IIMS 96 contents
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Interactive educational technologies: Effective design and application in the classroom

John Hedberg and Barry Harper
University of Wollongong
With the rise of interactive multimedia and the growing traffic on the information superhighway, educators are faced with increasing options and challenges for the delivery of learning materials. The key to success in these areas is the appropriate use of instructional design models suitable for these dynamic information rich environments and to apply current educational theory and practice. This paper discusses the work of the Interactive Multimedia Learning Laboratory team of designers and evaluators, and demonstrate new models for information provision. It will also demonstrate the tools available to students who must select and manipulate large volumes of information from a variety of different representations, text, graphic, sound and video. Examples will include changing the authoring requirements, improving higher order thinking skills, increasing interactivity, research and selection by learners from the growing resources available to everyone.

In this paper, I will review the changing views of learning that have been driving the design of new learning experiences in interactive educational software. These views have their basis in the shift from behaviourism as the basis of software design to cognitive and constructivist approaches. The resulting learning environments allow for greater self regulation in learning and for learning to be situated in a real world context thus allowing practice on authentic tasks. The paper then shifts to the key technologies which enable learners to integrate the multiple data sources and ways in which knowledge is represented. The major technologies discussed in this regard are interactive multimedia and networked learning. The final section examines the role of good learning software within the context of these integrating technologies, and emphasises the skills required by learners using interactive technologies.

Reviewing the underpinning of our work as educators

The early instructional design models were based upon the belief that the instructor was designing a learning experience for a group of students. All the construction of meaning and the best way to represent concepts and ideas was undertaken by the teacher or designer. Essentially the models of communication employed were teacher to student and prescribed sets of activities for the students in which they practiced the required concept. The rise in cognitive approaches to learning during the seventies has refocussed this interaction and started to realise that learning was something the learner had a major impact upon, the process had to include the learner as an active participant. Flowing for this change we have a series of ideas which have placed the learner in a series of contexts and with a number of different views of the process through which they come to know about the world.

From the focus on Behaviourism we have the following values

Figure: Why leave learning to chance?
After (Heinich, 1984)

As the task became less imposed and the student became a key player in the learning environment we saw the growth of Cognitivism and Humanistic Learning principles. In time these emphases led to a belief that learners constructed their own meanings of the world as part of learning, thus we have values for developing higher order thinking skills and positive disposition toward learning such as:

Figure: First do no harm!
After (Doll, 1989)

It should be noted that many of the values are consonant with elements of both experiential education, as advocated by (Dewey, 1972) and the progressive educators of the 1920s and 30s, and humanistic learning theory, as championed by (Rogers, 1963) and (Maslow, 1968). This list of values has been presented in a number of papers, see for example (Driscoll, 1994) and (Lebow, 1995). Lebow's list includes:

  1. Active engagement. A quality of mindfulness in learning situations that supports intentional learning by influencing the learning strategies the individual employs.

  2. Authenticity. Learning occurs in an environment which is similar to that in which a full practitioner would be expected to demonstrate their professional competence. (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989).

  3. Collaboration. When mutual inquiry is the general framework for learning, traditional roles of teacher and student are largely replaced by a collaborative partnership in a many sided inquiry into meaning (Doll, 1989).

  4. Community. The emphasis focuses on jointly constructed public knowledge as opposed to individual knowledge(Brown & Campione, 1990), in this way the focus is upon knowledge building communities (Smith, 1995).

  5. Complexity. The view that reality is web like, with multiple interacting forces (Doll, 1989) and in many areas, the nature of problem solving will vary with the case (Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson & Coulson, 1991).

  6. Generativity. The active process of using existing knowledge to make sense of new information necessary for meaningful learning. Meaning and comprehension depends upon the activities of the learner as they go about the process of learning, it might include strategies such as: elaborating with analogies, making inferences, paraphrasing, and summarising (Wittrock, 1991).

  7. Multiple perspectives. Experiencing the same material in a variety of different ways and for different purposes. (Spiro et al., 1991).

  8. Ownership. Experiencing the value of new understanding and the benefits of personally developing meaningful learning goals and their achievement.

  9. Personal autonomy. Being in charge of your own learning process. (Deci & Ryan, 1987).

  10. Personal relevance. Experiencing changes in perceptions, understandings, beliefs, feelings, and capabilities as a function of new information (as opposed to being told about its relevance). An individual's orientation toward learning is qualitatively different when learning is embedded in the context of achieving personally relevant goals that go beyond working for a grade or some distant, future goal (Berliner, 1992); (Bransford, Franks, Vye & Sherwood, 1989).

