IIMS 94 contents
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Interactive multimedia and thinking: A report on research in progress

Bill Patching, Lyn Henderson and Ian Putt
James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville
This paper reports on partial data gained on practising teachers' thinking as they interacted with a professional development interactive multimedia (IMM) courseware package. The data were gained from 11 participating teachers via stimulated recall interviews. Two types of thinking skills are detailed and discussed. The first type are those mediating processes engaged in by teachers during study sessions that related to the academic and professional content of the IMM package. The second type are those mediating processes reported by teachers that related to instructional design aspects of the IMM courseware. These data were used to develop a classification system that provides a conceptualisation of the major components, as perceived by the participating teachers, that relate to instructional design.


Information gained about the effectiveness of interactive multimedia (IMM) computer based courseware for learning is directly dependent on the research paradigm used for actioning that information. In effect, moves to investigate what and how students learn when using IMM courseware need to reflect developments in research on teaching which, for about the last 15 years, have undergone a fundamental reconceptualisation. Disillusionment with the process-product research paradigm as applied to teaching effectiveness research, so influential during the 1960s and a substantial part of the 1970s, stemmed, in part, from its basic assumption that teaching processes give rise directly to learning outcomes, and that students are passive recipients of instructional processes. That paradigm has given way to ones based on new conceptions about the functional relationship between instruction and learning. Over the past decade or so, the mediating process paradigm (Doyle, 1977; Shulman, 1986) has been influential in providing a new focus to the teaching effectiveness research enterprise. This paradigm, together with ensuing modifications and variations, directs attention to student thought processes that mediate or come between instructional stimuli and learning outcomes. One area of research based on this paradigm has involved the study of students' mediating or cognitive processes as they study text.

Previous studies conducted by two of the authors (Marland, Patching, Putt, & Store, 1984; Marland, Patching, & Putt, 1992) have been concerned with identifying those thought processes used by distance learners studying text. The present investigation is concerned with identifying those mediating processes activated by learners as they study IMM courseware materials. This focus was seen by the authors as being especially timely, with a burgeoning of instructional electronic technologies available to learners. It is readily recognised that learning does not automatically occur as a direct result of the ever increasing sophistication of computers and other educational technologies used for transmitting information. Rather, learning is related to the thinking undertaken by learners. That is, learning outcomes are a function of the mediating processes activated by instructional tasks and other learning activities. Given this, the authors maintain that there is a need for less concern about the development of "bigger and better" technologies per se, and greater emphasis on learner thinking which results from interacting with instructional materials. More specifically, this paper is a progress report on a study designed to map the thinking skills engaged in by practising teachers whilst studying a professional development IMM package on social justice and education. Two types of thinking skills are detailed. These are:

  1. those mediating processes engaged in by teachers during study sessions that related to the academic and professional content of the social justice package; and

  2. those mediating processes reported by teachers that related to instructional design aspects of the IMM courseware. These data were used for the development of a classification system that provides a conceptualisation regarding the major components, as perceived by the participating teachers, that relate to instructional design.

Contextualising the study

Most of the existing research data regarding the efficacy of computer based learning systems are anchored m the process product paradigm, with particular emphasis on the link between instructional courseware and student learning outcomes. For example, Salomon, Globerson, and Guterman (1989) looked at the learning outcomes of rhetorical metacognitive prompts in CBL; Thornberg and Pea (1991) examined two software programs in terms of the problem solving and reasoning strategies displayed by the users in tests taken after use of the programs; and Krendl and Lieberman (1988) looked at learning outcomes and strategies used by different sized groups, comprising one to four persons, in CBL. There is a dearth of documentation on the cognitive processing undertaken by students as they study IMM courseware. In fact, very little is known at all about the thought processes of students whilst they are engaged in computer based instruction.

Of necessity, the context of the present study is informed, not by the research literature associated with IMM, but by findings in the related area of studying from text; specifically about student thinking while processing text during actual study sessions. This information about student thinking is of vital importance to those involved in instructional design. For example, in the literature on distance learners' processing of text, evidence is mounting that shows discrepancies exist between the processing strategies that students use and those they should use or are expected to use in line with instructional designer anticipations (Marland, Patching, Putt, & Putt, 1990).

