Interactive multimedia study and resource materials have the potential to revolutionise distance education, particularly in science and technology, by providing the learner with the quality of educational experience previously restricted to the on campus tutorial or laboratory session.
Multimedia teaching/learning materials offer the distance education student increased control over the learning process, simulation of laboratory experiences, access to the visual information so vital to scientific studies and more effective tutorial support.
The Monash Gippsland Distance Education Centre is undertaking a major project to research, develop and evaluate the use of multimedia CD-ROM in distance education. Resource and study materials of various types are being developed on CD-ROM and trialled with distance education students.
This paper describes the development and trial of the first materials produced within this project.
Undertaking degree studies by distance education involves the student in studying at home using a variety of materials. Textbooks, together with study guides and readers prepared by academic staff are the major learning resource in most courses and these are predominantly distributed to students in printed form. Audio tapes and, to a much lesser extent video tapes and computer disks, are used to supplement the printed material. In recent years, and almost solely in computing courses, downloading of some study material to a student's PC via a modem has been introduced, together with two way electronic transfer of assignment work.
Courses which involve a high level of conceptual, visual and practical content, such as science/technology courses and visual arts courses pose particular problems in distance education mode. Although the use of home experimental kits and videotaped experiments (eg. Shott, 1985; Higgins and Kirstine, 1991; Patti, Mayes and Lyall, 1991) has been effective in enabling some of this content to be covered at home, there is still a very substantial requirement for on campus attendance in these courses. Meeting this requirement is both difficult and very costly for students living long distances from the University.
The challenges to minimise the on campus face to face time, to increase the effective use of this time and to increase the level of interactivity and visual quality of study materials therefore remain important ones. Furthermore, interest in addressing the same challenges in relation to on campus courses and students is steadily growing (Baldwin, 1991). CD-ROM, as a currently available proven technology, has significant potential to help us meet these challenges. CD-I and other technologies may increase this potential when readily available.
The questions formulated by Bates (1984) in relation to the use of videodisc provide a good framework for assessing the appropriateness of CD-ROM for distance education.
The content material to be emphasised in the project is:
These topics were chosen predominantly because of the level of commitment of the academic staff concerned, a criterion seen by the project team as essential, both within the project itself and for any future development in the use of the medium. However, the breadth of coverage of content, teaching/learning processes and student background offered by these three discipline areas was also seen to be most appropriate for the initial trial CD-ROM. Development work undertaken on each topic will be outlined below, although the Art History topic has been deferred to Disc Two due to the inability to satisfactorily finalise copyright release arrangements for reproduction of art works in time for pressing Disc One.
The primary objective in this part of the trial was to evaluate the feasibility of CD-ROM as a direct replacement for the printed study guide. Therefore the approach taken was to base the CD-ROM material closely on the printed study guide (to enable more valid comparison in the evaluation), to incorporate hyper-linked images and graphics wherever appropriate to assist and enrich the learning process, and to provide text hyperlinks to enable the material to be utilised more effectively in a "self tutorial" mode.
Because distance education students have a range of levels of background knowledge, and often have unexpected 'gaps' in this background, hyperlinks to definitions/explanations of basic concepts have been used extensively.
Worked problem examples from the study guide have been transferred to the electronic medium but the accompanying problem set has still been used in print form and submitted for assessment and feedback. A limited number of standard CBI, multiple choice questions have been incorporated to test student reaction to the combination of this approach with the hypermedia presentation.
This topic provides a limited example of the potential of CD-ROM to present a database of resource material, and particularly to enable hyper-linking within the body of the material as well as via indexes. The project team is keen to further develop this type of application.
The database contains sections for over 50 artists, as well as an extensive overview and introduction to the Pop Art era. The volume of text included enables the extensive use of hyperlinks, thus enabling the student to cross reference various aspects between artists. It is hoped that this will in turn enable the student to develop new perspectives and insights on this area of art.
Despite a very successful instructional design phase and the achievement of satisfactory digital image quality, the pre-mastering of this topic had to be deferred due to the inability of the team to finalise in time the copyright release arrangements for the art works included. This is an area of considerable complexity and difficulty. The extent of reproduction of art works in electronic form worldwide is still limited and experience in Australia with this process and the handling of copyright release appears to be almost nil. However, support for the idea has already been received from major galleries and discussions are currently under way with the copyright societies regarding works of interest in the project.
