Editorial (untitled)

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For the past few years, the "buzz word" in computers is multimedia, and more recently, interactive multimedia (IMM). Its use has increased dramatically and has been deemed the "next wave" of technology delivered via fiber optics, cable, telephone lines, computer networks, etc. The interactive component means the system d'es not present information literally, but responds to signals from the user by changing the content or pace of instruction. The multimedia component refers to the presentation of information that can include text, images, graphics, sound, animation and motion video.

Improved graphic interfaces and networking capabilities of PCs have had great influence on the growth of the Internet. Access to libraries of multimedia information has increased. CD-ROM sales have exceeded their most optimistic projections. New products are continually being announced.

For example, Ralph Ungerman, of First Virtual Corp. (FVC), states that by using a PC and FVC's multimedia networking products, users will be able to participate in a desktop videoconference, during which a PC application, video clip or document can be shared, as well as browse the Internet ¬simultaneously. Oracle Corp. plans an early-in-the-year release of software that permits interactive real-time video on Internet, permitting users to view a clip directly without any downloading required.

Bill Gates, in an interview concerning the future of computing, anticipates major technology trends, especially in connectivity improvements to transform multimedia services. On today's telephone lines, for instance, narrowband enhancements allow voice and data over the same line. With midband transmission (ISDN and cable), still images and audio are satisfactory, but video is barely adequate.

The answer is broadband connections ¬ with every school and home having broadband connections that are cheap. Gates states, "if you talk today to cable and telephone companies and compare their predictions, millions of homes would have broadband; that didn't happen. However, within a decade there will be millions of homes connected."

Observations About IMM

At present, the greatest use of IMM is in the home where, it is claimed, half of the multimedia PCs and stand-alone interactive CD players can be found. The vast majority of IMM material is targeted for the home ¬ the emphasis is mostly entertainment.

The use of IMM in educational institutions has not been overwhelming, though purchases are increasing. Instructional material that incorporates sound, graphics, etc. is more available and used at all levels of education. However, most curriculum is still text-based and designed much as it has been for many years.

Some general observations on the use of IMM in education are noted:

  • Teachers, students and faculty have access to a growing number of multimedia-enabled resources. Encyclopedias and reference material are gaining in popularity.
  • IMM software is capturing students' attention, arousing curiosity, stimulating creativity, encouraging critical thinking and fostering interaction. IMM is augmenting traditional lectures and laboratory presentations, providing more interesting and innovative material to the student.
  • Developing quality multimedia courseware is too difficult for the majority of faculty. It is also extremely time-consuming with little incentive.
  • Publishers are investing more resources to produce better quality IMM material.
  • IMM over a network reaches more students and is more cost-effective. While the Internet makes available a variety of useful multimedia content, how to find and then retrieve such material requires some expertise.
  • Unless the use of multimedia can reduce the cost of education it will not be taken seriously.

Window of Opportunity

The following are still being asked: Why use IMM? Is it the best way for students to learn? What media should be used (sound, video, images, etc.) and when?

A great deal of money has been invested in producing glamorous IMM educational material that delivered less than promised. Though the need for IMM has been acknowledged by the educator, its value has not been proven.

A unique opportunity exists, as we replace our aging delivery systems, to use the best of telephony, TV, networking, display and projection systems to assure the proper mix of multimedia elements in education at an affordable cost.

No Need to be Overwhelmed

A word of caution: Do not be overwhelmed by the ever-changing technology and the often seemingly prohibitive start-up costs. Find out what you need. It certainly appears to be the direction in which we are heading.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.

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