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SIULLEQ - a multimedia data base about Greenland

Peter Olaf Looms
Danmarks Radio
(The Danish Broadcasting Corporation)

This paper covers some aspects of work with SIULLEQ, an interactive multimedia database about Greenland, its people, culture and wildlife. Following a brief account of interactive media in education in Denmark, the author deals with some of the technical and educational design issues that had to be faced during the Greenland project. The paper concludes with a discussion of the likely trends in educational multimedia in the next few years.

We live in a world characterised by change. In a material sense, our offices and homes have changed more in the last fifty years than in the previous five hundred, not least due to the widespread use of communication technologies.

Education - both in terms of its aims and means - is changing, too. Industrialisation has brought with not only new requirements in terms of a skilled and flexible work force, but also new media. From chalk and talk and the occasional map or wall chart, teachers now make regular use of photocopies, audio cassettes, slides, films and video, reflecting the increasing importance of sound and images in our communication patterns outside school walls.

None of the technologies behind these educational media was developed initially nor exclusively for education. The audio cassette, for example, was a consumer product which found its way into the classroom in the early seventies when the price was sufficiently low, as did the video cassette ten years later.

Successful and widely used resources in education have a number of characteristics in common: they are reliable, easy and cheap to use. Most of them are analogue rather than digital media.

With ten years to go to the end of the century we are in the midst of the transition from analogue to digital technologies for storing and distributing text, sound, images and video. Digital media hold the promise of distortion free storage capable of withstanding the ravages of time. In the course of this decade, the transition to digital systems in the outside world will be almost complete.

For those of us working in education, the important question is when this transition will make itself felt in mainstream education, and how our work today with text, sounds and images can be transferred to the technologies of tomorrow. This is the context in which we have to discuss and evaluate interactive multimedia and their use in education.

Education and interactive media in Denmark

The interactive potential of the computer and disk based multimedia in Denmark is still the concern of an enthusiastic minority in Danish schools and colleges.

Work with interactive videodiscs dates back to 1985: the interactive use of videodiscs outside Denmark was such that they were included in the nationwide distance education project for teachers called SKINFO. Produced by Danish Broadcasting and the Danish School for Educational Studies, this in service training project dealt with the role of school in a world based on information technology. TV program five dealt specifically with interactive media applied to public information systems, education and training. It included coverage of the British Domesday Project and a mock-up of an interactive museum application about Greenland.

Interest in interactive media grew steadily from then on, although schools have been reluctant to invest significantly in the necessary hardware. Several factors account for this reluctance: uncertainty about microcomputer compatibility, optical disk formats and hardware configurations on the one hand, and relatively high costs on the other. The compatibility issue for microcomputers has become less critical, as schools have started to replace more than sixteen different makes of micro with DOS compatible PCs, with the occasional Commodore Amiga or Apple Macintosh for specialised tasks.

Today (May 1990) there are more than seventy educational institutions using or developing interactive media using optical disc technology. Foreign language instruction predominates (Looms, 1990a), followed by local and environmental studies and interdisciplinary multimedia bases such as SIULLEQ and the NORDIC AREA '90.

Six to fifteen year olds
11Local education authorities (primary and lower secondary education)
16Voluntary out of school classes (ungdomsskoler)
3County educational media or information technology centres
Sixteen to nineteen year olds
6Upper secondary education and single subject colleges
7Technical schools
2Schools of commerce
Tertiary education
7Universities and teacher training colleges

Table 1: Interactive media in Denmark (DRIVE May 1990)

Ten schools have experience with the BBC Domesday Project, the Eco Disc or both and many more have experience with resource discs in biology, geography and astronomy from the USA (two screen configurations using HyperCard). Local education authorities in Aalborg, Copenhagen, Dragor, Herning, Koge, Odense, Ringsted, Sonderborg and Vejle have supported work with interactive video discs and we estimate that there are about 20 schools involved.

