Teaching via ITV: Taking Instructional Design to the Next Level


Today we are witnessing in education major changes in the delivery of courses (distance learning, Internet, WWW, off-campus classes) as well as the in-class media used in more traditional classrooms (computer-delivered presentations, student videotapes, sophisticated transparencies, etc.). The computer and its pervasive entrance into many classrooms (K-12, post-secondary, professional) has created a need for us as teachers to learn a new set of skills and guidelines in creating materials for classroom use, in this case as they apply to one particular delivery medium: two-way interactive television. This article is based on a course taught during Summer 1998 at St. Cloud State University (SCSU). The course "Teaching via ITV" was delivered via the institution's interactive television system to three locations: the SCSU campus; Baudette (in northern Minnesota); and Windom, (in southern Minnesota). There were 9 students in St. Cloud, 1 in Baudette, and 5 in Windom. This course was originally designed as an on-campus hands-on course, but interest was shown by people in southern Minnesota for this course to be offered via ITV; thus, SCSU responded to the request.

Teaching via a two-way interactive television system (ITV) is more than merely pushing the correct equipment buttons, and the training for teachers to use the systems should be more than a 15-minute "push the appropriate buttons" session. Using this instructional medium effectively requires a systematic approach to course design, materials design and development, equipment, delivery, remote site originations, computer interaction with ITV, and computer-delivered presentations. It is also critical that faculty understand the administrative, legal and ethical issues related to teaching via ITV. The summer 1998 SCSU addressed each of these topics, divided into separate "training modules" for ease of organization.

Today, interactive television (ITV) is bringing many changes to teaching methods and materials design and development. ITV is a very expensive technology and often requires an instructor to redesign a course that may have been taught previously in a traditional classroom setting. According to Savage (1995), the instructional methods necessary for teaching on ITV systems are comparable to the regular classrooms, with a few adjustments. This article describes those "few adjustments" that differentiate strategies and equipment used in a traditional classroom and those used in an interactive television classroom. It is the joint responsibility of teachers and administration to ensure the instructor is prepared to use the system effectively.

Teaching via this medium requires course and materials design or adaptation of an existing course and materials to accommodate the format. This article will address only the visual literacy and instructional design guidelines to create materials that can be used effectively with an ITV system. Following the introduction of general guidelines, discussion will center on creation of transparencies, hard-copy materials for the graphics camera, and computer-delivered presentations.


Today's Trends in Distance Learning

"Distance education" may be delivered at the same time to different locations, at different times to the same place, or at different times to different locations. "Current courses taught in the traditional lecture-based format cannot be transported to a distance learning environment without modification ... and must incorporate instructional design features that will enhance distance learning" (Cyrs and Conway 1997). However, the instructor need not be the sole designer of a course offered via ITV, since Oliver points out that the creation of an ITV course should be a team approach (Willis 1994). New skills and expertise are needed to design a course being offered via distance learning, and fortunately many institutions have instructional designers available to assist faculty with the ITV course and materials development.

It is important to remember that this article will limit the scope to include only interactive television (ITV), its complexities, and its criteria for educational materials. Guidelines have been compiled from a number of sources as well as from the instructor's experience. Comments from the course will be added when appropriate.


Visual Literacy

At the heart and soul of materials design for ITV is the concept of visualization. In defining visual literacy, it is important to recognize that the term is really two-pronged: "the ability to interpret visual messages accurately and to create such messages" (Heinich, et al 1996). The critical role that visuals play in education has been documented since the late 1800s with John Dewey's work, so we know that visual literacy is important today in education. Thus, educators, whether they be teachers, graphic artists or instructional designers, should be cognizant of guidelines that enhance visual literacy and, in the end, teaching effectiveness of courses taught via interactive television.


General Instructional Design Guidelines

There are basic instructional design guidelines that apply to most educational materials formats. These will be discussed in this section of the article and are not arranged by priority or preference, simply in the order in which the author wrote them down from various sources.

Use color. Most learners prefer color to black-and-white visuals. In most cases there is no significant difference in the amount of learning that takes place, but the students prefer the color (Heinich, et al 1996). Thus, we give them what they prefer, and this is becoming a more routine practice because of color printers and color scanners.

Use photographs when possible. Photographs are preferred over line drawings by most learners, except when the color component is critical to the content to be learned (such as colored wires). Photographs add the "real life" reference that some students need. In some cases the line drawings may actually communicate the message better (Heinich, et al 1996).

