IIMS 94 contents
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Diverse functions: The creative design of a hypermedia authoring system

Roger Dickinson
University of Western Australia
Over the past three years, Roger Dickinson and Michael Wheatley have designed and created a Mentor hypermedia authoring software called Mentor, which is being used by numbers of departments at The University of Western Australia for the development and delivery of computer based learning materials. The largest development has been the creation of the PES program, a full year course for Year 11 Physical Education Studies students. The program, which has a large number of unique design features, has been evaluated over the past 12 months in a Perth secondary school during an intensive qualitative research study.

Clark pointed out to us in 1983 that the classroom use of the educational media does not, of itself, influence student achievement. The media store and deliver educational messages but do not determine learning and all research attempting to demonstrate the superior effect of educational technologies on achievement has failed. The educational media "... are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in nutrition. ... only the content of the vehicle can influence achievement" (Clark, 1983; p.445). Ten years on, his warning assumes fresh importance when it is applied to computer based learning. Technology can efficiently store and deliver instructional messages, but it is the message and not the technology which can have an impact upon learning.

Research comparing and contrasting the effectiveness of the different media has not delivered useable results and much valuable time and effort has been wasted in a fruitless pursuit of inappropriate goals. A more valuable research direction has become the identification of appropriate techniques of message organisation and processes of instructional delivery through technology. Research into the design of mediated messages and how technologies have been utilised in teaching has led to practical and generalisable recommendations.

Education has a primary goal: to accommodate an individual's needs through the tailoring of instruction. If researchers into the effectiveness of computer based learning are to contribute to the attainment of that goal, we must better understand the process of learning and enhance the process of organising instruction (instructional design). The development of instructional technologies (and of hypermedia applications in particular) offers great potential for the individualisation of learning. The fruits of technology can facilitate instruction and learning, and can enrich the educational process through the creation of stimulating environments that cannot be otherwise provided. If this potential is to be realised, researchers will need to identify the most appropriate instructional strategies to be adopted.

Jacquetta Megarry (1988) has pointed out that the "... era of mass education has been dominated by the spoken and the written word" (p.172). Our learning environments are still built about the notion of a knowledgeable instructor delivering wisdom to eager receptacles through the medium of voice. This unimodal delivery is reinforced in every way, from, the physical design of classrooms and lecture theatres through to the administrative structuring of courses and class sizes, and maintained through student role expectations built up through years of traditional schooling.

"Teachers' practice of lecturing and questioning with students listening, answering and reading assigned materials is much the same today as ever." (MacKenzie, 1992, p.488). The dominance of verbal delivery continues despite growing awareness that individual differences in learning style are significant and that the lecture based transmission of information can be grossly ineffective. Individuals have different cognitive styles and therefore learning structures must be flexible. The system pays only lip service to the nature of learning, despite evidence that informal learning is often at least as important as formal learning.

This can only be considered unfortunate. Research in cognitive psychology indicates that information is stored in two separate but connected systems within the brain: a verbal system and an image system. A large portion of the human brain is dedicated to die interpretation of images and sound (as against the verbal descriptions of sounds). Instruction which utilises bimodal presentations that address both storage systems is likely to be more effective than a unimodal technique, especially if assessment is bimodal (Spencer, 1991). New technologies offer the potential to provide rich new learning environments that stimulate many senses. In some circumstances, delivery of information through a multimedia environment appears to be more appropriate than verbal methods, and can be more efficient and more motivating.

Active learning embodies the proposition that the direct involvement of students in manipulating information is the key to successful learning. The conviction is that students should be empowered to develop unique and individual relationships with information through which they can devise and construct personal understanding and knowledge.

Constructivism does not say that knowledge is something that learners ought to construct for and by themselves. Rather, it says that knowledge is something that learners must construct for and by themselves. There is no alternative. Discovery, re-invention, or active reconstruction is necessary (Blais, 1988, p. 217).

Linear delivery techniques supply students with a stream of data (facts) which, if the instruction is effective, can be combined to form information. However, knowledge is not simply an accumulation of facts.

Although we may be able to memorise facts for a short while at least, meaningful learning demands that we internalise information: we break it down, digest it and locate it in our pre-existing highly complex web of interconnected knowledge and ideas, building fresh links and restructuring new ones (Megarry, 1988, p. 73).

