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Media integration in teaching and learning: Best practice in the electronic classroom

Patrick R. James
University of Adelaide

The Department of Geology and Geophysics at Adelaide University is developing computer aided learning (CAL) courseware for use in its teaching and learning. With the progressive establishment of an electronic hardware environment of fully networked personal computers, mass storage devices, computer projection and computer suites, a fully integrated electronic classroom environment is in use.

Best practice in the electronic classroom involves the use of leading edge technologies, including networked hardware and integrated software, transparently available to information managers (lecturers) and their learning public (students). The use of the electronic courseware should be combined with sensible and consistent pedagogic principles, including clear outlines of course aims and objectives, thorough use of a range of teaching models (Gibbs et al., 1988a; Habeshaw et al., 1988), defined learning strategies such as concept mapping (Clark & James, 1993) and realistic outcomes and assessment criteria (Gibbs et al., 1988b).

Computer aided learning (CAL) authored software (courseware) has been developed in a structured curriculum of tertiary Earth Science subjects at the Department of Geology & Geophysics, University of Adelaide. This forms the basis for the electronic delivery of lectures, workshops, practicals, seminars, tutorials and other teaching and learning courseware modules ie. an electronic classroom environment has been developed (James & Clark, 1991). Sophisticated, cheap and powerful, but most importantly networked and integrated, microcomputer based systems form the basis of the multimedia development, storage and delivery systems, which are installed within most current teaching areas (academic offices, lecture rooms and teaching laboratories). Commercially available presentation and authoring software has allowed the development of integrated multimedia information delivery packages as teaching aids.

The electronic classroom has a number of advantages in teaching and learning making it a useful adjunct to traditional lecture and demonstration techniques (Bardsley, 1993; Moles, 1993). These advantages include, simple updating of courseware and slide manipulation, professional visual presentations, sophisticated three dimensional graphics and animations, interactivity, availability of handout material and finally access and rapid review of the courseware by students via floppy disc or the electronic network.

Critical factors in the success of the electronic classroom are the degree of forward planning by managers and administrators of the learning environment, the training and skills of the front end educators and the overall management of the new technology. Planned excursions into computer aided learning must recognise and must not underestimate the significant time involved in coordinating correct hardware purchase and installation, the cost and appropriateness of software, the necessity for trained programmers, designers, educators and content experts as well as the common perception that the new technology may not be successful in its gaol as a better way to teach and learn. This paper hopefully indicates that all of these concerns and difficulties need not deter a determined proponent of the electronic classroom and may provide a successful outcome for students and educators.

Physical make up of the electronic classroom - the hardware environment

The Geology Department's computer based electronic teaching and learning environment includes an array of three separate but linked areas (Fig. 1). Flexibility is essential as individual academics, students and electronic network managers enter and leave the University at a regular rate, while changes and improvements to potential hardware and software outpace all of those personnel movements.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Essential component areas of the electronic classroom

The development area is where academic learning managers (teaching staff) as content specialists, develop individual courseware and integrate information using a variety of input sources and integration software. The delivery area is highly variable and includes large lecture theatres and small classrooms, laboratories of networked computers and most importantly a variety of remote and isolated terminal access nodes.

The electronic management area provides the links between the development and delivery areas and also links to external and peripheral areas (printers, mass storage, the University of Adelaide's Barr Smith Library (BSL), student information, AARNet and Internet). At the University of Adelaide, developmental links between the Geology and Geophysics Department, the Faculty of Science, the Information Technology Division (ITD), University Administration's student management and student information systems (SMS and SIS), and the Barr Smith Library have created an electronic learning environment which is revolutionising the overall management of teaching and learning.

The three essential elements of the electronic classroom as developed in the Geology Department are thus, the academic development area, the delivery area and the management area.

