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Development and implementation of interactive multimedia in tertiary education

Kannappa Iynkaran and Andrew Crilly
Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore
Interactive multimedia is set to change the way teachers and students approach teaching and learning. It presents a captivating method of learning for the student, and changes the role of the lecturer. The process of learning can be broken up into several categories, and multimedia packages can be tailored to approach learning along these lines. Two packages have recently been developed at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic, after several years of experimentation with basic techniques and methods of implementation. They are the Thermodynamics of Petrol Engines and the Thermodynamics of Steam Power Plant. Our students have found multimedia lecturing very useful, and say that it helps them remember concepts better. However they report that multimedia should not be a substitute for the lecturer, and they want a combination of both in the lectures.


The way in which multimedia is used depends on the learning objectives. There are four basic processes associated with learning: knowledge, comprehension, application and psychomotor skills. Knowledge welds the collection of facts into theories. Comprehension is an understanding how these facts fit together. Application refers to the actual use of the theories to solve practical problems. Psychomotor skills are those associated with the physical handling and usage of machines in the light of the knowledge gained.

Currently, knowledge is imparted mainly in lectures. The student listens to a lecturer and in the main can only ask a few questions, as he has yet to absorb what he is learning of the subjects. Tutorials reinforce this knowledge by aiding comprehension and helping the student see how the theories are applied. The students doubts may be cleared by asking the tutor and the theory bolstered by solving problems. Solving problems is crucial to the students' ability to apply the theory. Psychomotor skills are enriched in laboratory sessions and in the field. In these, the student is supposed to handle real equipment and see that the theory is confirmed or otherwise by experimental evidence. The uniqueness of the laboratory sessions and field work is that they are hands on for the student.

Using IMM information can be organised in an interesting way with video clips, animation and sound effects. It is an active way of learning as it allows a form of hands on practice. Teachers can better organise and use their time; the student can learn the simple basic theory on his own, allowing the teacher more tutorial contact hours to aid comprehension. It is suited to an audience of mixed abilities. The information is presented in several ways: the user can select his own preference. The computer can also monitor progress, allowing the student to measure his own progress. Distance learning becomes feasible due to easy transmission of software, and simple assessment methods.

The following uses of multimedia will be developed in detail: Multimedia in lectures, in tutorials, in laboratories, in testing and in distance learning/ self centred learning. The actual integration of multimedia into the syllabus and the student response to multimedia is mentioned in the last two sections. A summary of the petrol engine package is given later in the paper.


Current method of teaching

One popular choice of audio visual aids is the overhead projector (OHP) to help deliver the contents of lectures. It can become boring for the student, and so the effectiveness of the lecture is at risk. The lecturer himself often becomes tired and less enthusiastic by the end of his soliloquy. The OHP is a cumbersome device requiring the lecturer to position the transparencies, and cover the inappropriate parts with a piece of paper. It becomes difficult to refer to earlier transparencies.

Some concepts, like dynamics and many science and engineering topics present a unique problem to the lecturer as they are best explained by models and movement.

Multimedia solution

Multimedia not only presents a way of easily organising transparency material (doing away with the need for the white paper and fiddling around to get the necessary transparencies onto the OHP) but also brings many other media into play that enhances all the learning processes. For example, relevant animation and sound kindle the student's interest and make it easier for him to recall the part of the lecture associated with these media. It also acts as a kind of index to help him organise the lecture content. Animation becomes especially useful in teaching topics like the working of an engine that have to do entirely with moving parts, as we shall see later.

Video clips can give the student an insight into the practical, important ramifications of the theories being taught. They make maximum impact if they are used sparingly. They should be short and concentrate on the object being taught.

We have found that the alternative media like animation, video clips and sound should also be well spaced to prevent the student from being overwhelmed and distracted from the actual theories being taught.


Tutorials are usually the form of teacher assisted problem solving sessions that are aimed at clarifying doubts about lectures and reading materials. Typically the teacher presents a problem to the class and asks them to solve it using the methods they have learned in the lectures. He then goes around helping those having difficulties.

As each student will have different doubts, it becomes necessary for the teacher to give each student his personal attention, although in reality he is presenting the outline of the solution to varying degrees of detail in these rounds of the tutorial group. Also some students, who have greater difficulty in understanding, will take up more of the teacher's time. As a result the teacher may not be able to get round to all the students.

Multimedia solution

In the multimedia approach, the problem that was formerly introduced by the lecturer will now be presented by the computer. The student then tries to work out the problem on the screen or using paper if that is preferred by the student. The brightest students progress quickly to the solution and the computer will be of no further use, save to mark the numerical answer.

Weaker students ask the computer for help. The help can be in various stages: it can start with a general outline and appreciation of the depth of the problem, or actual formulae can be given. How they are to be used can also be specified.

