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Multimedia applications in tertiary education

Jeff James
University of Tasmania at Launceston
In anticipation of my being involved in the research and development of computer assisted learning (CAL) applications in tertiary education, I spent the second semester of 1992 on study leave. During this time I worked at universities in Australia, the United Stages, and England. I also made short visits to various institutions, attended conferences, workshops, and seminars. I found that there is a wealth of variety and quality of educational software being developed in tertiary education and that multimedia software was the most professional and exciting of these applications.

This paper will give an overview of multimedia activity taking place in tertiary education. Mention will be made about funding commitments by universities for software development in today's climate of "quality teaching". A summary will be made of Australian grants for improvement in teaching which show that multimedia software development forms a significant component of teaching research and development. Finally, this paper will introduce the newly formed Multimedia Research and Development Group of the Department of Applied Computing & Mathematics at the University of Tasmania at Launceston.


In anticipation of my being involved in the research and development of computer assisted learning (CAL) applications in tertiary education, I spent the second semester of 1992 on study leave. During this time, I worked for one month in each of three countries: Australia, the United States, and England. I worked with individuals involved with educational software development, attended a variety of conferences and seminars, and visited individuals working in the CAL field.

I found that there is a wealth of educational software variety and quality of being developed in tertiary education and that multimedia software was the most professional and exciting of the applications.

This paper will give an overview of multimedia activity taking place in tertiary institutions visited. It will concentrate on the variety of applications but will explain in more detail about a few of these applications. Finally, it will list projects presently being undertaken at the University of Tasmania at Launceston by members of the Multimedia Research and Development Group within the Department of Applied Computing and Mathematics.


The University of Melbourne

The Interactive Multimedia Learning Unit (IMLU), located at the University of Melbourne, is part of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education in the Institute of Education. According to IMLU's mission statement, the Unit's "mission is to promote and demonstrate to the staff of the University of Melbourne the effective use of interactive multimedia as a means of improving the quality of teaching and learning" (p.4).

IMLU is involved with courseware development, training, consultancy, marketing, and research. It conducts regular meetings with software users and developers across the University to share ideas, applications, and new developments concerning multimedia software. It has the best facilities of any I saw during my study leave. The Unit recently completed a major project called Managing Continuous Improvement which is aimed at teaching total quality management in business education.

The University of Melbourne provides generous funding to multimedia projects (12 in 1992 for approximately $50,000). When I was there, the School of Science allocated $250,000 for a three year multimedia development plan.

The University of Illinois

The University of Illinois has a long and distinguished history of developing and delivering educational software. 1 worked at the Computer based Educational Research Laboratory (CERL). This is where the Plato program was developed. This program ran from the mid-1960s until the Plato name was sold to CDC in 1991. It is now called NovaNET. This network reaches all across the United States. It consists of educational software used at all levels from primary schools through to universities. It has the capability to enable instructors "...to manage locally executable courseware such as HyperCard stacks and ToolBook files" (Michael, 1992).

The University of Illinois is the National Centre for Research into Supercomputer Applications. It is also where useful software such as Telnet and Eudora were developed. The well known program Mathematica was developed there too. Furthermore, the software authoring systems TenCore and CT have roots at the University of Illinois.

Multimedia software development is prolific at the University of Illinois. I reviewed 41 research proposals for multimedia software development funding ($150 000 worth of Apple equipment, mainly Quadras). This was part of on-going support for software development. There was a similar joint venture between the University and IBM.

While visiting the University of Illinois, 1 was given multimedia demonstrations in various departments. The most notable included:

  1. sociology, where students manipulated HyperCard stacks (such as Famous Western Thinkers). The Sociology Department has a Hypermedia lab which was well equipped with Macintosh equipment.

  2. economics, where students dynamically interact with stacks, for example, specifying parameters for supply and demand curves. While this application lacks video and other memory intensive components, students need only one floppy disk to store files,

  3. chemistry, where traditional labs have been replaced with computer labs (The Chemistry Learning Centre) and students run experiments by simulation. Figure 1 (IBM, p.9) shows a typical simulated experiment.

    Figure 1

    Figure 1: A typical chemistry "experiment"

    Students are able to conduct experiments in a clean, safe, efficient environment. Obvious benefits include cost savings for chemicals, breakage, waste, safety, and time. IBM platforms running in house programs, using Photomotion (IBM's QuickTime), run the simulations. The School of Chemical Sciences has been a leader in using interactive multimedia simulations. Computer labs and traditional 'wet' labs exist next door to each other. The computer labs are more popular with students than the traditional ones. The interactive computer experiments replace one half of wet lab work. They are used by all undergraduate students of this large university (2000 first year chemistry students).

  4. computer engineering where the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering uses HyperCard stacks for circuit analysis tutorials. Student record keeping facilities are included.

  5. architecture, where multimedia software is being developed to supplement lectures. Dr Helen Kuznetsov who works at CERL has developed a package which aids in the teaching of structural stability. The package displays two windows at a time, one for the inside of a building, the other for the outside (see Figure 2).