  11. Pluralism. Each individual's perceptions have value and represent a basis for mutual inquiry, rather than an obstacle to be circumvented (Doll, 1989).

  12. Reflectivity. Largely synonymous with metacognitive awareness, defined as the ability to plan, monitor, and modify cognitive processes for mental management or executive control of concentration, comprehension, and affect (Corno, 1986) (Corno, 1986; Kolb, 1984; Osman & Hannafin, 1992; Shuell, 1986).

  13. Self regulation. Constructivists hold that the ultimate goal of education is to help students become masters of their own learning by supporting the progressive acquisition of the capability to self regulate learning (Corno & Mandinach, 1983); (Zimmerman, 1989).

  14. Transformation. A view of change that sees meaningful learning as the result of internal reorganisation triggered by the learner or by the learner's reaction to external forces rather than a process of accumulating information in memory (Doll, 1989)
Driscoll, (1994) simplifies this longer list into five instructional design goals.
  1. Provide complex learning environments that incorporate authentic activity.

  2. Provide for social negotiation as an integral part of learning to allow insights to emerge through the group process that may not come about otherwise.

  3. Juxtapose instructional content and include access to multiple modes of representation to allow learners to examine materials from multiple perspectives.

  4. Nurture reflexivity, or awareness of one's own thinking and learning processes.

  5. Emphasise student centred instruction, where students are actively involved in determining their own learning needs and how those needs can be met.
The development of guidelines based on these sets of values represents a strategy for summarising the constructivist framework in a way that can lead to a wide variety of learning environments and further provides a basis for evaluating instructional strategies. Essentially these values are concerned with epistemology and how we come to "know" about the world.

The move to incorporate constructivist approaches into contemporary educational software and to reflect the changing emphases in learning theory has resulted in the creation of learning environments which mirror real world contexts in more than just photorealistic graphic style. These learning environments allow students to think and perform acts which are similar to real world actions and performance required to resolve similar problems and issues.

The starting point is the belief that quality learning involves a number of aspects such as: Active engagement, imaginative inquiry, and the finding of a suitable level and style. These outcomes are more likely to occur when instructional strategies that necessitate student activity, problem solving and cooperative learning are employed. Other major movements in educational theory such as Constructivism have also supported the use of interactive strategies which require high degrees of learner involvement to achieve the outcome. In a constructivist environment the learner actively constructs knowledge, individually and socially. Simulations, especially if there are multiple possible outcomes, provide not only challenge, but also opportunities for collaborative learning and socially constructed responses to problems.

If learning is viewed from a phenomenographic perspective (Lave, 1991), then the major concern is that the processes we employ to experience and understand the world are inseparable from the data and interpretation. Thus the student experience in working through a rich information environment provides a range of models for knowing and how the evidence is generated and used.

And again, if we view learning from an experiential perspective (Kolb, 1984), we again see issues such as:

In addition to these theoretical perspectives, it is important to review the impact of assessment on the approach to learning undertaken by the student. Ramsden (Ramsden, 1992) discusses deep and surface approaches to learning and emphasises the importance of learning strategy to the outcomes achieved. If the student employs a surface approach to learning then their orientation is towards memorising facts, formulae and information for the purpose of reproducing them in an exam. By contrast if students have adopted a deep approach to learning they are oriented towards looking for meaning, understanding the relationship between ideas, and trying to make sense of them. In this approach the focus is on the argument, concepts applicable to solving the problem, etc. They are trying to relate previous knowledge to new knowledge whether it be from this discipline or another, and the link between ideas and everyday experience helps them to relate and distinguish evidence and argument, and to organise and structure content into a coherent whole (p.46).

The software design strategy of rich information landscapes with complex problem structures (where many approaches to problem solving are encouraged) will circumvent the use of formula based solutions where information simply gathered and repeated in a standard report format will not lead to a solution. In the provision of such complex environments there is no requirement for extensive memorisation as the cognitive tool approach provides support for even the most disorganised user. (Mayes, 1992) Devices such as employing linked representations such as picture and text description, or movie and associated data mean that links are generated between important concepts even though they might be accessed in a variety of sequences.

For the development of interactive technologies which enable the learner the freedom to experiment, we worked with iterative design models such as the following, which seeks to emphasise the importance in interactive approaches and to suggest that the designer should seek confirmation with the world on their choices and decisions about the way it works.

