Students Question the World!: Learning
with ìMultipleî Media.
Department of Geology & Geophysics
University of Adelaide, South Australia, 5005
Advisory Centre for University Education
University of Adelaide, South Australia, 5005
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lectures have been replaced by multimedia presentations and question/answer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.
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
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
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.
- 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
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 - http://www.hjs.com/).
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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