Helping young people develop their thinking skills to construct knowledge goes right to the heart of teachers' work. Using multimedia to enhance young people's learning by developing such thinking skills, sometimes referred to as Computer Enhanced Learning (CEL), has been advanced as one promising way of developing these types of thinking skills in young people. However, despite the availability of the computing technology, and its emerging sophisticated applications like multimedia, it has not been widely used to mediate learning by assisting and extending the development of such thinking skills.
This paper provides an analysis of a school based project designed to encourage a group of primary teachers to use multimedia to enhance learning. Our purpose in developing this account of their efforts is to shed some light on the related questions of: how do teachers think multimedia might be used to enhance learning? what thinking skills are they trying to encourage in young people with the use of multimedia? with what effects? should more teachers be encouraged to adopt CEL approaches with multimedia and, if so, how might that be achieved?
Initially, computer usage in many schools was confined to Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) or Computer Managed Instruction (CMI). Typically, CAI has the computer in control of what is taught and how it is to be learnt. In many, it represents the epitome of what Papert has called "technocentrism" (Papert, 1987) and which he defined as "the fallacy of referring all questions to the technology". That is, as the label implies, CAI (or CMI) assumes an instrumental role for computing in the teaching and learning process. Consequently, early applications of CAI set questions for the child and "corrected" their responses. Typically, the computer pursued a rote approach to teaching and learning and the technology was assumed to occupy a central role in the process. This approach has endured and influenced the development of some of those commercial Hypermedia products which continue to seek to direct the pattern of student investigation and learning.
By the mid eighties, Other roles for the computer in the teaching and learning process had emerged. Word processing, spreadsheets and data base facilities, for example, lent themselves to a form of Computer Assisted Learning (CAL). Within this application for computers in schools the technology still tended to shape patterns of teaching and learning. However, CAL provided cross-curriculum possibilities for computer usage and sometimes it was used to support, or reinforce, what the teacher was trying to convey to students.
Much of the research on the use of computers in schools has tended to affirm this directional role for the technology in teaching and learning. The research literature contains numerous studies, often involving control groups, measuring students' performance within CAI and CAL environments and where the technology is usually the independent variable. (see, for example, Alifrangis, 1990; Larsen, 1992; Frey, 1990). The Predominant research metaphor, therefore, which has accompanied these two phases of computer usage in schools has been predominantly "technocentric".
Multimedia is a hypertext development tool which enables children to interact with a range of information presented on the screen of their personal computer in the form of text, photographic quality pictures, live digitised video and sound. The images and text can be arranged in "layers' or "stacks" through which the children can navigate non-sequentially on their own terms by the use of icons pointed at by a mouse. The educational uses of multimedia include the preparation of CD-ROM presentations of "data rich ... complex webs of interrelated knowledge' (Smith 1992) with which students can interact creatively according to their interest. Alternatively, multimedia can be used as a development tool which students use to store, share and reconstruct knowledge represented in interactive textual, graphic, pictorial, visual and aural form.
Accompanying this technological development has been the emergence of a third phase of computer usage in classrooms - Computer Enhanced Learning (CEL) (Hooley, 1993). CEL is sometimes envisaged as a form of the learner centred, but teacher guided, approach to teaching and learning advocated by Dewey (1910). Support for the concept is drawn from the notion of "constructionism" (Papert, 1987) which claims that knowledge is not transmitted but "constructed" by individuals with "the help of other people and the support of a material environment of a culture and society" (Papert, 1987). On this view, the introduction of multimedia applications to the classroom makes the "material environment" more supportive of knowledge construction. The computer and its multimedia applications are said to have potential as "cognitive tools" (Bruner, 1966, Rowe, 1992). Children may adapt the technology for themselves and adapt how they use it. In so doing, they may develop and refine thinking skills, such as problem solving, reflecting, analysing, defining relationships and numerous others, to aid their learning.
CEL is, therefore, distinguishable from CAI and CAL by the way it adopts a student inquiry approach to teaching and learning and encourages children to adapt the technology in ways that promote inquiry. It enables children to use multimedia technology as a tool to develop their curiosity and shape their own patterns of learning as they interact with cooperatively constructed, and then reconstructed, multimedia representations of the products of their inquiry.
Much of the more empirical work on enhancing learning with multimedia has tended to assume a "constructivist" theory of learning and has proceeded to demonstrate an improvement in problem solving, language development, creativity, collaboration and communication when young people engage the more exploratory and tool like environments (see Kurland & Pea, 1985; Clement, 1984; Char, Hawkins, Wootten, Sheingold & Roberts, 1983). Collins (1991), for example, reports decreases in teacher led activities with the use of multimedia in "constructivist" classrooms.
