interpretations. The project features original Italian text as well as Henry W. Longfellow's and Allen Mandelbaum's English translations of three sections of Dante's p'em: The Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Using framed pages, students can view each canto of the p'em in both Italian and English, placed between three different translation options on the left and hyperlinked reference notes and annotations on the right. Students can instantaneously switch to different translations of the text on view, and back again.

Using scrolling boxes, each translation lists the different cantos so that students can also immediately access any of the 34 Inferno, 33 Purgatorio, and 33 Paradiso cantos. The hyperlinked reference notes appear in their own frame at the bottom of the screen.

An image collection includes illuminations of La Commedia, as well as interpretations of Dante's work by artists from Boticelli and Salvador Dali to more contemporary artists. Also through the use of framed pages, the site's library provides a list of other works by Dante, works that Dante himself read, other useful classics, scholarly works, and student work. By clicking on the list of options in a framed column on the left of the page, the full text of works such as Paradise Lost, The Metamorphosis, andTheDecameron appears in a larger frame on the right.

Along with other features such as maps by various artists, a discussion section, net resources, classroom activities and resources, and a searchable index, this site promises to fulfill the developers' vision: to "make possible new forms of scholarly work that incorporate multiple forms of media (text, audio, video, and image) as well as hyperlinks within, between, and among various resources, with the result that construction will join deconstruction as a valid form of literary criticism and comparative analysis."

Dante extensively used the power of images and architectural spaces in his writing; this project incorporates both to create a rich visual tapestry of information, providing contextualizing and orienting material in a way that enables the user to better grasp Dante's meaning. As Dante says in Purgatorio 27.130-131, "I've brought you here through intellect and art; from now on, let pleasure be your guide...."

Virtual Reality and Immersive Environments

The Electronic Visualization Lab

University of Illinois-Chicago
The Electronic Visualization Lab at the University of Illinois in Chicago is a graduate research laboratory devoted to virtual reality and interactive computer graphics. A joint effort of the College of Engineering and School of Art and Design, it has teamed with scientists and engineers to collect, maintain, develop, distribute, and evaluate virtual reality tools and techniques.

The EVL was the development site of the landmark CAVE project, a room constructed of large screens on which graphics are projected onto walls, floor, and sometimes ceiling. The name comes partly from Plato's "The Simile of the Cave," in which he describes a person viewing shadows cast upon the back of a cave and thinking them real objects, since there is no other reference point.

Another project from EVL is the ImmersaDesk, a relatively portable, semi-immersive virtual reality environment. It uses the CAVE library software, but is semi-immersive in the sense that the user is not surrounded by a room of projection panels and d'es not use a headset, but rather stands in front of a 4-x-5-foot rear-projection screen tiled at a 45-degree angle. Current research at the EVL is on tele-immersion, a technique combining CAVE and ImmersaDesk research with high-speed networked communications.

Tele-immersion enables users in different locations to collaborate in shared, virtual environments, each using an ImmersaDesk, for instance. With tele-immersion, the computer provides real-time data in a collaborative virtual environment. This extends tele-conferencing into the area of virtual reality, which will allow scientists, engineers, and others to collaborate in real-time over high-speed networks.

Virtual Reality art pieces created at the EVL represent both works of art and science experiments, exploring interaction, narrative, and visual representation, breaking traditional bounds of art and science. Other ground-breaking areas of exploration include sound-art and sound-activated graphics.

Multimedia: A Team Approach

These examples represent a fraction of what is being done with multimedia in higher education. As the field matures and as instructors become aware of the possibilities, multimedia will see greater adoption. It is difficult, however, for instructors to break out of text-based thinking. Multimedia demands that instructors think holistically about information transfer. It requires designers either to be or have access to graphic designers, musicians, directors, as well as content experts. Most of the projects mentioned above were done in conjunction with a center at the university or college devoted to faculty technical and media support. Such centers bring together graphic designers, production specialists, videographers, Web developers, and content experts to create a diversified team. Such teams not only draw from a wide range of skills and talents, but also distribute the workload involved with multimedia production. In the absence of such support, instructors find the task of multimedia creation daunting. Those with such support find that individual team members provide a wealth of insight and vision, allowing the project to develop in ways no one individual could have imagined.

Historical Documentary

Valley of the Shadow
University of Virginia, Charlottesville

The Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, is an excellent repository of digitized historical media. The goal of the Center is to provide historical materials in a digital format, and make them accessible, appealing, and useful. A featured project is the Valley of the Shadow, about two communities, one Northern and one Southern, before, during, and after the Civil War.

Thousands of sources have been gathered and digitized, including newspapers, letters, diaries, photographs, maps, church records, population census, agricultural census, and military records. Together with newly created simulations and animations, these documents constitute an electronic cultural atlas to help students reconstruct the logistics of the Civil War as well as life stories of women, African Americans, farmers, politicians, soldiers, and families.

To help users understand the impact topographical elements have had upon history, the site incorporates data from the United States Geological Survey. Computer-generated animated maps show relationships between the various geographical elements and the culture, giving a detailed sense of place. Some maps have been generated using the Great American History Machine, a thematic mapping program developed at Carnegie Mellon by David Miller and Stephan Greene, which allows users to create maps based upon U.S. Census data from 1790 through 1990.

Students can trace troop movement during Civil War battles, using optional overlays to show historical and present-day towns and cities, transportation infrastructure, and topographic elements. A number of computer-generated images show 3D terrain, as it was then and as it is today. The effect is a rich resource where geographical information enhances understanding of historical events.

