Students Question the World!: Learning with ìMultipleî Media.


Department of Geology & Geophysics

University of Adelaide, South Australia, 5005

Ray Peterson

Advisory Centre for University Education

University of Adelaide, South Australia, 5005

Ian Clark

Research Centre for Environmental and Recreation Management,

University of South Australia, South Australia, 5109.

We describe a pilot project where Tertiary students are developing their own interactive multimedia (IMM) modules as an alternative to traditional learning assignments and lectures. These form part of a fully electronic course where lectures have been replaced by multimedia presentations and question/answer sessions, the worldwide web is taking over as a major content source and email is the main communication means in the class. Advantages are that students control the pace and depth of the learning. Whereas previously written student essays, were limited to single student-staff interactions, the IMM assignments can be shared with the whole class and they may be stored as an IMM database of learning modules providing a growing teaching resource for future students. Students are learning new information technology and communication skills as well as the scientific content vital for success in their own discipline. Finally, low cost, IMM is proving to be a fun way to learn.

1. Introduction

Are information, knowledge and learning synonymous? ìKnowledge is not information, knowledge is experience and meaningful engagement with the worldî, (Ackerman 1996). ìScience is not what the world is, it is what we can say about the worldî, (Laurillard 1996). Meaningful academic learning in science involves the learner conducting an internal dialogue with the world using experience, interrogation and experimentation. The learning dialogue is conducted by acquisition, discussion and discovery - and these can be made more powerful by the mediation and guidance of a learning agent such as a teacher. In complex areas of learning such as science, teachers and learners themselves use other agents such as text books (acquisition), text-based and mathematical problems (discussion), and models and simulations, field experiences and physical laboratory experiments (discovery), with which to build on and enrich the dialogue with a particular science topic and thereby assist in the learning process.

In the past science teaching has been based on authority and discipline. Teaching (mass education) is based on principals designed for mass output as in a ìfactory cultureî. Students (learners) and their learning materials have been policed, classified and assessed, all pathways to and underpinnings of, the discipline-dependent model. This can be readily evidenced by timetables, timeslots, tests, classrooms, clocks and curricula, all of which provide the spatial and temporal walls and barriers, which are designed to promote learning, but which may well inhibit the creative thinker engaging in their dialogue with the subject. In this long-used pedagogic method the teacher has in the past acted as the principal presenter, filter and explainer of the learning material and (for better or worse) the inspiration for the desire to learn by the learner. The teacher and learner have engaged in discussions, interactions and mutual activities all designed to promote the learning process, however, with the teacher as the principal holder of the knowledge (and enforcer of the discipline).

Learning is now being more generally ìreleased from the stranglehold of teachingî, (Nelson 1996). New more flexible models of education are now emphasising the power of the learnerís desire to learn, which is being harnessed by new models of self-paced-learning, problem-based enquiry and self-directed learning. The role of the teacher is thus seen more as a mediator and guide through the learning process. The revolution in information technology, learning technology and communications technology, which is still, relative for example to printing, in its infancy is both driving the change in the role of the learner and the teacher and also providing an array of new avenues to assist these changes.

We are currently developing, trialling and evaluating a model of tertiary science education which integrates sound pedagogic practice in flexible learning with the most recent multiple media (as opposed to multimedia) learning and communication technologies. In a trial project our students in tertiary science courses are beginning to develop their own low cost electronic interactive multiple media modules as an alternative to traditional learning assignments such as written essays. Requirements for the course are a well equipped computer laboratory, including the tools for scanning images, digitising video, storing and retrieving electronic image/software databases, network access and site licences for the low cost commercial software needed to integrate them into electronic assignments. We are also using electronic ìconcept mapsî (Clark & James 1993) as a critical navigational tools for the students to investigate, repurpose and deliver scientific content.

Students now control the pace, style and depth of the learning process. In the past written student essays were limited to single student-staff interactions, whereas the computer module assignments can be shared with the whole class and may be stored providing a growing teaching resource. Students are also learning new information technology and communication skills as well as the scientific content vital for the successful learning in their chosen discipline.

