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Training strategies for interactive multimedia authoring
Southern Cross University, Lismore NSW
If interactive multimedia courseware is to become a recognised and mainstream element in education and training programs it will require a new breed of trained professionals with appropriate authoring skills and knowledge. What are these skills and knowledge and what constitutes an effective training program? This paper is centred on a study of the training of Authorware Professional programmers in Australia. It involves an analysis of the responses to surveys and interviews conducted between July and November and a workshop conducted in December 1993. Factors investigated include the duration, content and sequencing of courses offered, the instructional methodologies used, the assumptions made about the background and experience of trainees, the nature of course materials provided and the provision of post course support. The strengths and weaknesses of current training practices are identified.
Note: As the study was still in progress at the time this paper was submitted
copies of the results will be distributed as part of the Conference presentation.
What's involved in interactive multimedia authoring?
The production of interactive multimedia courseware (IMC) can involve as little as one person or a team of many. In 1992 a dual platform CD-ROM containing samples of Australian developed IMC illustrated everything from low budget courseware, produced entirely by one individual, to courseware developed by professional teams with million dollar plus budgets (Ellis, 1992).
The typical IMC development project is usually more than a one person job. It commonly involves a team of people, some full time, some part time. Team positions and responsibilities usually divide into something like instructional design, graphic design, video and audio handling, authoring and content expert. The first four roles might be termed the production constants or core positions while the fifth position usually varies from project to project as the subject matter changes. One member of the team may also wear a second hat and take on the overseeing role of project manager. In large projects this may involve a separate position.
Frequently these core positions and responsibilities do not remain mutually exclusive. There is overlap and interaction between the roles and responsibilities. For example, instructional design demands will to some extent be dictated by the features of the authoring package used and the skills of the person using the features.
Some generic skills are also required. Pinfold (1992) identifies three as being essential to IMC projects. They are communication, organisational and coordination skills. She considers that successful communication "is dependant on all team members making reciprocal efforts to both learn the terminology in those fields which are new to them and to do their best to facilitate the understanding of terminology they themselves employ by other team members." Organisational skills are required at all levels and all stages to sequence events and to make the best use of available resources. Coordination skills involve elements of give and take and decision making that results in a final product having the look and feel of an integrated whole.
Acquiring authoring skills: The user manual approach
For someone to regard themselves as qualified for the authoring role, their key skill must be proficiency in using the features of the authoring system in use for the project at hand. This, if you like, is the minimum or essential qualification.
A basic training strategy to achieve this skill level might simply involve working through the features of the system one by one and creating simple examples. Each short exercise would address another feature, for example, creating a click/touch area, switching to a custom cursor or selecting a wait option. Typically the user manuals supplied with today's commercially available authoring systems tend to adopt this step by step approach to progressively exposing the user to the features of the package.
This approach can he compared to being given a bag of blocks and being asked to stack them one on top of the other. At the end of the exercise you've had to handle all the blocks, you know a bit about them because you've used their flat sides to stack them but you probably haven't created much.
Instead of using synthesis, what about adopting an analytical approach? For example, provide materials that encourage the user to 'pull part' various pieces of courseware to 'see what makes them tick'. This approach could be compared to pulling apart a car engine to find out how it works. As you dismantle the engine the various components, valves, pistons, the crankshaft etc, are exposed in working relationships to other the components.
Is this type of training adequate? Is it the best way to initiate a beginner into the world of IMC authoring? Is it the essential first step to developing a full complement of IMC authoring skills?
Face to face training programs
Small group training programs with instructors usually working around 8 to 10 participants are available from time to time in most Australian capital cities. These face to face training programs offer an alternative to individual self paced learning provided in user manuals or third party notes.
They offer participants the benefits of working with experienced instructors who are on the spot to answer questions and give advice. The details of what such programs offer was the subject of interviews and is reported later in this paper and presentation.
Should training involve more than just mastering the manual?