Many reasons have been promoted to account for these discrepancies. For instance, Reeve, Palincsar, and Brown (1987) claim that poor metacognitive skills contribute to student failure to '...distinguish between those skills needed for everyday thinking and those skills needed for academic thinking' (p.123). They refer also to pathologies in human thinking such as biases, erroneous intuitions and unsound generalising. Gibbs, Morgan, and Taylor (1982) consider that surface level thinking skills may be induced by in text questions which fixate student attention on specific facts rather than broad understandings, while Dahlgren (1978) identifies the demands and complexity of the overall curriculum as a reason why students adopt a survival mentality and a surface approach to study. More recently, Lockwood (1990) has found that another possible reason for the discrepancies referred to above is the mismatch between designer rhetoric or espoused theory about how to write text and actual practice.

These explanations have possible implications about how students think when studying material incorporated in IMM courseware. Courseware content in IMM is presented through text, colour, sound, animation, moving and still pictures, question-answer-feedback activities, time (when these components are brought onto the screen through programmed or free learner control) and space (placement on the screen), and combined in a that should provide users with multi-sensory pathways to knowing. The absence of such research data provided one motive for the current study; but the authors also held the view that research into student thinking while studying could well disclose other aspects of how students process IMM courseware which IMM instructional designers might be able to apply.

The IMM instructional courseware package in the present study is entitled Social Justice Explored (White, 1992). It is a professional development package designed to raise teachers' awareness of social justice and equity issues in school contexts. The package involves participants' interacting with the computer IMM package and minimal text materials, and then conducting some practical tasks in their classroom and school. The data gathered in the study focussed only on participant-computer interactions.


The current study adopts the research paradigm used previously by two of the authors in their investigation of mediating processes used by tertiary distance learners whilst studying individually from text (Marland et al, 1992). These mediating processes are the mental processes which mediate or come between perusal of instructional materials and learning outcomes. Mediating processes can be viewed m the fine grained elements of cognition through which and by which learning outcomes are realised. This paradigm involved a commitment to small-N research studies in natural settings and the development of grounded theory about learning from textual materials. Access to students' mediating processes was gained by stimulated recall interviews in which video recordings of study behaviours were used in post study interviews to stimulate recall of thinking while studying from text.

In the study reported in this paper, the same mediating process paradigm was used but the subjects were studying through IMM rather than from text. In the previous study, students worked through the text alone and were interviewed individually. In do present study, the subjects were video taped while working at the computer in groups from two to four. Access to their mediating processes was obtained using stimulated recall interviews which were conducted as a group. The video records of groups at work contained aural cues (mostly intra-group discussion) and two types of visual cues: (i) relating to the actual content being studied, to the characteristics of IMM, and to the instructional devices embedded in the IMM courseware; and (ii) non-verbal cues.

Each group was video taped for one half hour session working at the computer on the first of five units in the social justice IMM package. The stimulated recall interview, which was conducted immediately after the study session, was audio taped for later transcription and analysis. Because of faulty video equipment, one stimulated recall interview was conducted by having the teachers review the IMM screens directly from the computer. Stimulated recall interviewing requires strict adherence to guidelines developed over long experience with the technique (Marland, 1984). In stimulated recall sessions with the IMM learners in this study, the principal role of the interviewer was to facilitate teacher recall of their thinking while studying the content of the social justice package and interacting with the IMM courseware, and to assist verbalisation of these thoughts.

The subjects, who were a volunteer sample of 11 practicing teachers (four of whom were also principals), came from four small primary schools in a rural district in North Queensland. There were eight female teachers (two of whom were principals) and three male teachers (two of whom were principals) in the sample. All had undertaken major professional development programs sponsored by their employer either in face to face or in a distance mode but none through IMM.

Data analysis

Data reported in this study were obtained from four interviews conducted immediately after the first study session on the computer. Further data were collected immediately after the last unit of study on the computer and are in the process of analysis but are not reported in this paper.

