Template supported development of CAL and Multimedia.

Bill Chia

Academic Computing Development

UWS Nepean

Kingswood. N.S.W. 2747


The design and development of CAL and Multimedia requires a wide range of skills and knowledge, and can be very time consuming. There is a trade off between the costs and the quality of the product. The costs and effort involved present difficulties.

The use of templates can reduce the complexity of the development process while retaining a range of skill inputs. Well designed templates are a way of making connections to good design to supplement the work of the content expert, author and developer. There are some pitfalls.

Object Based technology provide benefits which can be combined with a template approach. Some template systems in a Windows/TOOLBOOK environment are considered and issues raised about the use of the template idea.

With sufficient impact on costs and benefits, such methods may affect the adoption of CAL/MM and the extent of its use.

1. Keywords

Computer Aided Learning; Multimedia; Design; Development; Templates.

2. Introduction

The design and development of CAL and Multimedia requires a wide range of skills and is very time consuming. This has long been recognised as a problem for would be developers. Costs associated with the process and quality of the product are issues that necessarily arise. Identified needs include instructional, design, graphic and interface design in addition to computing and technical expertise. Content and subject expertise are also required. If one searches the literature, a long list could be produced of papers that have attempted to address these problems. A variety of approaches have been advocated. For example, team approaches are often referred to, but the size of the team can become a problem in itself and not all would be developers will have ready access to suitably qualified teams.

The approach to be taken must depend upon a number of factors. Key factors are the size of the budget and the nature and purpose of the intended product. Others are the availability of experienced team members and leadership and of support people. The use of templates may be a way of reducing the time required for the design process, and for reducing the complexity of the design. Templates may also reduce the time required for the development process. In some cases where templates are used for both design and development, the savings can be quite significant. For example, T.Kent Thomas reports savings in authoring time of almost 50% by reusing parts, templates and tools in an Object Oriented system and storing all content in RTF or database files. [Thomas, 1996]

3. What is a template?

A template used to be defined as "a pattern or mould, (usually wood or metal) serving as a gauge or guide". In engineering, templates were often used to improve the speed or consistency of a mechanical process. Generally, engineering templates were patterns of a spatial nature. However, in these days of numerically controlled machinery, the template may become essentially a set of numbers and instructions, i.e. a program. In our context, a template is a kind of pattern with which we can build the product. It contains key design features which become incorporated into the product and a template is reusable. It could be a set of spatial arrangements on a screen, but it could also include some of the functionality of the items so arranged. For example, the functionality of a set of navigational buttons placed on the screen may be part of the template. Thus in our context, behavioural features of the template and its components can become part of the design of the product.

Thus templates are a way of reusing generic aspects of a design created by some designer. Templates may be seen as an "off-line" way of making connections with the skills of others -- especially other designers. Since the decision to use a particular template can take much less time than creating the design from scratch, using a template is a way of leveraging the design skill inputs to a project. A well designed template may be an efficient way to provide good design to the developer.

But there are also possible disadvantages, some of which may be a direct result of the same factors that can make templates an advantage. For example, a poorly designed template may become an efficient way to provide poor design to the developer. An inaccurate or faulty template may speed the production of low quality material and a poorly chosen template, designed for a purpose different from that for which it is used, will, unless suitably modified, also fail to deliver an appropriate quality product. Furthermore the overuse of a template might be seen as limiting the design to repetitive, "pedestrian" software which smacks of a sameness that may lose its appeal to the learner. Some of the much maligned "Multiple Choice Testing systems" or "Drill and Practice Lessons" may be examples of this.

3.1 How do templates work for us?

Firstly, the template brings some simplification to a complex design process. In using a template we are able to adopt, through one action, a whole range of previously decided design options. When copied, the template carries its design features with it. These may be features relating to its various component parts, its basic purpose, its integration of the parts to meet that purpose, and its level of completeness or incompleteness. The purposes may be explicit though more commonly would be only implied. The design features may relate to principles of graphic design, interface design or instructional design. They could also include aspects of content design.