We have devised a point system by which the student who requires more help from the screen will get a smaller percentage of his score as the actual mark. This not to discourage the student from using the help facility, but rather to use it sparingly. He is being encouraged to rely more on his own reasoning power. This is also the reason the guidelines start out being sketchy (providing an elementary level of help) and become more detailed as the student progresses to the solution.

As each student works at his own terminal, it is like giving personal attention to all. The teacher need only be called in case of common or unexpected difficulties. These will diminish as the program matures through use and is modified to meet the needs of the students.

It is also possible to use the point system to log the students' progress. It becomes easier for the teachers to determine which students need more help with their work.


Laboratory sessions for engineering subjects often use expensive machines and require trained technicians to maintain them. The students have to be closely supervised and errors are expensive. So students are usually given a lecture just before the laboratory session and the procedure is demonstrated. The main reasons for having laboratory sessions are to enhance the students' psychomotor skills and provide hands on experience in preparation for the real tasks of engineering in the field.

Multimedia solution

Multimedia can be used to instruct the student in the usage of the laboratory apparatus, before he even sets foot in the laboratory. The student can choose from several methods of learning, each requiring different degrees of interaction: a series of video clips showing how the experiment is done, video clips with text, animation of the procedure, and hands on simulation of the experiment by the student.

In our Petrol Engine Application he is told the objectives of the laboratory session, and then shown pictures and video clips of the actual apparatus. Then he is shown the video clips on each step of the procedure. Depending on the chosen method of learning, he can try the steps himself on a scow version of the apparatus set up by the computer. Tabulation, calculation of results and graphing them on the screen are also parts of the program application.

Trying the steps helps develop psychomotor skills as they are quite realistic on the screen. If a knob has to be turned in the actual experiment then the student will also have to turn the knob in the simulated apparatus, not just click on it. After he has been introduced to the various steps of the experiment, he is allowed to rehearse the experiment again and again until he gains confidence.

All these pre-laboratory aids ensure that there are no surprises for the student when he attempts the actual experiment, and it also gives him confidence. It also increases the efficiency of the use of resources. No time is wasted in front of the apparatus figuring out what is to be done or where to find the components. So in cases where the apparatus consumes some resource, like petrol, the reduction in idling time saves on fuel. The student is sure of what he is doing all the time. There is less risk of the student making some costly mistake that could damage the apparatus. These mistakes would have been corrected by the computer during his practise runs on the simulation.

We have found that the multimedia package achieves most of the purposes of the usual introductory lecture. The lecture can be shorter and cut down repetition, making the job of the lecturer a bit lighter.


In our program the students are also tested using the computer. This will not replace written exams but will be a complement to them in order to improve the qualities of the examiners' contributions and make their duties lighter. Multiple choice questions (MCQ) and fill in the blank questions are easily programmed. Numerical questions are a little harder but make for a more flexible system.

In MCQ, the actual position of the right answer can be easily juggled by the computer to a different position on the screen. In this way the same question will appear to be different to different students. Lengthy numerical questions need only be programmed in a sort of "shell" or logical architecture. The actual numbers can be specified in ranges, and the computer selects a number of these ranges at random. It will then use the "shell" to calculate the intermediate and final answers to be used to mark the student's answer. As these questions require detailed calculations, which cannot easily be marked by the computer, the student is asked to do them in an answer booklet. If the student does very poorly in the computerised exam, the answer booklet can be checked by the examiner and the student's working can be assessed for merit.

The number of test questions is not fixed. There can be pool of questions from which the examiner chooses a subset of the pool of questions to be used. The computer can then randomly select questions from this smaller pool to examine the students. Since each student will get his own set of questions, copying by the student is pointless. Due to the way in which the numerical questions are set up they will almost certainly have different numbers as correct answers for each student.

The examiners can select questions so that an acceptable overall result is obtained. This passing rate is based on the accumulated statistics of every question in use.

The database of questions used for the tests can also be integrated into student centred learning packages and tutorials. Even if a question that the student has already tried comes up again in the test, for the reason given above it will be different every time. As mentioned above, for MCQs the position of the answers will be different. The student who already knows the answer to a question will obviously have learnt something, and no one can be sure of all the questions in the pool.

There is a more subtle point of the whole process of testing in this way. Since similar questions will come out for tests and perhaps also the final written exams, the student is seriously motivated to attempt the questions. They really do learn by this process as the examination is never that far away from their activities on the computer.

Computer testing is also effective for continual assessment, and it is efficient for teacher too. By packaging it as part of interactive multimedia we have found that it provides motivation for using the computer in the first place.

Distance learning/ student centred learning

Before multimedia, self learning usually meant reading a book. The computer and the advent of multimedia, with its animations and video clips has changed all that in a dramatic and, we believe, quite revolutionary way. In addition, the advent of computer networks have give new life to the concept of distance learning.

Multimedia packages are often written as sub-modules and then combined to form the package. Them sub-modules can easily be detached and sent over the telephone line on request. Since only small modules are transmitted, the time to download and hence the costs of transmission are reduced. The student need not use all the modules as split in this way: the application gives the user maximum choice. Also "testing at a distance" can be implemented in the same way that computer testing is implemented at normal terminals.