Information age learning skills

The desire to learn does make a difference in academic achievement, but so does opportunity. In a rich interactive technology environment there are a number of other elements which will result in effective outcomes. Current technologies provide learners with the opportunity to collaborate freely with other students, the opportunity to explore interests and search for information, and the opportunity to work with tools that make lessons more relevant and meaningful.

What has been taught inside our schools has always been a reflection of what's happening outside of them. With the sheer volume of information available in the world and the increasing sophistication and alternative ways of accessing that information (computers, networks, online services, interactive CD-ROMs, and so on), learners are presented with alternative learning strategies which are radically different from the library and knowledgable teacher.

Online information sources, once accessed, require the learner to understand, manipulate, verify and re-present that information to others. These skills may prove more challenging especially for less able students. Thus in this context, the ability to work confidently with information has become nothing less than a matter of survival for today's learners.

Figure: An iterative design model

An iterative design model for interactive multimedia development (Hedberg, 1993)

What kind of skills foster that ability?

  1. Dynamic Exploration. Students must learn that, in the end, it's their own responsibility to work with new information. This is taught by encouraging direct and active involvement with instructional content -- graph a parabola, rearrange a molecule, or clip a newspaper article.

  2. Problem Solving. Some students relish a thorny intellectual problem, while others shy away from the challenge, strategies and support will be needed to ensure that all students have equal access to learning outcomes. Students learn to embrace problem solving when they're encouraged to try -- and allowed to fail -- in an environment that's neither intimidating nor judgmental.

  3. Inquiry. Virtually all learners begin brimming with curiosity. One of the most critical information handling lessons that a student must learn is that knowledge is driven by questions. Support must be given through appropriate software tools so that every student can ask questions -- and question the answers.

  4. Collaboration. Collaboration is a key skill in sifting and collecting resources. Projects based upon collaboration are not simply to teach social skills but are crucial to working in the information age. Complex projects are routinely carved up and their pieces distributed among members of a work group. Colleagues are expected to know how to share ideas, brainstorm solutions, and integrate other peoples work into their own. This poses challenges for students and we may need to redefine the concept of plagiarism.

  5. Media Handling. Technology has altered the very nature of information that people have at their disposal. Learners must be as comfortable working with digital video clips, sound files, and graphic simulations as they once were with text, numbers, and pictures of the last generation of computers.

Translating strategies into learning software

Traditionally as teachers we have presented a linear narrative sequence in which we reveal the underlying structure of our ideas. Aware that the sequence might at times be arbitrary and misleading, we have sought to find alternative ways to structure, represent and unfold relationships between ideas. With graphical and visual display coupled with large databases of resources, it is possible to explore an information space in whatever sequence appeals as appropriate to the task. When raising the idea (Florin, 1990) saw "information landscapes, ...as virtual towns, or intellectual amusement parks. The analogy is quite intriguing and helps us to visualise many abstract concepts within a single metaphor" (p30). Current interactive multimedia technologies can represent ideas in almost any mediated form, thus provided we can generate a comprehensible metaphor for organising our functional options and underlying knowledge structures, the student can roam through the landscape creating their own meanings and understandings of the phenomena they encounter. This rich context allows the novice to work with authentic problems and practice.

In this context, we have sought to combine the ideas of situated learning and learning from rich information environments to form the basis for their effective design. In addition, there are a number of metacognitive supports within these landscapes which in turn contribute to the design of authentic learning experiences and also support learners with different skill levels. The goal was to design a rich learning environment which challenges and supports effective learning. (Bransford & Vye, 1989) describe success in getting students to produce their own computer videodisc presentations using segments from commercially available videodiscs. They give an example of a group of students working on the topic of light who used segments from Star Wars to illustrate some important concepts about light. They conclude that:

Although this fact could be read in a science textbook, the use of a very short video segment, tied with text, appears to make the learning of this type of information more meaningful and interesting for students who produced the video and for the other students who watch the productions. (p 132)

Two example information landscapes

Examples are drawn from two multimedia packages which have been developed and which are based on allowing learners to practice through immersion in authentic activities. The activities are not only visually accurate representations of real world environments, but are also rich in realistic data and related information. The packages both presume that novice users, using the package, will attempt to solve problems by mimicking the practices of expert ecologists and environmentalists.