As mentioned previously, templates may also carry with them the behavioural functionality associated with the components and purposes. In other words, the template may be a functional object, not just an abstract pattern. When we reuse a template, we may not just copy part of some abstract ideas, but we may, like the proverbial hamburger, "get the lot". Having taken a copy of the template, we can then accept, adjust or discard some of the parts or features of the design. We also add things to it. Much of what we add will be content related, though we may wish to add features to the template itself to create a custom template.

Software technology developments such as "Object based, and "Object Oriented" techniques have contributed greatly to the programming/authoring environments which are now available. They support very effectively the things we may want to do with templates. These techniques support abstraction, encapsulation (combining the object, its properties and its behaviour into its own little package), modularisation and reuse. If the templates we use are implemented within such an environment, the copying, reuse, and also extensibility are well supported by the underlying system.

3.2 How can we use templates?

In specification and design stages of our projects, we can use templates as examples of design, or to create a design prototype. Such a prototype can then be used for analysis or discussion to establish clarity for the project members. If we are operating in a team environment, a rapidly constructed design prototype can assist in the communication of design features, especially for any who have less experience in the various kinds of design work. [Muldner, 1994]. The templates may thus be a kind of training mechanism, whereby design expertise is transferred to members of the development team. The templates may serve a valuable purpose in bringing some reasonably well designed standardisation and simplification to the design. This would then feed through into a less complex development stage.

Some people would recommend that the prototype at this point be discarded and that any actual development begin from base level. On the other hand, where the templates are implemented in a suitable development environment they could be used directly in the development itself. Object based environments are a good case in point. When combined with template techniques, they can result in a both powerful and flexible system. A major part of the development process can be done incidentally during the design process. When the design is "done", through copying and adjustment etc., much of the development is also "done". The functionality gets copied or set at the time of design, as part of the objects of the template. This can have a large impact on the cost side of the development.

If we are using the templates for the development processes as well as the design processes, the flexibility and usability of the template system itself become

Figure 1. The CALScribe Lesson Model

important. Not only must the template be well designed in terms of the final product it delivers, but also, the ability to adjust and even extend the template, and to add content material to it affects the time costs. This presents something of a dilemma. More flexibility usually means more decisions to be made by the user, yet some of the users may not be well equipped to make those decisions. Even experienced users may not welcome the extra work of repeatedly choosing the same options. It can be a nuisance to always have to make a specific decision when a standard solution will suffice in the majority of cases. One solution to this is to have a system of defaults for the options. In such a case, the choice of which option to have as the default can greatly affect the convenient use of the template. In some systems, such as TOOLBOOK, the user can change the default to suit the needs.

Similarly, some simple extensions to a template may lead to significant time savings in creating the design and the end product. Where the template system is extensible, as in some Object based environments, it can be a relatively straight forward piece of work for a programmer to extend the system to accommodate particular needs.

Thus the template idea can be used in the specification and design stages and in the development stages to assist the overall development process. Templates may be part of a whole system which is itself flexible and extensible, and supports design through to development stages.

Let us now consider some examples.

4. CALScribe

CALScribe is a template system developed and distributed by the Educational Technology Service (ETS) at Bristol University. The authors trace the genealogy back to Video Interactive Program Author (VIPA) which originated from Leeds and was modified for use with Videodisc at Bristol. The template is written in and based on TOOLBOOK in the MS Windows environment. It is designed so as to be open to the full functionality of TOOLBOOK. As such it adopts the book metaphor of a file being a set of pages. Movement between pages represents major screen changes.

The CALScribe Template provides a lesson structure as a standard set of pages plus a set of selectable optional pages most of which are question types. The CALScribe lesson model incorporates a number of integrated features which reflect sound instructional design principles and will contribute to an instructionally sound interactive lesson if used properly. There are still things that the lesson author would need to do to maintain the instructionally sound design. As with all template based development, the mere use of the template will not guarantee that the lesson will be sound, any more than using prefabricated parts in a building will guarantee that the building will be sound and will serve some particular purpose or function. If the mortar is poor, or the bricks wrongly placed, the wall can still crack or fall down!

