IIMS 94 contents
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Multimedia in a university teaching/learning environment

Neil Willis
Leeds Metropolitan University, United Kingdom
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.

The university and faculty network

The University network consists of a logical Ethernet covering all the major University sites. Connection between sites is primarily provided over kilostream links which also form part of the University telephone system. The network also provides access to JANET (the Joint Academic Network of the UK Academic Community) and through JANET to a range of other facilities and gateways. An electronic mail system is supported across the network and out via JANET.

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 Since 1992 this has been superseded by 486 based machines.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.

Mathematics workshop

One of the earliest examples of a "multimedia" laboratory at Leeds Metropolitan University was the Mathematics workshop (Moffat, 1993). This is a computer based laboratory used specifically to support the learning of mathematics by Engineering students. The workshop serves a number of purposes, however one of the principal areas is that of remedial learning for those students who either need to refresh their skills or those who never understood the mathematical concepts at school.

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.

Summary of mathematics foundation course


  1. transposition of formula
  2. functions and linear equations
  3. quadratic equations
  4. solving equations
  5. indices, logarithms and exponential
  6. trigonometry
  7. accuracy, errors and the calculator

Contents of Module

Text booklet
Problem sheet
Computer aided learning package
Computer based test

Text booklet

This is material that stands on its own. It takes the student through a topic step by step, giving the theory behind it then worked examples and finally plenty of exercises for the student to do, together with solutions.

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.

Problem sheet

The problem sheets are for use in tutorials. They consist of rather more difficult questions where it is intended that students should work together. The questions also try to apply the mathematics to areas that the students will meet elsewhere in their course.

Computer aided learning package

The computer package is written in conjunction with the text booklet. It gives examples of questions taking the student through step by step, then exercises for the student to do, again step by step, reducing the number of steps as the exercises progress. The computer material also has another extremely important dimension. It can show the graphical representation of the mathematics, enabling the students to picture what is actually going on and to experiment for themselves. This graphical representation brings the maths to life for the student and definitely stimulates a greater interest.

Computer based test

This test will tell both the student and the tutor how students are progressing and whether they are ready to move on to the next module or whether they need to do some more work on the present one. The test consists of a number of questions put randomly to the student, from a pool of questions, using a software package called "Question Mark" (described below).

Computer aided learning of engineering

Following recent "encouragement" from the Funding Council for Universities there are a series of consortia developing computer based learning systems across a number of disciplines.

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).


In the short term, the consortium's objective is to improve the productivity and efficiency of engineering departments within the Higher Education sector, by improving the quality and flexibility of course provision, while in the longer term it is to make the widespread establishment of CAL an integral and indispensable feature of undergraduate engineering education.

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.


Each CAL module commences by introducing and explaining the basic concepts to be covered, in a presentable and informative manner. Real world analogy, pictures and animations are used to lift do presentation level above that of traditional written materials. The remainder of the module forms an interactive tutorial with worked examples and intelligent context sensitive 'Help' and remedial explanations. A final review and assessment section provides feedback to the student and/or lecturer as required.


The responsibility for the various aspects of Engineering are as shown in the diagram below, with Leeds Metropolitan University being responsible for modules in the basic electricity area:
Basic Electricity (Basic Concepts, Electrical Sources, Circuits and Components, AC/DC Signals and Waveforms, Meters and Measurement, Electromagnetism, Electricity Generation, Transducers)
Figure 1

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:

  1. A development program to generate the necessary modules; this will last three years.

  2. An implementation program to provide access to all the completed modules, and to monitor and update those modules; this will continue beyond the initial funded three year period.
Software developed by a consortium has a particular problem; it must be seen to form a package with a consistent and pleasing style, and a useful lifetime. A consensus of opinion on these points has been achieved in this consortium by the use of central developers and the interaction on a regular basis of 14 university engineering departments. A second problem, that of presenting the subject matter at the appropriate level is a major concern. The current approach is to pitch the material at an average ability student, but to provide opportunities to explore particular components in more detail if necessary.

Progress to date

Although some members of the consortium have been working on this program for nearly two years, the consortium as a whole is still in its first year.

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.

Student multimedia laboratory

One of the student laboratories in the Faculty is intended for student project purposes, and particularly for multimedia investigations. It contains a variety of computers and other equipment, including 8 Apple Macintosh machines along with an Apple scanner, CD ROM. drives, video disc and interactive video tape systems. Software allows for hypertext, DTP, graphics and multimedia activities, and includes Hypercard, Pagemaker College, Adobe Illustrator, PowerPoint and Macromind Director, Authorware and GUIDE.