(i) The development area

This area comprises two main components, firstly individual academic staff working in their own offices on small but networked personal desktop computers and secondly special multimedia hardware units set up in a development laboratory with more or less technical and research assistance. In the Geology & Geophysics Department 95% of academic staff (15-18) develop their own courseware to a greater or lesser extent, using personal desktop computers linked to the Departmental, University and Global network. Individual desktop computers (IBM clones, Apple Macs and workstations) are all linked to a network which allows remote printing, graphics and text scanning, local and external email and file transfer, electronic file sharing and contact with academic colleagues, clerical assistance, and library and student information systems.

The degree of involvement of the development of electronic courseware varies from lecturer to lecturer and ranges from a minimum involvement, with the electronic production of hard copy lecture and class notes and overhead projection transparencies, to a maximum involvement where a number of academics have grouped together in a major project to produce a full Level I Geology Curriculum as presentation and interactive multimedia courseware (see later).

Figure 2

Figure 2: Components of the Geology Department Multimedia Development System

Within the development area a major multimedia development facility (Fig. 2) comprises a high end microcomputer with internal accelerator, video frame grabbing card, large internal memory (20 MB RAM) and large internal disc storage. This computer has an array of dedicated adjacent peripheral equipment including a large screen high resolution colour monitor, CD-ROM drive, removable cartridge drive for local storage, colour flatbed scanner, video cassette recorder (VCR) and television monitor (TV), AM-FM radio and audio cassette.

The large screen high resolution colour monitor is essential for both detailed drawing of figures, maps, sketches etc., for inclusion in the multimedia courseware and for the concurrent running of drawing, word processing, animation and presentation software, which speeds up courseware module development and of course necessitates the large internal machine RAM. The VCR/TV and radio/cassette devices allow the input and capture of video and audio clips from proprietary and locally produced media for further integration into the courseware. The flatbed colour scanner and CD-ROM allow capture and integration of further multimedia components (35 mm slides and prints from field excursions, textbook illustrations, etc).

(ii) The delivery area

There are a number of hardware requirements for multimedia delivery areas which make up the electronic classrooms of the Geology Department. Classes of small size (Level 3 and Honours Level 4) are usually timetabled in small classrooms. Along with laboratories and tutorial rooms, such small teaching areas are unlikely to warrant full equipping with multimedia delivery hardware. A reasonable scenario for single user Departments is the purchase of a portable array of computer display and presentation hardware securely fixed to a mobile trolley. A typical system as is used in the Geology and Geophysics Department, includes a portable notebook computer attached to a computer presentation panel and high luminosity overhead projector or direct computer projector.

Such arrays can be purchased and assembled for between $10-12K and can be timetabled for effective use in a variety of locations though effectively only in one building. An essential planning item in the use of such systems is the early network cabling of all potential small teaching areas, such that large courseware files and external network databases can be readily accessed within these areas as they become part of the electronic learning environment.

Larger classes (50+ as in Levels 1 and 2) are usually held in large lecture theatres, which are controlled by the University central administration. Such areas, due to their size and capacity, often warrant the installation of fixed high quality computer (and video) projection devices. At Adelaide University a policy of progressively refurbishing all such common teaching areas is proving particularly effective in supporting the development and delivery of electronic courseware. Again, as with small group teaching areas, the network cabling of the large areas is essential.

Timetabling, option and course requirements currently require student learning to occur by traditional 50 minute lecture and tutorial timeslots. However, there is an increasing need for students to be able to access course material outside of normal formal timeslot contacts. In the recent past this has led to the addition of "computer laboratories" to regular University work areas. Conversion of areas to computer laboratories has not only been costly but has caused great difficulties in finding the extra space to set them up, plus the constant security and after hours access problems. However, traditional computer laboratories, with banks or rows of PCs on desks all facing in the same direction like the classrooms of old, can provide an efficient avenue for the delivery of electronic courseware. Such computer suites must obviously be networked to access the courseware together with the usual peripherals (printers, etc).

