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Using CD-ROM and multimedia for education and training

Neil A Shaw and G J Standfield
Footscray Institute of Technology

Compact Disc Read Only Memory (CD-ROM) refers to a technology in which a range of data types, such as text, graphics, audio, photographs, and video can all be stored in digital form and accessed by conventional Personal Computers.

CD-ROM is best considered as a publishing platform, capable of carrying very large amounts of information (about 550 Megabytes) in a single, small format disc. As the term implies, publication necessarily means the mass production of discs at a factory, followed by widespread distribution of the product in the market place, including schools, colleges and universities. Of great significance is the fact that CD-ROM discs are not expensive to produce, and the hardware needed to use the discs (less than $1,000) is considered to be a normal peripheral device for a personal computer.

This point is best illustrated by comparing CD-ROM with its predecessor or companion technology, the Compact Disc (CD). Publication and distribution of music has recently been transformed by CD technology, and consumers are very familiar with the capabilities, audio quality, and low costs of both CD discs and the associated hardware for playing the discs. Technically the two disc formats (CD and CD-ROM) are very similar, the major philosophical difference being that access to CD-ROM discs is under the control of a microcomputer, whereas the audio or CD discs are normally controlled by a compact disc player with attached speaker and audio amplifier system.

Note that a CD-ROM player operating under computer control can access the audio segments on a CD-ROM disc as well as play a pure audio or CD disc and deliver the audio to an external loudspeaker or headphone set. However a CD player can only access the high fidelity audio materials on a CD or a CD-ROM disc.

This paper, which discusses the educational applications of CD and CD-ROM, is restricted to interactive methods of delivering information and responding to student requests. This means that we are considering only the situation where a computer is controlling the delivery of materials through a CD-ROM player, but the source of materials may be any one of the following:

  1. multimedia from a CD-ROM disc

  2. audio only from a CD disc

  3. audio from a CD disc but supplemented by text graphics, photos and video from the computer's hard disc

  4. multimedia from a CD-ROM disc but supplemented by other materials from the computer hard disc.

Technology outline

For the purposes of this discussion, it will be assumed that educational institutions are the primary group or client which needs to offer staff and students access to a range of CD-ROM programs. Budget pressures usually require that the delivery system, especially the computer hardware, is a simple or standard configuration which does not contain expensive additional peripherals. For example, the delivery system assumed for the products and techniques under discussion is a standard IBM AT (286) personal computer or compatible, with hard disk, VGA display adaptor and matching VGA monitor. There will be no reference to extra enhancements such as DVI technology or to DVA4000 peripherals, both of which are more expensive than the entire computer configuration described above.

The CD-ROM player is a peripheral device which can be installed either internally to the computer, thereby occupying the same space as a conventional floppy disc drive, or an external player can be connected to the computer by cable. In some instances the player can be controlled by a PC acting as a file server on a network of PCs, or each PC can be fitted with its own player.

Data files, such as text, graphics and photographs, are read from the CD-ROM and transferred to the PC, but audio data can be accessed in a variety of ways, including the following:

  1. Control by the PC of digital audio on the CD-ROM, with final audio output being accessed directly from the audio socket on the CD-ROM player, or

  2. Transfer of digital audio files on the CD-ROM to a PC where the analogue audio is regenerated for output into a loudspeaker system or headset. Some versions of this technique use an inexpensive voice card to regenerate the audio, while other methods deliver the audio through a parallel port on the PC.
These methods of audio control have certain advantages and disadvantages, some of which will be demonstrated with the presentation of this paper.

Current applications of CD-ROM in education

Most of the current CD-ROM products on the market are database applications in which very large volumes of text and numerical data is available for searching. Examples in this category include dictionaries, encyclopedias, chemical information, statistical records and census data. Results of a search are often enhanced by the display of graphs and photographs.

Products can also be described in terms of their disciplines, such as Business and Computing, Earth Sciences, Educational, Entertainment, Health and Safety, Health Sciences, Library Sciences, Medical and Biomedical. There are several CD-ROM Directories available, including the 1990 edition of TFPL's Directory of CD-ROMs covering more than 816 products, and MICROINFO's CD-ROM Title Index of educational discs.

The Technology Based Training Group at Footscray Institute of Technology has been actively developing CD and CD-ROM programs for education, and existing products include the following:

  1. Essay Writing

  2. Learning Japanese (Basic Sounds)

  3. Spelling for Technologists

  4. A Talking Dictionary of Medical Terminology (Anatomy)

  5. The Foetal Heart

  6. Phonetics

  7. The VGA Sampler, which includes the following:

    both of which are searched by a commercial retrieval program, called SearchMagic, stored on the CD ROM.

Most of the Footscray Institute of Technology (FIT) programs make extensive use of the audio facilities of CD-ROM in a technique called Interactive Audio. In this mode students are presented with the simultaneous delivery of visuals and audio. The controlling program ensures that the visual displays of text, graphics and photographs are also synchronised with the audio information. Such techniques enable the audio medium to carry most of the information in a clear natural voice, while the text is used to hold attention, and to reinforce the issues by displaying key words and phrases.

In some FIT programs there is a facility to enable students to talk back to the machine. For example in the Learning Japanese program, students can see and hear a set of sounds or words in Japanese delivered from the CD-ROM, then the students use a microphone to mimic the professional voice of the language teacher. Students can then compare their own efforts with the CD-ROM recording and repeat the process as often as required (or at least until the student feels that a satisfactory standard has been achieved). Individual student attempts at reproducing the sounds, words or sentences are saved on the hard disk of the computer for later analysis by a teacher.

