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Interactive video and interactive multimedia in higher education in Singapore: A case study

Justus H Lewis
Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore
Peter J Hosie
Instructional Design and Evaluation Australia (IDEA), Western Australia
In an earlier paper Hosie (1993) reviewed the research on the use of Interactive Videodisc (IVD) in training contexts. This paper extends the scope of the review to include additional material and to consider the implications of these findings for the use of interactive multimedia in higher education. The perspectives of three main groups of stakeholders are considered - managers, teachers and students. Some of the factors relating to the needs and interests of these groups, which contribute to the successful use of interactive videodisc and multimedia in higher education, are examined. Singapore is taken as a case study because of its commitment both to technology and education and in particular, to the use of high technology in education.


Interactive multimedia (IMM) appears to hold great promise for education. But although it has made a considerable impact in training applications, (Yardley, 1993), and has demonstrable educational benefits (Bosco & Wagner, 1988; Netta & Staub, 1988; Fletcher, 1990; Muller & Leonetti, 1992), it is yet to be widely adopted in higher education. Hosie (1993) reviewed the research findings on the use of interactive videodisc (IVD) in training contexts and concluded that "New courseware designs, which do not rigidly structure learner responses, need to be explored to complement this medium of instruction. Successful adoption of IVD depends on developing quality courseware which takes into account the unique attributes of the technology". The present paper extends the scope of this previous research to include IMM and to consider specifically the context of higher education. It also reflects on some of the personal and organisational factors that affect the use of IMM in higher education. Finally, Singapore, a country committed to the use of advanced technology, is cited as a case study.

IVD and IMM as educational innovations

Computer based instruction has been around for at least two decades and interactive multimedia is its most recent permutation (Gillespie, 1993). Hansen (1989) describes five dimensions by which interactive media are typically judged: Interactive video adds the dimension of physical realism of film images and sound. By contrast, many of the new technologies such as CD-ROMs "are storage and display media that can effectively be used for information display and retrieval" (Alexander, Whittingham & Peppard, 1993, pp18-23, Gillespie, 1993, p25).

As we move from storage and retrieval of information to interactive multimedia, the emphasis shifts from teacher driven control to student driven control. This moves the process from "information w~ to "integrated information for learning" (Potter & Chickering, 1991, p13). The addition of still am moving visual images becomes one aspect of the computer integrated package with which the learner interacts. With the advent of increasingly sophisticated hypermedia hardware and software, which allow users freedom to browse and navigate through information according to individual interests, learners are increasingly able to use the medium to a mode of self expression, understanding and d~ interpretation (Turner & Dipinto, 1992, Lemke, 1993).

Student balance and control by over learning strategy and content is important. IVD and IMM, for example, can provide a vast information base which is quite different from that available from a computer alone. The more information available, the greater the flexibility in combining sequences. Encouraging individual routes through information assists students to become more actively involved in the learning process.

This in turn requires teachers to adopt a different view of their role in facilitating learning. This may involve changes in attitude and the acquisition of a number of new skills. This strategy calls for a different mix of resources and in turn places demands on the administration system. This may lead to a fresh look at the organisational structures which support the teaching and learning process.

Models of changing

Ibsen and Lewis (1993, pp 453-54) distinguish four stages in the innovation process: IMM in higher education currently fits into the implementation stage of being used but not yet regarded as a regular and integral part of the teaching and learning process. As in any systemic approach to understanding a process, there is an ongoing iterative cycle. Although IMM is in the implementation stage in any particular context, it may, for example, have reached that stage by virtue of being seen as "keeping up with current developments in technology" rather than as a need to satisfy learner requirements. In other words, at different stages of the process, different sets of needs may be identified and addressed and it is necessary to monitor the process closely to identify when a fresh assessment of needs may be required. Ibis is particularly important in the case of IMM because the technology is continually developing and demands considerable investment of money and time.

Another aspect of needs analysis is consideration of the context in which the innovation is being introduced. This involves taking into account not only the needs of potential users of the innovation, but also the needs of non-users who may be affected by the innovation. This in turn means that the organisations and the important sub-groups within these organisations should be consulted. How will subject specialists who deem their subject to be less suitable for an IMM approach be affected? What are the likely global effects on the curriculum? What effect will this have on the allocation of resources?

Szabo, (1992, p7) distinguishes three phases in the process of introducing an educational innovation (the phase of implementation, identified by Ibsen and Lewis):

"New problems" or adaptations of existing trends, may be generated from a variety of sources, including the widespread adoption of the innovation itself. In the context of higher education, IMM may be regarded as one of a number of tools which can be used to address the current interest m making formal education more learner centred and learner controlled.