The transcripts were analysed by two of the researchers and the third then verified their findings. Where disagreement occurred, consensus was arrived at through group discussion. Data analysis embraced the following six steps:

  1. Verbal data which were considered invalid (for example, as a result of a leading question from the interviewer) were identified and discarded so that they would receive no further consideration.

  2. The remaining verbal data were classified as either interactive (that is, occurring while studying on the computer) or non-interactive (that is, occurring during the interview but not during the study session) mediating processes.

  3. Interactive data were analysed to identify, where possible, individual mediating processes reported to be engaged in while studying the content of the IMM Social Justice courseware.

  4. Each mediating (thought) process was classified according to the system used by Marland et al (1992).

  5. Interactive and non-interactive data were analysed to identify those mediating processes related to the instructional design of the IMM courseware. The non-interactive data were elicited by the interviewer asking direct questions regarding the learner's thoughts and feelings about the instructional design.

  6. The mediating processes identified in (5) were categorised according to a classification system grounded in the data. This system was generated after giving cognisance to the literature on instructional design and delivery of IMM.

Results and analysis

Data on mediating processes while studying the content

Frequencies for each type of mediating process reported by students in each group were tallied. Of the 19 mediating processes identified and defined in Marland et al, (1992), 13 were evidenced in the present study. It is important to note that these categories were grounded in data and not generated 'a priori' from theory or prescriptions about how students should learn from text. Only those mediating processes discussed at some length in this paper will be defined, and then only at appropriate points in the text. The 13 mediating processes and their frequency of occurrence for each of the four groups are presented in Table 1. The data reveal the following:
  1. The mean number of mediating processes per person reported during the study session was 12.9. This is approximately one thought that is related to the content of the program every 2.3 minutes of study time.

  2. The average number of mediating processes per person showed considerable variation across the four groups. These ranged from 7.0 to 22.0. The data show that the number of mediating processes appears to vary inversely as the number of people in a group. The lowest number of mediating processes per person (7.0) occurred in the group containing four people while the two highest values of 22.0 and 15.5 occurred in groups with two people.

  3. There is a wide variation in the frequency of occurrence of the identified mediating processes. These range from 0.7% for 'confirming' and 'imaging' to 21.1% for 'metacognition'.
The variation in occurrence of the 13 mediating processes is displayed in Table 2 by categorising the frequencies into four levels (very high, high, low, very low) and applying the same cut-off figures as those used by Marland et al (1992). Included in Table 2 are the data on the 13 mediating processes used by the teachers in the Marland et al (1992) study.

Table 1: Categories and frequency of mediating processes related to content

Mediating Process Group 1
(n = 3)
Group 2
(n = 2)
Group 3
(n = 4)
Group 4
(n = 2)
(n = 11)(%)
Analysis 2205(3.5)
Recalling 13611(7.8)
Confirming 01001 (0.7)
Generating 01034 (2.8)
Imaging 01001 (0.7)
Linking 1141319 (13.4)
Metacognition 41061030 (21.1)
Strategy planning 20103 (2.1)
Evaluation 497222 (15.5)
Deliberation 21003 (2.1)
Affective 485522 (15.5)
Anticipation 422513 (9.2)
Comparing 52018 (5.6)
Total 39442831142(100)
Mean number of mediating processes per person

Table 2: Mediating processes grouped according to frequency range

Frequency (f) %Mediating Processes
Social Justice Explored
Mediating Processes
BEd (In-service) (Marland et al)
V high (f > 10) metacognition(21.1)ametacognition(12.4)


strategy planning(16.8)
High (5.3 < f < 10) anticipation(9.2)anticipation(5.9)



Low (3 < f < 5.3) analysis(3.5)


V low (f < 3) generating(2.8)

strategy planning(2.1)




a the number in parentheses is the percentage frequency

The data in Table 2 reveal the following. Four mediating processes, namely metacognition, evaluation, affective, and linking, have the highest frequencies. Three of these, metacognition, evaluation, and linking also rated as a very high frequency in the Marland et al (1992) study. The additional mediating process that rates very high in the present study was affective.