The lesson structure provides pages for a Title or Menu, an Introduction, Objectives, Text, Questions, Summary and Scoring plus report. The first page provides a place for readings and references, acknowledgments etc. Currently there are 6 question types. There is an alternative form of the template which provides a menu that links to other lessons and a page specific navigation system.

The question pages are designed to link with the overall lesson scoring and summary report system. Questions as desired, of any of the six types, in any preferred order can be incorporated into the lesson with or without interspersed "Text" pages. Graphics etc., can be added to any of the pages. The interface for inserting questions and many other template activities are incorporated as an extension to the pull down menu system provided by TOOLBOOK, which itself extends the Windows menus.

The way in which CALScribe and TOOLBOOK extend the Windows menu system illustrates the possibilities available with extensible systems in an Object Based or Object Oriented environment. A TOOLBOOK programmer can easily add further to the menus already available.

The question types currently provided in CALScribe are:

Free Response Question

The "Newcastle" Multiple Choice (Multiple True False)

Latent Multiple Choice Question

Point to an Area Question

Pick from list(s)

Modified Essay

A question type for "interruptible video" is being developed.

The question pages provide integrated sets of components to set up the encoding and delivery of questions on computer. There are a number of ways these questions can be structured. The issue for the designer using CALScribe is how the templates available can be used as a vehicle for the content and intents of the lesson. The question templates provide the behaviour of the component objects as well as their visual aspects. The layout is readily adjusted using the standard TOOLBOOK editing environments.

Each of the question types incorporates a method for collecting and marking responses and for providing feedback. Although these are somewhat basic, they meet a common need. According to the information on the ETS website, "The question types incorporated into CALScribe are those which seem to be the most in demand."

CALScribe is used quite widely at Bristol and other sites, especially in the UK. Registered users are over 35 and the estimated number of unregistered users is between 50 to 100. It is available under licence without charge to educational institutions.

Beside the lesson and question components, a number of other functions or segments of services are included as part of the overall CALScribe template. There are segments to prepare the template for the entry of response analysis and feedback messages, and for preparing the book trialing and for distribution. In addition, there is an on-line help system on how to use the template. The standard interface for the entry of marking and judging criteria simplifies some of the authoring work and can lead to some saving in time.

Time saved and quality of product are two desirable outcomes one may look for from the use of templates. These two outcomes, if achievable together serve to reduce costs while increasing benefits. In the template, these aspects depend upon the effectiveness of the design, the amount of design work that can be accepted with little modification, and the ease of use of the interface for using and adjusting the template. In the latter case, increasing the options and flexibility of choices may help the design effectiveness, but may tend to make the template more difficult to use because there are more choices to be made. It may be possible to add easy selection interfaces for recording the decisions, but the end user still has to know how to decide which options are best. If a default option is also suitably chosen, the designer may be spared some of the effort in the recording the choice. In CALScribe, there are not so many of those options that are obvious to the user, and some of the default decisions are, in my view, not ideal. Actually, some of them arise from the underlying defaults in TOOLBOOK software, which turn out not to be the best option for this case. However, the discerning end user can set the defaults, because the TOOLBOOK system defaults are open for resetting or even modification. There are some simple, yet effective examples of this for the defaults on text fields.

The CALScribe case is instructive because some of its "limitations" are in their own way a strength in certain circumstances. For example, although an experienced CAL/MM designer will have more sophisticated needs and a greater number of specific preferences than a novice user, these preferences could be confusing to a novice user. By preserving the simplicity, CALScribe is well suited to novices, and because it is open to extension and modification, it is "scalable" and so can continue to assist authors as their requirements grow more specific. A danger and concern would arise if the authors ceased to think about any changes or improvements to the way they do things.. In an extensible system such as CALScribe, additions can also be achieved at the local level. For example, one could

Figure 2. The TOOLBOOK Generic content Book Model

easily add a hypertext creation facility to assist with handling "hidden knowledge" needs. A useful strategy with templates, would be to maintain good contact with the template developers so that other needs can be catered for and improvements made to the template.