These interactive multimedia CD-ROM based packages are entitled Investigating Lake Iluka and Exploring the Nardoo. They have been designed to facilitate access by learners to a complex an information landscape by:

Investigating Lake Iluka has been based around an ecology simulation and employs a number of different interface metaphors in presenting the materials to the user. The package is based on the concept of an information landscape that incorporates the biological, chemical and physical components of a range 0 ecosystems that make up a coastal lake environment. The user is given some problem solving strategies to investigate this information in a variety of ways using the range of measuring tools provided. They can collect biological, physical or chemical data as well as media information and 'construct` their own understanding of the basic ecology concepts embedded in the package. This facility has the potential to increase student understanding and control of their learning through control of their learning environment. Inquiry and problem solving techniques have been embedded in the package through case studies of ecological scenarios. These are presented to the user via surrogate media reports of the problems. Each scenario can be investigated using a range of measurement tools and selection of resources from specially written and organised information resources. It is expected that users will develop a broad array of scientific investigation skills using this realistic simulation.

Exploring the Nardoo is based on the issues associated with inland Australian rivers and how they are effected by farming, industrial activity and settlement. The metaphor for the knowledge structure is a navigable river environment with four distinct river locations, each of which contain biological, chemical and physical data. The river environments also contain text, video, audio and graphic representations of information presented in metaphoric forms such as newspapers, video news reports and books. The dimension of time has also been incorporated into the package; four separate time zones, which represent approximately fifteen year time intervals, have been added to the four basic locations as "layers" through which the same section of the river can be viewed. Thus changing use and shape of the river can be explored from a variety of different viewpoints.

Both Investigating Lake Iluka and Exploring the Nardoo present to the user an environment for authentic practice. There is a common process in both packages of supporting students in articulation of their knowledge in the domains created. Exploring the Nardoo offers the greater potential in this regard in that the users access a range of media to support their solutions to problems. Guides model the investigation process, expressing concern about specific environmental issues and providing guidance to possible solutions. Thus the user is attempting to solve authentic problems based in a realistic representation of a domain, with "experts" supporting and modelling the problem solving process.

Immersion within the microworld

Many authors discuss the concept of immersion and point to it as the major advantage of the interactive multimedia technology. However, they talk about the concept as if it is a single and unified one, we would maintain that there are at least two aspects to it - physical and psychological. The focus on physical immersion is common to virtual reality environments, but this is determined by the devices through which the user manipulates the environment. The use of systems which can be given a set of attributes and defined rules of relating can prove a great boon for working with a particular information landscape or microworld.

A second aspect of immersion is the conceptual congruence between user actions and their understanding of the concepts embodied in the learning context. Much educational software does not link the response of the user to progress toward the goal. (Malone, 1981) in his early work on games, made the critical observation about the importance of the link between the constructed response and the achievement of the goal. The learner's choice directly ensured a response from the environment which moved toward the goal. Within the interactive multimedia environment the action of the learner should lead to a conceptual understanding directly about the context in which they are working.

A third aspect, motivational immersion, is well understood by the game players. A user can become immersed within a challenging and involving learning environment, and often the degree of realism (or fidelity of representation) of the context does not appear to be correlated. Rarely have educational games and simulations taken on the motivating aspects of the arcade game. If the investment in interactive multimedia is going to work for more the a one off experience, then there has to be a learning environment which intrinsically motivates the participant to work within the context.

The concept of immersion, both physical and psychological, has been considered in the design of Exploring the Nardoo. The physical environment that the user is immersed in is a river system which is represented with rich visual images. The visual representation of the river is taken from real images of a typical environment and combined with superimposed graphic elements to represent the changes to the natural habitat. Psychologically the user is presented with a challenging learning environment right from the start The challenge is set by Water Research Centre staff through a general plea to help the staff to investigate problems generally and then more specifically through a particular case based scenario. The guides challenge the user to take up a problem and help them find a solution and also support the user by offering levels of help and hints for the problem solving process. The help system supports the learner in using the learning environment which intrinsically motivates the participant to work within the context, understand the objects, their attributes and how they can relate to each other.

Fidelity of representation and meaningful metaphors

Educational needs and the resulting use of faithfulness of representation has not received full discussion in the literature. Teaching complex skills which relate to the positioning in three dimensions and the link to the manipulations required to change position or some other attribute of the scenario, have not been explored. Simple environments might be equally as effective and indeed more so when the novice would otherwise be attempting to process the vast amounts and "chunks" of information required for "expert" performance. This concept of fidelity of representation of information has been addressed in both packages reported here. The interfaces developed allow novice users to take full advantage of the metaphors used to represent the data in the information landscapes. As the users become more expert at interrogating the learning environments they will be able to make use of the more sophisticated data access facilities such as the index and find functions in the Animal and Plant book and Reference Book in Investigating Lake Iluka and tools such as the resource database and the simulations in Exploring the Nardoo.