A more recent addition to the delivery area is that of removed and isolated terminal nodes where computers may be located in non-traditional areas (libraries, student union buildings, other departments) or network sockets may be located to allow students to plug in their own computers to access the courseware through the network. Policy on computer standards, computer ownership, security, software, etc, must all be considered when these concepts are added to the delivery area. Finally an extension of this last facet is the idea of modem links to the network which would allow the students to access material from the home computer which they are currently most likely to own.

(iii) The management area

The third area of hardware essential to the introduction of an electronic learning environment is the area of network management. All individual computers, multimedia facilities and computer suites are linked and accessible through a managed computer network. The base of the network is an array of network servers or processors. These are served by bulk storage devices, further peripherals and must allow simple access to printing facilities, links to AARNet, student information systems, libraries, etc.

The Geology and Geophysics Department and Adelaide University currently supports a hardware environment which provides all of the services mentioned above. A central multimedia development facility in the ETU backs up the Departmental unit. A number of major lecture theatres provide full multimedia presentation support. University and Faculty computer teaching suites are available and heavily utilised. All systems are networked and an efficient network management system provides simple access to often only moderately computer literate staff and students.

Geological courseware in the electronic classroom - the software environment

In the Geology and Geophysics Department we have consistently utilised network/site licences of simple ready to use commercially available software (Apple Macintosh based). The basic software tools for creating material to be incorporated in the multimedia courseware are standard word processing (MS Word), drawing (Aldus Freehand), and digital input scanning (Applescan), optical character recognition (OCR Omnipage), and digital image manipulation (Adobe Photoshop). The principal presentation mode is Microsoft PowerPoint for lecture delivery, with more sophisticated animation and interactivity developed using Authorware Professional and Macromind Director. Multimedia storage on removable cartridges and file back up on remote high density servers uses Aldus Fetch.

Since 1989 an array of geological courseware has been produced for all teaching levels (eg. Table 1). The courseware production and delivery began with a program of electronic lectures in introductory Structural Geology for level two and level three classes of 30-40 students each (James & Clark, 1991). In 1994 an ambitious and larger program involving 120 introductory level I Geology students taught by six different subject lecturers has been planned and is in progress, with considerable success (Table 1).

Geology 1 Lecture Titles Outline (key words)Size

1.Geology - What is it?
Introduction, scope of geology, applications
543 kB
2.The Earth is Born
Solar system, the Earth and origins, bolides
240 kB
3.Our Planetary Neighbours
Moon, Mars, impact cratering
867 kB
4.Igneous Rocks & Minerals - 1
Earth's interior, rock cycle, minerals
431 kB
5.Igneous Rocks & Minerals - 2
Igneous rocks
177 kB
6.Igneous Rocks & Minerals - 3
Origin of magma, volcanoes
455 kB
7.Weathering & the Effects of Gravity
Mechanical & chemical weathering
410 kB
8.Erosion and Deposition by Ice and Rivers
Fluvial, rivers, glacial erosion
465 kB
9.Coastal Environments
Deltas, waves, tides
504 kB
10.Metamorphism & metamorphic rocks
Metamorphic rocks, texture, facies
671 kB
11.Geological history: Stratigraphy
Uniformity, hiatus, biostratigraphy, time scale
503 kB
12.Geological history: Numerical time
Age of Earth, radioactive decay, U, Pb, C
167 kB
13.Mineral resources
What are they? Consumption, supply. recycling
335 kB
14.Mineral resources
Aluminium, iron
363 kB
15.Mineral resources
Titanium, placer deposits
525 kB
16.Mineral resources
Copper, lead, zinc
459 kB
17.Mineral resources
Gold & platinum group elements
374 kB
18.Mineral resources
Metallic, non-metallic, phosphorus
510 kB
19.Mineral resources
Exploration methods
2181 kB
20.Intro. to plate tectonics
Tectonic plates, continental drift, paradigm
555 kB
21.Earthquakes I - the bad
Seismology basics, seismic risks
551 kB
22.Earthquakes II - the good
Seismic surveying, prediction, mitigation
965 kB