4.1 What CALScribe doesn't do.

CALScribe gives you many worthwhile things with which to work, for example, introduction, objectives, text, question and summary pages. What it doesn't do, is that it doesn't teach you how to write an effective introduction to your lesson material, nor how to choose sound objectives, nor how to design the text format to maximise the communicative value of the item. It doesn't advise you what content to write in the page. In the hands of an educator who has understood the principles, it can be a effective tool. To person who is new to design of learning materials, it may alert the person to the things needed, though not really how to do them. A lot still depends on the author.

These missing skills might be learned from training courses, or reference articles or books. Another way would be to provide some kind of on-line advice . A prototype example of a system to do this was developed as an Instructional Design Advisor. [Chia, W. 1994]


Asymetrix TOOLBOOK CBT Edition and Toolbook II Instructor provide a set of templates and many other features using a template idea to provide reusable patterns for incorporation into a product.

TOOLBOOK's brochure says it has over 200 templates which contain over 2000 colour pages. This sounds pretty impressive. In practice, only a small number would be needed at any time. The TOOLBOOK templates are "Layout Templates",. with a range of colours and backdrops. Although a graphic designer could no doubt provide a customised layout to specifically suit your needs, its mood and aesthetic appeal, the set available with TOOLBOOK will provide a reasonable range to suit many users.

The layout templates also have basic navigational buttons that appear on all pages that use the particular template. The backward and forward navigational buttons can disable themselves when the user is on the first or last page respectively. This is a built in feature which many authors might not have thought of and illustrates how template design can quite painlessly contribute to overall design.

5.1 Book Specialists

In addition to the layout templates, MTB-CBT Edition provides a set of book specialists which are an easy interface for making various design decisions about a book and its behaviour. The book specialists contain the information of design and thus provide a similar function to that of a CALScribe lesson template. Through the use of a book specialist, a set of design defaults can be decided and recorded in a file for re-use. This record is a sort of template for creating books of the type represented by the particular book specialist.

5.2 Widgets

Besides the Book Specialists and Layout Templates, Multimedia TOOLBOOK and the CBT edition of it provide sets of WIDGETS which are like mini templates for components on a page. These combine display and code functionality which can be used to perform various jobs in the TOOLBOOK book. There are many kinds of widgets. Widgets are available for navigation, questions, response checking, and media control, Computer Managed Learning options and other functions. Visually, many of the widgets appear rather simple and not particularly significant, but functionally they can do a great deal. Because of the programming "code patterns" they carry, the TOOLBOOK widgets are like "code templates" combined with a visual part.

The "code patterns" define the behaviour of component parts of the widget, or in some cases, of parts which are yet to be created and defined by the author. In these cases, they are really little templates for the behaviour of the object that isn't even there. A obvious example to consider would be the Multiple Choice Question widgets.

As with the usual MCQ. a question stem provides a context for the question and the widget supplies several items from which to select the best answer. These items would commonly be a text field, or a "button" to represent the answer.

The Definable Multiple Choice widget lets one attach Multiple Choice functionality to virtually any screen objects the author might wish. In addition to the more conventional text information the answer alternatives can be set as diagrams, pictures, varied shape areas, groups of objects, or a combination of these. With this widget, virtually anything that can be represented on the screen can be made part of an interactive multiple choice question. One could construct parts of a video segment, simulation or animation to be part of the Multiple Choice question responses. TOOLBOOK provides the means of setting the properties and values of the widget to handle right, wrong, multiple right, and partially right/wrong answers, and also to set marking and scoring as well as specific feedback of various types.

Similar definable widgets are available for "Type-In" question types, "Place in Order" questions, "Arrange parts of a whole" and many other functions. Thus, these definable widgets make some well designed interaction behaviours available for the developer or designer to use in a wide variety of ways. The "code templates" in these widgets make many highly creative combinations easily available even to people with little programming expertise.

Following a similar idea of abstracted pieces of code TOOLBOOK provides other ways of copying little pieces of code. It has autoscript code generation and also a script library. This line of discussion has led us from considering large scale templates for books and courses, all the way to the level of program scripts. As a reusable pattern the template idea has relevance at all these levels.