Another recent theme in the research literature indicates that student learning is improved with the use of multimedia when students use computers to construct knowledge and media presentations for real audiences (Carver 1992).
Others remain sceptical of the value of multimedia. Bowers (1991), for example, argues that having young people engage the sophisticated developments of personal computing, like multimedia, may trap them into an unwitting acceptance of those individualistic cultural values which are counterproductive to the collective development of new ways of both shaping knowledge and creating a better future society. And still others even question the relative superiority of computer based multimedia over more simple and more accessible teaching and learning aids.
At best, therefore, the literature on CEL in multimedia environments is sketchy. In part, it is more promotional than investigative. The more investigative work, however, does suggests that multimedia has considerable potential as a knowledge construction and facilitation tool and that it can be used in many ways to mediate student learning. Amongst other things, it has been shown that it sometimes increases motivation, produces cooperative learning patterns and develops problem solving skills. Other parts of the literature sound warning signals about treating the technology uncritically in a social and cultural sense. However, very little of it looks at the uses of multimedia to enhance learning from the teacher's viewpoint. The relative silences in the literature on how teachers perceive the use of multimedia to enhance learning suggested an investigation to show how teachers approach CEL, with what outcomes and, should it seem appropriate, from which one might infer how the practice of using multimedia to enhance learning might be encouraged.
Another part of the week was devoted to analysing the research literature on the use of computers to facilitate student learning, especially by using multimedia applications. The teachers read a range of material representative of the "assertive" theme mentioned earlier as well as a number of empirical works and developed from their reading a number of hypotheses about how computer usage might enhance student learning. Familiar hypotheses developed early in the year included ideas about how the technology might increase children's motivation for learning, develop problem solving skills and improve cooperative learning.
During a third part of the week the teachers developed curriculum plans for enhancing student learning with multimedia. Most familiarly this initially involved the teachers in developing a set of what are sometimes called "ends in view" (Elliott 1991) whereby the teachers established some general principles about how they were going to teach a topic and how they proposed to use computers and multimedia applications as part of their teaching.
The final part of the week involved the teachers working in schools where they formed teams to gradually put into practice the plans they had been developing for computer enhanced learning. Regular meetings were held to monitor developments with computer enhanced learning in the schools and participants kept journals of events they considered important in helping them to identify what they were trying to do and to describe how it was going. The journals were the focus of discussions between the teachers, and between the teachers and the Centre staff involved in the program. This setting, therefore, provide a context in which teachers' approaches to CEL, together with the outcomes of their efforts, could be investigated.
One way, we felt, of thinking about learning was to view it from the perspective of the relationships, frequently interpersonal, which shape the learning process. Understanding the interpersonal relationships in any teaching and learning situation, and understanding how learning flows from them, would require, therefore, analyses of specific cases for, as Connell (1985) has shown, "all relationships of schooling exist only as practices and are always being constructed anew".
We also wanted to investigate specific cases because we suspected that CEL is as context specific as any other teaching and learning situation in a school. We thought this because "the child's learning (in the CEL context) is not the product of the technology but of the changed culture (or context) that occurs with the introduction of the technology to the classroom". (Papert, 1987). Moreover, we anticipated that the technology would affect each classroom context differently partly because the way any teacher uses computer technology in their classroom is influenced by their particular curriculum orientation (Toomey, Mahon & Thalathoti, 1992). In short, we thought that understanding CEL would involve a close examination of the interpersonal relationships of classroom life and of the practices occurring there. We decided to use teacher research (Stenhouse 1976, Elliott 1991) as a way of investigating 'close up" the interpersonal relationships within the classrooms involved in the project and of studying how those relationships seemed to be shaping CEL.
Teacher research involves teachers in a systematic, collaborative and detailed study of their work environment. Its process of reflection, discourse and contestation on proposals for, and findings from, cases of changed practice, is said to lead to deeper understandings by the teacher of the conditions under which learning proceeds. It is a particularly useful way of uncovering the idiosyncratic details of the teaching and learning process, and of understanding the context in which they are embedded, because "it makes (the teacher's) practice the form of inquiry" (Elliott 199l): practice which, on reflection, can be described in a way that illuminates teachers aspirations, practices and the personal theories informing them. Through discourse, teacher research can also be used to expose links between formal theory and the reality of children, learning and classrooms.
Teacher research has also been advocated as a useful approach to the professional development of teachers. Calderhead (1991), in an attempt to relate teacher research to the professional development of teachers, has pointed out that the concept of reflective teaching. central to the principles of teacher research enables teachers to adopt an analytical approach to their teaching, fosters their awareness of the social and political context in which they work, enables them to become more aware of their own beliefs about good teaching and helps them develop more fully their own theory of educational practice.