Table 1: Level I courseware developed in the Geology Department

Most of this courseware is in the form of visual illustrations to accompany lectures or laboratory classes and is displayed using the Microsoft PowerPoint presentation and image management program. PowerPoint produces professional style overhead projection transparencies (and/or 35 mm slides), which may be photocopied from laser printer output. PowerPoint allows the production and mixing of text titles and bulleted or paragraph text with a range of fonts and formats together with in house graphics ranging from simple figures or diagrams to complex tables and graphs, or imported graphic images, to produce excellent quality transparencies. The program has been cheap, simple to learn and rapid to use, and has been readily accepted by a variety of academic staff and students.

Initially hard copy overhead projector transparencies for a series of Level II and Level III Structural Geology lectures was produced. Text was transferred from Microsoft Word or OCR using a file transfer program though it was faster in most cases to simply retype text. The graphic drawing tools in the simple PowerPoint palette allowed the preparation of many drawings showing for example the range of structures found in most introductory Structural Geology textbooks. Freehand was used for more complex maps and figures. For most of the lectures given in the program about 10-15 overhead projector transparencies were sufficient to illustrate individual topics. As usual, most lectures were further illustrated with 35 mm field photographs together with transparencies photocopied from reference papers.

The electronic classroom came fully into operation in the Geology Department after 1990, when major fixed large lecture theatre computer projectors, a portable colour computer data pad and high luminosity overhead projector and a computer teaching suite were commissioned. Progressively since that time an increasing number of classes and lecturers have used direct projection of multimedia computer presentations when teaching. The improvements to the presentation of lectures are mostly found in the PowerPoint program's slide/ transparency lecture manipulation facilities. PowerPoint contains a sophisticated series of methods to store, arrange, rearrange and view slides in each individual computer file, which thus becomes an individual lecture or presentation. Multiple slides can be viewed at a reduced size, in sequential order as either small slide images or as listed by title. Single images or groups of images can be moved, cut. copied, pasted or deleted via single instructions or keystrokes. The program also displays the sequence of images in order via single instructions or as an automatic (time variable) or manual "slide show". All of these features are ideal to produce full length (50 minute) fully illustrated lecture presentations. These features are also ideal for the alteration of the order or sequence of slides in a presentation with great ease and speed. This technique therefore eliminates the preparation and presentation of hard copy overhead transparencies and increases the flexibility of the lecture illustration system.

The sequential display of text and graphic images and particularly the building up of complex images from cumulatively adding separate components is one of the most advantageous features of the direct delivery of lectures by computer. Bulletted text may often be used to greatest effect if individual bulleted statements are revealed sequentially to illustrate the development of a time variable concept or a set of increasingly more complex statements. In traditional lectures this is carried out by writing statements on a black (or these days a white) board or by using an opaque overlay mask (paper or card) on an overhead projector, while complex annotated figures may be similarly exposed using complex cut out opaque paper and tape overlays. The early versions of PowerPoint allowed the preparation and display this type of image using the multiple slide copy facility. Each single complex slide or figure from the previous array was copied from typically 6-10 times. The sequence of identical slides were then progressively edited by removing less and less information from each sequential slide. The latest version of PowerPoint allows the gradual build up of text using the "build" command, however, complex diagrams cannot use this facility to any great extent.

Geological lectures typically use a great variety of illustrative instructional material collected from field trips and excursions. Such material visually enhances the description of natural phenomena by showing it in variety. in context and usually in colour. Traditionally, 35 mm slides, coloured plates from texts, large maps or videos have been used within the lecture theatre. All of these materials have been incorporated in the electronic presentations, where they can be easily stored and retrieved, readily and repeatedly accessed and due to their digital format, do not degrade with time.