Use realistic visuals. Many learners prefer very realistic visuals to abstract representations, but teachers will want to "strike a balance" between the two for their individual instructional purposes (Heinich, et al 1996).

Use simple, uncomplicated visuals. Simpler visuals are usually more effective, regardless of age group (Heinich, et al 1996). In this situation, even a drawing as simple as that of a ball can show motion by adding "movement lines" or a sketch of a person running can emphasize the action by having the stick figure's legs bent in a running position and/or "movement lines" behind the feet.

Consider elements of art and principles of design. Elements of art (line, shape, texture and color) and principles of design (arrangement, balance and unity) should be incorporated whenever possible (Heinich, et al 1993).

Use a consistent background. Consistent background color and/or design adds continuity and structure to a set of visuals. Some examples of the consistent background may be a company or school logo on each visual, the same background color/picture, or the same graphic design feature (i.e. a colored bullet at the top or bottom of each visual).

Select color combinations with care. Easy-to-read color combinations enhance visuals. A light background with dark text is usually recommended. The opposite approach-dark background with light text-may be used, but it is not necessarily to the liking of the majority of people. Heinich, et al (1996) point out that there are really three-color conditions to consider when preparing colored visuals: the background, the foreground images and text, and the highlights. Cool colors (green and blue) recede, and warm colors (red and orange) "leap out" at the viewer; use the cool colors for the background and warm colors for the highlights.

Keep letter styles simple. Easy-to-read letter styles are straightforward and leave little room for guessing or confusion. According to Heinich, et al (1996), for straightforward informational or instructional purposes, a plain lettering style (not decorative) should be used. A sans serif style such as Helvetica or a simple serif style such as Palatino or Times may be used. Heinich, et al (1996) point out that although there is a tendency to use sans serif typefaces for projected visuals and serif for print, this is not a rule but simply a designer's preference rather than a research-based principle. Misanchuk points out that "fancy" variations such as outline or shadow are difficult to read and should be avoided except for special effects (Willis 1994).

Maintain a consistent letter style. Not only should the letter style be easy to read, but it should also be consistent throughout the presentation. Keep the number of letter styles to two; some instructional designers recommend one style (perhaps Helvetica) for the title and another style (perhaps Palatino) for the body (Shrode).

Keep special effects to a minimum. Special effects (bold, italics, underscoring, all capital letters, etc.) have their place but should be used sparingly. Many people are convinced that if one effect is good, think how wonderful three or four effects can be. Some authors refer to these special effects as "prompts" or "cues" and still follow the same guideline: use sparingly. Cyrs and Conway (1997) reiterate this concept by indicating that prompts and cues should be used consistently and only one at a time, not bold italic capital letters that are underlined. Overkill is out!

Minimize use of capital letters. For best legibility, lowercase letters should be used, adding capitals only where normally required; short headlines may be in all capital letters, but phrases and sentences should be in lowercase lettering (Heinich, et al 1996).

Use appropriate font size. Font size is critical. The rule of thumb is that whatever the format, the materials must be readable by all members of the audience in the situation for which they were intended. The same basic guideline applies to computer-delivered presentations and transparencies, which will be discussed later in the article.

Incorporate white space. White space, the space in which nothing is printed, makes the visual more "inviting" and should be incorporated in materials design (Misanchuk, in Willis 1994).

Design in the horizontal format. The consistent use of a horizontal format in projected visuals helps reduce the keystone effect-distortion at the top and bottom of the projection, caused by the overhead projector at one level and the screen on a higher level (Heinich, et al 1996).

Create computer-generated masters. The computer has made the creation of visuals very easy and quick. Whenever possible and appropriate, use computer-generated masters. They are easy to create, can be in color or black-and-white, look more professional, and can incorporate the appropriate size font.

Use keywords and phrases. Keywords and phrases "get the point across" without telling the whole story. Some teachers use a visual of keywords and phrases as a prompt or outline to a lecture, while others will use that format as an outline for students as they take notes. This format provides necessary white space in addition to the structural or organizational format. Student feedback indicates they benefit from a copy of the materials that an instructor uses, including computer-delivered presentation frames.

Organize with headings and side headings. Headings and side headings add structural format, and they can be considered an organizational tool, which can be especially helpful if materials presented are subsets within major sets (or even subsets within subsets). An example of this structuring might be phyla within the animal kingdom. Combining headings and subheadings with the use of bullets and numbering is especially beneficial in very detailed listings.