Observation of teachers working with existing materials by DRIVE has shown that gaining the necessary familiarity with the medium and specific materials can be a lengthy process. The first group to borrow a Domesday unit (four teachers) spent an average of 100 hours with the system before they felt sufficiently confident to use the material in class. Until the appearance of the Domesday resource booklets, teachers had little or no help in adapting existing IV materials to suit their needs. The major problem experienced was to come up with schemata for classroom management.

We have found it necessary to act as helpers as early as possible in the familiarisation process, giving suggestions of our own and establishing informal links with other teachers working with the same materials elsewhere in Denmark. In December, 1987 another three teacher group were able to reduce their preparation time for a thirty hour project to about 15-20 hours per teacher, of which three were spent with the author going through the retrieval facilities and discussing the adaptation of ideas in the "Projects and Topics" resource booklet. The group have written a detailed account of their project.

Work with the Eco Disc has involved producing new resources to allow a class to work as four or five groups. With BBC producer Peter Bratt's consent this has involved transferring side two of the disc (the original television program about Slapton Ley) back to VHS, preparing supplementary texts containing transcripts of selected passages, putting the initial letters, newspaper cuttings and job description in paper form, and using the original Science Topics computer program, so that a class could split into groups and circulate among different work points, avoiding a queue at the interactive video workstation.

SIULLEQ - the background

Danmarks Radio began to make television programs about optical storage media in 1979. Initially they dealt with the potential of the LaserVision video disc and their use in Japan and the USA. Over the first few years the emphasis shifted from the technology itself to the interactive capabilities of optical discs.

In 1984, Peter Armstrong and his team at the BBC embarked on the now famous Domesday Project based on the LV-ROM format to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Domesday Book. It was Domesday more than anything else that showed the potential of interactive multimedia and captured the imagination of educationalists.

By June of 1986 interest was such that DRIVE, then the acronym for the Danmarks Radio Interactive Video Experiment, was set up to report to television management on the implications of optical storage media for the Corporation.

DRIVE was asked to look into analogue and digital disc technology for our internal archives (both as primary storage and for "surrogate access" to picture and film archives), and for publishing.

Among the questions examined was DR's future role as a public service institution: should we confine ourselves to broadcasting and using the technology internally, or was there also a case to be made for expanding our publishing activities to include optical discs?

If there was a case for publishing, was there any evidence of synergy - publishing products based largely on radio and television productions and therefore keeping costs down?

In its report to television management in December, 1986 DRIVE highlighted several areas in which optical discs could provide cost effective solutions to internal archival problems. Some evidence for synergy in multimedia publishing was found (indeed, the case in 1990 is now convincing). We recommended a full scale project to acquire first hand experience in development and production. It was in this context that the idea of producing a multimedia database about Greenland was taken up.

Fourteen months later the project was approved, and DRIVE became the interactive media unit of Danmarks Radio. As DRIVE - indeed DR as an organisation - did not have the necessary expertise in computer science, we joined forces with UNI.C, the Danish Computer Centre for Research and Education to tackle the Greenland project and jointly have sought additional funding for development work from public and private foundations. DRIVE has until the beginning of 1991 to demonstrate its viability. From then on it will be expected to cover its own costs.

SIULLEQ (Greenlandic for "the first") is an interactive multimedia database, the aim of which is to describe Greenland, the country, its people, culture and wildlife. The project is being implemented in association with the Autonomous Government of Greenland. Work on the project started in March 1988, and the full scale working prototype, SIMILI, will be complete in June 1990. The final Greenlandic-Danish version will be available from the end of 1990.