Another technique used in the direct presentation of lectures using PowerPoint is the modelling of time dependent processes (animation). Many scientific studies analyse parameters which operate over time to change their state. Such changes are observed and described in a variety of ways and illustrated by models, graphs, algorithms etc. Typically such procedures are illustrated in lectures with single (or occasionally multiple) images revealing one instant in time of the process under study, or as graphs showing how different parameters vary with time. Animation as a display technique. especially where the rate of progress may be varied (slowed, halted, reversed etc), has the ability both to increase audience understanding of how such processes operate in real time, but also to significantly enhance the ability of the lecturer to demonstrate this in a visually simple manner.

The PowerPoint program with direct display of computer slides has been used as a crude animator of a variety of processes. Using the automatic slide show command with small time intervals of slide presentation, graphs can appear to change according to changes in coordinate values. Alternatively images can be changed slightly in size, shape or orientation and then the individual images shown sequentially to simulate real time dependent motion. These simulated animations may be reversed or cycled for effect. More sophisticated animations have recently been created and imported to PowerPoint using more powerful software (Authorware Professional, Macromind Director, Canvas).

As well as PowerPoint presentations, a number of other software options have been used to teach a variety of topics and concepts in the electronic classroom. Aldus Freehand has been used as a direct presentation package to illustrate the visual aspect of physical transformations in geological situations. Such variations are observed as changes of position, shape, size and orientation, which are quantitatively specified as algorithms describing translations, distortions or strains, dilations and rotations, respectively. With the ability to draw simple or complex three dimensional models of undeformed rock bodies containing identifiable original features, the effects of the different types of deformation on such bodies can be illustrated in real time visual experiments (Bjornerud 1991). Similarly Mathematica can be used to display a great variety of mathematical phenomena, Endnote can be used to show the power of current referencing and bibliographic search and storage facilities, and a variety of communication software. There are also a number of recent developments in innovative specialist geological research and educational software (eg. Bjornerud, 1991; Rockware, 1994; Tickoff et al., 1993; USGS JEdI, 1991) which can be illustrated and examined in real time in the electronic classroom.

There are many current projects developing CAL interactive courseware (see Chia et al., 1992; CAUT, 1993; Godfrey, 1991; Kibby & Hartley, 1994), with however, only relatively few geological examples (Sowerbutts, 1993 - see later in conclusions), and few groups working on the full range of interactive multimedia and CAL material in Australia particularly in the Earth Sciences. The "Learning Curve" company in Canberra is developing excellent but very expensive interactive CAL material for the mining industry. The Geology Department at the University of Western Australia (Harris, 1994) and a few other Tertiary institutions are developing small CAL packages in isolation. In the Geology Department at Adelaide University there is currently in progress, a project whereby all of the courseware presented as PowerPoint lecture and laboratory material, is being modified to run as interactive tutorials in Authorware Professional.

Advantages and disadvantages of the electronic classroom

Electronic learning materials have significant advantages in teaching and learning for most lecturers and most students, when used in conjunction with traditional teaching methods. For lecturers, the advantages are ease of acquisition, storage, arrangement and display of visual aids in lectures and laboratory classes, plus the bonus of a "professional" and uniform presentation style. The ability to interact with a larger proportion of students and the possibilities of automatic revision and assessment are a further advantage. The electronic classroom allows almost instantaneous access to all material previously presented in a course. As later lectures often depend on concepts and data introduced in earlier lectures, electronic file/lecture linking allows repeated return to material previously covered which offers considerable advantages to the learning process (Gibbs et al. 1988, p.79)

The problems encountered by most lecturers of remembering and physically carrying the array of, overhead transparencies, slides, manilla folders and lecture notes into classes is made redundant by the ability of the electronic storage and retrieval of a whole series of lectures on a single floppy disc or through a network link. With electronic notes attached to files and screens, there is no longer even the need tor a lecturer to remember quantities of course notes nor to have them on hand for reference. Further, the ability to simply update a course year after year without the need to rewrite a whole series of notes or reproduce new overhead transparencies, together with the ability to link these with field slides and videos creates a vastly more pleasant and efficient working environment for lectures and students. Adding detailed graphics and animations to simplify understanding of complex natural phenomena further enriches the learning environment.

