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Partnership in Multimedia Production: a Model that Works

Michael Fardon and John Kinder,

Faculty of Arts,

University of Western Australia



A new Multimedia Centre chose to develop a multimedia authoring application as being the most likely strategy to involve a significant number of academic staff in the development of educational software. "StoryTime" is a versatile and powerful authoring application, with easy to use editing functions. It allows flexible combinations of text, image, sound, QTVRs. The application has been taught to small groups of academic staff jointly by the Academic Director and the Multimedia Programmer of the Multimedia Centre. In the workshops participants learn the application and consider aspects of the preparation of teaching materials in multimedia format and the introduction of such materials in their courses. The process is judged to have been successful, since a number of programs have been written in a wide variety of disciplines and in view of systematic evaluations carried out with the authors themselves, their peers and their students. The critical issue in the workshops and for the future viability of the project is not to do with multimedia development itself but with teaching. The success of multimedia development depends ultimately on the critical rethinking of the teaching and learning processes and on the implications of teaching in mixed mode with computer-based materials.


The StoryTime project is a development of the Multimedia Centre in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Western Australia. The project is coordinated by Dr John Kinder (Academic Director) and Mr Michael Fardon (Multimedia Programmer).


The Faculty of Arts Multimedia Centre was established at the beginning of 1996. A primary aim of the Multimedia Centre is, according to its Mission Statement, "to help staff improve their teaching through the use of technology". In pursuit of this aim, the Centre "encourages and assists the teaching staff of the Faculty to develop their own teaching materials, including audio-based materials through to computer-based and multimedia materials".

Familiarity with multimedia software was not high in the Faculty. Rather than focus on one or two high-fliers who would "lead from the front", we wanted to involve a larger number of staff, across a variety of disciplines. We decided to create an authoring shell and teach it to small groups of academic staff. StoryTime is the application developed for this purpose.

The StoryTime project is thus central to the activities and the role of the Centre. After a limited amount of training and guidance, academic staff members are able to work largely independent of the staff of the Centre to develop their own multimedia material for use in their courses. Staff are given the necessary skills and confidence to take hold of the technology and are assisted to integrate it, where appropriate, into their teaching.

The project has three components:

Application Features

StoryTime is a multimedia development application. It allows novice or advanced computer users to combine text, pictures, movies, and more in a variety of ways.

Programs produced using StoryTime can be used in a computer lab setting, or can be converted to Web format and made accessible over the World Wide Web. The conversion utilizes HTML and JavaScript in a highly interactive way.

The StoryTime interface is divided into four primary areas (Figure 1). The function of each of the areas is relatively fixed. The two areas on the left are used for displaying text, and the two areas on the right are for displaying images of various sorts. The four areas can be linked together in a variety of ways to create interactive programs, called Stories.

Figure 1. Screen capture from the Signs of China program

Both text areas may contain hypertext links to a number of different sorts of material. Similarly the image areas may also contain links to other material through image maps or QTVRs with hot-spots. All links, whether hypertext or hot-spots, can be created with simple word-processor-like actions in the StoryTime Editor (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Screen capture of an author creating a hypertext link to a picture

A major consideration in the development of StoryTime was 'ease of authoring'. It is important that the application be able to be used by a range of staff members with varying computer experience. The trade-off for 'ease of authoring' is the limited flexibility in screen layout, in particular the static function of the four pre-defined areas. However, this limitation has been compensated by the range of options for linking these areas and for creating links to other material such as glossaries, quizzing activities, pronunciation activities, and external Web pages.

Workshop Process

The StoryTime project began in early 1996 with the development of a prototype application. Using this application, three sample programs were developed for demonstration at a staff seminar. The staff seminar was attended by many academic staff from a variety of departments in the Faculty. Soon after the seminar, five academic staff members were invited to join the inaugural Software Development Workgroup, which would meet for a series of workshops on StoryTime.

Since the first series of workshops, there have been three more: two for academic staff, and one for a group of six students studying a second year History unit. Far from being traditional "training sessions", the workshops are dynamic exchanges between the three protagonists: Academic Director, Multimedia Programmer, and academic staff. The objectives of the workshops are:

The workshop process is central to the StoryTime project. The structure and sequence of the workshops is continually being refined on the basis of observations by the two presenters and feedback from the participants. The remainder of this section will discuss the format of the most recent series of workshops, detailing modifications in style and format which have been introduced since the first series.