Reeves (1992) considers that all too often authoring systems are promoted to educators and trainers on the basis of their features like their "vivid graphics, creative screen dissolves or state of the art animation". He contends that what should be promoted is "the authoring system's power to implement powerful instructional interactions, monitor student progress, accommodate individual differences, or promote cooperative learning". Reeves goes on to describe 14 pedagogical dimensions that he believes has the potential to provide an improved basis for understanding and improving IMC and authoring systems.
To provide an even wider context in which to address this question I'd like to refer back to two earlier conferences. In June 1986 Apple Computer organised a conference on Interactive Multimedia in Education. In a subsequent publication (Ambron & Hooper, 1988) Kristina Hooper summarised the discussion that emerged during the conference in ten issues or questions for the future. At the First International Interactive Multimedia Symposium in January 1992 one of the keynote speakers, Alex Romiszowski, took Hooper's points as the theme of his presentation and addressed two questions: "Where have we got since that conference? Are we moving at all and in what direction?"
I'd like to use Hooper's 10 issues and some of Romiszowski's comments as starting points to explore what additional content might form part of a training program for IMC authors. The intent here is to pose questions as well as provide answers.
Can IMC contain too much interactivity? What's the optimum level and how do you balance interactivity with narrative techniques and rhetoric? Bork (1987) has suggested the ideal time between interactions as being in the order of 15 to 20 seconds and that student responses should involve more than a rapid mechanical keystroke. He suggests students should be encouraged to think rather than just react.
- What is the nature of interactivity?
While these issues fall primarily within the area of responsibility of the instructional designer of the IMC package they could easily be influenced by the IMC author and his or her concept of interactivity. Should the concept of interactivity and its implications for course design be part of an IMC authors training program?
For the IMC author the challenge here is to appreciate concepts like Hypermedia where the structure of a learning resource needs to be highly flexible yet economically viable in terms of file size and access time. They need to be aware that presenting and manipulating text and images in certain ways will influence learning outcomes. Should issues of media integration and hypermedia be part of an IMC authors training program?
- What can be done with all the imagery made possible with videodiscs and the sounds enabled by compact discs?
Romiszowski (1992) rephrases this issue as "Information databases or storytelling or what?" Will the IMC author be better equipped to carry out the job if he or she clearly understands the characteristics of the final product? What authoring difficulties are likely to be encountered in trying to develop materials that attempt to merge both modalities?
- Is the central task in the design of educational presentations to link large amounts of information? Or is it to "tell stories"?
In short what design models do we have and what do we know about their effectiveness? Should IMC authors have a basic understanding of these models so that in working with instructional designers they can better appreciate the critical elements of the learning sequences they are involved in constructing?
- What do we know from cognitive theory to mould our efforts in designing with new multimedia interactive systems?
Hooper reported that this question divided the conference participants between those who believed this element essential and those who felt it was quite inappropriate and should be avoided. Should IMC authors be encouraged to reflect upon their position and the extent to which it might influence their work?
- Are emotional presentations appropriate to education? Or should technology efforts be used primarily to present "factual data" in educational settings?
Effective communication is dependent upon a common understanding of terms and concepts. How can the learners experience be fully appreciated by those designing and developing the learning situation? How much knowledge of learning and instructional theory does an IMC author require?
- How will we best develop a language to describe the "experience" of a technology based presentation? How can we both focus on the hardware/software required for delivery of this experience and be sure that the experience is the primary motivator and criteria for developments?
This debate is still in progress. What we know is that the interface design is crucial to the success of IMC. Buttons must look like buttons and buttons must be able to be pressed. Good interface design is often simple and elegant. How do we teach IMC authors about interface design?
- Will there/should there be a standard interface to multimedia experiences? What is the appropriate metaphor for this interface? Is it the familiar desktop? The understandable spatial map? A task orientated environment? A set of research tools? A number of construction kits?
The issue of demand and market penetration of IMC is often cast in terms of the "chicken and egg " problem. The current concerted push to get more CD-ROM players into the global computer market may be the very action necessary to stimulate a rapid expansion in demand for IMC products by providing a relatively cheap and commonly available platform from which they can be run. To what extent should IMC authors be aware of global trends and developments that will affect the IMC development?