The aims of our program are to empower the learners, to allow the learners to more creatively engage in a dialogue with scientific information and ultimately to provide a balance between teacher-driven and learner-driven education. Learning technology is helping us to liberate the learner and the educational process from the constraints of time and space. We consider we must promote access to scientific knowledge and information using the new learning technologies to fulfil the charters of our Universities as ìcommunities of learningî. Our students can no longer be simply considered as the ìconsumersî of learning but must also be the producers. Learning technology is allowing the students to be much more active (and therefore effective) in their learning. Learning technology can individualise and personalise the route through learning for the learner. With the help of learning technology, education can promote confidence rather than information, enquiry rather than knowledge, and excellence rather than competence. The ultimate goal is to unleash and empower the intelligence inherent by definition in all learners.

This paper describes one aspect of a current ongoing experiment in modifying the educational experience of tertiary geoscience students. Traditional courses, like many presented in universities today, involve a mix of lectures, practical and laboratory classes, tutorials and fieldwork. These components are drawn together with a standard fixed timetable, and typically accompanied by printed handout notes and laboratory exercises (involving calculations, drawing, report writing). These are often part of the assessment of such courses which may also involve library research, essay writing and the obligatory final written examination. Our aim is to move to a more flexible format involving many of the current components, but changing to an almost exclusively electronic means of content delivery, learning strategy and communication.

2. The Pilot Study

Many of the facets of the change to flexible and electronic delivery are being introduced into a number of the geoscience subjects we regularly teach in our respective universities (Clark & James 1993, James 1994, James & Clark 1991, 1993, James et al. 1995). The current experiment has focussed on a small class of advanced level (third year) undergraduate students, who undertook part (3 points value) of a specialist course in structural geology in Semester 2 (July/August) 1996, at the University of Adelaide. Sixteen students were enrolled in the class, which comprised approximately 98 contact hours during 7 full days over six weeks. The course was taught for one whole day per week and had traditionally comprised 12 fifty minute lectures, 30 hours of practical class and a single days field excursion. Lectures for the four years prior to 1996 had been delivered directly as Powerpoint multimedia presentations, which had also been available in cross platform mode on the Depertmental network and available to take home on disc. The 1996 course was preceded by a week long field mapping camp.

Rather than the usual classroom accommodation of lecture facilities for the lectures and a teaching laboratory for the practical exercises, all components of the course were taught within a computer laboratory. This was equipped with 10 Macintosh and 20 PC networked computers all of which were loaded with the appropriate software. Owing to the trial nature of the course, there were a number of logistic problems in the delivery of the course, as will be outlined later.

3. Multimedia Presentations

Multimedia presentations have been a component of this course for at least four years. This has included the delivery of all lecture content via direct presentation of lectures using the MS Powerpoint software. The multimedia products have included, text, graphics, sound, video, and pseudo-animation (James 1994, James & Clark 1991) produced using a variety of commercial computer programs. Whilst Powerpoint is the main application, much use is also made of Excel, Word, Freehand, Photoshop, Premiere etc. The following section outlines a few of the main features regularly used in these multimedia presentations.

Text - the software allows all text to be typed or repurposed from word processed documents. The amount of text on any screen is minimised and large fonts and strong color contrasts are followed. This strategy allows students to check correct spelling of scientific terms and also allows text to be shown in large blocks or gradually presented with the build command as ìflying bulletsî.

Graphing - Excel graphs and tables of data have been regularly constructed and imported into Powerpoint.

Digital Imaging - many graphics have been scanned and imported into the image processing software Photoshop. Scans vary from black and white line diagrams, to coloured figures, plates or field photographs. Quicktime compression is used to reduce image file sizes to just below 100k (black & white scans are even smaller) thus 10-20 colour images, can easily be incorporated into a single lecture.

Freehand drawing- one of the principal research tools used in geology is a sophisticated drawing software package. Freehand is used exclusively for geological maps, cross-sections, field sketches, models and block diagrams, providing a very readily available resource of digital images for use in teaching. Such complex figures may be very usefully incorporated in the Powerpoint presentation lectures.

Videoclips - Premiere has been used to acquire small clips of digital video which can be a very useful and illustrative addition to Powerpoint multimedia presentations. We have regularly used - humourous, attention grabbing (earthquakes) and educational clips. Much use has also been made of field videoclips taken on student field excursions.