Data on mediating processes relating to the instructional design of the IMM courseware

Based on the interactive and non interactive mediating processes provided by teachers related to the instructional design features of the IMM courseware, a classification system comprising eight major categories was developed by the research team. A brief description of these major categories together with their sub-categories and the frequency of occurrence of each is presented in Table 3. The classification provides a framework for documenting students' perceptions about a range of facets of instructional design in IMM.

Table 3 shows that the teachers generated 114 mediating processes related to the instructional design. The highest frequencies were for cooperative learning (sub-category: individual versus group) and global impressions of the IMM sessions. With respect to the former, there was general consensus in favour of small group learning over individual use of the computer. Nevertheless, comments about group an suggest that the optimum group size is two. Their perceptions are supported by the data on the mean number of mediating processes per person displayed in Table 1. Global impressions reflect, in the main, students' positive perceptions about the program. In summary, they felt that it generated discussion amongst group members, clarified and promoted awareness of their own ideas, and enabled them to reflect on their own thinking.

Table 3: A classification of the major categories and sub-categories
of the teachers' cognitions relating to IMM courseware

Categories of
Sub-categories and frequencies of mediating processes relating to each subcategoryExamples of sub-categories from the data
Learner control and access
Refers to students' control over their navigation through the IMM courseware. This takes into account ease of access and the degree of user friendliness.
a) clarity of requirements (2)

b) constraints of the software (1)

c) constraints of the IMM courseware (8)

d) program pacing (8)

e) screen interface design (1)

f) awareness of the navigation system (1)
a) lack of information on what to type in to get the program started
b) inability to change answers after exiting the interaction without going back into the interaction
c) 'we would have liked to get out of the introduction easier ...maybe that's a bad thing. I don't know'.
d) 'I thought it was a little bit too slow'; '...at one page ...the box actually faded before I'd finished reading'.
e) 'all the commands are on the bottom ...usually with the Mac it is at the top and you get used to it'.
f) 'We didn't consider going back and changing anything. I knew we could but I didn't give it a thought'.
Interaction formats
Refers to the instructional design of various question- answer- feedback activities
a) clarity of the instructional task (7)

b) suitability of the instructional task (7)

c) feedback (2)
d) design features (6)
a) 'I couldn't figure out what it meant ...the instructions weren't very clear at that part'.
b) 'but why make everybody go through a process like that. That's something not realistic. Even the examples were negative';
'It's good in that it makes you aware ...that's the point'.
c) student anticipated consistent feedback
d) The size answer box was too limited for the answers needed.
Cooperative learning
Refers to instructional methods and usage in which learners work together in pairs or small groups.
a) individual versus group learning (13)

b) size of the group (6)
a) 'If I was by myself I would have read more slowly'; 'I like the collegial situation very much'.
b) 'We would have got through a lot quicker with a smaller group'; 'Four are too many - it's too slow. I think pairs is about it'.
Characteristics of IMM
Refers to the available programming attributes in IMM software.
a) pictures (5)
b) colour (4)

c) sound (6)

d) animation (1)

e) space/time (1)
a) suitability and clarity.
b) appropriate mix of colours. 'Colour made the screen attractive'.
c) suitability of background music and voice overs; 'variety of sound was good'.
d) 'I like the way the words came across the screen'.
e) appropriateness of the linear and temporal appearance of text.
Learner perception of the computer
Refers to the instructional role students assign to the computer.
a) computer as an authority figure (6)

b) acknowledges the role of the instructional developer (3)

c) computer as collaborator (1)
a) 'It's only because the machine wants you to say that' (personifies the computer and assigns it the instructional power of the teacher).
b) 'We were trying to guess what was in the organiser's mind'. (Focussing on what the lecturer as opposed to what the computer requires).
c) 'We are really interacting with the computer here.. it's almost a triangular situation'. (Interaction between student, computer courseware and lecturer).
Refers to aspects of the designer's approach to the learning task.
a) use of reinforcement (1)

b) constructivist (3)

c) encourages learner self-awareness (3)