As with the conventional multimedia use, the distant student is given means of self assessment through a pool of questions. He can specify the chapters he would like questions on, and he can either ask the computer to set up a mock test or just try the questions for practice. The computer can help by providing feedback.

Laboratory simulations are also incorporated into the learning package, and thus allow the student can prepare for the laboratory at home.

Integration into syllabus

The Ngee Ann Polytechnic packages have been written by persons employed specifically for this purpose. They get instructions and guidelines in developing them. The main authoring software used was Authorware Professional, with the animations being imported from the Animator Pro software. Video has been incorporated using MediaSpace.

We feel it is important to introduce multimedia into the assessment scheme as then it is taken seriously by both staff and students.

Multimedia has been gradually introduced into the syllabus, starting with only 5 % of final marks being allocated to multimedia testing in 1988, to 25% in 1993. This slow introduction made it easy to learn from mistakes along the way and to monitor the impact of multimedia on teaching. The introduction by stages into the syllabus also allowed us to plan for the labour in stages too.

The current distribution of marks for the final grade is given below.

CategoryAssessment methodWeightage
KnowledgeTwo computer tests 2x5= 10%
ComprehensionThree computer tests 3x5= 15%
Psychomotor skillsLab. Reports= 10%
ApplicationCommon Test= 15%
EvaluationSessional Exam.= 50%

Student response to multimedia

Last year a special survey was conducted to determine the response of the students to the use of multimedia in lectures, and more detailed evaluation is planned.

The preliminary results are encouraging. Students found the topic covered, which was the working of the petrol engine, easy to follow and understand, and a great improvement over conventional lectures. Most of the students agreed that the animations and video were more exciting to learn from than just diagrams in a book. They also said that the topic was memorable in multimedia format and that the presentation increased their interest in the subject.

Petrol engine multimedia package

The entire theory concerning the petrol engine takes the form of a story which is a journey of discovery. The story begins by placing the student in a car and challenging him to see whether he knows how to assess if he will make the 200 km journey ahead of him with the amount of fuel he has in the tank. What is the optimum speed? This is really a question of the efficiency of the engine, which is the practical measurement an engineer makes in the long run.

When the student presses the continue button he is shown two short video clips on the practical uses of the petrol engine: the grass cutter/ lawn mower and a busy highway.

Now suitably motivated the student is asked to decide whether he wants to learn theory, solve tutorial problems or to prepare for the laboratory session from a menu in the form of an overhead road sign showing different routes. This idea of road signs is used as a usual link throughout the package, and it reinforced; the journey of discovery idea.

Also there is an access bar at the bottom of the screw. This has buttons that allow the student to quit at any stage, go to the next or previous page, "fast forward" to the end of the current segment, to view a "map" of the entire package and from the map to choose his next part of the program. The student has complete choice of remaining materials and speedy access to them.

The package is made up of a theory module and a quiz module.

Theory module

In the theory session the parts of the piston-cylinder arrangement are introduced. The student need only to move the cursor over the part to see what each pan is called. This makes it interactive and not simply a computerised book. The student can also click on any underlined word for an explanation of the word and its context. These notions are used in almost every screen of the package. This makes the package easy to use, and our future packages will also feature them interactions. The theory portion concentrates on the knowledge part of the learning process.

The four strokes of the petrol engine are animated. Subsequent animations add to this sequence by synchronously introducing other animations, such as the drawing of the PV diagram. The relevant formulae and their derivation accompany the diagrams.

A computerised game is also presented. All the parts of the piston-cylinder arrangement are shown and the student is asked to put them together. The student clicks on the part and drags it over to the correct place. If he makes a mistake the part glides back to its original position on the table as the student is told where it should have been placed. The student can ask the computer to attach labels to the components if he is unsure of their names. Bit by bit the engine is built by the student and the end result of this interactive game is an engine that works!

Quiz module

In this section the student is first asked to select the chapters of the theory he would like to be questioned on and then the computer selects some questions at random for him.

There are 3 kinds of questions: multiple choice questions, fill in the blanks, and lengthy numerical questions. The separate purpose of these three types of question and how they achieve their objectives in the learning packages has been described above.


Iynkaran, K. & Tandy, D. J. (1990). Computer aided instruction in the teaching of thermofluid technology. Journal of Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Vol. 4.

Iynkaran, K. & Tandy, D. J. (1993). Basic thermodynamics. Prentice Hall.

Authors: Dr Kannappa Iynkaran, Mechanical Engineering Department
Dr Andrew Crilly, Educational Development Centre
Ngee Ann Polytechnic, 535, Clementi Road, Singapore 2159
Email: kai@nova.np.ac.sg

Please cite as: Iynkaran, K. and Crilly, A. (1994). Development and implementation of interactive multimedia in tertiary education. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 204-208. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/hj/iynkaran.html

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