To be of value, the information needs to be associated with other information to produce ideas (concepts) which may lead ultimately to wisdom. Hypermedia software encourages the organisation of information into web like relationships which can be linked in quite individual ways to achieve different educational goals. Students are able to organise information in ways which make sense for them. By allowing students to seek out and gather information according to personal dictates, and to form their own links and paths between nodes of information, it is claimed that hypermedia programs can bring students closer to the real structure of knowledge (Lengel & Collins, cited in Ambron & Hooper, 1990).

As with previous technologies, many claims are being made about computer based technologies and their potential to revolutionise education. But such claims often have a shallow research base, and the weakness is compounded by the very rapid rate of computing evolution. By the time long term studies am completed and published, the technology they describe has often become redundant. The technology for developing hypermedia systems is still in its infancy and little is known about how these systems could be utilised in education. Many aspects of hypermedia need to be explored so that variables can be identified and examined in greater depth. Early evidence suggests that the interactivity afforded by a hypermedia environment may have a positive effect upon learning, and that mediated courseware may offer meaningful contexts within which effective learning may occur. The field is so new and so unexplored that what is required at this stage is ground breaking research to identify appropriate questions for future work.

Figure 1

Figure 1: An example of a self test quiz

In order to generate questions that future researchers could address in detail, this exploratory study sought to learn how a small group of secondary school students and their teacher adapted to using a hypermedia based physical education (PES) program over a 12 month period. A major aspect of the study was the design and development of a hypermedia program in keeping with emerging guidelines for effective instructional design. The program was developed through Mentor hypermedia authoring system developed over the past 3 years at The University of Western Australia. In developing a specific instrument for the learning environment, am researcher was able to incorporate and refine many important instructional design ideas. Within this environment, the researcher was able to study the gradual evolution of teaching and learning strategies, the impact of the technology upon the roles of teacher and learner, the difficulties encountered and the solutions that were developed, teacher and student perceptions of the program and their use of it, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the instructional design features of the program from the differing perspectives of facilitator and learner.

Figure 2

Figure 2: A video based card
In which the user can interact with a dynamic event

The study did not invoke traditional research paradigms, but adopted naturalistic research methods to examine the interactions between the teacher and the material, and the students and the material. Although it was important that the effectiveness of the material as a learning resource be affirmed, through the utilisation of qualitative techniques the researcher hoped to uncover "... a deeper understanding of the factors underlying that effectiveness as they are operationalised in classroom settings" (Neuman, 1989, p. 40). Clark (1983) urged that the aim of future studies should be "... the construction of prescriptive theory'. Through this approach, the researcher was able to gather information to steer the design of future instruction to match individual needs more closely and to generate pointers as to the directions that hypermedia development might appropriately take in the immediate future. Mentor, the design of the PES program, and the associated research findings should be of interest to many different groups. Developers of hypermedia courseware will know more about the effectiveness of different software tools, about learner aspirations and expectations and about appropriate instructional design. Policy makers should find usefulness in this study. School administrators will have a basis upon which to justify resources commitment. Teachers will have a clearer idea of the ways in which this technology can be used effectively in their classrooms to enhance learning and motivation, and how to adapt their instructional strategies accordingly. Students will have access to individualised learning materials which incorporate a high level of user control and interactivity.


Ambron, S. & Hooper, K. (Eds) (1990). Learning with interactive multimedia, pp. 190-198. Washington: Microsoft Press.

Blais, D. (1988). Constructivism - a theoretical revolution for algebra. Mathematics Teacher, November.

Clark, R. E. (1983). Reconsidering research on learning from media. Review of Educational Research, 53(4), 445-459.

MacKenzie, I. S. (1992). Beating the book: Megachallenges for CD-ROM and hypertext. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 24(4), 486-498.

Megarry, J. (1988). Hypertext and compact discs: The challenge of multimedia learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 19(3), 172-183.

Neuman, D. (1989). Naturalistic inquiry and computer based instruction: Rationale, procedures and potential. Educational Technology Research and Development, 37(3), 39-51.

Spencer, K. (1991). Modes, media and methods: The search for educational effectiveness. British Journal of Educational Technology, 22(1), 12-22.

Author: Roger Dickinson, Director, Development Unit for Instructional Technology, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands WA 6009. Tel: 09 380 2361 Fax: 09 380 1039 Ernail: roger@uniwa.uwa.edu.au

Please cite as: Dickinson, R. (1994). Diverse functions: The creative design of a hypermedia authoring system. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 118-120. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/dg/dickinson.html

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