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Using home entertainment technology for higher education

Lesley Richardson, Peter Pemberton and Tom Duncan
University of Southern Queensland

Generally interactive multimedia (IMM) playback systems are envisaged as top of the line computers with the necessary accessories, addressing a high quality monitor. Such systems are expensive and require a high degree of computer literacy, even skill, to operate successfully. While the educational benefits of using IMM are assumed (Jonassen, 1985; Larsen, 1992), it is important to keep the resources of the students in mind when selecting a playback platform. On campus students can be catered for with central facilities, external students pose logistical and resource problems. Across all faculties of the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) a significant number of external students would not yet have reached the level of computer user skill needed to operate conventional IMM playback systems and/ or have the resources to purchase same.

The Faculty of Engineering & Surveying at the USQ has 1,278 external engineering students. While most have the computer skills required, many would find conventional IMM playback equipment unaffordable. Most would have access to computers at their place of work, however these computers are generally not suitable for IMM and would not be available when and where the student needed them for study. With this in mind the authors turned to home entertainment equipment which is perceived as friendly to use and inexpensive. Because it serves other purposes such as playing music CDs and games, it is considered likely to be available in the home, without having to be specially purchased as study equipment.

Home entertainment IMM however raises several questions. As it addresses a conventional TV set the on screen definition is considerably lower than that obtained with a quality monitor, so is TV definition adequate for tertiary level education? Can tertiary level educational packages be scripted within the confines of this screen definition? Superficially the computer underlying home entertainment players is not as sophisticated as the conventional top of the line PC, so can such a simple computer provide the level of interactivity and other features required for tertiary level IMM?

During 1992 the authors prepared a pilot CD operating on a Commodore CDTV player. This program showed that the screen definition and computing capacity of the player were suitable for delivering tertiary level education (Richardson & Pemberton, 1992).

The outcome was sufficiently successful to encourage the team to make a submission to the Committee for the Advancement of University Teaching to fund the design and production of a teaching CD. The application was successful and in November 1993 work commenced on the production of a CD disc to present the unit of study, Design of Machine Elements, from the Bachelor of Engineering.


In mid 1993 a new product, the Commodore CD32, was released to supersede the CDTV. The CD32 is a superior product in that it delivers a better quality image and operates faster. The project team decided to change over to CD32. This change over caused a delay in the project work as aspects of the knowledge gained from the pilot project were also superseded. Additional problems arose because at the time of starting the project, all the technical details of CD32 were not fully defined. This made it difficult to write some of the programs and this was amplified by the lack of an emulator on site. Whereas with CDTV it had been possible to trial the program before pressing the disc, with CD32 that option was not available.

The CD32, being marketed as a home games machine, did not have all the accessory ports that had been part of the CDTV machine, however a docking station has been developed that will provide all the necessary options for attachment to a printer, modem, floppy and hard disk drives etc. (Table 1). At the time of writing the docking station was not yet available in Australia.

In retrospect, despite the pain it has caused, the decision to transfer to CD32 was both inevitable and sound, as there was no sense at all in producing a product that would run on a platform that was superseded. Consideration was given to transferring to a PC or Mac based system however this would have departed from the idea of providing cheap user friendly playback equipment. CD32 still satisfied that requirement.

ProcessorMotorola 68020
Memory2 megabytes
Disc speed600 RPM
Processor speed14.28 MHz
Resolutions262,000 colours in all resolutions
PortsTV (RF)
Comp. Video
MPEG module

Docking station

Full screen 25 fps.VHS quality vision
and CD quality stereo sound

floppy disc drive
hard disc drive

Table 1: Specifications of CD32

Subject content

A typical module of this unit of study is that covering Fatigue. It contains a significant mathematical theoretical component, descriptive material and a substantial element of practical knowledge. Two approaches are used on this CD to present numerical information, one uses conventionally presented graphical techniques, with the other presenting formulae. The teaching material is presented using an interactive format of menu selection. While there may be a preferred pathway through the material this format allows the students flexibility to chose their own path (Dejoy & Mills, 1989).

Each module includes a suite of test items, some of which follow conventional multiple choice practice. A more interesting group are those that require visual identification of failure characteristics and have the underlying objective of developing the student's diagnostic skills and methods.