The effect of a consistent metaphor is to allow the student to delve into many sections of the package without the need for extensive tuition in how is works. The metaphor also enables fantastic events to occur within some reasonable vehicle. Consider, transportation between elements in one landscape, the adventure game metaphor allows the student to wander in three dimensions, but using the PDA they can jump into new places to explore. Students are not prepared to waste time on transitions if they are not adding to the meaning or interpretation of the world they are studying.

Active participation

One of the main defining attributes of interactive multimedia has been the claim for active participation of the learner in the context. By the very nature of interface and the interaction with the context, the learner cannot take a passive role in the interaction. As with the other defining dimensions, while it is always possible to create active participation in interactive multimedia contexts, (using clever instructional strategies) many interactive multimedia programs have presented information in a rather pedestrian point and click strategy. It is unlikely that such an instructional strategy would move the learner from the periphery to the centre of the situation. (Brown et al., 1989) expressed dissatisfaction with conventional teaching methods as "trying to impart abstract concepts as fixed, well defined, independent entities that can be explored in proto-typical examples and textbook exercises" (p33) and raise doubts as to the transferability of classroom learning to situations in the community of practice.

Investigating Lake Iluka encourages active participation by presenting an hierarchical set of problems for the user to investigate, but this participated is very much based on the assumption that the novel nature of the package, simple and intuitive navigation system and extensive use of varied information forms will encourage students. By comparison active participation in Exploring the Nardoo, has been supported through the user "guides" that directly address and challenge the user from the initial entry to the package. This challenge to actively participate in problem solving and investigation is based around a group of researchers, who advise users on problems to investigate and provide graded hints on how to investigate specific case based problems.

In addition, Exploring the Nardoo allows the student to create a report or presentation based upon the information found and the problem solved. This process is further supported by the provision of genre templates so that they focus on the generation of ideas and interpretations rather than repetition of collected information.

Creating an environment for practice

Collins, Brown & Newman (1989), in developing a way of thinking about aspects of apprenticeships for teaching subjects in formal settings, described the crucial features of a traditional method of situated learning: cognitive apprenticeships. Drawing on what Lave calls observation, coaching and practice, these authors used the terms modelling, coaching and fading to explain a sequence of activities beginning with the apprentice repeatedly observing the master who models the target process. This is followed by an attempt on the part of the learner to execute the process with guidance from the master (coaching) and finally a reduction in participation of the master (fading) as the apprentice demonstrates a grasp of the skill. Three further teaching methods identified by the authors are: articulation (getting students to articulate their knowledge, reasoning or problem solving processes in a domain), reflection (enabling students to compare their own problem solving processes with those of an expert) and exploration (pushing students into a mode of problem solving on their own).

Both Investigating Lake Iluka and Exploring the Nardoo, present to the user an environment for authentic practice. There is a common process in both packages of supporting students in articulation of their knowledge in the domains created. Guides model the investigation process, expressing concern about specific environmental issues and providing guidance to possible solutions. Thus the user is attempting to solve authentic problems based in a realistic representation of a domain, with "experts" supporting and modelling the problem solving process.


Increasingly, we are seeking to make links between all the components that comprise the knowledge base of all the disciplines that combine to produce a well rounded graduate. Most of the preceding discussion highlights the elements without linking them together into a framework that will provide the student with the skills, knowledge base and learning processes to work towards the next century. Consider the range of examples we now have of students working across country borders and across cultural groups, all these efforts to create well informed and aware students must make a difference over time. In the short term, it is expected that people of short vision, will provide limited tools to the future key workers.

Information landscapes are one of the basic building elements for educational interactive multimedia packages. They provide a rich source of learning resources for the user, and the learning outcomes depend upon several factors which need to be carefully woven into the landscape: interface design, navigation options, learning support for the user and the instructional strategies which provide the "glue" for the underlying knowledge structures. Situated cognition and constructivist approaches to learning can be well supported by such information landscapes that "transport" the user to practice in authentic environments which closely resemble real world contexts.


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Authors: John Hedberg and Barry Harper
Interactive Multimedia Development Laboratory
Faculty of Education
University of Wollongong
Wollongong NSW 2522, Australia
Email: J.Hedberg@uow.edu.au

Please cite as: Hedberg, J. and Harper, B. (1996). Interactive educational technologies: Effective design and application in the classroom. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 160-168. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1996/ek/hedberg2.html

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