    Figure 2

    Figure 2: Display of a part of a building from both the inside and outside

    The student clicks on "hot spots", and the lecturer's voice explains about the building's construction, complete with colour graphics overlays.

    Dr Kuznetsov uses the AVC authoring system. She has found that software development is far easier using two computer systems, one for audio and the other for video. Versions for both Macintosh and IBM run from the NovaNET network.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Mike Shiffer, who works at MIT, has developed multimedia software which performs a complete urban area analysis.

The user can zoom in on a particular area and get zoning information and population patterns. Flight patterns can be overlaid on a map and the user can hear aeroplane noise (see Figure 3). Property values versus noise level can be inspected (eg, 4% of the population will be angered by the aircraft sound and property values will decrease by 1.4%).

Figure 3

Figure 3: Flight path analysis (Lang, 1992, p27)

The user can "drive" along streets and see movies of traffic flow at different times of the day (see Figure 4). Proposed buildings can be analysed. For example, shadows can be seen as the seasons change and the hours pass. Narration about the building is available. The platform used was a Quadra with 120 MB hard disk and 90 MB hard disk cartridge, running SuperCard and using QuickTime.

Figure 4

Figure 4 Another multi-window urban analysis screen (Lang, 1992, p28)

The package is used both for teaching in the Urban Studies and Planning Department, and for outside consulting.

University of Surrey

The Centre for Engineering Educational Technology (CEET) at the University of Surrey "...exists to develop and implement new and innovative ways of enhancing the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning in engineering" (CEET, p1). According to the Director of CEET Dr Tony Cartright, all first year electrical engineering lectures are computer based.

Figure 5

Figure 5: Dr Tony Cartright and students (CEET, p2)

There has also been a 66% savings in staff costs in mechanical engineering tutorials. The development of multimedia software was made possible by a grant of over 200,000 pounds from "VC" funds with the promise to match any research funds.

All software is Macintosh based. Development tools include CT, Mathematica, and HyperCard controlling LabView.

CAUT grants

Multimedia software development in Australian tertiary institutions is being promoted by the availability of government research grants. The Committee for the Advancement of University Teaching (CAUT) awards grants for projects which will improve teaching in Australian universities. Of the successful 1993 national teaching development projects, a large number were for computer software development. Table 1 summarises successful grants by broad disciplines, indicating the number of grants for multimedia projects (m), non-multimedia computer applications (c), and other applications (o). From the table, it can be seen that computer oriented projects account for 43% of the total with 16% of all grants being for multimedia software development.

Humanities, Social Studies, Education, Arts 621826
Sciences, Engineering, "Built Environment", Maths, Computing 9233769
Dentistry, Medicine, Health Sciences 24713
Business, Administration, Economics, Law 34714
% 162757100

Table 1: CAUT grants (CAUT, 1993)

University of Tasmania

At the beginning of 1993, the Department of Applied Computing and Mathematics has formed the Multimedia Research and Development Group (MmRDG), one of three research groups in the Department. It consists of ten members (including one "Facilitator" and two co-Chairs).

The major overall objective of the group is the production of high quality, interactive multimedia educational software. Members review and circulate articles, give software/hardware demonstrations, disseminate information from conferences, etc. Furthermore, MmRDG acts as a forum for demonstrating work in progress, and assessing grants proposals, and reviewing publications and conference papers written by members.

The research group has received generous support from the Department in the form of multimedia work stations and a $5000 allowance for journals. Already, one national grant application has been successful.

Topics of projects currently under production include:

  1. educational simulations generator,
  2. menu driven multimedia lecture presentation tool,
  3. drill qua drill software for quick response drills,
  4. information kiosks,
  5. collaborative work:


The applications listed in this paper are by no means exhaustive. It was intended to supply a snapshot of some multimedia work taking place in tertiary institutions in three countries. What is apparent is the intensity of work being carried out and the diversity of subject areas where CAL is applied. Furthermore, there is a commitment being shown by institutions to aid developers.

The formation of multimedia groups within universities is a healthy indicator of staff commitment to developing high quality CAL materials. From the point of view of someone who has been involved in educational computing for over 15 years, multimedia environments are providing exciting and dynamic opportunities for computer education.


Committee for the Advancement of University Teaching (CAUT), Australian Department of Employment, Education and Training. Improving university teaching: 1993 National Teaching Development Projects. March 1993.

IBM. Computer assisted interactive videodisc lessons support and supplant chemistry lab experiments. Academic Information Systems Instructional Brief.

Lang, Laura. (1992). GIS comes to life. Computer Graphics World, October, 27-36.

Michael, Mary Ellen. (Ed). (1992). Division of Educational Technologies, University of Illinois, Instructional Microcomputing Newsletter, 7(7).

University of Melbourne, Centre for the Study of Higher Education (1991). Strategic Plan: Interactive Multimedia Learning Unit 1991-1994.

University of Surrey, Centre for Engineering Educational Technology. Information pamphlet.

Author: Jeff James, Department of Applied Computing & Mathematics, University of Tasmania at Launceston.

Please cite as: James. J. (1994). Multimedia applications in tertiary education. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 209-213. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/hj/james.html

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