Audio - like video, audio of reasonable quality takes up large amounts of memory, and must be stored remotely from the Powerpoint presentation. However, it can also be very effective, for example, as an attention grabber during a presentation (eg explosion sound to accompany description of a volcano or cracking sound for an earthquake), or for background music to provide an overall professional quality enhancement, or even to add authenticity to field examples eg rushing water for river erosion, crashing waves for beach/shore activity or even bird calls for enhancing the ìfeelî of simulated field locations.

Pseudoanimation - one major drawback of Powerpoint is the lack of an animation feature. Many simulations of scientific or geological processes can be greatly enhanced by the addition of simple motion. This could vary from the simple movement of a line on a graph, to the movement of one fault block sliding across another. As this is not available, we have used the current functions of Powerpoint to create pseudoanimations. These have included automatic loops of objects drawn on sequential slides with slight changes in position, shape or size between slides to simulate a time dependent animation.

Our multimedia presentations have thus replaced almost all visual aids during all lectures and many laboratory classes. In delivering this MM to students problems have included the need to continually set up and take down the computer presentation equipment in whichever room the class is assigned. Poor light quality, insufficient light from projectors and poor darkening of classrooms, has not assisted adequate quality of delivery. Also slowness of computers and difficulty in transferring and moving around large filesize presentations has been a contributing factor to encouraging us to attempt more radical revisions of the teaching format.

4. Interactive Multimedia (IMM) Software/Courseware

IMM software is used as the programming tool to create IMM courseware, which is a different medium again to basic multimedia (MM) presentations. Rather than the presentation of digital content, IMM allows the viewer or student to actively participate or engage with, rather than passively observe, the content . IMM software usually has all of the attributes of MM software (eg text, graphics, digital image and video import and sound), plus the extra attributes of interactivity.

Using linked ìbuttonsî the material may be interrogated non-linearly or randomly, rather than the linear ìslide showî mode of Powerpoint. Using these ìhotî buttons or hypertext links, concepts, text, facts, diagrams and illustrations may be linked to other material in the same file (object linking), which can be viewed in an order chosen by the viewer, or if constructed in a sophisticated manner, multiple possible routes through the content, may be guided by the courseware designer. IMM courseware also allows the linking of files and applications (program linking), which may be launched or moved to, again using hot buttons. This interactivity may also be extended to a variety of question and answer (Q/A) situations, allowing simple yes-no, correct response, or multiple choice and even limited free format responses. These Q/Aís can then be structured into the courseware to allow for assessment or to forcibly guide, direct, or encourage the passage or navigation through the courseware. A final feature allowed by most IMM courseware software is the ability to animate objects on screen in real time.

4.1 High level software

There are many current commercial software products used to create IMM. The PLATO program by Digital was an early IMM authoring package during the 1980ís. The most popular current examples are Authorware, Supercard or Hypercard and Director in the Macintosh and PC platforms and Toolbook or Visual Basic for the PC. These are sophisticated, high level IMM courseware authoring programs which use a mix of icon driven and line code programming to produce their modules. The modules typically appear as a series of screens, which are linked by hot buttons or hypertext allowing a variety of navigation through the content of the material. Each screen in many ways resembles the MM slides of Powerpoint with high quality text/graphics, builds, transitions and fades etc, but with the addition of variable degrees of freedom and sophistication of animation (activity) and linking (interactivity).

These ìhigh levelî authoring tools are not programming languages and can be learnt and used relatively simply without a significant computing or software programming background. However, they suffer from a number of drawbacks, which restricts their general application to education and development by academics. Firstly they a expensive programs to buy and expensive programming environments in which to develop. Authorware and Director single licences cost over $1000 to purchase, even with considerable educational discounts, and multiple or site licences are commensurately more expensive. This is a considerable deterrent to individuals purchasing the software especially since the purchaser will also be aware that because of the price, there may not be many other local users able to afford the cost of a licence. Further there may also not be a great deal of collegial expertise readily available to assist with authoring problems. Also upgrades to expensive software arrive regularly and are similarly expensive, and finally training in such large and expensive programs is expensive.