The workshops are coordinated by John Kinder and Michael Fardon. This team approach of academic and programmer is an essential feature of the workshops: all workshops are planned and delivered jointly by the two presenters. This approach is a logical consequence of our conception of the nature and objectives of the workshop process. We see the workshops as a means to an end, as the first step of a journey. Our aim is not simply to teach a set of skills in multimedia production, but to take the participants to the point, at the end of the workshops, where they have actually begun to plan their first program. It is crucial therefore that, from the very outset, we address the "technical" issues of production and development and the "conceptual" issues of teaching and learning, in the same breath, so to speak.

During the four series, we have continually monitored the conduct of the workshops and have made a number of significant changes. For example, the workshops have been spaced progressively closer together, from once every two or three weeks in the first series to two per day in the same week in the fourth series. We have dedicated gradually more space to the issues of the digital preparation of resources and the conceptualization of teaching material in multimedia format, and less space to some of the finer points of the application, which in our experience tend to be learned "on the job" anyway.

Each workshop includes a step-by-step handout covering all points discussed in the session. The participants are gradually introduced to new features of the program with tailor-made example programs for them to create. A major component of the workshops is general discussions on the following themes which are interleaved amongst the hands-on practice:

One of the major challenges revealed in the workshop process is how to empower the academics to rethink their teaching strategies. A major misconception which has surfaced among workshop participants is the notion that the act of incorporating technology into the teaching process will automatically result in better teaching. We believe that multimedia technology is a way of providing innovative teaching. But without solid teaching principles and methodology, multimedia technology offers no enduring advantages over other modes of delivery. This topic will be discussed under "Rethinking Teaching Practice".

The Programs

The ability of the StoryTime application to combine visually rich material makes it ideally suited to the humanities. StoryTime has been in use by academic staff members in the Faculty for over a year. A highlight so far has been the success of the staff in producing computer-based materials for use in their teaching. The programs which have been completed or are under development include:

The 'Tranby Project'

A recent innovative project involves six students in a second year History unit preparing their major research assignment using StoryTime. In a 2nd/3rd year history course coordinated by Dr Jenny Gregory, students were offered the opportunity of preparing their major research assignment in multimedia format. The research project consisted of a description of Tranby House, a historical home in Perth, and to analyse its meaning. Tranby House is one of the few remaining Pioneer Houses in the Perth area, and is now the property of the National Trust of Western Australia.

The project was jointly managed by Dr Gregory and the two authors. The first step was to teach the students the StoryTime application. The broad research parameters were established by Dr Gregory and the structure of the program was agreed by the three project leaders. Thereafter, regular meetings were held between students and the three staff involved to set goals, review progress and, most importantly, to integrate individual contributions into a coherent whole.

The resulting program contains a diverse range of information regarding the history of Tranby House, and is a valuable resource for future use as an archive, as a teaching tool and as a reference for students. The program contains a large collection of photographs of the house and the many objects contained within it. Interactive QTVRs of rooms of the house and its surroundings help create an authentic experience.

This project has been very successful with the students involved and with the lecturer. It has required levels of collaborative research not easily attained in other modes of study. It has at the same time raised some fascinating challenges to do with assessment: Dr Gregory will assess the individual contribution of each student to the program and to the process, and each student is also required to write a report on their perceptions of the whole process. In short, this project has indicated that StoryTime may be useful for a range of possible student projects in the future. Two other members of the Faculty are formulating plans for student projects, in Architecture and in German.

Evaluation of project

Evaluation has been built into the project at all levels and at all stages. Evaluation has been both formative (focussing on process) and summative (focussing on products). The three major components of the project have been systematically evaluated: the workshops, the application and the programs.

The workshop process evolved and changed significantly during the course of the project. Fardon and Kinder met after each workshop and discussed the content and conduct of the workshop. We did not use formal evaluation instruments, such as questionnaires, since we believe that we have useful and reliable feedback directly from participants. The informal nature of the workshops and the fact that participants were required to work together on a number of tasks, meant that all participants were eager to offer comments on each workshop and on the process as a whole. Comments came during the workshops and also during the follow-up meetings with individual participants.

Changes which have been implemented as a result of this evaluation include: shortening the time period of each series of workshops, changing the order of the topics covered, including a session on the digital preparation of resources, and expanding to a full session the discussion of the participants' own planned stories.