The most challenging aspect of managing any innovative process relates to the human factors involved. Aldridge (1977) and Rogers (1962) identify five social factors which affect acceptance of an innovation.

Perspectives on change

Three important groups within higher education are the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Heads of Faculties and Departments, the academic teaching staff, and the students. Each of these have different needs and concerns and these may vary at different stages of the innovation process.


CEOs, and to a lesser extent Deans of Faculties and Heads of Departments are under pressure to scan the environment for new trends and to be seen to be keeping abreast of the latest developments. They may focus on the competitive advantages for their organisations of adopting a particular innovation. This includes considerations of cost effectiveness and of 'positioning' relative to other educational institutions within the business and social community. Other issues include matters relating to whether students will learn more, retain more learning and develop into creative problem solving graduates who will satisfy the requirements of the private and public sector organisations which eventually employ them. From the CEO's perspective, what reasons can be given for supporting IMM?

A review of the literature (Brandt, 1986) identified a number of situations where the use of IVD should be considered for a training delivery system. These situations appear relevant to IMM. They are:

Muller and Leonetti (1992, p. 17) have summarised the advantages of using IVD for instruction. These also apply to the use of IMM. The above criteria meet a management need to provide appropriate ongoing skills based training to a rapidly changing population that is widely scattered within a changing work environment. This is not surprising because most of these studies were conducted in business and military establishments. In such environments there are often large numbers of students with varying levels of literacy, scattered geographically and requiring periodic recurrent training in specific and changing skills. When the skills required are psychomotor based, the visual component of IVD and IMM becomes an important element. In matters relating to induction of new staff and safety considerations, IVD and IMM provide a platform which ensures that all personnel receive the same message in a clear and easily remembered format. In management training IVD and IMM provide a platform for demonstration and discussion of simulations, case studies and role plays.

Most of the factors listed above also apply to higher education although the characteristics of the Students population, the time frames and teaching constraints may be very different.

The student's viewpoint

Kearsly (1983, p.14) observes that computers have certain advantages in instructional settings, such as allowing students to learn at their own pace and accommodating individual learning styles, resulting in increased student satisfaction and more student control over learning materials and learning processes. Wilson (1987) reported that students prefer: As the completion of higher education becomes partt of the expectations of the population rather than the province of an elite, selection becomes more competitive and more students are studying subjects which are not their first choice. This is another example of a "new problem" with which higher education is currently faced. Given a subject in which students have little or no intrinsic interest, the teaching may be perceived as boring and difficult to understand despite the best efforts of teachers. The use of IMM may provide both students and teachers with variety and additional motivation. A well designed IMM package which combines the visual stimulation of moving and still images along with the interactive capabilities of computer technology way ensure uniformity of teaching, which is particularly valuable where repetition is involved. By providing students with regular feedback on progress, interest in the subject nay be more readily generated and sustained.

However, individual learner preferences are an important factor in the design of any learning and many learners prefer to interact with a live teacher. It is becoming much easier, from the technology viewpoint, for the teacher to create multimedia presentations for the lecture theatre, tutorial and workshop. The distinction between authoring, presentation and word processing software is becoming increasingly blurred as new and more sophisticated versions of software are issued. The software and hardware are available and teachers can acquire the skills to use them. As students become more sophisticated and demanding in their expectations, the challenge passes back to the management to provide the rooms, equipment and technical expertise to service such developments and to ensure that they are being used, not only in a way that demonstrates technical quality, but which also ensures educational excellence.

The teacher's viewpoint

Teachers may have yet another set of concerns. In the context of higher education, they are in the firing line, the "meat in the sandwich", in a way that does not apply to their trainer counterparts in industry.

Managers at the policy end of the educational process and students at the learning end are in a more flexible position. The former have, in theory at least, some freedom to influence and modify the system: the latter are in the position of responding to what the system offers. It can present itself to them in ways which encourage either dependence or independence. Teachers, in contrast, are in the middle, the ones who are both implementers and products of the system. They enter teaching, whether formally trained or not, with expectations generated over a lifetime; they have to operate as teachers within the existing constraints of the resources available in terms of rooms (for example, size, layout, equipment, availability), class sizes and contact hours, course design and student population. They are subject to the pressures both of the management and the students. If IMM is to "catch on" with teachers, it must be presented in a way which not only supports their own professional skill development, but is also perceived as having the active support, encouragement and reward of management and acceptance by their students. A tall order!

Singapore as a case study

Singapore is unique. It has a highly urbanised population and a strong, centralised government committed to productivity and to ensuring the advancement of the economy and maintenance of the existing relatively high living standards. In its 28 years of existence, much of its rapid progress has come from the systematic application of technology. Aldridge (1993, p.64) notes that by the year 2000 it will become "the first country in the world that will have complete fibre optic communication capabilities for every household, business, institution and government office. It means instantaneous communication via digitised linkages with every computer, telephone, and other transparent technologies within this decade."