SIULLEQ - design issues

There are five main stages - and costs - associated with any given production: We wanted to offer at least 30,000 stills and 30 minutes of video, as well as a minimum of two hours of audio. At the time of writing (May 1990) it seems likely that the total number of stills will be somewhat greater (40,000+) as we have been able to incorporate selections from key archives such as the Landsmuseum in Nuuk, Greenland, the Jette Bang Collection from the Arctic Institute in Copenhagen, the photographer Rolf Muller, the collections of the Royal Library and possibly artefacts from the collections of the National Museum. We also want to provide cross references to other important archives about Greenland, such as the Danish Radio sound archives (more than 940 recordings and programs dating back to the thirties, details of which are available in an online database) and DISO, DR's online data base of commercially produced cassettes, records and compact discs.

For large data bases such as SIULLEQ the cost of acquiring the rights to use and distribute information such as stills, video and text can be the major outlay, and thought has to be given to how large the database should be without making the cost of the final product prohibitive. A good case can be made for lower tariffs, as the probability of a given picture or text being used is far lower than in a printed work.

A simple solution to copyright payments for "La France et les Francaises le 14 Juillet 1989", a Compact DiscVideo videodisc containing 15,000 photographs by 300 French photographers taken last year to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution was the inclusion of the names and addresses of each of the contributors and a listing of the frame numbers of each of their works. Those wishing to download material from the disc or to use photographic copies are expected to contact the photographer directly.

In the case of SIULLEQ, educational users downloading texts from the system in paper form for individual use will not be charged. However, each sheet of printout will contain copyright information on the author, as will downloaded low quality digital images from the CD-ROM. Should the material be photocopied it would be covered by the existing photocopying agreement. As we have gone to great lengths not only to use primary sources but also to include means of contacting copyright holders, we hope to encourage the responsible use of original material (Looms, 1990b).

SIULLEQ - defining the user interface

SIULLEQ was conceived as an interactive resource to cater for users in education (9+), libraries and museums in Denmark and Greenland. Since the original idea emerged from our television mock-up in 1985 we have had plenty of time to discuss and refine our ideas. The appearance of Domesday and interactive materials such as Eco Disc served as a common point of reference, allowing educationalists, content specialists, developers and publishers alike to exemplify and discuss specific aspects of the user interface.

Our original concept had much in common with Domesday: we wanted to combine the navigation conventions from the Community Disc (using maps of different scales) as well as a visual metaphor to allow users to search and browse through text, data, stills, sound, and video. SIULLEQ was also to offer surrogate walks, a Greenlandic-Danish dictionary and a toolkit to allow users to customise the system for specific uses. We feel that offering an open structure is fundamental to educational multimedia.

Work began in March, 1988 on a tentative specification for SIULLEQ, based on a virtual machine with various developer and end user tools which was to be hardware independent. By defining the contents as objects and attributes, we could harness a powerful relational database and give the project team considerable leeway until fairly late in the process. The team initially consisted of staff from DRIVE and UNI.C, Aske Dam from IMA Norway, with persons seconded from the IT centre in Copenhagen and from the National Museum of Denmark, as well as editorial specialists.

Given the different backgrounds and working procedures of the team, a decision was taken to abandon a specification in June 1988 in favour of developing a small prototype for Sarfartoq/Paradisdalen (Paradise Valley) allowing the team to come up with a common frame of reference, at the same time allowing for the testing and modification of authoring and end user tools. Looking back on our work, we would have benefited from a full blown prototype at that point.

In the SIMILI prototype to be evaluated from August until November 1990, users will have the opportunity to work in depth with three geographical areas. A number of presentations for users with limited background knowledge are on offer, but at any point users can choose to leave the "beaten track" and explore the material on their own terms. Our formative evaluation will focus on the use to which teachers, librarians and museum staff put the various authoring tools within the system, enabling them to produce new materials comprising digital images, graphics and texts from the CD-ROM and barcodes for running the video disc.

SIULLEQ - why Apple Macintosh, LaserVision, and CD-ROM(XA)?

In December, 1988, we were forced to decide on our user configuration. In the event we decided on two! This choice was the result of trade offs between: We were convinced that digital formats would at first complement and then replace analogue discs. The crucial question was how fast this would take place. A second issue was that of cost.