Strengthen image with words and pictures. A combination of words and pictures can be very effective. Use a limited number of words plus "pictures" to emphasize points. These "pictures" can be freehand drawings, clip art, scanned photographs, or material from the WWW. HINT: remember the copyright issues.

Design and use an image for "wait times." Design and use some type of signage to be transmitted while awaiting arrival of students or during break times. This can be a transparency, a copy stand document, or a computer frame. Make the image "catchy" with the school logo or even a humorous cartoon; or, design an image using the computer with color graphics and text.

Plan for PIP. If using the PIP (picture within a picture) mode, leave space on the visuals for this insert, usually an image of the instructor, so that the text or other material is not obscured. First, decide where on the monitor the PIP is to be located, and then plan all visuals so there is a blank space at that location.

These general guidelines are meant to be the base from which we begin to design materials for use with ITV courses. They may need to be modified slightly or be more specific as each of the following formats are discussed.


Transparency Guidelines for Use with ITV

Transparencies, whether they are created using a photocopy machine, a thermofax machine or a laser printer, must follow one of the major tenets of educational technology: they must be able to be seen by everyone in the classroom. Thus, certain guidelines listed above can be expanded to include the following rules:

Use a laser printer for transparency masters. A laser printer creates the clearest, most easily read of the masters. Dot matrix is undesirable, and most ink jet printers have a fuzzy edge surrounding each letter. It is best to use the laser printer, then, rather than start with a poorer quality original, and use the thermal process for creating the overhead or use a color printer to create the transparency. A note to consider: ink jet printers do not contain sufficient carbon required to make a thermal transparency without first making a photocopy of the master.

Keep the font size large. Since distant students as well as on-premise students will be viewing the transparency, it is critical to use a font size that is large enough to be seen. The smallest recommended font has been 24, with 36 being the more desirable; in the SCSU course, materials created with the size 24 font were slightly difficult to read, perhaps justifying the modification that size 30 is the smallest font size to be used.

Use contrasting colors. Contrasting colors are critical. Black and white tends to be very stark and is more strenuous on the students' eyes it seems than other color combinations such as light yellow background with either dark purple or dark blue text, or some other combination of pale background and dark color. During the SCSU course, a number of color combinations were introduced, including light-on-dark and dark-on-light combinations. Both worked well. It is advisable to experiment with different color combinations and ITV systems because not all of the systems are alike.

Include graphics. Internet, WWW, photographs (scanned) and clip art are available to enhance transparencies. These can be especially effective if the transparency is made with the color printer process. These visuals can make up a portion of the transparency or have text printed over the visual. Again, experiment!


Copy Stand Guidelines for ITV Materials

Many ITV systems utilize Elmo - the projection system for transparencies and/or hardcopy materials. The following are just a few guidelines that will address the hardcopy materials rather than transparencies.

Practice "big is better" concept. Advance preparation allows for very professional looking materials. These can be completed on a laser printer, using large print (18 or larger, preferably size 24).

Beware of hand-written documents. Another feature of the copy stand is that hand-written, on-the-spot materials can be created for transmission. There are just a few pointers to keep in mind when creating these materials: use a bold pen; use a marker that is blue, black or red; and depending on the room lighting and/or copy stand external lighting, light blue paper might reduce the glare and starkness of white paper. During the SCSU course, it was discovered that the white paper background was actually easier to read.

Use "live write" sparingly. "Live-write" works only if the instructor has legible handwriting. If the handwriting is not legible, either print or (preferably) use a computer and prepare the materials in advance.

Use a guide sheet. When handwritten material is to be transmitted, use either lined paper or a lined backing sheet. This paper guide reduces the "hills and valleys" output that d'es not work well with ITV.

Enlarge textbook examples. The copy stand permits the teacher to transmit information directly from a book or other type of visual. Unfortunately, these pictures or text documents are often so small, even with the zoom function used, that transmission is poor unless the image is enlarged prior to transmission. Photocopiers take only a few minutes to complete this small but necessary task.

The above guidelines complement the general guidelines and are intended only as suggestions. Each individual ITV system/network operates and transmits differently, so experimentation is critical.