d) sequencing of content (1)
a) need for positive reinforcement in the program
b) 'I liked the way it's not just telling me that this is social justice, this is what you do. I like the way it is trying to got me to say what is that I think and how I feel and how I treat people'.
c) 'It's raising our awareness. We are being forced to consider buried biases or prejudices, thoughts, or feelings about the children that we teach'.
d) 'The content that we did cover was very in-sync. It followed on well and flowed well'.
Global impressions
Refers to the students' overall comments on the IMM courseware
(12) 'The screens promoted conversation. You really do interact'; 'A really good way of raising our awareness'.
Miscellaneous comments
Refers to general comments concerning computer literacy and confidence in using the computer.
(5) 'I was very intent on proving that I could use the mouse'; 'I quite enjoyed doing the typing part'.

TOTAL mediating processes = 114

Four other areas that attracted relatively high reference by participants concerned constraints of the courseware (8) and program pacing (8) to do with learner control and access, and clarity of instructional task (7) and suitability of instructional task (7) with respect to interaction formats.

With reference to constraints of the courseware, it appears that students want to be able to use the courseware like they would a printed text. They wanted to be able to skip over or exit from the introduction in order to get on with the rest of the program. This suggests the need for a flexible, non-linear design for the courseware so that students can browse through the package as they would skim through a printed text.

In the sub-category, program pacing, some teachers found the courseware slow at times. This may result from the slow speed at which screens change when large amounts of memory are needed for pictures and sounds in particular. On the other hand, a 'continue' button under the control of the learner would alleviate the disappearance of some screens before the learner had completed reading them.

When the teachers revealed their thoughts about the clarity of the instructional tasks in the interactions, it was generally to indicate that there was slight confusion about what the task required. One particular task which involved choosing children from photos was referred to by all four groups as being problematic. When looking at the instructional tasks on the computer, the teachers evaluated the suitability or appropriateness of the task in terms of its relationship to real classrooms and schools, or in terms of their perception of the task developer's intentions in getting them to undertake the task.


As previously mentioned, the frequency of occurrence of the 13 identified mediating processes ranges from 0.7% to 21.1%. This, when considered with the information contained in Table 2 on frequency categories, suggests two points. First, there are major differences in the frequency of occurrence of the different mediating processes that participants used whilst interacting with the IMM instructional package. If one was to consider the theoretical average of occurrence for each of the 13 mediating processes (which would be approximately 7.7%) as a benchmark, it is seen that quite a number fall well below that level. Of the six that have frequencies above that, four are categorised as being in the very high band and are the ones that will be discussed in this paper. These are metacognition, evaluation, affective, and linking. Second, when the findings of this study are compared with those of the Bachelor of Education (BEd) group of students in the Marland et al (1992) study, a similar pattern of very high occurring mediating processes is in evidence. In fact, there is congruence of three mediating processes across the two groups, namely metacognition, evaluation and linking.

Mediating processes classified as meta-cognitions are those in which students reported awareness of, reflecting on, evaluating or directing their own thinking. This definition comes close in meaning to a widely accepted view of metacognition as referring to students' knowledge about and control over cognitive processes (Weinstein & Mayer, 1986). In the current study, metacognitive processing reported by teachers were at both the awareness level and the control level. Participants' responses that indicated the awareness aspects of their metacognition related to acknowledging their own reasons for making choices, their awareness of pedagogic intent, reflective self awareness about such things as prejudices, attitudes and values, monitoring their progress, and realising their need of assistance. On the other hand, control was evidenced only in terms of redirection of thinking as a result of their failure to carry out the task as originally intended in the instructional design.