Because of its 'entrepot' status and a relatively large floating professional population, it is potentially open to influences from outside. It also sees itself as a leader and pace setter, distributing ideas and providing leadership to other ASEAN nations. As a frugal nation it is extremely conscious of the value of its human resources and puts great emphasis on education. It also faces a continuing labour shortage and an aging workforce in the next few years (Ku, 1992). In all of these respects, it appears a country ripe for the integration of an interactive multimedia approach into its educational system.

Higher education in Singapore includes two universities and four polytechnics. The polytechnics, because of their brief to service business and industry, have a keen competitive interest in all applications of technology including education. The universities, on the other hand, are less likely to seek to demonstrate their excellence through the application of technology to teaching and learning. Aldridge (1993, p.68) cites the unique role "that the polytechnic can play in areas where industry, business, professionals, researchers and technicians come together to generate sound practice and theory for attaining educational knowledge, skills and performance objectives to meet manpower needs." As IMM becomes an increasingly preferred method for training delivery in industry it is likely that the polytechnics, which are specifically geared to preparing students for business and industrial life, will follow industry's lead and increasingly integrate IMM into their regular teaching routines.

The role of the polytechnics in relation to the secondary schools should not be overlooked. The secondary schools provide the students for the polytechnics and much effort is expended in school liaison activities in forging links between them institutions. One aspect of this is the giving of assistance to schools in the use of IMM.


The emphasis on meeting manpower needs is the key to understanding how IMM is likely to be developed and applied. Manpower needs are more likely to occur in the areas of business and industry rather than the teaching profession. Because of this, and because of the nature of the training context which we have considered above, IMM development is likely to be encouraged within higher education, and particularly polytechnic education, but IMM as a delivery platform, seems more likely to be widely used in non-educational sectors of the community. IMM development is a resource intensive activity that requires adequate funding to allow developers time to do the job. This funding is likely to come from industry, encouraged by the polytechnics because of the perceived benefits of encouraging staff to remain current in their skills and knowledge of current practice in their specialist areas.

On the other hand, there is emerging evidence of encouragement to develop multimedia for teaching purposes within higher education, but given the restraints that apply universally to educational institutions, it is unlikely, except in rare instances, to provide the funding which would allow academic staff in general to do much more than access the technology. One of the first avenues of access is likely to be the lecture theatre. Given the existence of large and well equipped classrooms, and the extensive use of overhead transparencies (OHTs) in teaching, it becomes not only fairly straightforward technically to produce these OHTs on computer, this is a development that potentially simplifies and enhances the teacher's work in the classroom as a sophisticated replacement for OHPs. One major technical drawback which is still to be surmounted in this area is that, unlike OHTs which can be shown under normal lighting conditions, computer generated visuals require the room to be darkened for maximum clarity. They are thus more like slides than transparencies. Slides are appropriately used when there is a need for students to observe and form a mental picture in fine detail. They are not always the most appropriate medium for the simple emphasis of key points and concepts when learning may be best enhanced through student note taking.

This limited access in the lecture theatre, however, can have major spinoffs. One of these is to familiarise staff with the potential of the technology and start the process of thinking about the next stages of application. It will also enable teachers to use the technology with students, who will start their working lives with this "tacit knowledge".

IMM also has a role in the generation of test questions and the monitoring of student performance which can relieve teachers of much routine drudgery. They can provide students with immediate, quality feedback, a key factor in improving performance.

How do these considerations apply to higher education in Singapore?

The compact size and stable centralised government of Singapore, coupled with its highly competitive, technology aware population, suggests that here. if anywhere, the higher educational IMM developer is likely to find the resources and environment to support the development of interactive multimedia in such a way that individual institutions of higher education and Singapore as a whole, will continue to set the pace for this technology.

This paper uses some material published earlier in the Singapore Journal of Education, 13(2). The authors thank the editor of the SJE for allowing them to republish it here.


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Authors: Dr Justus H Lewis
Head, Consultancy and Training Section
Ngee Ann Polytechnic, 535, Clementi Rd, Singapore 2159.
Fax/Tel. 65 469 8110 Email: dibsen@solomon.technet.sg

Mr Peter J Hosie
Director, Instructional Design and Evaluation
Australia (IDEA), Western Australia

Please cite as: Lewis, J. H. and Hosie, P. J. (1994). Interactive video and interactive multimedia in higher education in Singapore: A case study. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 284-289. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/km/lewis.html

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