Computer-Delivered Presentation Guidelines for ITV

Computer-delivered presentations are "JDB" - just doing business. Whether we are delivering an in-class presentation, conducting training or transmitting information via the ITV network, there are guidelines that need to be followed. The presentation software for the different platforms are very similar (Persuasion for the Macintosh, PowerPoint for the PC), and many Macintosh computers have the ClarisWorks program included, which has a slide show feature. In fact, some word processing packages have a slide show function that can be used. The following points should be kept in mind when creating computer-delivered presentations for ITV transmission.

Keep it large. The smallest font used should be size 36. Monitors at some locations are very small (much to our chagrin), and initial size is critical.

Experiment with color combinations. Color combinations are nearly unlimited because of the computer options. Some of us have a "real eye" for combinations, some of us have studied which combinations are effective, and some of us don't have a clue. Although color combinations can be a mix of effective groupings and personal preference, there are just some combinations which do not go well together (dark olive drab background with black text, for example). It's probably a good idea to get the opinion of graphic- or art-trained professionals if there is doubt as to the appropriateness of certain color groupings. During the SCSU course, students experimented with different color combinations; the dark blue and dark purple text transmitted much better than the black.

Keep text to a minimum. Use word pictures with keywords and phrases to keep the amount of text to a minimum. This idea supports the "a picture is worth a thousand words" concept. Note that you the designer should decide whether the text or the graphic should be dominant and design from that perspective. Ask yourself the following question: Which method conveys the idea better? (Cyrs and Conway 1997).

Practice KISS. Follow the KISS approach: Keep it Simple, Stupid (Cyrs and Conway 1997) or Keep it Short and Simple (for those of us who have qualms about using the term "stupid" when teaching these concepts to students). Precise and to the point should dominate, rather than the I'm-paid-by-the-word approach.

Include graphics for emphasis. Graphics are available from many sources, but it is important that the designer consider cultural diversity and diverse representation as well as other guidelines. Clip art is getting better about the availability of realistic representation of diverse groups, but there is still room for improvement. Fortunately, the access to the WWW and digital cameras encourages designers of visuals to include representation from a wide range of diversity.

Consider special effects. Some of the presentation software packages permit fade in/fade out as well as other effects, including layering. If using both text and pictures, it is recommended that both be brought in at the same time (same layer) rather than having them separated. Once again, this is a way to reduce confusion for the student.

Follow the formula. Use the 3-to-4 ratio, horizontal format, with a bleed area. You want full-screen projection, but this must be indicated to the computer.

Provide handouts of materials. Provide the students with a handout that has the same computer frames that are being transmitted. This will provide them a place to take notes, and the instructor can decide whether there will be 2, 4 or 6 frames per page. Some instructors have 3 frames per page (on the left), and they provide lines on the right half of the page opposite the frames for notes. Because of these handouts, students will have an organized format that is structured; they can spend time on content rather than trying to determine whether what was just said was a new main point or a continuation of the previous material. Cyrs and Conway point out that when printing the handouts from the presentation masters, remove any background colors, gradients or colors so that handout will print out in black text on a white background ( 216).

Do a test run. Test a sample of your work using the ITV system so you can see precisely what will be transmitted to the other locations as well as to the students in the room where the presentation is originating. Unfortunately, what is often seen on the computer monitor (especially color combinations) is not accurate as far as what is received at other locations. Do this test run prior to investing a great deal of time in creating the presentation.

These are only a few tips for creating computer-delivered presentations for use via an ITV network. There are many others that fall under the category of general guidelines and common sense.


What's This Have to do With Teaching Effectiveness?

Teaching effectiveness, assessment and evaluation are key terms with which we in the academic community are intimately familiar. When the above guidelines are followed, students frequently report one or more of the following:

  • The teacher is extremely organized.
  • The materials for an outline are easy to follow.
  • The materials have a logical flow.
  • It is easy to see/read what the teacher is discussing.
  • The instructor demonstrates good use of technology in the classroom.
  • This material provides a checklist format.

Teaching via ITV, if done correctly, forces the instructor to be well prepared and organized. These assets do, in turn, impact the effectiveness of the course or at least the perceptions of the students as to the effectiveness.


This article has addressed visual literacy and instructional design as they relate to teaching courses via the two-way interactive television system (ITV). Both general guidelines and specific guidelines for transparencies, copy stand masters and computer-delivered presentations have been presented. It is important to remember that these guidelines provide for creation of material that will supplement and complement a course presentation; these materials will not replace the need for the instructor as the main provider of information. One final parting tip has to do with the creation of these materials: do it right the first time, test out anything being considered for transmission quality, and get assistance if and when it is available.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.