Because of their potential for both describing the details of the teaching and learning situations in classrooms and for helping teachers better understand those situations we took the notions of teacher research and reflective teaching and developed from them a set of principles for the conduct of the project. All the activities undertaken within the program were to be informed by four main principles:
Initially, the teachers efforts with Linkway took the form of traditional project work. Part of each week in the schools was assigned to project work involving Linkway. The mathematics, language, reading other and subjects largely remained unrelated to the project work. One group of teachers, for example, used Linkway as a centrepiece of a project for middle primary children on weather. They chose the topic and set the parameters of the investigation. There were to be three main things studies: weather patterns, floods and bushfires in Australia. The children were assigned to teams and each team set an area to investigate. They researched their topic in the library and produced multimedia "electronic" projects that resembled familiar butcher's paper presentations in all but their computerised format.
Much of the time devoted to this project was occupied by teaching the children how to use Linkway. This often proved to be a frustrating experience for the teachers as their own skills were somewhat underdeveloped at this stage. The children, however, quickly became adept at using Linkway mainly by experimenting with it. This began to affect the relationships between the teachers and the children, and between the children themselves. One teacher wrote early in the year about how she felt that she was becoming more reliant on the children and about how they were helping each other and not turning to her as they usually did for assistance:
I still don't know how to do all the things Linkway Live can do but the children are merrily teaching each other how to use it and I often find I am just picking up some of its applications by watching them. I have come to realise that my relationship with the children is changing. They are able to do things with Linkway that I might never be able to do. I am actually relying on one or two of the good ones to teach other children uses of the software.Another commented that the introduction of Linkway seemed to erode her control of the classroom:
I seem to be losing control as they (the children) gain more confidence with Linkway. They want to use it their way. I sometimes question this. I don't think they can just do their own thing all the time.Other teachers also felt that they seemed to be competing with the technology. The children were enthusiastic about the project and were keen to get on with using the technology and some became less acquiescent about 'following instructions". The children appeared at ease with Linkway as though it was part of a "culture" familiar to them.
Many of the teachers questioned their apparent loss of control. Most felt that they should be structuring for the children ways of using the multimedia and not allowing the children to do what they wanted with it. They expressed concern about the way the introduction of Linkway could lead to "time-wasting" as the children "just doodled with the newness of it". Others claimed it interfered with "discipline" in their room. one worried that it "took time away from what they should be doing in Mathematics and Language".
However, despite these reservations some acknowledged that they saw benefits for some children with the introduction of multimedia:
I have never seen Phillip (a previously very troublesome boy) so responsible before. He has become a real leader when we are using Linkway, showing others how to use it, making sure the computer is looked after. He's quite changed by the project.Another decided that:
It's hard to deny that they (children) are not learning a lot with the (Linkway) project. They work better in groups. They are more interested, more alive.In general, it was hard for anyone to ignore that the introduction of Linkway had improved the ways the children organised themselves, allowed them to help each other do things with it, made them more enthusiastic and perhaps even enabled them to learn in ways that the teachers found puzzling:
I just watched Meg and Amy working on the computer one afternoon. Neither of them had been so engrossed before. I said to myself, 'there's something really going on there'. I couldn't put my finger on it but you could almost feel them learning. I have wondered since how to explain that.Over time the teachers in the project started to come to terms more with the changes that were emerging in their classrooms and some began to speculate about possible ways of better incorporating multimedia into their practices.