Secondly, problems with the major authoring programs are the complexity of the authoring environment. Many academics have become proficient enough to be able to use authoring software, but this is only a small proportion of the potential academics who might wish to develop IMM for their own subject material. Thirdly there is a steep learning curve to be overcome to be able to develop courseware and finally, the expensive authoring software is not satisfactory for use by undergraduate (or even many postgraduate) students for the same reasons of cost and complexity.

4.1 The Hyperstudio package

There are a number of simple and cheap IMM authoring programs beginning to appear in the academic and educational marketplace. Hyperstudio, a commercial IMM package produced by Roger Wagner Publishing Inc. and distributed by New Horizons, is one such product, but a number of others also exist eg Digital Chisel, CALScribe. Hyperstudio is an icon driven IMM authoring program which is both cheap and simple to use. At around $150-$200 for single users and down to $50-75 for multiuser licences, computer laboratories of 20-30 machines may be loaded with the software for less than $2000. The program was designed, and is marketed for, senior school students, which means that tertiary staff and students can acquire skills in its use with relative ease. The software is also beginning to be widely used in Tertiary research and teaching institutions like the American Association for Petroleum Geologists (Shaw et al. 1994), the Victorian Institute of Earth & Planetary Sciences (A. Gleadow, pers comm., 1996) and the Adelaide-based National Centre for Petroleum Geology and Geophysics (C. Griffiths, pers. comm.1996). There it is used as both a modelling (simulation) and educational tool. Apart from this widespread use, other advantages of Hyperstudio are its Macintosh and PC cross-platform capability and a comprehensive support structure for authors (eg Hyperstudio Journal, Network and www site -

5. Knowledge Engineering project

The current project follows on from a number of previous innovations in teaching and learning, and in particular in the application of learning technology which we have been gradually implementing into our teaching courses (James & Clark 1993, James et al. 1995). In the subject described, during 1995, as well as the multimedia presentation of all of the lectures, a traditionally set and assessed specialist research essay and related seminar were modified to be almost exclusively digital. The research topics and sample literature were given to the students in digital form as well as on paper. Students were asked to search electronic databases (including Biblion, GEOREF and the www), and all students handed in their 2000 word essays on disc. They also all presented Powerpoint seminars (direct computer delivery) and one student, of his own volition, presented an interactive multimedia Hypercard stack which also contained the text of his essay.

Due to the acquisition of a 1996 University of Adelaide Teaching Development Grant (TDG) entitled ìimproving student learning using multimedia assignmentsî it was decided in 1996 to replace the essay and seminar (about 25% of the course) with an IMM assignment prepared by the students themselves, using Hyperstudio. The project was based on a similar concept of Tim Sawyer and Wendy Barber (Sawyer 1995), from the University of South Australia School of Medical Radiations, who had been promoting their program of students developing clinical Hypercard stacks in topics such as nuclear medicine, radiography and ultrasound, and who were very positive about the pedagogic value of this teaching (learning) technique (Farrow 1993), as most importantly ìa fun way to learnî.

5.1 Preparation of the courseware and planning

Through the first semester of 1996, the revised teaching program was planned and as well as the IMM student assignments, a decision was reached to make as much of the course as electronically-based as possible, and further to replace the traditional lecture components with an alternative content delivery mechanism.

As part of the planning for the course (and also funded by the TDG), a digital camera was bought to allow the students to capture their own field images, a site licence was purchased for a comprehensive array of related software simulation modules (from the Earthínware company) and the teaching environment (computer laboratory, hardware and networked software) was prepared. During May and June 1996, a student manual was written (based on the Hyperstudio tutorial provided with the software) to allow the students to quickly learn the skills of Hyperstudio authoring. This was prepared as a written text document, as a multimedia (Powerpoint) presentation, and as an IMM demonstration module for them to create. Just prior to the presentation of the course, the students carried out the week long field camp, where they were allowed to use the digital camera to capture field images. About 500 relevant images were taken prior to the course and were downloaded onto a portable computer and then onto the Departmental server.