5.4 Media Widgets

In the development of multimedia applications, the media widgets help greatly with a number of technical and design issues relating to the use of media. They give components which solve and implement specific solutions to various Multimedia interface issues so that a relative novice can easily incorporate Multimedia elements into their CAL or Multimedia Lesson or book. They provide expertly designed solutions to many issues that deal with the operational implementation. When the media widgets are combined with other functionality they simplify the integration of Multimedia into the lesson product.

5.5 Summary

The TOOLBOOK widgets contain a great deal of encapsulated design which is provided to the author. It is a bit of a pity that the documentation for the widget functionalities is not as obviously accessible as some of the other features of the TOOLBOOK system. It may suffer the problem of being a little overlooked, and hence less used than it really deserves.

TOOLBOOK's system of defaults can also be used to advantage. In line with most of the pattern in TOOLBOOK, if the current offerings are not suitable, an option is available to create your own. Users can create their own Specialist book, or their own layout templates, widgets, script segments and even script library. One can also create one's own menuitems and menus, tools and toolpalettes. The TOOLBOOK environment is thus well suited to creating templates and template systems for any particular needs.

6. What we still need

If the template systems can do so much, do we still need designers? If problems have been solved with effective solutions, is it necessary to reinvent the wheel yet again. Does one simply need to know how to choose the mousetrap to suit the mouse?

It will still be true that the professional graphic designer and program specialist will be able to produce better results, perhaps with comparatively little effort too! However, the use of the templates places the design results and powerful mechanisms in the hands of the novice author who, though somewhat lacking in experience, is willing to learn. The templates may thus contribute greatly to what an author with limited resources, or limited direct "connections" is able to do. As in case of CALScribe, TOOLBOOK may allow you to easily incorporate material into your lesson/book, but it still does not determine for you "what particular Video or Sound clip" you ought to use for most effect in the particular circumstance or whether to use one at all. It does not guide you as to whether to use video or sound or text or any particular type of media. It doesn't guide you when or how to use delays, which transitions etc., to use for greatest impact on attention, memory and learning. There is thus, still a great deal of design expertise which is needed. Perhaps that is stating the obvious. However, on the other hand, there may be cases where such design decisions could be made at a generic level, and therefore could be incorporated into a template. Some language learning scenarios may be candidates here. (Ruhlmann, 1994).

There are plenty of TEMPLATES and other tools for particular purposes yet to be designed. This is perhaps where a lot of useful work can yet be done.

7. VisChem and the template idea

An illustration of a useful particular purpose template, can be drawn from the VisChem Project. VisChem was a CAUT funded Multimedia project led by Dr. Roy Tasker. One outcome of the project is a Chemistry Learning Interface which can be used as a template to develop further Chemistry interactive learning opportunities. The interface provides opportunities to interact, observe and think at three distinct levels of Chemistry -- the Laboratory (or macroscopic) Level, the Molecular-Ionic (or sub-microscopic) Level and the Symbolic Level, (chemical nomenclature, symbols, formulae and chemical equations). The VisChem interface allows the learner to see all levels represented on the screen and to switch easily between the levels. Combined with animations and video segments carefully devised to target identified misconceptions, this represents an expression of the VisChem philosophy. Admittedly this is a somewhat specialised area, but the prospect of being able to use it to generate many different examples in quite different areas of Chemistry is exciting. A great deal of thought and planning went into the design of the patterns, and some of the results of that work can be transferred to other cases by applying the template idea.

8. Self Assessment Modules

Another illustration of a useful higher level template can be drawn from the Self Assessment Modules (SAMs) of First Year Biology at the University of Sydney. These SAMs are being constructed with a template which provides a strategy for self assessment using selectable graded self tests on course content. Within each level of SAM there are questions based on standard types which are also graded according to the process involved in the question type as well as on content difficulty. The question types include True/False, match answers, multiple choice, type in the answer, arrange the parts, and drag and drop to construct a table of information. Question patterns have been programmed to allow content experts to put their material directly into the template to form the SAM for the specific content area. In this case, the template design supplies part of the instructional strategy for the modules. Discussions are under way for the template to be used in other discipline areas. The template has been developed in the Authorware environment. An advantage for this group has been the availability of a full time person with the programming skills to implement the design features for the template and to improve its usability iteratively. [Franklin & Peat, 1995]

9. The impact of templates

Template systems and the template idea may reduce the time cost and complexity of design and production without excessively reducing the benefits. Although using templates may not be suitable for all projects, yet, because of their potential to reduce costs, they deserve to be considered.

