Teaching With Multimedia in the Community College Classroom

by J. BRETT MIKETTA, Assistant Professor and DEBORAH LUDFORD, Assistant Professor Glendale Community College Glendale, Calif. For this research, the term "multimedia" was limited to the development of strategies and tools to supplement existing in-class presentation methodologies. Funding for the tools used in this effort came from our Title III grant. "Tools," in this case, refers to hardware, software and peripheral equipment used to provide a mixture of sound, text, voice, full-motion video, photos, graphics, exercises and animation for instructor-controlled presentations. Our basic strategy was to define an instructor-friendly multimedia environment that was interactive and would facilitate the integration of multimedia elements into classroom teaching. The interactivity of this environment was a key factor; it was defined as "the ability of the instructor to control the delivery of the multimedia elements, presented on separate monitors, independently of the presentation software displayed on the central screen." This function enabled an instructor to select a multimedia element at will and correlate it to the ongoing lecture. The hardware we used included: videodisc player, CD-ROM drive, VCR, Macintosh IIci and Macintosh SE, 44MB removable cartridge drive, overhead projector (4,000 lumen), an LCD panel, stereo speakers and a remote mouse. Software included System 7.0, Persuasion (formerly by Aldus, which has since been acquired and merged with Adobe Systems), PowerPoint and HyperCard. Focus of Research: Creating a Template Our efforts focused on developing an interactive courseware template that could be readily implemented and evaluated in our Computer Science/Information Science 101 classes. This template had to be generic in format, user friendly and work on a cart-based portable multimedia station. We quickly discovered that due to processing constraints, seamless integration required using two computers. The first would be loaded with appropriate presentation software and used to deliver the text-based slides that would be shown during a particular lecture. The second computer would be loaded with a scripting language that would provide the instructor with a graphical user interface to control the delivery of various multimedia elements to the television monitors. We wanted to develop a highly user-friendly method that could be used across campus to implement multimedia in the classroom. If faculty became familiar with this approach, they might be more receptive to implementing multimedia in their classes. Many publishers, for example, now provide multimedia resources with the adoption of a text. Finally, we undertook this project in order to explore potential increases in student retention, comprehension, participation and academic success.


Our efforts can be broken into four pieces: text-based presentation software, script-based programming language for a GUI interface for teachers as well as hardware communication, portable media cart design, acquisition and wiring, and the design and publication of multimedia materials for the student. Presentation Software: The Template The text-based presentation software selected was Persuasion 3.0. It is very user-friendly and allowed us to generate a suitable presentation template. Using a straight hierarchical design, our presentation template pre-defined for the user the following characteristics: layout of slides format of text size and font transition effects icon symbols linking text to the media that would display on separate monitors. The hierarchical design employed is analogous to an organizational chart in that its objective is to provide the student with a pictorial representation or "road map" of the material to be discussed (see Figure #1). The Persuasion software only required a teacher to outline the lecture in a word processing format, not to actually place text on the slides. This process was automated, which significantly reduced the time and effort required to translate a handwritten lecture into a multimedia presentation. We decided to present all lectures using the same design strategy. This allows students to focus on the material being covered and avoids distractions from fluctuations in presentation style. The design further encourages the instructor to discuss the objectives and general concepts of the material first, then present specific concepts on a modular basis as appropriate. The template also manipulates font, size and color to emphasize salient points and organizational structure. In designing the template, we emphasized the delivery of the information rather than aesthetically pleasing graphics. Vibrant background colors and complicated graphics only obscured text and slowed down Persuasion's performance. Next was the rather lengthy task of converting all our hand-written lectures into the multimedia format and mapping the available multimedia resources to the slides. While somewhat time-consuming, it was worth the price (see Figure #2). A classroom full of passive learners was transformed into a room full of active critical thinkers who probed for additional insights. The only notable problem we discovered was that the presentation software disabled the keyboard. If it were not disabled, we could launch additional applications in the background and hot-key between them and Persuasion for demonstrations. In addition to lecture presentations, online quizzes were given at the end of each lecture module. Students had to bring a Scantron test form and a pencil for quizzes; feedback, given in the next class, consisted of a matrix showing the question numbers and the