5.2 The electronic course

At the beginning of the course, the students were engaged in a discussion where it was revealed that they were to be asked to act as ìguinea pigsî for a new style of teaching and learning experiment. During an introductory session, the rationale behind the change was explained in terms of the new more problem-based and experiential learning (learning by doing) that they would be undertaking in the course, the more flexible, learner-controlled and self-paced style of this course and finally the collaborative nature of the work, as they would be working together much more in groups and teams.

The students were informed of the resources which would be made available to them including the electronic Powerpoint ìlecturesî, Earthínware modules, other commercial IMM packages, digital images, www and electronic databases and finally the traditional text-based books, journals and references, which they could access. They were also informed of the skills which it was hoped they would acquire including technology skills such as word and image processing, presentation, IMM authoring, digital drawing and electronic mail skills, as well as the structural geology content and skills that the course was designed to transfer. The students were than given details of the revised nature of the course, including the replacement of the normal lectures with ìconcept reviewsî and Hyperstudio teaching assignment modules, and the written essays with the IMM electronic Hyperstudio assignments. The long practical exercises were also to be replaced with short problem-based exercises which were to be fitted around the other course components.

The students were asked to discuss and comment on the revised course, were invited to question the merits and aims at any stage and were informed that all attempts would be made not to disadvantage students during formative assessment. All students agreed willingly (some with enthusiasm) to undertake the new course format.

One of the first exercises conducted during the course was to teach the students how to use the Hyperstudio program. This was carried out using the specially prepared tutorial session, where they individually, at their own pace, followed a set of instructions which taught them enough of the menu driven commands to be able to create their own IMM module, with 3-4 cards, embedded text and graphics, button-linked cards and hypertext links and a simple animation. This exercise took the class on average, 1-1.5 hours and all students were able to use the software with ease following this introduction.

Another component of the course which eventually proved most fruitful, but initially was a considerable hindrance, was email communication with the students. As there was no current policy in this (or most other) course to provide student email facilities, a special effort was needed both to set up the appropriate accounts, and to set up a class electronic mailing list. A number of the students had not used email before and most had only used it sparingly. As it came on stream, email both to and from (and between), the students became the communication norm. Eventually all course notes, explanations, deadlines, question sheets etc., were emailed to students in the class and they responded with their own questions, answers and comments. This was a particularly efficient and rewarding means of interaction with the class.

5.3 Learning sessions in place of lectures

Other than the introductory information lecture, no other lectures were presented in traditional format during the entire course. Initially the students were asked to engage with the lecture content (from the Powerpoint multimedia material) in a planned and systematic manner. They were asked initially to review the lecture material alone. They were then assigned a small subtopic of one of the lectures, each week, to repurpose as an IMM module, using Hyperstudio. They were asked to do this working in pairs and then later in each session to re-present this module to the rest of the class as a short informal seminar-type presentation.

It became rapidly apparent, that simply reviewing the Powerpoint lectures was not a useful learning exercise. From week two therefore, question sheets (about 12-20 questions) for each lecture topic were provided which each student had to complete to show that they had engaged with, and understood, the main contents of each lecture. As the course progressed, these question sheets, which were prepared in MS Word, were emailed to the class and soon the students were answering the questions electronically (by switching in real time between MS Word and MS Powerpoint) and returning the completed question sheets electronically for comment and marking.

The pairs of students then produced IMM Hyperstudio modules from these sessions, which began in week one, and these showed that the students very quickly became proficient with Hyperstudio. Each week 7 or 8 modules were produced by the groups and a surprising degree of innovation, skill, style and effort was shown. At the end of each session, the students presented their work and their modules were scrutinised, encouraged and critiqued by their peers. There was a considerable sense of ownership of the modules and this was further encouraged as the Hyperstudio modules were immediately transferred to the computer network, where they were ìpublishedî for each other (and anyone else with access) to see. These student-produced ìteaching modulesî were used as the basis for a further 20% of the course assessment. This reduced the final assessment of the course to a 30 minute short-answer exam and a short practical test. The students appeared to approve of this modification of the final examination weighting.

During the course some students questioned the lack of content in the Powerpoint lecture material, where the lecturerís dialogue was obviously missing. Thus after each session a small group/ collective discussion was held to answer question and correct misconceptions. Overall, the individual and collaborative engagement of the students with the content and their obvious enthusiasm for the task was a significantly improved and motivating experience compared to the traditional ìsage on the stageî lecture format of previous years.

