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Interactive multimedia literacy and the academic library

Jan Branson and Ted Chrisfield
La Trobe University, Victoria


The convergence of two separate developments have provided the catalyst for the application of interactive multimedia technologies in La Trobe University's Borchardt Library. The development of the National Australian Sign Language Curriculum for First and Second Language Learners and the establishment of the Library Audiovisual Services Division.

In the early part of 1992, at the same time as the Head of the Auslan Curriculum project, Dr Jan Branson, was putting together a Research Infrastructure Application, Mechanism C, to establish an Australian Sign Language Research Centre at La Trobe University, the Head of the newly established Library Audiovisual Services Division, was seeking funding to establish interactive multimedia facilities in the Library.

When these two got together a common aim was very soon realised, to use the developing interactive multimedia equipment and software as a means to analyse a visual language which had hitherto been neglected, and would have been virtually impossible using traditional linguistic methods.

This, then, lead to an application being sent to the Australian Research Council to establish the Australian Sign Language Research Facility at La Trobe University. This is an ongoing development. The project was partially funded in 1992, and a further application to complete the setting up of the facility is now awaiting a decision.

National Institute for Deaf Studies, sign language research and teaching

The aim of this facility is to remedy deficiencies in research infrastructure for sign language research through the establishment of a national library research collection and database for linguistic and cultural research into Australian Sign Language. The primary elements of the research facility, which are still being established are as follows:

Producing an Auslan curriculum

The writing of sign language curricula poses a number of unique challenges. The teaching of a sign language faces the teacher with a range of problems not encountered in the teaching of other languages. Two characteristics of any sign language are of prime importance in this respect: i) it is a visual language which relies on movements of the hands, face and body used within a three dimensional space to convey meaning; and ii) it is an unwritten language for which no formalised script exists. The language is a language of everyday use which must be studied and taught in that context. Added to these particular characteristics is the fact that research into sign languages at both the lexical and syntactic levels is very recent. Research into the language is thus an integral part of writing the curriculum.

While codes for the recording of sign language movements have been developed in the context of linguistic research they are not suitable for use in the teaching of the language whether to first or second language learners. Photographs and drawings are often used within the context of the teaching of the language but they give only a hint of the movements involved. Research has shown that the movement between signs is more crucial for comprehension than the actual hand configuration. Students therefore rely on the demonstration of the language by a live teacher and are dependent on face to face contact with a teacher. But while the training of Auslan teachers is underway, good and experienced teachers are rare. Thus the need to move beyond face to face classroom situations to a medium which compensates both for the lack of books and for the lack of language laboratory facilities.

We therefore began our search for a suitable form of technology with a number of non-negotiable criteria in mind, non-negotiable in the sense that we were not prepared to make compromises on the quality of the material we produced. These criteria included the following: i) the ability to replay video at 25 frames per second; ii) the ability to have multi-tasking, including two windows of video replay; iii) the ability of students to interact with the medium; iv) the ability to link in written text, video text, video story, and pictures; v) simplicity of use as none of us were computer experts; and vi) the cost to be kept as economical as possible.

The aim was to develop an innovative national curriculum which can be adapted to state needs; a curriculum which forms the basis for both first and second language learners at primary and secondary levels, based, in the ALL guidelines which are based on communicative activity. There was a real need to provide an integrated curriculum for students from beginners to advanced levels which catered for all needs and adapted the contextual approach to the particular needs of sign language teaching.

The curriculum also needed to be developed in such a way that it could be used either by a fully qualified bilingual teacher fluent in Auslan and literate in English, or by a team of teachers, one fluent in Auslan the other a qualified language teacher. We also wanted to ensure that at least some of the curriculum could be made available to isolated deaf children who were integrated into oral settings or who lived in the country.

We are therefore in the process of developing resource materials for use by classroom teachers and students. The total package will consist of three teacher handbooks, the first on Deaf culture and community, the second on pedagogical practice which will show how to adapt the curriculum to the needs of different age groups and first or second language learners; and third, one outlining the key linguistic elements in Auslan. These will be written texts. To accompany these books, will be a series of lesson plans and a wide variety of teaching resource materials. It is this section which will be produced almost entirely on computer.

We are in the process of producing two very different kinds of materials. The first is to allow deaf children to access the curriculum in the same way as hearing students. The second aim is to produce materials for a Deaf Studies curriculum which give Deaf children a sense of heritage, past and identity. The aim is to develop bilingual, bicultural children. Auslan is the children's first language, for sign language is the only language to which deaf children can have full access. In order to give children whose first language is sign language access to the normal curriculum we looked at adapting existing materials where the format and visual material was compatible with the needs of Auslan in addition to developing our own.

Library audiovisual services

The Audiovisual Services Division was established in April 1991 and is responsible for providing access to non-print based information sources to support the teaching and research programs of the University. The emphasis is primarily on sound and visual formats but the Division also seeks to provide a focus for the application of technology in scholarship and learning through range of services, equipment and facilities which improve access to recorded knowledge in all forms.