The application has been evaluated by both the staff who use it for authoring and the students who then use the stories in their course. Constant, formative evaluation of the application by workshops participants was, from the beginning, a central feature of the workshop process. Right from the earliest workshops, participants suggested a number of changes and asked for certain features to be added to the application. Conversely, certain features which did not arouse great interest have been left undeveloped. This process has led to the creation of an authoring application which is closely attuned to the needs of the target audience for whom, in the first instance, it was developed.

The application has also been evaluated summatively through questionnaires distributed to students using Stories in their course. The questionnaires included items relating to the ease of use of the application.

The programs - the individual "stories" written in StoryTime - are extensively evaluated among staff and students. This evaluation takes place for the most part through questionnaires and through informal, individual conversations with users. The questionnaires have been developed with the assistance of expert staff in the University's Centre for Staff Development and are distributed to all students who use the stories. The Multimedia Centre has also offered StoryTime authors the opportunity to hold a seminar for the teaching staff in their own department, in which they may present their story and invite feedback. A number of staff have taken up this offer and questionnaires were distributed at these seminars.

These evaluations have produced, naturally enough, a wide variety of responses. At the risk of over-simplifying, we may say that response to the new medium has been generally positive, while reservations or uncertainties have been expressed about the place of the multimedia materials in the overall course of study.

We have also held meetings with all staff who have incorporated their stories into their teaching and discussed their impressions. Apart from the general feeling of sustained enthusiasm, the principal issue to emerge is the question which has become the major focus of the project: how do you teach with multimedia materials, and what implications does this have for your overall teaching program?

Rethinking Teaching Practice

We believe that this project has been successful in meeting our initial aims:

These are some of the issues which have emerged from our conversations with the authors:

  1. Teaching in a computer lab setting. One author was delighted with the student response to her program, but was unsettled by the experience of teaching with it in a computer lab setting. She found it difficult to structure the class as she does in a traditional room, alternating between her input from the front and time for the students to work on their own.
  2. Implications for lectures and tutorials. Another author of a successful program intends, appropriately enough, to use her program as a resource for private study by students, and to continue with her traditional program of lectures and tutorials. And yet the very presence of the program in the course structure means that those lectures and tutorials can never be the same again.
  3. Flexible vs sequential learning . One language tutor has been surprised to discover that integrating the flexibility of computer-based learning and the sequential nature of language acquisition is an inevitable challenge to anyone entering this field.
  4. The challenges of multimedia technology. Some staff are still fired with the enthusiasm of the neophyte for whom putting one's teaching materials into multimedia or Web format is in itself a Good Thing. The non-linear presentation of material incorporating a variety of media, in a constructivist framework, has proved to be a challenging concept. We cannot take for granted that concepts and issues, which are on the agenda of those interested or involved in flexible learning provision, are necessarily in circulation among the general academic population.

There are also, of course, several factors of an administrative and technical nature which will have and continue to have serious implications for the future of a venture such as this. Funding rears its ugly head immediately (although it must be said that our Faculty has been generous in recognising the value of this project, through the creation of Faculty-funded "Software Development Teaching Release Awards"). The workshop process and the application itself will need to be continually refined. Evaluation of the programs will need to be revised and expanded.

However the central issue in continued success is none of the above. The issue on which the future viability of the project depends is critical reflection by teachers on their own teaching practice. StoryTime lends itself most easily to a mixed mode of course delivery. This inevitably brings the teacher/software developer to examine their overall course design, use of different resources, teaching philosophy, modes of delivery and assessment. This is something which some of our workshop participants have not expected. Some of the participants have relished the challenge, others are more reluctant.


We have a way to go in refining the process and in refining our modes of evaluation, though it must be said that our role is to facilitate and support processes of software development, implementation and evaluation: the academic staff involved are ultimately those with responsibility for the courses they teach. And yet, even after only one year of this project, we are confident that we have evolved a model which works, by insisting at every turn that multimedia development in a University faculty is one component in the process of rethinking teaching and learning.

(c) Michael Fardon and John Kinder


The author(s) assign 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(s) also grant a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the ASCILITE 97 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 authors.

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This page maintained by Rod Kevill. (Last updated: Friday, 21 November 1997)
NOTE: The page was created by an automated process from the emailed paper and may vary slightly in formatting and layout from the author's original.

Back to List of papers

This page maintained by Rod Kevill. (Last updated: Friday, 21 November 1997)
NOTE: The page was created by an automated process from the emailed paper and may vary slightly in formatting and layout from the author's original.