Discussions with educational authorities, libraries and museums indicated that institutional users were willing to invest in additional hardware which cost of the order of £1,000. The more our configuration exceeded this figure, the more difficult it would be to adopt it. Regardless of what we chose, computer based multimedia were going to cost more than institutions felt they could pay. The only delivery system which is cheap enough today is a LaserVision player with barcode reader which cost exactly £1,000 in Denmark. Table 2 lists the configurations and disc considered at various points.

ComputerNo. of drives FormatNo. of screens

Acorn Master1 LV-ROM1
Macintosh/IBM/Amiga2 LV + CD-ROM1 or 2
IBM/Macintosh?2 LV + CD-ROM/XA1 or 2
IBM/Macintosh1 DVI1
none1CD-I 1
none1combi-player with barcode reader1

Table 2: Configurations considered for SIULLEQ

In 1986 it was hoped that the BBC LV-ROM format would catch on, so that we and others could adopt this as the common educational format in Europe. Although it is still by far the most common educational configuration in Europe, LV-ROM was not a commercial success, primarily because the drive never sold in large quantities and remained more expensive - and less flexible - than two separate drives. The Acorn BBC Master was also felt to be an exotic and limiting choice in continental Europe.

Although the appeal of the Commodore Amiga 2000 with its dedicated video and audio system as the keystone of a multimedia system was considerable, the scales tipped in favour of Apple Macintosh.

Although more expensive, the Macintosh offered an intuitive graphics interface and an environment with a powerful UNIX like development system, MPW and MacApp. As a prototyping environment using HyperCard or SuperCard, Macintosh is still second to none. The consistency of the user interface from one application to the next, and the ease with which peripherals such as CD-ROMs can be used regardless of the Macintosh model were two additional key features.

We took a deep breath before dropping IBM, given its market position, but ultimately the lack of architecture standards when handling a range of media such as sound and graphics and the high cost of graphics cards such as Videologic's IVA 4000 were decisive. If SIULLEQ is successful in terms of its performance, and if funding can be found it should be possible to produce a DOS version.

From 1987 onwards we began to explore the possibilities of existing formats such as CD-ROM, and "vapourware", forthcoming formats such as DVI, CD-I and CD-ROM-XA.

The attraction of CD-I was the promise of a new generation of compact disc players for the consumer market, allowing for images and text as well as sound in four qualities. Institutional users could piggyback on this development and the delivery system would be easily within their means.

Even if we had chosen this low cost delivery system, eventually falling in price to about £200 by the mid 1990s, we would have needed to produce a series of between six and ten discs. The same dilemma faces the Spanish "500 Years After" project to be completed in 1992. Their feasibility study (December, 1988) envisaged either one LaserVision disc with two CD-ROMs or a series of six CD-I discs.

We discussed CD-I with Philips and with colleagues around the world from May to October 1988 before deciding against CD-I for the first version. The lack of developer tools, and our reservations about the lack of full screen video at least as good as VHS were two of the key arguments against this choice.

DVI was even more difficult for us to evaluate. The argument against it last year was that the standards for image compression were unlikely to be defined in the lifetime of our project.

CD-ROM eXtended Architecture came to our notice in late August 1988. It seemed to offer many of the features of CD-I and a consistent migratory path from text to multimedia over the next few years. Again, the main problem was not that of standards but the lack of development tools ready for use by mid 1989. Apple was not forthcoming about its commitment to the ADPCM sound system which for us was one of the most attractive features.

The merits of a simple bar code version based on the LaserVision disc became clear as we followed the work of schools such as Rising School in Odense. A low cost system provided an acceptable entry point complementing the full CD-ROM configuration. Users would be able to produce their own materials using the Macintosh at the local media centre and then use them for individual, group or class work.

At the time of writing, we still feel that the combination of LaserVision and CD-ROM/XA is technically the most flexible solution, although the cost of a LaserVision player and CD-ROM drive is at least £1,400.