For the students, a new, separate and alternative learning environment is significant, as is the ability to access the lecturer's teaching materials via floppy disc or an electronic network which lead to greater impact and efficiency in essentially more "self paced" learning. Students learn best in a variety of flexible learning environments. The flexibility of the electronic classroom, with the ability to repeatedly view lecture material out of normal lecture times or to interactively interrogate a subject, to view professional visual presentations and also if necessary produce and distribute hard copy, is increasingly demanded by students who pay significant fees and expect excellent learning services. The main disadvantages of the electronic learning system are still largely a result of lack of financial and managerial support. There are insufficient computers and peripherals, and the computers themselves lack sufficient power, speed and memory to make electronic teaching and learning uniformly comfortable. Not enough lecture theatres have computer projectors; portable projection systems are still not portable enough and require darkened rooms; not enough large (gigabyte) disc storage space is available. Risk of damage in transit or theft is a constant concern. Networks are not always pervasive in the academic environment and file transfer is often difficult and slow. Software is expensive, even for networked copies, often has compatibility problems tor file transfer, and is commonly difficult to master. Fortunately such electronic data storage, integration and presentation systems (ie RISC based PowerPCs computers) are becoming smaller and cheaper and increasingly more available.


This work has been carried out with limited financial assistance from Australian Government and University funding bodies. Many similar but isolated examples of CAL development are also in progress in Australia, but unlike the United Kingdom for example, there is no integrated approach to the production of courseware on an individual subject basis.

In the UK, the MacFarlane report was fundamental in support of the significantly funded (30m between 1992-4) Teaching & Learning Technology Projects (TLTP) now under development in their higher education sector. This report stated in its executive summary that "a fundamental appraisal of, and a radical approach to, the problems of teaching and learning in mass education is now necessary. While the scale of the changes is such that an evolutionary form of development is both inevitable and desirable, there is an urgent need to foster and introduce innovative approaches and structures, and to make the most effective use of new technology.... The development, and imaginative use of, shared educational resources, and the necessary research into learning processes and new forms of large scale teaching, will all require new organisational structures, and the creation of supporting infrastructures at national and institutional level", (MacFarlane, 1992).

This unified approach has meant that groups (consortia) of Universities have joined together to develop collaborative solutions to the problems of integrated access to computer aided learning materials and methods in teaching and learning. Thus there is less "reinventing of wheels" and isolated efforts, more concentration of ideas and resources, which are required to develop new and innovative teaching methodologies. In 1993 a consortium of all 42 UK Earth Science Departments successfully applied for 125,000 per annum for a minimum of three years via the TLTP grants scheme to develop interactive multimedia CAL modules for use in undergraduate teaching. The project is coordinated at Manchester University (Sowerbutts, 1993) where a courseware package entitled "3D visualisation of geology" is under development using Authorware Professional. The five other UK development sites which are currently preparing innovative interactive multimedia computer aided learning (CAL) packages are Keele University (crystallography), Anglia University (mineralogy), Leeds University (geological mapping), University of Cardiff (stereographic projection) and Derby University (geological fieldwork).

With increased student numbers in the Unified National System of higher education in Australia, and with the increasing demand by students for equity and access in teaching and learning, new and innovative methods of teaching and learning are required. New media integration technologies have kept pace with the desire for new teaching methods, but authored packages for use in lectures, laboratory classes and tutorials. have not. The system described in this paper is one attempt to move geological education into the electronic classroom and forward with the advanced technologies now available.


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Author: Patrick R. James, Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Adelaide, South Australia 5005; Phone (08) 3035254, Fax (08) 303 4347; Email:

Please cite as: James, P. R. (1994). Media integration in teaching and learning: Best practice in the electronic classroom. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 120-127. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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