5.4 IMM research assignments

As the IMM research assignment was a major component of the course, the students were provided with details of its aims, intended outcomes and components early (in the second week) of the course. They were emailed a general document detailing the requirements for the topic. This stated that they were to produce a comprehensive individual IMM Hyperstudio module by the last week of the course, when they would be asked to present it at a formal seminar. Each module or Hyperstudio stack was to contain a minimum of some text, a scanned image (from a textbook or paper), a freehand digital drawing, some audio (copied or grabbed) plus a field photograph. The cards were to be linked by buttons and/or hypertext links and should all be readily navigable. There must be evidence of research and reading of the topic plus evidence of digital database and www searching. This must be properly referenced and acknowledged in a bibliography. A final request was that there should be evidence that they had attempted to send a question by email to one of the authors of one of the papers from their reading list (and hopefully to include a response). As well as these instructions, all students were given an individual research topic with a set paper and details of how to begin the research.

All students delivered their assignments on time and in spite of considerable cross-platform and other memory and storage problems all (except one) presented seminars on the last afternoon of the course. A great deal of effort went into the production of the modules, although most students did not manage to contact an external author, one was very pleased with the considered and detailed response he received from the UK author of the main textbook on the subject he researched

6. Evaluation

Immediately following the course one of us (RP) conducted individual interviews with the students. Subsequent to that formal evaluation questionnaires were completed by the students at the end of the semester, but these are not as yet available. A summary of the discussions with 13 of the students who were interviewed follows.

Eleven students commented that the Powerpoint lectures on computer did not now meet their needs when used independently to study the topic. These Powerpoint lectures were adequate when the detail was supplemented with additional discussion by the lecturer, as had occurred in previous years where the PP approach had been used. The other two students interviewed believed that the level of detail on the PP presentations was sufficient for their needs, and they preferred to work through the material at their own pace.

Two modifications to the Powerpoint presentations were supported. Firstly, the use of Q/A worksheets did help students focus on the main points in the lectures and this was seen to be an improvement on the situation where they worked through the material without any guidance. The second modification to the approach was the use of group discussion at the completion of the individual investigations on the Powerpoint lectures. Students strongly supported the use of these discussions as a means of clarifying their understanding of the geological concepts. This also increased the interaction within the class group, and this was important as one student commented: "the computer can't explain further than what is on the screen".

The Hyperstudio package was favoured by a majority of students for a range of different reasons. Many commented that it was a 'good idea' and that they 'enjoyed' using it. Nine students believed the balance between learning how to use the software package and learning the geology appeared to be an area of concern. Although they may have liked using the program, some of these students believed there was tendency to get more involved in designing a good presentation, rather than learning the geology. For two students, the issue appeared to be that they learnt a small amount of geology well through their Hyperstudio presentation, but did not know all the other areas developed by the other students as well as they thought they should.

This issue on the balance between time spent learning the program and learning the geology seemed to be quite significant at the start of the course. Students believed some of the early activities were rushed and so the opportunities for learning the geology were more limited as participants were trying to understand how to use the software. A suggestion made was that more time was needed in the early weeks to develop the presentations on Hyperstudio, and that more time was needed to review the presentations at the end of the session. As time was often very limited in these review segments, the focus of the discussion tended to remain on the animation and not on the geology concepts.

Developing computer literacy was reported by a number of students to be an important aspect of this section of the work. Many students recognised that learning how to use Hyperstudio had additional benefits, apart from just developing their understanding of the geology. For those students who believed they had limited computer skills, this course had developed their understanding of the use of computers: "I personally liked the approach and it helped me understand how to use a computer". Other students believed that the ability to quickly understand and use various computer programs was going to be an important part of their professional careers. Even if Hyperstudio was not the program they used in their future employment, the fact that they had to learn how to use a program and apply it to a geological situation was a skill they would need to have. As one student commented "we need to be able to pick up programs and use them - it is what industry is looking for".

As to be anticipated, access to different computers created technical problems for students. The exchange of information between PC and Macintosh computers seemed to have some problems, and caused some concern when material was lost. Even students with access to computers at home did not necessarily have a computer with the necessary memory to use the program. These students often had access to a friends computer to overcome this problem. Two students did comment that greater access to computers at university, after hours and on weekends, would have overcome some of their problems.