Storytelling with Streaming Media

August Strindberg's Use of Scenic Elements

University of Wisconsin, Madison

Much of multimedia mirrorstheatre. Storytelling with visual effects has been an integralpartoftheatre, through use of scene design, lighting, color, costumes, and motion. A fitting subject for multimedia exploration, therefore, is August Strindberg, a 19th century Scandinavian playwright. Through the use of video, narration, music, and slides, Susan Brantly explores how Strindberg used scenic elements in his plays.

Brantly, a professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, worked in conjunction withtheUniversity's Department of Learning Technology and Distance Education and Emerging MediaTechnologyto producethework. Strindberg's symbolic use of props, costume, and color were revolutionary for this time. He was a pioneer in using scenic elements that are now commonly used in motion picture production. Visual symbolism was an integral part of his designs.

Brantly's work uses voice-over narration with digitized images delivered using streaming Real Media to tell the story of Strindberg's innovative uses of scenic design elements. Users view images of Strindberg's actual set designssometimes presented in a series of fades, mimicking an animation of changing scenes over timewhile listening to audio narration as well as voices of the characters in selected play scenes. A simple program, it is effective in meeting the learning objectives of understanding Strindberg's complex psychological and spiritual development as reflected in his scenic designs.

Medical Visualization and Diagnostic Imaging

The Yale Center for Advanced Instructional Media Yale University
Introduction to Cardiothoracic Imaging
How to Practice Safe Science

A highly detailed interactive program, Introduction to Cardiothoracic Imaging offers a broad overview of chest and cardiac diagnostic imaging. It includes more than 1,200 images, including digitized X-ray images, and over 100 original illustrations. Illustrations include numerous views of the heart and lungs. Users can click on an illustration and see a corresponding X-ray representation of the same area, complete with text labels that appear when the user moves the cursor onto the image. The labels conveniently disappear if the user moves the mouse off the image. Accompanying text is often mirrored in optional audio notes. An extensive search index allows users to target specific information. The site covers chest radiography, magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, echocardiography, angiography, and nuclear imaging, providing a rich and detailed media resource.

In conjunction with the Howard Hughes Medical Center, the Yale Center for Advanced Instructional Media has also developed How to Practice Safe Science, a Web-based training program for individuals working with hazardous biomedical materials. Users complete a short list of questions prior to starting the program and can take an optional test upon completion of the entire program. The initial test directs the program to provide specific information on particular areas, such as human blood hazards or glassware washing hazards, but individuals can review all of the information if they wish. The "final test" helps users become aware of areas in which they might need additional training. Questions are interspersed throughout the program, providing users with immediate feedback to augment learning. Students are able to evaluate how well they comprehend the material, and review where necessary.

Digitized photographs and detailed information cover such areas as chemical safety, emergency response measures, and the hazards involved in glassware washing, cell culture, human blood, radioactive materials, and X-ray diffraction. The site is publicly available for use by any laboratory with access to the Web. The goal of the project is to ensure that those in the research community know how to protect themselves and their colleagues from biomedical hazards, and that they know how to respond in the case of an emergency. An opportunity for critique is provided in the comments screen at the end of the course. Users are encouraged to record their opinions about the value of the training.

Interactive Tutorial Lab and Virtual Tour

The Multimedia Learning Center

Northwestern University

The Multimedia Learning Center at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Northwestern University, has helped create several multimedia language programs. Intermatik, Internautique, and Intergalactico are content-rich, interactive, intermediate-level programs for learning German, French, and Spanish, respectively. The traditional tools for language instructionlanguage workbooks and language lab environmentsare enhanced through the interactive, Web-based interface. Students have access to exercises and self-tests anytime. Streaming digitized video clips encourage cultural awareness and comprehension, while sound files illustrate correct pronunciation. Interactive exercises provide opportunity for immediate feedback, supported by an individualized tracking system. A virtual tutor lets students post questions and receive feedback from an instructor.

One of the main ideas behind the program is that testing and exercise practice should be done outside of class, freeing class time with the teacher to be devoted to highly communicative and creative tasks. In a questionnaire distributed to 100 students in a pilot class, 65 percent indicated that the online resource was more or significantly more helpful than a conventional text. However, while students appreciated the interactivity of the material, some found it difficult to adapt their study habits. No longer could they study on the commuter train or cram five minutes before a test. An understanding of the audience for this project would have also revealed that students were actually less sophisticated in the use of technology than the creators thought, and they were easily discouraged when something went wrong. In addition, teacher preparedness played an important role in the success of the program: the more enthusiastic the instructor and the more he or she knew about the technology, the better the students felt about using the online material.

Another program from the Multimedia Learning Center, Chinese Pictographies, uses digital media to teach Chinese characters. Mastery of Chinese characters and comprehension of their pictographic nature prove extremely challenging to students of Chinese. This program combines the characters with the images the characters represent, making the characters less abstract. The project is designed to help students recognize, comprehend, and memorize more characters with less effort. In a study of 146 students, the accuracy rate of translation for those who used the program was 62 percent, compared to an accuracy rate of 44 percent for those who did not use the program. The project now has 243 pictographs combinedwithChineseand English explanations.

An excellent supplement to the Chinese Pictographies program is another North-western project, Dunhuang. This three-dimensional virtual tour, created with QuickTime Virtual Reality, provides a means of "visiting" some of the Buddhist cave shrines in Dunhuang, China, and viewing their detailed interiors. Through movement of the mouse, users are able to view the virtual walls, ceilings, and floors of the caves. Moving the mouse forward allows the user to look up at the ceiling; moving the mouse to the either side lets the user look at the walls. The effect is that of being inside the cave and looking up, down, and to the sides, providing a much richer experience than they would have by simply looking at slides or photographs of the flat surfaces. The shadows, images, and architecture blend to create a sense of place.

comments powered by Disqus