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.

Integrated environment for the education of software engineers

Commercial software tools are built primarily to meet the needs of the professional practitioner. The combination of the software and the hardware on which to run it therefore reflects certain assumptions about the commercial enterprise. in which the professionals practice. The teaching enterprise differs greatly in its tool requirements and hardware configurations. The group based requirements of the teaching environment are often at variance with the more individually based commercial working practices. A consequence is that the purchase of popular commercial tools for academic use will not satisfy perceived academic requirements.

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).

Major requirements

A position was reached from which it was possible to draw up a requirements specification for an integrated environment overview (Coxhead, Harvey & Dodman, 1991a; 1991b). The requirements were understandably numerous but were all affected by four key issues:

The environment

The environment chosen by Leeds Metropolitan University to pioneer this work is built on a hardware client server LAN topology (Coxhead, Harvey & Dodman, 1991b). In this case a SUN platform is used, but other hardware vendors have similar offerings. It was important that the window manager was Openwindows or Motif to give a similar look and feel to popular PC based managers such as MS Windows, Presentation Manager and Apple Macintosh.

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

The strategy for teaching software engineering is no different from that for most vocational subjects, the overall view of the subject area is broken down into logical and manageable modules. The modules will usually represent a particular technique which can be taught in comparative isolation. As most techniques are complex in their full extent it is the usual practice to start: with the smallest possible subset and add to it over time.

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.

Intermediate tools

IPSYS have produced a design front end to their proprietary Tool Building Kit called Toolbuilder (IPSYS, 1991). Toolbuilder is used to capture the specification and implementation of a method in a single methods database (Alderson, 1991). It then generates the CASE tool automatically from the methods database. The University uses this to configure technique tool fragments together with supporting data dictionaries to produce an intermediate level of tool. It is not as basic as a tool fragment and not as complex as a fully integrated toolset. This will typically be used by second year students in their introduction to tool integration.

Fully integrated toolsets

The goal of the tool fragment and intermediate tool strategy is to move students onto fully integrated toolsets with all their automated features in their second and final years. We currently have three fully integrated toolsets (HOOD, SSADM V4, Information Engineering) and work is progressing on a Yourdon set. The integrated toolsets were also built using TBK/Toolbuilder which means that the interfaces and basic functions are the same as for the tool fragments and intermediate tools and the intermediate tools have the same look and feel as the full toolsets. This means that students have very little difficulty with the transition and skill transfer between tools. The tool fragments, intermediate tools and the full toolsets are true multi-user with an effective file locking system so it is reasonably simple to set up group work with several people working on the same project but doing different things.


The system has been running at Leeds Metropolitan University under the described philosophy for the past academic year and has surpassed expectations. Tutors have been more motivated to get involved with the technology and make recommendations which they can see implemented in a short time period. The quality of student assignments has improved not only in presentation but also in better design. Such a system makes it easy to go back and change something which in turn encourages designs to be thought out to the finest detail. With a pencil and paper solution the "near enough" attitude tended to prevail where the effort involved in changing a small detail proved too time consuming for the students.

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 managed and based assessment

In the autumn of 1992 the Faculty began a major project in the area of assessment of students under the general umbrella of Learning Development (Willis, 1993).

Computer based assessment was identified as a priority area for the following reasons:

Overall aim

Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the assessment process across the University based on the optimum use of Information Technology, in terms of.


A two day workshop was held with a team of staff to examine the assessment pedagogy and process. The methodology used was one known as Information Architecture.

A large set of assessment issues were identified and grouped together into the following domains:

  1. purpose
  2. staff and student workloads
  3. assessment methods
  4. administration and feedback
  5. standards and recruitment
  6. organisation of assessment

Progress to date

An online information system of module details has been established. Every member of Faculty staff has a 386 or 486 PC (with inkjet printer). on their desk, all networked to a number of Faculty servers (and to JANET). On the administrative server, as well as course documents, there is a copy of all the Faculty modules, with the current assessment details (approximately 350 modules).

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.

Concluding remarks

Whilst much work remains to be undertaken as part of these developments at Leeds Metropolitan University, the various projects and initiatives described indicate an exciting period of exploration of various multimedia approaches. We clearly need to further exploit the more recent technological advances which allow motion video to be incorporated.

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). Beyond today's CASE technology towards Meta-CASE. IPSYS Software plc, Macclesfield.

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
Email. n.willis@lmu.ac.uk

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

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