Three students commented that the teaching format used encouraged more interaction in the class and greater group participation. Comments made were that the learning experience was more enjoyable, there were more opportunities to be creative in science, and the process encouraged questioning to clarify thinking

Eight students commented on the assignment, and even though it appeared to take longer to do this assignment when compared to a more traditional essay they preferred the approach. One student believed it took him 2-3 times longer to do the assignment in this format, as he had to not only understand the research but then be able to prepare the Hyperstudio presentation. For this reason some students supported a greater weighting for the assignment. Students who did not like writing essays favoured this approach for assignments. In fact, some students were keen to extend the use of the approach to other subjects as one student commented: "Will other lecturers allow this to be used?". Three students were intending to negotiate with lecturers of other subjects to see if they could use a multimedia presentation for their assignments. In addition, one student commented that he saw it as a good method for presenting assignments as the rest of the group can get some benefit from the assignment. Traditionally, an essay seems to be only communicated between the student and the lecturer.

There seemed to be varying viewpoints on the use of the Internet. For students more comfortable in using the approach little comment was made. However, for some students using the Internet appeared not to be very successful. In part, this seemed to be due to the fact that the Internet component of the assignment was left fairly late by these students and so it was difficult to get suitable material to use in the assignment. However, there were four students who lacked an understanding on how to use the Internet. One of these students commented that a brief introduction on how to use the Internet may have been helpful. Even some of those who had used the Web before found it difficult to search out relevant information for their topic.

7. Difficulties encountered and Conclusions

As alluded to in the student evaluation comments, there were a number of difficulties experienced in the overall modification of the course to an electronic format, without presenting lectures and with student developed IMM courseware and research modules. As well as the student comments about problems of balance (geology v technology, content v skill) and of engaging with the content (www and Powerpoint lectures) the main problems centred around the inadequate technology and venue.

The computer laboratory where the course was to be exclusively carried out was throughout the course in great demand by competing interests from other students. As 30 computers were available and there were only 16 students in the course, the teaching and learning was carried out in a hectic environment of students from other courses, years and departments very actively competing for access to the machines. Thus it was not a particularly quiet or amenable facility, and presenting group discussions was near impossible.

The computers themselves were also poorly arranged. Both CPUís and monitors were cramped and cluttered and fully occupied all bench space. There was no bench space to spread maps, diagrams, papers to make notes or to read. The view to colleagues in front or to the side was also completely obscured making discussion and collaboration virtually impossible. The room also had insufficient chairs (some students sat on the floor in front of machines), no blinds and no projection facilities. It was not therefore the ideal teaching and learning venue. A new range of computer laboratories with clear desktops, recessed monitors, hidden CPUís and internet/network connection nodes for notebook computers is beginning to replace the forward facing computer laboratories of the 70ís and 80ís (eg the University of Marylandís AT&T Teaching Theatre and Boston Collegeís IMM laboratory). Hopefully design of computer user teaching and learning spaces will in future facilitate more pedagogically sound venues and spaces in which to carry out new computer mediated learning experiments such as this one.

As well as the hardware and venue problems, the course was beset with network and software problems. In spite of the considerable network/software administrative and technical assistance, the software environment was often a nightmare. Students did not have access to the Powerpoint program and were thus not able to re-use Powerpoint slides in their Hyperstudio modules. The lecturer (and the students) had very limited access and privileges to the network and software and frequently had difficulty launching the software. Hyperstudio and the Earthínware modules were not made available on the PCís until after the course was completed. There were constant system crashes, data losses and difficulty in saving and storing student created files. The software environment was certainly not user-friendly and some students lost hours-worth of work due to these problems.

In spite of all the difficulties encountered, the perseverance and enthusiasm shown by all involved in the course and the significant and rapidly progressing enhancements to software and hardware, leads us to the conclusion that given the correct educational model, it is only a matter of time before these technical difficulties will be overcome. The pervasive nature of the WWW and the obviously simple possibility of the transfer of this course material to a WWW environment also leads to optimism for its future growth and development.


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