- What will it require to make presentations now quite familiar in research laboratories available to the community? Why is it seeming to take so long?
Romiszowski terms this an implementation and management issue. This is probably the one issue that falls outside the direct concern of the IMC author although of course the overall success of IMC will determine the employment demand for IMC authors so in that sense the issue is important.
- How will multimedia educational "stations" fit into schools? Or will they?
Is it the IMC author who adds to his or her competency with an authoring system, the additional knowledge of instructional design, learning theory, graphic art, and digital video and audio processing, the first of an entirely new breed of professional IMC authors? Where is the correct place for artistic expression of an author in an IMC project?
- What happens when you combine the tradition of movie making, graphic design, computer education, encyclopedia development, text publication, public television, computer workstation design, classroom teaching, library organisation, entertainment and psychology?
Authorware Professional is an object orientated authoring system. Applications are created by dragging icons onto a flowline. Each icon represents a set of instructions that Authorware performs when the file is run. It doesn't require scripts or a programming language. Instead it allows the author to create a visual representation of logic that shows how the application will respond to the end user's interactions.
Authorware Professional is used extensively in Australia to create IMC materials for use in universities, TAFE Colleges, and industry. It is currently available for both the Macintosh and Windows platforms with the ability to port Macintosh developed applications across to the Windows environment.
Through its Authorised Training Centre program, Macromedia Pacific Pty Ltd (formally Learnware Pty Ltd) has encouraged organisations to provide Authorware training. In conjunction with the Computer Based Learning Unit of the Adelaide College of TAFE training materials have been developed and distributed to Centres.
Survey and interviews
In July 1993 Macromedia Pacific Pty Ltd were approached to assist in conducting a survey of Authorware users in Australia to determine who were providing training, in what format the training was being offered and what type of equipment was being used to conduct the training. With their assistance a survey form was distributed to all registered users.
Those who responded and expressed interest in the study were contacted and interviewed in detail about the nature of the training they provided. These interviews, which are still in progress at the time this paper is being written, collected detailed information on the nature of the training programs currently available.
Workshop on multimedia training
In conjunction with the 10th Australian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education Conference, a workshop was conducted in Ballina, to explore training for IMC authors. This involved discussions about training strategies, content, evaluation methods, and post training support.
Refer to study results distributed as part of the conference presentation. Without programs to train increasing numbers of skilled courseware authors the spread and effectiveness of IMC is likely to fall well short of the expectations of educators and industry trainers.
Bork, A. (1987). Lessons for computer based learning. In D. Laurillard (Ed), Interactive Media: Working methods and practical applications, 28-43. Chichester, England: Ellis Horwood Ltd.
Ellis, A. (1992). CD-ROM production: A case history. In B. Chia, R. Pennell and R. Sims (Eds), A Future Promised, 357. Proceedings of the 1992 Conference of the Australian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, Sydney.
Hooper, K. (1988). Multimedia in education. In S. Ambron & K. Hooper (Eds), Interactive Multimedia, 316-330. Redmond, Washington: Microsoft Press.
Reeves, T. C. (1992). Effective Dimensions of Interactive Learning Systems, In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Information Technology for Training and Education, 99-113, University of Queensland: Brisbane.
Romiszowski, A. J. (1992). Developing interactive multimedia courseware and networks. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 17-46. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions.
Shane Doak, formally the Authorised Training Centre Consortium Manager for Macromedia Pacific Pty Ltd, was involved in the early stages of the study. The willingness of the various organisations providing Authorware training in Australia to participate in the survey and interviews made the study possible. Thanks also to those who participated in the Workshop held in Ballina in December 1993. Copies of the study results made available at the conference presentation are also available from the author at the address below.
|Author: Dr Allan Ellis, Faculty of Education, Work and Training, Southern Cross University, PO Box 157, Lismore NSW 2480, Australia. Tel: +61 66 203 611 Fax: +61 66 203 990 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Ellis, A. (1994). Training strategies for interactive multimedia authoring. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 136-139. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions.
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