Of course any engineering unit must contain numerical problems. On being presented with these problems the student has the option of requesting; the answer to the problem, the strategy for solving the problem, or the worked solution to the problem. The strategy option is intended to develop the student's approach to problem solving. All of the tests and problems are drawn randomly from a bank of data or resources that is sufficiently large to ensure a high probability of different test material every time the student accesses the test.

The instructional content includes an expert system that on the one hand can be used directly to solve fatigue problems, and on the other, gives the student the ability to economically explore the consequences of changes to the geometry or the material etc. of a component.

The presentation of material follows conventional interactive multimedia practice, that is, it comprises computer graphics, animations, still photos, video clips and audio narration. Generally on this CD graphs are plotted in real time from either stored data or from data that has been generated during the course of a problem.

The conventional external study notes are also on the CD disc in text format. This allows the student to take a hard copy of the whole or any part of the module when the CD32 is connected to a printer.

Costs and budget

One of the objectives of this project was to put together data on the costs of producing IMM. A careful record was kept of all activities and costs associated with producing two representative modules of study and the average results are detailed in Table 2.

ActivityHrsEstimated cost
Assets - Visual
      - Audio
Authoring and design checking35$1050.00
Test driving -
   Subject content


Pressing of master CD
Miscellaneous costs

Table 2: Hours and costs of development of one representational module of study for CD32
To put these costs into some perspective the Bachelor of Engineering comprises four units per semester. The unit Design of Machine Elements contains 10 modules. Therefore one module represents approximately twenty hours study.

Software development

Commercially available software such as Delux Paint, Imagine and Audiomaster was used to prepare the various visual and audio assets. However the authoring and player software that was commercially available at the time of commencing this project was not able, and could not be adapted, to perform most of the functions required of the project. Most notably they could not import/export data from/to the separate mathematical routines that comprised the expert systems and their associated data banks and derivative examples/problems.

A major component of this stage of the project has been the writing of the authoring and player software capable of performing these special functions. The time taken for these tasks has not been included in the above costs for a typical module as this is developmental work which will support not only the 10 modules in Design of Machine Elements, but most other Units for the Bachelor of Engineering course.

  • Authoring software development
  • 630 hrs
  • Infrastructure software development
  • 700 hrs
  • Problems/tests/expert system structure software
  • 98 hrs


    The schedule for this project required that design and development be fast tracked. That is the development of the script, production of assets and programming took place almost simultaneously. While a broad script was prepared, lots of details were not completely defined nor was it known at the time how to execute those details. This knowledge had to be accumulated during the project and decisions had to be made as the programming and assets were being put together. This meant that there were changes to make and these changes fed back through the whole procedure. It became apparent that a major coordination job was to keep track of the changes and additions, and to ensure all parties were kept up to date with documentation.

    This was achieved using a master copy of the script made up of frame proforma sheets, with a unique frame identification number, on which was recorded what was to appear on the screen, the accompanying audio narration, the type of visual, such as graphic, photograph, video clip, pathway linkages, control buttons available, and hot spots. When any item was updated it was flagged using postit notes and the script writer was responsible for conveying the information to the graphic artist and the programmers.

    The content map was a most vital element as it visually identified ever frame in the module and formed a flow diagram showing the relationship between each frame, the location of test and problem activities and the points were student pathway control access was available. The content map also guided the authoring programmer when designing the file system and compiling the presentation.

    The asset checklist showed every frame in a module and the type of asset used on that frame. The progress of asset development could be referenced from this list and changes could also be recorded and tracked.

    A design and production progress chart was also used to keep track of the stages of production for each topic of each module. This included; scripting - screens, narration, hot spots and pathways; the logic; audio - recorded, digitised; video - recorded, digitised; authoring; software implementation; testing; errors found and errors fixed.

    Using these coordination tools the status of work could be seen at a glance . It was the responsibility of the person carrying out the work to tick off the items as they were completed and the responsibility of the project manager to make sure this was done.


