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A Hypercard engine for future hypermedia applications

Roger Dickinson
Department of Human Movement and Recreation Studies
The University of Western Australia
This paper will examine what we know so far about Interactive Multimedia (IMM) programs, their potential and use by utilising three perspectives. It will examine several analogies for pointers to the future. It will extract what is most interesting and promising about the most innovative IMM products that have been developed to date. And it will summarise the state of research into computer aided learning so that opinions and suggestions can be offered about the immediate future directions that IMM development could take.

Some of the directions discussed above have been incorporated in the design of a "Hypercard Engine" being developed at The University of Western Australia to power a suite of hypermedia programs, and they will be illustrated through reference to and demonstration of these programs.


The introduction of a technology is often followed by a certain pattern of responses from developers as they depart, from the familiar for unknown territory. No matter how much new technologies resemble their predecessors, a range of methodologies, attitudes, techniques, conventions and approaches have to change before the benefits of the new can be realised. History suggests that it is unlikely that this extrapolation method of development will be avoided this time around in the development of IMM computing any more successfully than in the past, but we can minimise our exploration of blind alleyways by drawing upon three sources of assistance. We can examine analogies for comparative support, we can draw upon early examples of the technology for strengths, ideas and trends, and we can look to research in related fields for direction and connections.

Analogies provide us with insight into the pitfalls of early technological development such as the crisis of expectations. Before Gutenberg's introduction of moveable type, books were expensive, scarce, limited in scope and subject matter and accessible to a privileged few. Learning to read and write was limited to a select few. After the introduction of moveable type, books eventually became cheap and commonplace, subject range expanded, and literacy became the norm. But it took a very long time to happen. For a long time, no one knew what a book should look like or how it should be produced or mass marketed. Books eventually developed chapters, tables of contents, indexes, footnotes, references, tables and illustrations, but the conventions were slow in arriving.

The slow pace of that development was clearly no pointer to an imminent disappearance of the technology! We can extend the analogy to the current development of IMM programs. We know nothing about the way in which IMM programs should and will develop. We have no knowledge yet of what will be effective, or what will be possible. We are like Gutenberg musing upon his invention, wondering where it will lead. We require patience.

The early development of the motor car is a good example of the approach we commonly adopt when we are faced with a new technology. The first motorised vehicle was conceived as a horseless carriage and it looked very much like a carriage without a horse. Its developers simply went from the known and steadily modified it. The body of the vehicle resembled a carriage, the wheels were like carriage wheels, and the driver sat in the same position as he would have done to guide a horse. The development following the invention of movable type and the introduction of the horseless carriage typifies the fixed thinking patterns we inevitably adopt when we grapple with the implications of technological change.

A second perspective that we can bring to bear upon the future development of IMM applications is through an examination of existing software and applications. Many of the exciting features of the best existing IMM programs incorporate important new pedagogical ideas, such as:

We can look to research in related fields for ideas and direction. Most of what we know from research is drawn from investigations into the use of computers generally in education, but it, carries lessons for IMM design. A number of research directions are of importance, including research into: In the Human Movement Department at The University of Western Australia, a number of innovative projects are under way which centre upon the development of a broad purpose Hypercard engine for hypermedia applications. The design of the software is based upon many of the directions identified above. Many of its conventions and tools are extensions of the fine examples found in many existing multimedia products. It has user control features identified as important by current research and it has a very flexible base upon which widely differing degrees of learning structure can be experienced.

Like the printers who followed Gutenberg and the car designers of the early 20th century, the designers are constrained by the limits of their imaginations, by hardware weaknesses and by the difficulties of creating for a market that does not yet exist. Although there will no doubt be many keys to successful IMM designing, these are likely to include standardisation, the development of effective tools for navigation and manipulation, the sharing of ideas, continuity and familiarity. Standard software packages will begin to emerge. As books developed chapters, tables of contents and the other conventions with which we are so comfortable, so we must begin to develop familiar metaphors and techniques that will ensure the survival and successful exploitation of this promising new field.

Author: Roger Dickinson, Administrative Officer (Technical), Department of Human Movement and Recreation Studies, The University of Western Australia.

Please cite as: Dickinson, R. (1992). A Hypercard engine for future hypermedia applications. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 331-333. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/dickinson.html

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