section of the text or handout students needed to review if they missed that question. As extra incentive to do well on quizzes, students were told that a significant percentage of quiz questions would ultimately show up on one or more of the four exams. Scripting Language: The GUI Component We used HyperCard V2.2 as the script-based programming language for the project. It, in conjunction with The Voyager Videostack driver, which lets one utilize content located on videodiscs, allowed us to create a reasonably friendly graphical user interface through which faculty would present material in class. The program was designed to allow the user to simply click on graphical buttons to make events happen on the monitors. Three separate modules were developed: Status, Presentations and Applications. The Status module lets users review the current status of the videodisc, CD-ROM or settings for the modem card and make any necessary modifications. The Applications module allows one to launch separate application programs for demonstration purposes. One drawback for us involved extensions card for displaying Mac screens on a regular TV monitor; they are marginal at best and flicker remains a distraction. The Presentations module is the heart of the system. In it, users select a specific presentation and access all multimedia elements associated with that presentation from a single screen by simply clicking a button. The interface is friendly in that it displays the instructor's syllabus onscreen (see Figure #3) and allows him or her to select a specific lecture and all the multimedia elements associated with it on an interactive basis (see Figure #4). In this module, the multimedia screen that appears for each lecture is divided into eight sections. The first five are labeled: Figures, Videos, Animations, Photos and Audio Sequences. Each of these sections is a scroll box by which the instructor selects a specific multimedia element to have appear on the television monitor or be heard on the speakers. The number of items listed in the scroll box is simply a matter of availability and instructor preference. The key advantage to this approach is that the instructor has random, instantaneous access to any of the multimedia elements via a simple point-and-click operation. The script underlying each of the scroll boxes performs the real task of locating and then displaying or playing the selected element, whether it is on a CD-ROM, videodisc or secondary storage device. The next two parts of the screen are bars across the bottom. The first bar, labeled at either end with Scan, allows the instructor to control the presentation of videodisc-based material. For example, he or she may wish to freeze a video clip on a specific frame to discuss it with the class, or slowly step through a sequence of frames and elaborate on what the video is attempting to convey. The second bar, labeled CD-ROM, controls CD-ROM-based content in a similar manner. Finally, the last section of the screen is an area on the bottom designed to allow instructors to navigate, via buttons, between lectures and to exit the program. Finally, the system needed a few "warning messages." For example, when changing sides on a videodisc, it is necessary to re-initialize the videodisc player we use. So whenever a presentation requires an instructor to flip over a videodisc, an appropriate message is displayed. Making the System Portable Developing a portable media cart for the system was not as simple as first envisioned. Placing hardware on the cart in a functional manner was complicated by the following: One must locate devices that spin far enough from devices that display so that magnetic distortion d'esn't affect them; A central power source is needed so that all devices are turned on by one switch; All devices must be pre-connected to all other devices so that faculty do not have to configure the system for each lecture; One needs switches that will redirect the output of specific devices, if necessary. should be noted that most devices do not naturally communicate with each other. For example, when purchasing a videodisc player for multimedia, take care to get a Level III player as it offers an RS-232C port for connecting a computer to control it. Also, the cost of various interface cables is not included in the price and they may not be readily available. The cart to hold our system had to meet the following requirements: a low center of gravity, pneumatic wheels to alleviate vibration problems and enough space to configure the equipment as described above. The cart, made by LUXOR, was eventually selected and acquired with the aid of our superintendent/president Dr. John Davitt. Student Booklets Tie Into Methodology Since part of our goal was to increase student participation, we decided to publish booklets for students that contained copies of all slides presented in class with extra room for annotations and notes. Our objective is to focus students on classroom discussion and critical evaluation of the material presented, rather than on the traditional task of taking notes. But we did not attempt to eliminate notetaking entirely, only to orchestrate and facilitate the process. This was accomplished by giving students copies of the slides and requiring them to fill in the missing details. To encourage this, essay questions on exams focused on the material that students should have annotated in their booklets. The booklet was prepared in advance and made available in the college bookstore at a nominal price. Our first attempt at this had its successes and failures. Successes centered around the review and use of the booklet by the students. Failures involved the