    Calling on the experience of the pilot project personnel with the following expertise were identified as necessary for the design and production of CD based IMM:

  • Instructional designer
  • Subject educator
  • Subject specialist
  • Authoring programmer
  • Software programmer
  • Computer graphic designer
  • Test drivers
  • Program tester
    Subject specialist
    Adventuresome incompetent
  • Trialing evaluator
  • Teaching/learning strategy

    Because engineering is about things and building things, it is ideally suited to the pedagogical approach of moving from the concrete to the abstract (Piaget, 1950. Gagne & Briggs, 1974). The program starts by showing real life examples and builds up the theory, describing the phenomenon that underpins those examples. For example, in the module Fatigue, an example of a spectacular fatigue failure is presented, then the mechanism of fatigue is examined and this is reinforced by examining specific fatigue failures and identifying the characteristics that distinguish fatigue failure from other types of failure. The student is then given an activity of identifying fatigue failures. This has the obvious objective of being able to identify fatigue failures but it also has the hidden objective of developing the student's diagnostic skill. From this basic understanding of the fatigue mechanism the underlying mathematical theory is developed step by step. As each step is presented it is explored with a practical example and the student is presented with a problem solving activity related to that level of understanding. The theory is further elaborated by moving from the simple idealised fatigue situation through alternating stresses to fluctuating stresses, from the one dimensional case to the three dimensional case, from the uniform case to the random case, with every step being supported by an example and an associated problem solving activity.

    By presenting the students with problem activities they have to actually apply the knowledge they have acquired through the teaching steps and by applying the knowledge they consolidate their knowledge (Jonassen, 1991). It enables the student to see if they have understood the knowledge and if they can apply the knowledge.

    The interactive program enables the students to revise the work until they are satisfied that they understand. If they cannot manage the process of applying the knowledge they are given the option of being given being presented with the strategy for solving the problem, or the fully worked solution. It is expected that between these two options the students will develop the ability and the process to apply the knowledge.

    Test and problem design

    To test the student's diagnostic and recognition skills four photographs of a combination of fatigue and non-fatigue failures are randomly selected and displayed. The student is asked to make a selection and indicate if the example is a fatigue failure. If the student's decision is correct a list of the criteria for fatigue failure is displayed with a tick next to each. If the answer is incorrect the list is displayed with a cross next to the criteria that are not present in the example.

    Text based multiple choice quizzes are used to test students' knowledge acquisition. To test the student's ability to apply the knowledge gained, problems (scenarios) are posed which require the student to think about the information necessary to resolve the problem, and then follow through the mathematical procedures to resolve the problem.

    Student assessment

    At the end of each module the program can assemble a test from the various activities undertaken during that module. This is then taken a step further with a final Unit exam being assembled from the module tests. Such an examination will be broader than the conventional exam used in engineering in that it can incorporate visual components, multiple choice components and the classic problem. Because all of these activities are generated randomly within the program it is reasonable to assume that every student will receive a different set of problems and that the problems will have different parameters. Also there is the potential for a student to take a final exam at any time.


    An evaluation report of this project is not available at the time of writing. However we are committed to providing IMM on a low price platform that is user friendly. It is hoped that the experiences outlined in this paper will be of benefit to others embarking on like projects.


    Dejoy, Judith K, & Mills, Helen H. (1989). Criteria for evaluating interactive instructional materials for adult self directed learners. Educational Technology, February, 39-41.

    Gagne, Robert M. & Briggs, Leslie J. (1974). Principles of instructional Design. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. New York.

    Jonassen, David H. (1985). Interactive lesson design: A taxonomy. Educational Technology, 25(6), 7-17.

    Jonassen, David H. (1991). What are cognitive tools? In Piet A.M. Kommers et al (eds), Cognitive Tools for Learning. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. In cooperation with NATO Scientific Affairs Division.

    Larsen, Ronald (1992). Relationship of learning style to the effectiveness and acceptance of interactive video instruction. Journal of Computer Based Instruction, 19(1), 17-21.

    Piaget, J. (1950). The Psychology of Intelligence. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. New York.

    Richardson, L. & Pemberton, P. F. (1992). Interactive CD more than an educational tool - it's a challenge. Proceedings of Australian Association for Engineering Education. University of Queensland. Brisbane.

    Authors: Lesley Richardson, Head, Media Services, Distance Education Centre, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba Queensland 4350. Telephone (076) 31 2463; Facsimile (076) 31 2028; email

    Peter Pemberton, Principal Lecturer, Faculty of Engineering & Surveying, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba Queensland 4350.

    Tom Duncan, Media Services, Distance Education Centre, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba Queensland 4350. Telephone (076) 31 2020; Facsimile (076) 31 2028; email

    Please cite as: Richardson, L., Pemberton, P. and Duncan, T. (1994). Using home entertainment technology for higher education. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 270-274. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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