The collection contains thousands of sound recordings, video recordings and computer files which are all fully catalogued and accessible via the Library Online catalogue. The division also runs a separate automated lending and booking operation. The facilities include a microcomputer room, a video network for delivering all video formats to carrels and group rooms and responsibility for microform equipment. A truly multimedia environment.

Interactive media facilities and services

In 1992 the Division received a grant of $50,000, to which the Library added $10,000, enabling the Library to enter the world of interactive multimedia. Specifically, to further improve access to audiovisual information and foster innovation in learning. This comprises four multimedia workstations, two IBM compatible and two Macintosh, which provide access to what have become very stable interactive multimedia publishing formats, laserdisc and CD-ROM.

The Library can now both collect IMM titles which support teaching and research, but more importantly we can also raise the awareness of the potential that these technologies offer to improve the dissemination and creation of knowledge generally, by allowing the Library to place these tools into the hands of the entire La Trobe community.

However, access to published multimedia information is only one part of the developing role the library is playing in improving interactive multimedia literacy on campus. The workstations in the library are not read only devices. With the available funds we also added a colour scanner, which can be used on both platforms. The various sound and video cards can be used to both display and capture sounds and images.

For example, cinema studies students are frame grabbing images from laserdisc and video cassette versions of films they are studying. Music students, after using some of our Voyager music discs, are keen to use HyperCard tools for the analysis of many of the thousands of sound recordings and scores we have in our collection. Art History staff and students are also very excited about the new horizons which are opening up for both research and learning with the increasing availability of high quality digital editions in the visual arts.

Current developments

We now have many hours of Betacam SP video footage of sign language which will be placed in the Library for future analysis. We are in the process of producing our first laserdisc to begin the research program.

By the time this paper is published we will also know far more about the future funding of the project, which will enable further tools, such as the Pioneer laserdisc recorder to be placed in the hands of sign language researchers.

The role of the library

From my view as an Audiovisual Librarian I have witnessed the advent of the microcomputer, the VHS video cassette and the compact disc, which have all individually revolutionised the way information is published and used by everyone of us. I see IMM as the logical extension of these developments, but we are still grappling with its real value.

Many libraries have responded quickly to the changing face of publishing and scholarly communication which continues to develop at an ever increasing rate. There are now a wide range of satisfactory and cost effective solutions for integrating text sound and images for teaching and learning. The Library intends to assist staff and students to use these tools to assemble, manipulate and convey information. Interactive multimedia is thus adding another level of access and control over the information stored within the library and increasingly to the information which is available in libraries and databases around the world.

The success we have had to date with the implementation of interactive multimedia tools at La Trobe University is in allowing both staff and students to collect the relevant text, sound and images required quickly to support the more traditional lecture and tutorial programs, although admittedly on a very small scale at present. However, I am confident that this will gradually infiltrate more and more areas and inevitably allow both staff and students to discover new approaches to learning that this technology has always promised. But, this will take time.

The most successful format is currently CAV laserdisc which is very easily adapted to this approach. A disc can be used to support lectures and tutorials, but the random access capabilities can be exploited in many different ways, from barcode control to interfacing with HyperCard. This is quick, cheap and it gets results.

The other main reason I like this approach of gathering resources as required is that the control programs are independent from the information. This enables updates and improvements to be made to suit changing learning and course requirements. Many academics are understandably very reluctant to use interactive multimedia materials unless they can be easily tailored to suit their own needs.

This is has been the approach with the Auslan project, to collect the relevant data in the most suitable medium, in the first instance Betacam SP video and then reformat this for the task at hand. Currently, the prime requirement is for high speed random access over high quality motion video data. Laserdisc is an ideal medium for this.

As the industry develops there will be even more cost effective and powerful tools to exploit. But, there will always be a vast variety of needs and solutions, solutions which will include, I think, both the developing electronic networks and individual optical media publications, such as CD-ROM and CD-I, together and the growing array of software tools.

The future

This brave new digital multimedia networked information world offers enormous challengers and opportunities to us all. In the academic library I believe we should face this future in some of the following ways.

We should ensure that information skills are a compulsory part of all undergraduate courses. This must now include a multimedia component to enable to scholars to locate and exploit multimedia resources in the most appropriate way.

We can play a role in interactive multimedia publishing by identifying needs in multimedia and courseware development and bringing together the relevant production and content expertise. Provide the means for staff and students to access and utilise the developing networked interactive multimedia resources and tools.

Finally, I believe the librarian's skills in organising this information, in collecting quality resources, in navigating the networks, and in providing standards for indexing and cataloguing will be needed more than ever. However, the means by which this will be done in the future will change dramatically.

Authors: Dr Jan Branson, Director AUSLAN Research Facility, Centre for the Study of Cultural and Educational Practice, La Trobe University, Bundoora Vic 3083. Tel: 03 479 2887 Fax: 03 478 7807 Email: j.branson@latrobe.edu.au

Ted Chrisfield, Audiovisual Services Librarian, Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Bundoora Vic 3083. Tel: 03 479 2137 Fax: 03 471 0993 Email: t.chrisfield@latrobe.edu.au

Please cite as: Branson, J. and Chrisfield, T. (1994). Interactive multimedia literacy and the academic library. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 42-44. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/bc/branson.html

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