Work on development of this topic will be continued with a view to its inclusion on the second trial CD-ROM.
The sample group consisted of seven volunteers from a distance education group of thirty one, all of whom were offered the opportunity to participate. These students agreed to use the trial material in place of the normal printed study guide. They then completed an examination on the topic to test the effectiveness of their learning of the material. Six of the seven participants also completed an evaluation questionnaire on both content and presentation of the material. This questionnaire was processed by the College's Educational Development and Research Unit to maintain confidentiality.
Each student in the sample group was provided with a PC (80286 - 16 MHz, 1 MB RAM, 40 MB hard disk, VGA screen) to take home. This enabled the learning material to be trialled in the normal distance education environment. Each PC had been fitted with an external CD-ROM drive, but a last minute problem occurred with the pre-mastering of the CD-ROM. This necessitated the learning material being trialled as a simulated CD-ROM from the hard disk, to avoid delaying the students' study programs. The students had all had more than ten hours experience on a PC, but only two had extensive experience (greater than 100 hours).
Most students ranked learning from the computer as better than learning from print materials, with supporting comments relating to the use of graphics and pictures to aid learning, and to the advantage when searching for a key point or word. One student found difficulty concentrating on reading from the screen and another saw little difference in the use of screen and print materials.
The comparison of print materials and computer based study material is an important one. The distribution of text based material on CD-ROM has the potential to drastically reduce printing and distribution costs for the Distance Education Centre, but the convenience and effectiveness of the use of this material by students must be carefully assessed and taken into account. Further investigation of this aspect of the project is planned.
Asked about their preference for mouse or keyboard as an input device, only half the respondents indicated preference for the mouse, somewhat surprisingly. Ibis may be related to a desire expressed by some participants to increase their computer skills as part of the process of learning with the computer.
Students were asked to indicate whether they preferred to work through the material in a few long sessions or many short sessions. Most used a combination of both and comments indicated a wide range of reasons for this.
The ability to expand the quarter screen images to full screen size was only seen as helpful by half of the group. This response was somewhat surprising, as the full screen image enabled more detail to be discerned. One participant reported having difficulty in returning from the expanded image to the "working screen", which may account for a negative view of this facility. This aspect needs to be further investigated.
Students found it easy to move to any desired section of the material for the purpose of reviewing it, but half of them had some difficulty with the meanings or the use of the icons. Supplementary documentation or an in built tutorial on the use of the icon bar may be appropriate.
The majority of the respondents indicated that they would like to have more study/resource material in CD-ROM format; two remained neutral. All indicated that if study materials were generally available in this format they would purchase a PC and CD-ROM drive.
There was concern by some about the "novelty value" of the method, about reading text, and about the limitations of being confined to a single screen, although the rigidity was also seen as a potentially advantageous factor in enhancing learning and in the ability to locate information.
Despite the reservations, both scaled and open ended responses indicated a willingness by the students to further explore the potential of the method.
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Gayeski, D. M. (1989). Why information technologies fail. Educational Technology, February, 9-17.
Hall, W., Thorogood, P., Hutchings, G. and Carr, L (1989). Using HyperCard and interactive video in education: An application in cell biology. Educational and Training Technology International, 26(3), 207-214.
Higgins, P. and Kirstine, W. (1991). Provision of experimental work in science to distance education students. Paper delivered at ASPESA Biennial Forum, Bathurst NSW, July 15-16.
Murden, C., Webster, L. L. and Harris, J. A. (1992). Developing multimedia distance education courseware: Choosing software and hardware. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 369-381. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/murden.html
Patti, A, Mayes, R. E. and Lyall, R. (1991). First year university chemistry by distance learning. Paper presented at Eleventh International Conference on Chemical Education, York, August.
Shott, M. (1985) Teaching physics at a distance. Distance Education, 6(1), 102-127.
|Authors: John A. Harris is Head of Distance Education Development, and Leonard L Webster and Clive Murden are Research Associates in the School of Applied Science, at Monash University College Gippsland.
Please cite as: Harris, J. A., Webster, L. L. and Murden, C. (1992). Multimedia CD-ROM: A new dimension in distance education. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 81-88. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/harris.html