Teams may benefit from template systems by using them for rapid design prototypes for the generation of ideas and communication. Individuals may benefit from the connection they provide with good design.

There are opportunities for the design and creation of new specialised templates to address particular needs. It is my belief that there is much to be gained in this area. Benefits are identified and discussed by G. Webb under the concept of Courseware Abstraction. [Webb, 1987]

The analysis presented indicates that template systems and methods can play a positive part in both the specification and design as well as development /production stages. Although one may decide not to use any templates in the ways suggested, their possible impact on the cost/benefit ratio suggests that they ought at least to be considered.

9.1 Indirect Effects.

Put simply, the use of templates has potential to shift the Cost/Benefit ratio in a favourable way. Where projects have funding, this may mean that more can be achieved for the same costs. One may hope that this would affect the adoption of CAL/MM for learning. Perhaps the advantages of template systems may convince administrators to provide more funds to support CAL./MM projects, but that is at best, speculative. Indirect effects such as the effect on perceptions may turn out to be more important than the amount of shift in the Cost/Benefit ratios that are likely to be achieved at present. The perception that the CAL/MM teaching strategy is really feasible may convince some "prospective users" to get involved.

The extensibility and flexibility of systems means that support staff may be able to provide customised modifications to templates to suit staff requirements.

Because there are many factors involved, it is hard to predict with any certainty what impact templates might have on the type and quality of CAL or MM that may be produced. Perhaps there will be more projects attempted on small or moderate budgets. There might be some slight drop in quality though I do not see that as much of a danger. I believe quality would not fall below a level acceptable to the students.

For me, the attraction of the template system is the savings in development time and the increased ease of getting a good solution and showing what can be done. Will there be an impact on the use of CAL? Just perhaps, though that is speculative. However, if the time savings can be achieved consistently, I believe we will see an increase in the use of templates. That may become the way of the future and that may change the way we do our development.

10. References

W. Chia, IDeA-A, An Instructional Design Advisor-Assistant for CAL, Unpublished Masters Thesis, Macquarie University, 1994.

S. Franklin, & M. Peat. The use of Multimedia in the Teaching of First Year Biology, in J. M. Pearce & A. Ellis (Eds) Learning with Technology, Proceedings of the 12th Annual ASCILITE Conference 1995, Melbourne, p171-177.

T. Muldner, Rapid Prototyping of Computer-Based Presentations using NEAT version 1.1 in Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 94, Vacouver, BC Canada.

F. Ruhlmann, Designing Templates for Interactive Tasks in CALL Tutorials, Paper presented ant the meeting of EUROCALL (Karlsruhe,1994).

T. Kent Thomas Re: Author vs Author. Email contribution to: Instructional Technology Forum <ITFORUM@uga.cc.uga.edu> 16 March 1996.

G. Webb Generative CAL and Courseware Abstraction in J. Barrett & J. Hedberg (Eds) Using Computers Intelligently in Tertiary Education, Proceedings of the ASCILITE Conference, Sydney 1987.

11. Acknowledgements

My appreciation and thanks go to Adrian Longstaffe and Kim Whittlestone of Bristol University, for providing extra information on CALScribe; to Roy Tasker, of UWS Nepean for information and materials relating to the VisChem Project; to Sue Franklin, Mary Peat and Rob Mackay-Wood of University of Sydney for information on the Self Assessment Modules (SAMs); and to T. Kent Thomas for his contributions on the ITFORUM discussion list 16/3/96 and various other times.


Bill Chia (c) 1996. The Author assigns to ASCILITE and educational and non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author also grants a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document in future on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the ASCILITE 96 conference papers, and for the documents to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.