mechanics of publication. We should have numbered the pages to keep them in the proper order, and finished them with three punched holes rather a comb binding. As you might have guessed, pages were copied out of order and bound in a way that did not allow easy reorganization. Results Prove Promising We believe our initial efforts have proven to be very effective. We measured effectiveness by the following: classroom performance (student and instructor), quizzes/test scores and student surveys. The classroom performance of instructors was improved by giving them better tools, which enabled them to provide more interesting and innovative materials to their students. For example, when discussing early computer problems, an instructor could click on a button to display a photograph of the first computer "bug"-literally a moth caught eating away at the wires of the computer taped to a piece of notebook paper and proudly displayed by its captor. We even interjected occasional humor (see Figure #5) to keep the atmosphere easygoing and relaxed. Performance by students is also gratifying. Test and quiz scores are up by a full seven percentage points, thus we are doing something right in the areas of retention, comprehension, and ultimately, student success. Survey results indicate that students get more involved in the lectures and achieve a better understanding of the material when it is presented in a multimedia format. With minimal training, GCC instructors can now incorporate the basic features of multimedia into a lecture. We focused on making the media station more user-friendly, rather than the faculty more computer-literate. Finally, because of our efforts in designing a presentation template and user interface, time spent developing multimedia presentations is minimized. Instructors should benefit from renewed interest and enthusiasm. They will be able to take advantage of both existing and future multimedia resources offered by various publishers, able to bring the world to the classroom rather than having to bring the classroom to the world. Students should benefit from increased motivation generated by the more interesting materials their instructors will be able to present. We hope this increased motivation translates directly into higher success rates. This increased retention, comprehension and student participation will greatly outweigh the initial effort required to transform existing lectures into material presented in a multimedia format. Keys to the Future We believe that multimedia will be a real success when it is delivered over a campus network rather than through a portable multimedia station like ours. The intermediate point is a few well-designed multimedia classrooms. Based on our initial success, GCC is now equipping two of its large classrooms with a full complement of multimedia equipment. We also plan to transition the current Macintosh-based system to an IBM/Mac notebook workstation in order to serve DOS/Windows users too. The key is to get faculty excited about the prospects of using multimedia in their everyday teaching. Making it as convenient as possible is useful only because it greatly aids that process. It is worth noting that many commercial publishers are investing significant resources to develop multimedia materials to supplement their texts. They seem to realize that such supplements will be near-mandatory if the firms are to remain commercially successful in serving academia. Integrating interesting visuals into the traditional lecture style is invigorating for both instructor and student, we have found. Instructors, for instance, get a chance to add a whole new dimension to their existing lectures with dynamically selected audio visual material. Overall, our presentation template structure and the student booklets have translated into more active classrooms. The visual elements help students to quickly comprehend both the most important points as well as the connections between them. They also provide more "jumping off" points for discussion. With the new classrooms and our IBM/Mac portable station, there will be some profound and positive changes in the way we educate students at Glendale Community College. J. Brett Miketta is an Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Computer Science Dept. at Glendale Community College in southern California. E-mail: [email protected]


Deborah Ludford is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science and President of the Academic Senate at the college. E-mail: [email protected] Products mentioned: 3M Model 9550 overhead projector; 3M Corp., Visual Systems Div., Austin, TX, (800) 328-1371 Adobe Persuasion 3.0; Adobe Systems, Inc., Mountain View, CA, (800) 833-6687 Airmouse Version ADB-V1.0 remote mouse; Airmouse Remote Controls, Williston, VT, (800) 877-9600 Apple 300 CD-ROM drive; Apple Computer, Inc., Cupertino, CA, (800) 800-APPLE Bose Video Roommate speakers; Bose Corp., Framingham, MA, (800) 444-BOSE HyperCard Version 2.2 (now up to v2.3); Apple Computer, Inc., (800) 800-APPLE LUXOR TVP-32 cart, LUXOR Corp., Waukegan, IL, (708) 244-1800 Pioneer LaserDisc Player, Model LD-V2200; Pioneer New Media Technologies, Inc., Long Beach, CA, (800) LASERON (for dealer name) PLI Infinity 40/88 Turbo removable cartridge drive; Peripheral Land, Inc., Fremont, CA, (800) 288-8754 PowerPoint software; Microsoft Corp., Redmond, WA, (800) 426-9400 Scantron test forms; Scantron Corp., Santa Ana, CA, (800) 722-6876 SpectraC ViewFrame LCD panel; nVIEW Corp., Newport News, VA, (800) 736-8439 The Voyager Videostack; The Voyager Co., New York, NY, (800) 446-2001 Zenith VCR, Model 2210

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.