After using Linkway for a short time, Jane wrote in her journal:
That the multimedia work seems to provide activities that are purposeful, relevant to the children and challenging. They seem to like it best when they do things with it that I don't ask them to do, just use it the way they want and I don't mind that.As she developed her next unit for the children she decided to construct it differently around the use of multimedia. She decided to encourage her composite Grade 3/5 children to set their own topic for the unit, frame their own questions related to the topic, establish their own working groups and decide what use Linkway was to play in the unit. She "guided" the children as they decided how to proceed, generally by adjudicating on disputes and helping them negotiate, but generally the children shaped for themselves a project on the Olympics which happened to be underway at the time. Issues such as the history of the games were researched, graphically represented in Linkway and then shared with other children. Jane proceeded in this way because she felt it was consistent with her hopes and aspirations for the children in the class:
I wanted the children to make as many of the decisions as possible because that meant that they were having to take risks and after all that's what life involves and so we should be giving them that experience. I also wanted them to form their own groups so they would learn more about cooperative group work - another important life skill. Also by designing their own questions and issues, they were learning how to learn.During the course of this topic one pair, Michael and Sarah, were making a Linkway folder on the history of the games and in so doing were showing another group how to make a timeline and illustrate it with pictures and text. One of the children watching noticed the four year pattern of the occurrence of the games and commented on it. Another pointed out that they had not always been held every four years: "look .. 1904, 1906, 1908 .. that's every two years". Another noted that no games appeared on the timeline for 1916, 1940 and 1944. "Why?" she asked. Michael volunteered, "they were probably only getting started in 1904", as he pointed to the timeline. "Something must have happened here", he said pointing to 1916, 1940 and 1944. Left to themselves, Michael and Sarah reconsidered their multimedia presentation. Sarah decided to find out what happened in 1916, 1940 and 1944. Michael agreed to see what he could find out about 1904, 1906 and 1908. After a long period in the library each sharing with the other the products of their research, they decided to build into their presentation a comment on the games being disrupted by wars and there having been "interim" games early in the history of the modem Olympics. They scanned a photo of Hitler into the timeline and reflected on the message it conveyed. "No good", concluded Sarah. "We need an actual picture of war", she said, which they set about finding.
Another teacher, Kay, speculated differently about the possible value of multimedia:
... child centred, independent learning perhaps arises from practical, purposeful, hands on activities.She constructed a unit later in the year for a grade five group with this type of learning in mind. Kay developed a project on Animals. She chose the topic, set the areas to be investigated, assigned group membership and directed the way the project proceeded. One group was set the task of using Linkway to construct an electronic visitors guide for the local zoo. It was to show the location of the exhibits and, by pressing the relevant "buttons" or icons, the visitor should be able to am graphically what was in each exhibit and have the exhibit explained. Kay chose this approach, she said, because it gave the children a chance to solve cooperatively a range of practical problems within a situation which they should find very motivating.
The four children selected to prepare the presentation commenced their task by sketching a map of the Zoo from their collective memory which was still fresh from a recent class visit. Later in the week when they came back to the task one of the children produced her map of the Zoo which she had kept from the visit. The ideas quickly developed from this. They decided to place a "button" on each exhibit spot at the Zoo as indicated on the map which, when pointed at with the mouse, would produce a multimedia display of the animals there together with some explanatory text. They commenced the task by agreeing who would do what research. Others agreed to collect relevant pictures to be scanned into the presentation. Another was to write the text to accompany the pictures. They were regularly addressing significant issues as the project developed. Would they be allowed to place it at the Zoo? How could it be made secure? How could they avoid having to use a mouse to point at the buttons? What about all the Japanese visitors, would they understand it?
When it came time to prepare the text to describe the exhibits the children soon realised that their knowledge about the animals was quite incomplete. Each exhibit, therefore, became the object of research. The children gleaned information about the animals in the exhibits and started to prepare drafts of commentaries to accompany the pictures of the animals in the multimedia presentation. One group started with "Kangaroos are only found in Australia" as the way of introducing the visitor to the zoo to those animals. Kay, who was "guiding" this effort by the group suggested another way of starting: "the Kangaroo is an Australian marsupial". This raised the question from the group, "what is a marsupial?" This provided Kay with an opportunity to have the children compare and contrast wombats, possums and kangaroos in a way that enabled them not only to develop the concept but also to practice the thinking skills of comparing and contrasting in what was, for the children, a highly relevant context.
Tom, another of the group of teachers in the project, had been more circumspect about using Linkway. He was concerned that it took too much time to teach the children how to use it and reduced the time he had to devote to the "important" subjects. It took some time before he ventured to speculate:
... maybe it would be possible to use Linkway to help with their (his class) reading.Subsequently, he used Linkway as an adjunct to his reading program. Children used Linkway to write about and illustrate the books they were reading. They then shared this material with other children who were encouraged to add further information about the story or the author.
Kim and Lee were developing an abstract of Roald Dahl's book, Boy, and illustrating it with pictures. Lee was particularly keen to include Dahl's account of the removal of his adenoids as a young boy and illustrate it with a picture of a "nasty" doctor. As they worked on this Kim volunteered that "his mother should have told him what was going to happen when he got to the doctor's". Lee was not so sure, "that might have made him even more frightened'. They both pondered the situation, clearly questioning the actions of Dahl's mother in not better preparing her son for the ordeal of the adenoids operation but uncertain about how the occasion could have been better handled. When they asked Tom his opinion he suggested they raise the issue in their multimedia presentation and ask other children to rewrite the story in a "nice" way.