Strategies for developing a market for interactive media - revolution or evolution?

In his presentation entitled "Multimedia - the New Frontier" in Paris last year, David Jones of Apple's European Multimedia Centre raised a number of important points about the history of multimedia, the market today and the need to offer benefits rather than features.

But by emphasising benefits rather than costs, we risk excluding mainstream institutions such as schools and libraries by not offering them an evolutionary path, beginning with simple, low cost solutions and allowing them to progress as and when they have the means to do so.

As Mogens Hoirup (1989) pointed out in a recent paper

When publishers and producers of CD-ROM products embark on a new project, it is worth while keeping in mind funding available for teaching and learning resources. At Rising School with 600 pupils the annual budget for educational materials including paper, chalk, cassettes, hardware and computer software is DEK 600,000 (£53,100), or DEK 1,000 (£89) per pupil.
Using a computer to generate texts, to prepare worksheets with barcodes or to run standard applications may not be particularly sophisticated, but it allows users to build up experience and demand a greater degree of interactivity and better performance. As publishers such as Optical Data Corporation in New Jersey have shown, starting with video discs and then HyperCard stacks, leading to stackware on CD-ROM makes good educational and financial sense.

At the present time there is still a need for further "showcase" productions, demonstrating convincingly that interactive multimedia including CD-ROMs can offer us something we need, in a way which cannot be done as efficiently and cheaply by any other means. By offering learning resources which allow us to simulate real world phenomena that are difficult, dangerous or expensive to observe we are revolutionising learning opportunities but at the same time democratising the learning process.

Domesday started this, and Eco Disc in its many guises (on IV-ROM, CD-ROM and now a two screen LaserVision version with a HyperCard stack) has consolidated the ground. Many educational multimedia projects are in the works and it will be interesting to follow their fate (Looms, 1990c).

The role of the teacher changes from that of information provider to learning consultant, setting the scene, paving the way, and helping students to consolidate their learning. All this makes considerable demands of mediators such as teachers, and they need to be given conditions conducive to making these changes.

Major commitments to revolutionary products do not come cheap. In a culturally diverse continent like Europe we need to come up with solutions which offer the cost advantages of centrally produced multilingual CD-ROMs and yet taking into consideration the very real differences from one country to the next by incorporating nationally or locally produced contributions. Learning foreign languages seems the obvious place to start.

Making use of interactivity is not something people choose to do of their own volition. Existing disk and cassette formats could be used interactively, allowing users to choose between a number of audio or video options, but this is by no means common. To date it seems that only the designers of video games have what it takes to sell the concept of interactivity to broad audiences.

Denmark Radio made an early commitment to teacher training both in educational broadcasts and in service training courses and presentations. The user is not the object of our marketing efforts but a partner who has to be helped to make demands. Together we can produce worthwhile products.

This is why we with SIULLEQ are supporting both the evolutionary and the revolutionary route, hence our two configurations. As and when low cost digital formats emerge, we plan to transfer our applications to them.


Hoirup, Mogens (1989) CD-ROM in Schools - What is required? Paper presented at CD-ROM Europe Conference, Hammersmith, England 24-26 November.

Looms, P. O. (1990a). The Use of Interactive Media in Foreign Language Learning. Working paper available from DRIVE, dated 9 January 1990.

Looms, P. O. (1990b). A system of copyright protection - Experience with institutional users in Denmark. Paper presented at the EVAIN meeting of art museums in Amsterdam, 5-7 March.

Looms, P. O. (1990c). After Domesday - multimedia databases in education. Paper presented at EURIT'90 Conference in Herning, Denmark 24 April.

Please cite as: Looms, P. O. (1990). SIULLEQ - a multimedia data base about Greenland. In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and M. Mooney (Eds), Converging Technologies: Selected papers from EdTech'90, 82-90. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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