In common with institutions around the world UK universities are having to face up to a move towards a mass higher education system and consequently the pressures on lecturing staff are becoming increasingly problematic. The search is on for more efficient ways of providing an appropriate learning environment for university students. Coincidentally, multimedia technology has burst onto the scene. The Faculty of Information and Engineering Systems at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK is engaged on an ambitious program of multimedia development, both in the technological infrastructure and in investigating and developing new teaching methods and applications, and the paper discusses six of these developments.
Within the Faculty of Information and Engineering Systems the standard PC workstation for student use was formerly based on 803865X processors with VGA or super VGA colour monitors. Since 1992 this has been superseded by 486 based machines. Unix workstations are based on the SUN SPARC processors. The Faculty's IT strategy incorporates a number of networks. PCs are networked across Ethernet with Novell Netware 386. PC workstations are networked to Unix servers using PC-NFs; SPARC workstations are linked to SPARC servers; Macintosh computers (the few that we have) are networked via the Ethernet. All of these networks are linked together to central disc storage via the University Ethernet.
If teaching staff are to be empowered to produce coursework and indeed to develop applications for student use it is imperative that they have access to an appropriate machine on their desk. Hence, following a hardware evaluation the Faculty provided 160 80386 and 80486 based workstations for use by all Faculty academic, technical and administrative staff. These are also networked to Novell servers within the Faculty (student servers, staff servers and admin servers) and via the University network to special purpose servers such as mail, a database (Oracle) server, CD Rom server for library access etc. Access to Authorware and Guide is provided on the network so staff have excellent access to the whole range of development facilities from their desk.
The laboratory is based on a network of 15 Apple Macintosh computers networked to a central server. There are some classes based in the laboratory but there is a significant amount of non bookable time to allow students plenty of access to use the facilities at their own pace.
As an example of the learning modules available a summary of a mathematics foundation course is presented.
Computer aided learning package
Computer based test
Our experience has shown that the students like being able to work at their own pace, the better students moving ahead, while the less able ones are able to pick out the parts that they find difficult and seek help.
In particular, the "CALGroup Engineering Consortium" of 14 UK universities aims to increase the productivity, quality and flexibility of course provision by the development and implementation of open learning materials covering first and second year mechanical, electrical and manufacturing engineering (Ball, et al, 1993).
More specifically, the provision of highly interactive material (examples, case studies, simulations, experiments) to support a "key note" lecturing approach and reduce lecturer involvement in tutorial and laboratory work is a fundamental aim, but one which brings with it an enrichment of the students' learning experience. CAL also provides the opportunity to undertake intelligent automatic assessment of student progress and provide remedial support.
Basic Electricity (Basic Concepts, Electrical Sources, Circuits and Components, AC/DC Signals and Waveforms, Meters and Measurement, Electromagnetism, Electricity Generation, Transducers)
Figure 1: Subject groupings and inter-relationships within the consortium
Development of the modules to a uniform standard and an acceptable style, is being achieved by the involvement of CBL Technology Ltd of Derby, who are handling the bulk of the authoring. This arrangement encourages cost effectiveness of the development, progress against agreed time scales and production of a quality product.
In addition a hardware platform of an IBM PC/AT compatible computer with a 286 or better processor and 16 colour VGA monitors has been assumed; this lowest common denominator ensures a realistic uptake of the modules. The modules can be run from disk or via an Ethernet based network.
The program is funded for three years and has two distinct thrusts:
Schedules have been agreed; efficient working practices have been established; modules are being successfully completed. Implementation has yet to be fully achieved, and is seen as the most problematic aspect of the program. Automatic assessment is another major issue to be resolved; particular issues are the manner and the degree of the information to be extracted from the learning interaction.
The true measure of the success of the initiative will be gauged by the extent to which CAL is adopted within university departments during the next few years, and not by the quality or the quantity of software developed. In turn, this will depend on the commitment of staff, within institutions, to adopt more flexible approaches to learning and teaching; not always a foregone conclusion.
There has been a significant amount of student project work (at BSc and MSc level) over the last four years based on these multimedia facilities. A fuller description of some of these was given in a paper to the 1st International Interactive Multimedia Symposium here in Perth in 1992 (Hobbs & Moore, 1992).
In addition our BSc (Hons) Computing degree contains a final year group project, in addition to an individual project. For this year these group projects are based around the GUIDE authoring software, running under a windows environment. The project work is carried out in teams of 4 or 5 students, and will aim to develop self learning tutorial material on a variety of topics (each group chooses a different topic).
Examples of topics are: formal methods, design techniques, computer architecture, data modelling, SQL/Oracle, Unixshell, C, C++, 68000 assembler.
Hardware and software evaluations are being undertaken at present with a view to significantly updating this laboratory in the near future.
Courses may have to be remodelled around making best use of costly tools rather than the tool being configured to the teaching needs of the individual. Furthermore the teacher/trainer must reach a position of competence to transfer the skill or knowledge and this can be a time consuming task. For these reasons there is often a discrepancy, and hence loss of quality, between what should be taught and what is attained. This is in no way applicable only to the academic enterprise but was found to impact on commercial software production where CASE tools and methods were involved.