Taylor (1980) has raised substantive issues regarding how computer use can be conceptualised. He argues that it can be thought of as "tutor", where the child is instructed, as "tutee", where the child instructs the machine, perhaps in a programming sense, or as "tool", where the child has degrees of freedom in utilising the computer, in the same way as other tools such as a hammer or paint brush. Papert's (1987) elaboration of this view of CEL involves a radical rethinking of the nature of learning, teaching and knowledge. For him CEL essentially entails the creation of a teaching and learning environment within which children, with the help of the computer, take charge of their own learning and learn how to learn, where the teacher becomes a guide, and where the lines of inquiry, and the forms of knowledge generated by the inquiries, are supported by the wider society and culture.
These are idealised conceptions of CEL. Their advocates are less influenced by the day to day demands of teaching young people. Perhaps they also underestimate the degree of "technoscepticism" that one finds in the culture of teaching today. Any realisation of CEL in such forms, therefore, requires knowing more about where teachers are "coming from" with regard to using computers and their applications like multimedia, understanding what they are trying to do with this technology, and identifying the outcomes of their approaches. We can infer from the case study that each of the teachers think about enhancing learning with multimedia somewhat differently. Like all of us, Jane, Kay and Tom have their own perceptions of the future needs of young people and how education might help to fulfil them. Jane, for example, places great store in risk taking as a way of preparing young people for shaping their own futures. Kay's focus is more practical. She feels the children need practice in dealing with the real world as a way of becoming better equipped for the future. Tom's concern is to promote basic skills, in this case literacy. In short, they all have an informal "theory" or "world view" which they draw upon to inform their daily work as teachers. This "theory' is quite personal and, in large part, shapes the hopes and aspirations they hold for the young people in their care.
Nevertheless they regularly speculate about how they might alter their daily practices and still fulfil their aspirations for the children without breaching faith with their "informal" theory. Tom, for instance, gradually came to speculate that "maybe Linkway could be used to help them with their reading". Both Jane and Kay also came to speculate about how they might incorporate multimedia into their daily practice in ways which could be accommodated within their informal theories. The case study suggests then that the enhancement of learning with multimedia for Jane, Kay and Tom is a process of speculation about possible modifications, to their classroom practice.
Jane, Kay and Tom do not speculate about incorporating multimedia into their teaching practices as, to use Taylor's term, "tutor". One might surmise that such a conception of CEL is anathema to teachers because, like CAI, it devalues teachers' craft and replaces their personal theories with a general "instructional" approach to working with children. Parenthetically, it is arguable that teacher "technoscepticism" is a reaction to such ideas. The developers of many of the commercially produced multimedia products should perhaps bear this in mind.
Tom speculates about enhancing learning by using multimedia as "tutee" to again use Taylor's term. His use of Linkway was, in effect, an inventive way to have his children program the computer to assist each other develop their literacy skills. Jane and Kay speculate that multimedia might be used as "tool". Both Jane and Kay explore its use in this sense. They both experiment with ways of incorporating multimedia into their practice. However, the approach to learning in their classrooms is not transformed by the introduction of multimedia. Rather multimedia is incorporated into their existing practices and becomes just another tool to promote and assist the form of student inquiry that they wish to see being engaged by their class.
The idea of incorporation as we have been using it here has not been explored, as far as we can tell, in the literature on enhancing learning with multimedia. Rather the most prevalent concept informing the notion of CEL has been, what I shall call, technological transformation. By this I mean, it has been generally assumed that the introduction of computers (and multimedia) will be accompanied by a change in classroom context that enables students to learn how to learn. The case study indicates that the "informal" theory about, and much of the practice directed towards, enabling students to construct their own knowledge already exists in classrooms and teachers' heads. In this case, the technology does not, it seems, transform the teachers classrooms. Rather they coopt it and add it to the repertoire of skills and devices they have developed over time and which they adapt to their existing practices.
We can further infer from the case study that the promotion of the enhancement of learning with multimedia, for some teachers at least, is, essentially, a matter for their professional development. Encouraging teachers to use multimedia to enhance learning requires us to be able to construct situations m which teachers can explore the uses of multimedia technology, speculate on how they might construct a fit between its uses and their personal informal theory about teaching and learning and experiment with the applications they devise.
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|Authors: Professor Ron Toomey, Lawry Mahon and Vijay Thalathoti|
Department of Education, Victoria University of Technology
Footscray Campus, PO Box 64, Footscray Vic 3011
Tel. 03 688 4478 Fax. 03 688 4646
Please cite as: Toomey, R., Mahon, L. and Thalathoti, V. (1994). Teacher speculation about using multimedia to enhance learning. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 549-557. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/qz/toomey.html