by Dr. Sylvia Charp Editor-in-Chief Use of multimedia in teaching and learning -- complete with graphics, animation, audio and video -- is spreading. Educational institutions are investing heavily in its utilization and are increasingly convinced the integration of media assists educational reform and is essential to the improvement of education. A Really Good Definition of Multimedia Dr. Fred Hofstetter, University of Delaware and a member of T.H.E.'s Editorial Advisory Board, in his latest book Multimedia Literacy, being published by McGraw Hill, states "Multimedia is fast emerging as a basic skill that will be as important to life in the 21st century as reading is now... "Multimedia is the use of a computer to present and combine text, graphics, audio and video, with links and tools that let the user navigate, interact, create and communicate. This definition contains four components essential to multimedia. First, there must be a computer to coordinate what you see and hear and to interact with. Second, there must be links that connect the information. Third, there must be navigational tools... Finally... there must be ways for you to gather, process and communicate your own information and ideas. "If one of these components is missing, you do not have multimedia. For example, if you have no computer to provide interactivity, you have mixed media, not multimedia. If there are no navigational tools to let you decide the course of action, you have a movie, not multimedia. If you cannot create and contribute your own ideas, you have a television, not multimedia." Two Studies on Higher Ed Interactive multimedia learning seems to be the wave of the future, especially for training. It is recognized that multimedia can bring about significant time-savings, cost-effectiveness and produce favorable results. Both generic and "off-the-shelf" training programs are used in many organizations. They are combined with personal and self-help programs, such as literacy information or drug and alcohol abuse. Many companies, even if they are not currently using some form of multimedia technology, are investigating its potential. We have read and listened to many papers on interesting and worthwhile projects using multimedia at all levels of education. An interesting one was presented at the third International Symposium on Telecommunications in Education (Tel*Ed '94), held in November 1994 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Authored by D. Schaeffer, of Claremont Graduate School in Claremont, Calif. and P. Olson, of California State Polytechnic University, in Pomona, Calif., the paper was entitled "Do We Have the Media Infrastructure to do Multimedia?" Since multimedia requires specific expertise in video, sound and data communication, the question raised was, "Is there currently a supportive environment for innovation?" The authors reported on two studies. In a 1991 study, 62 of the approximately 3,400 colleges and universities in the U.S. had invested in the full combination of television, radio and data communications. The study showed 369 colleges and universities had data communications networks. At least 50% that owned radio and/or television stations appeared not to have data communications networks. In an updated 1994 study, the number of institutions with all three media had dropped to under 50, due partly to the decrease in the number of institutions that own TV stations. However, there are "currently 1,400 or more (and the number grows daily)" on the Internet. Two concerns are raised: 1) If an educational institution d'es not have a video library, a huge investment is needed as acquiring the rights to use video is costly. 2) How will the elite group of institutions who have the resources to develop multimedia share with other members of the academic community, and how will the benefits be distributed equitably? Basic Trends As I follow the growth in the utilization of multimedia, certain trends, among others, can be identified: Multimedia is experiencing a rapid increase in popularity in all types of applications. Resistance has decreased. More PCs are in the workplace and home, and interactive shopping is exploding. Prices are declining and software is much more exciting. Decision makers are increasingly allocating funds for the purchase of hardware and software as well as rewording regulations to make it possible for electronic media publishers to compete with print publishers to create or sell curriculum. Educators have noticed measurable improvements in standardized test results, school attendance, social skills and self esteem, and are therefore more supportive. Too much time is still being spent on drill and practice, becoming computer literate, learning word processing or database use, or rudimentary keyboard activities. Faculty members have insufficient training in graphics, computer programming, animation, etc. and too little time to create meaningful material. Availability of good multimedia material is creating a new excitement for learning. 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. n
This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.