The perceived inadequacies of commercial software tools in the academic environment led to Leeds Metropolitan University launching a research program with the objective of defining and implementing an integrated environment (hardware and software) more tailored to teaching/training requirements (Coxhead, Dodman & Harvey, 1993).
The basis of the software is a proprietary product in the form of an open integrated environment, the product of IPSYS Software PLC. The basic product is a meta-case tool (Alderson, 1991) known commercially as the IPSYS Tool Builders Kit (Bott, 1989). TBK provides the ability to rapidly prototype design editor and structure editor tools to produce tools built to specific requirements. More importantly the databases associated with the different tools can be modified in situ. This gives the ability to alter functionality and change methods, an important feature lacking in similar competing products.
Tool fragments are designed to mirror such a strategy being developed to support different techniques and notations. Their functionality and syntax are then reduced to that of the required starting subset as requested by the tutor. Thus the tutor may not want to start with a full set of technique icons or to have the rules that govern their syntax fully automated. The missing features can then be replaced over time in step with course development again at the request of the tutor.
The tool fragments all have an identical interface for their general control (ie invoking, saving, exiting. diagram or structure operations etc). The interface used is the house style provided by IPSYS, which can be altered if desired but which adequately suits current requirements. The interface is easy to learn and its generic qualities mean that once one has learned how to use either the design editor, structure editor or the text editor then all further instances of the editors are the same. This means that the average learning curve for a novice, as measured by the research, is cut to one hour (as opposed to between 8 and 12 for most related commercial packages). This means that maximum concentration may be given to the relevant technique being taught.
The work described applies currently purely to an academic environment. However the quality of continuation training within a commercial environment is probably the missing key to top quality software engineering. If this should prove to be the case then industry faces similar problems to the academic enterprise in the majority of tools currently available not being adequate for the job.
Computer based assessment was identified as a priority area for the following reasons:
A large set of assessment issues were identified and grouped together into the following domains:
The development of an assessment tracking system is underway. Within the University there is a comprehensive Study Information System (SIS) which maintains details of all students, module descriptions, module results and hence cohort statistics. However, this corporate database only incorporates a find module mark for each student module, the backing of individual assessment marks and examination results being left with the Faculties. With the move to over more open and complex modular systems the recording has become extremely time consuming. Hence the development of a Faculty tracking system which can, at the end of an academic year upload complete module results to the corporate SIS.
The development of a catalogue of assessment methods and materials has just begun. This is concentrating initially on existing Leeds Metropolitan University methods and materials - it will promote the sharing of good ideas and practice. As external methods are identified these will be added.
The investigation of new assessment methods has also begun. In one sense this is the focus for the whole of this project. The intention is to utilise computer based technology in the assessment process wherever possible. There is already some experience at Leeds Metropolitan University of this, especially in the area of Statistics and Mathematics, but systems elsewhere are being investigated. CEILIDH (Benford, Burke & Foxley, 1992) and other such systems are good examples of this. Within the Faculty we have a research project developing an integrated Software Engineering environment based on IPSYS (Alderson, 1991). A development of this will involve possible automated assessment of student design work. There is also a group investigating the use of computer based multiple choice systems such as Question Mark.
However, although there are many exciting technological opportunities available currently, we still need to significantly advance our understanding of how to reorient our teaching and learning methods to exploit the technology in order to allow the teaching staff to cope with ever increasing student numbers.
Alderson, A. (1991). META-CASE technology. IPSYS Software plc, Macclesfield.
Ball, R. et al. (1993). The CALgroup Engineering Consortium. Proceedings of the EAEEIE Fourth Annual Conference, Prague.
Benford, Burke & Foxley. (1992). Consciousness raising through automated assessment. Paper presented at the Open University on Using Technology to deliver the Computer Curriculum.
Bott, M. F. (Ed) (1989). ECLIPSE: An integrated project support environment. IEE computing series 14, Peter Peregrinus Ltd.
Coxhead, J. F., Harvey, J. & Dodman E. A. (1991a). CASE and the education of software engineers. Proc SEHE Conference, Southampton Institute.
Coxhead, J. F., Harvey, J. & Dodman, E. A. (1991b). CASE requirements for teaching software engineering. Proc ISTIP91 Conference, AIT, 1991.
Coxhead, J. F., Dodman, E. A. & Harvey, J. (1993). CASE technology: Improving quality in the education of software engineers. Paper delivered at the Software Quality Management Conference, Southampton.
Hobbs, D. and Moore, D. (1992). Instructional technology for student centred learning: The Leeds Polytechnic experience. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 227-234. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/hobbs.html
IPSYS TOOLBUILDER ver 1.2 (1991). Reference Manual. IPSYS Software plc.
Moffat, J. (1993). The mathematics foundation course. Internal paper, Faculty of Information and Engineering Systems, Leeds University.
Willis, N. (1993). Computer managed and based assessment. Paper delivered at the Heads of Computing Conference, York 1993.
|Author: Neil Willis, Associate Dean - Academic|
Faculty of Information and Engineering Systems
Leeds Metropolitan University
Leeds, West Yorkshire LSI 3HE, England
Tel. +44 532 832 600 ext 3094 Fax. +44 532 833 110
Please cite as: Willis, N. (1994). Multimedia in a university teaching/learning environment. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 576-582. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/qz/willis.html