Recent developments: The Talking Book

One of our more recent developments is the Talking Book program, which interfaces a normal hard copy book with both a computer and a CD-ROM player. This process enables the student to read the book in a normal way, to select a particular sentence on any page, then to hear that sentence read aloud in any language of the student's choice.

The text in the hard copy book can be written in any language, or even multiple language fonts. Each sentence is associated with a unique icon which the student touches with a special pen. A data base is used to link the coded information with a specific audio sequence, which in turn is accessed from either the CD-ROM or from the hard disk.

Students can touch other icons to change language, then touch a sentence in the book to hear the sentence read aloud in this selected language.

An additional interactive mode allows students to touch the SAY-IT-YOURSELF icon, then to use a microphone to record their own attempt at speaking a chosen word or sentence. This means that students can select a b particular sentence, hear the correct pronunciation from the CD-ROM, then hear their own attempt for purposes of comparison.

The first set of booklets based on this technology are currently being published at FIT, with focus on the learning of foreign languages. Languages selected for trials with the new technique are those which are currently taught or planned for introduction to FIT courses (such as Japanese, Vietnamese and Italian).

We believe that the technology can also be used for helping students to learn English, including very young children just learning to read. Applications in this field are under development, and new curriculum materials for the Talking Book are being prepared. Although language learning is an obvious application for the new technique, we believe that curriculum materials in many different disciplines could be successfully developed.

One of the outstanding attributes of the Talking Book technique is its fundamental dependence upon normal hard copy pages. Students can purchase their own copy of the book, giving them freedom to read the material at any time and place. When used in conjunction with an appropriately configured computer, students can receive the added dimension of audio.

From a producers perspective, the major advantages of this technique are as follows:

  1. Production costs and times are significantly reduced, and talking books can be prepared almost as quickly as curriculum designers can write the materials.

  2. Computer programs which control student access to materials (such as menu driven controls) are significantly reduced in size and complexity. At the same time students gain far more freedom in their choices and options because the book itself is the menu and students can rapidly turn pages and commence reading/listening at any point in the book without going through any hierarchy or structured access.

Issues involved in a CD-ROM project

When developing an educational program using CD-ROM there are many issues to consider, including task analysis, instructional design, materials production ( text, audio, graphics, photographs and video), computer program development, CD-ROM production, quality assurance, and marketing.

Design and presentation of these educational materials should be driven by a consideration of the target audience, and special thought must be given to accommodating a variety of learning styles. The multimedia capabilities of CD-ROM empowers producers to address these issues, and to explore a mix of techniques which is functional, informative, attractive and acceptable to students. Of greatest concern is that the programs do not simply entertain.

Our experiences suggest that most effort is expended in the early phases of preparation, especially analysis of the task, instructional design, script writing, audio and video production. Producing the controlling computer programs also requires significant development and effort. Emphasis on team effort is important since this stage requires close cooperation between subject matter experts, who are responsible for the content, and the production group who interpret the material and create the program.

Often the most expedient approach is to prototype the program on a hard disk platform, then to trial the interim product with students, prior to a final commitment to CD-ROM. Opinions and feedback from staff and students can be incorporated into the product during this development phase. Some CD-ROM manufacturers, such as Disctronics Australia, are prepared to produce single "check discs" for evaluation purposes prior to committing the master disc to the process of replicating large numbers. In either case, we strongly recommend that an independent editorial panel of content experts also reviews the program before commencing a mass production of CD-ROM discs at the factory.

Even after factory production of the disc, there is a testing and evaluation period. Errors, additions and upgrades to the program can still be included, although the CD-ROM contents cannot be changed. New or alternative materials, such as improved photographs, text and graphics can be delivered by floppy disc in conjunction with the CD-ROM. To some degree audio files can also be included on the companion floppy disc as upgrades to the existing CD-ROM contents. A new computer program, which controls access to the multimedia, can select materials from the CD-ROM, floppy disc or the computer hard disk as required.


CD-ROM is a delivery system which has many attributes ideally suited to educational applications. The technology combines very large storage capacity of multimedia materials with the interactive control of a personal computer.

This paper has outlined some relevant aspects of CD-ROM technology, particularly interactive audio, and has endeavoured to illustrate the style, diverse range and possible applications of CD-ROM to education and training. A brief outline of some issues relevant to the design and production of educational materials for CD-ROM was also given.

Of particular importance to educational institutions is the cost of materials development and hardware support for delivery of CD-ROM programs. In the case of programs produced at FIT, the delivery of high resolution colour photographs, audio and motion video has been achieve without any expensive peripherals. Emphasis has always been on making use of existing computer facilities which are likely to be found in educational institutions, rather than depending upon another layer of expensive supporting technologies.

One of our more recent developments, the Talking Book, was also described and the importance of this technique should not be underestimated. Although these Talking Books can be used in conjunction with either a CD-ROM player or a hard disk, the special attributes of optical discs makes this delivery system particularly attractive.

The rapid acceptance and penetration of CD-ROM players into all levels of educational institutions suggests that this technology has a basis for future development. Educational software to accompany the hardware has appeared in the form of databases of information as well as interactive multimedia lessons and computer based training programs.

To harness the power of CD-ROM for educational applications and to ensure the future role of CD-ROM in teaching and learning we need the commitment and energies of talented curriculum developers to produce quality materials. We also need a greater degree of cooperation and understanding between curriculum developers and educational technologists.

Authors: Neil Shaw and G J Standfield, Centre for Research and Development, Footscray Institute of Technology, PO Box 64, Footscray, Victoria, 3011.

Please cite as: Shaw, N. A. and Standfield, G. J. (1990). Using CD-ROM and multimedia for education and training. In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and M. Mooney (Eds), Converging Technologies: Selected papers from EdTech'90, 212-217. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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