While evidence of a high level of metacognitive activity by participants in this study is, in itself, encouraging, the vast majority of instances were at the awareness rather than the control level whereby participants actually direct themselves to undertake such things as checking on their learning and understanding, to think deeper or to focus on specific topics, and to analyse what is or what is not known. Nevertheless, one striking feature is the frequency levels of metacognition in the two groups - 21.1% in the current study compared with 12.4% in the previous Marland et al (1992) study. Because of the multiple stimuli incorporated in IMM packages as opposed to that in hard copy text, there is the potential for a higher degree of forced interaction between participant and instructional material . For instance, the instructional formats in IMM, usually characterised by question-answer-feedback activities, ensures that participants complete the designed instruction before being allowed to continue through the material. Also, participants see computer based learning, including IMM, as having personified status. That is, the computer is granted authority, collaborator, and mediator status. When students study from hard copy text there is not the tendency to think: 'It wants me to think this way or to have these opinions", whereas in the present this was a rather common reaction by the participating teachers.

Evaluation, together with affective, proved to be the equal second most frequently occurring thought process. Evaluation is defined as the mental process in which a judgement is made about the value or worthwhileness of some aspect of the content and/or IMM futures of the instructional material. Instances of participant's use of evaluation as a mediating process in this study clustered around three foci: the difficulty of the task ("I was thinking ... it is a very hard thing for us to do"); interest ("... that aspect was very interesting"); and responding to the requirements of the instructional tasks/activities ("... it's just a little unfair to choose from a photo ...").

Interestingly, the level of affective mediating processes is almost double that revealed in Marland et al (1992). Affective mediating processes are those in which participants reported an awareness of their affective states during IMM interaction sessions (for example, enjoyment, annoyance, frustration). The high level of reporting of these mediating processes way be due to the multi-sensory nature of the program, particularly of the influence of many of the IMM instructional design features, including the motivating influence of components such as sound, colour and animation. The annoyance and frustrations expressed by participants are related to concerns regarding the learner control and access features, particularly with respect to the constraints of the IMM courseware (see Table 3).

Linking is defined as the process of associating, or bringing together in the mind, two or more ideas, topics, contexts, personal experiences, words, and so forth. Linking usually occurred when an item on the screen (eg., words, sounds, graphics) prompted recall of an associated item in a participants memory. Instances of linking reported by the teachers related to such things as their current classroom experiences, events from their past teaching career, personal experiences from the past, attributes of students known and/or taught, and previous study experiences. It is not surprising that linking fell into the very high frequency range given that the IMM package is a professional development activity related to the classroom and school.

In the Marland et al (1992) study, strategy planning gained a frequency rating of very high, whereas in the current study it occurred at a very low level. Strategy planning refers to thought processes in which students plan ways of processing or handling instructional material or activities during study sessions. Possibly one of the major reasons for the discrepancy across the two groups is a function of the highly structured nature of the prescribed pathway through the initial sections of the instructional IMM package. One implication for instructional design is to present divergent options that allow learners empowerment through planning ways to handle instructional material rather than developing a highly linear pathway that minimises opportunities for strategy planning.

The classification of teachers' cognitions about aspects of the IMM courseware into major categories and sub-categories warrants three comments. First, this classification was grounded in the data provided by participants, not established 'a priori' by the researchers, and thus provides valuable perceptual information about the learners' interpretation of reality. Second, the classification should provide guidelines to consider when designing future IMM instructional packages. Third, the classification could be rearranged to form the basis of an assessment instrument that can be used by instructional designers to gain evaluation feedback about the design components of materials that have been developed. It also needs to be stressed that the classification system will be expanded and modified as more data provided by learners are analysed in this and future studies.


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Authors: Dr Bill Patching, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, James Cook University, Townsville Qld 4811, Australia. Tel. (077) 815 423 Fax. (077) 251690. Email: edwgp@marlin.jcu.edu.au

Dr Lyn Henderson, Lecturer in instructional design of multimedia, James Cook University, Townsville Qld 4811, Australia. Tel. (077) 814 355 Fax. (077) 815 120. Email: edldh@marlin.jcu.edu.au

Dr Ian Putt, Senior Lecturer in primary and early childhood mathematics education, School of Education, James Cook University, Townsville Qld 4811, Australia. Tel. (077) 814 684. Fax. (077) 251690. Email. edijp@marlin.jcu.edu.au

Please cite as: Patching, W. G., Henderson, L. J. and Putt, I. J. (1994). Interactive multimedia and thinking: A report on research in progress. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 389-397. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/np/patching.html

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