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Redeveloping a Successful Multimedia Project into a Flexible Web-based Format


Carmel McNaught

Academic Development Unit, La Trobe University &

EPI Group, RMIT University

Glenn Browning

Faculty of Veterinary Science,

The University of Melbourne


Graeme Hart

Melbourne Information Technologies Australia


John Prescott

Ontario Veterinary College,

University of Guelph

Kevin Whithear

Faculty of Veterinary Science,

The University of Melbourne



The paper describes a redevelopment of a successful multimedia project (the Veterinary Bacteriology and Mycology (VBM) project at The University of Melbourne) into a Web-based format. The design of the initial project is described, together with learning benefits that short-term evaluations revealed. The positive benefits were not sustained in the long term, as this was a once-off experience for students. Several needs emerged:

These needs have led to the VetSource project, which uses the cMILE (customisable Multimedia Integrated Learning Environment) engine. An initial evaluation with two pilot modules is described.

Original Veterinary Bacteriology and Mycology (VBM) project

The Veterinary Bacteriology and Mycology (VBM) project at The University of Melbourne was begun in the early 1990s. It set out to use computer technology to overcome some of the current problems of subject presentation and integration in overcrowded veterinary curricula. It involved the development of interactive, multimedia databases of veterinary curriculum materials, linked to a revised set of educational objectives, a range of other learning situations and more appropriate assessment procedures. The expanded set of learning objectives required students to acquire information management and problem solving skills, as well as understanding bacterial and fungal diseases of animals. The development of group learning skills and communication skills were also explicitly built into the course. The curriculum rationale is explained in detail in Whithear, Browning, Brightling & McNaught (1994). In this computer-based, case study learning system (CB CS LS), 24 lectures, 40 hours of laboratory sessions and course notes were replaced by:

This has been well evaluated with findings like the following (McNaught, Whithear & Browning, 1994):

These students were followed through into their clinical years. A focus group interview with clinical teachers and some individual interviews with students were conducted. The teachers did not think the students were noticeably better at clinical diagnosis than in previous cohorts, or knew more microbiology. Several of the teachers had looked at the VBM material and valued its intentions and design. However, they felt that this approach was not integrated into the whole veterinary course in a way which would make any real differences. It was an isolated experience. These views were echoed in students' comments; one recalled the VBM experience as 'a fond memory'. So, the evidence the project team has it that these initial positive shifts were not sustained by students in their work in later years in clinical settings. This is hardly surprising; one eight-week experience is unlikely to alter students for long when other subjects encourage information reproduction. We wanted a more adaptable model which veterinary (and other) colleagues could use in their own discipline areas to encourage a genuine change in the nature of veterinary students' experience.

The Emergence of cMILE

The emergence of new communication and information technologies (CIT) being packaged together in a Web environment has resulted in a much higher profile being given to the use of CIT in T&L within Australian universities. There is also a growing international awareness of the potential of Web-based technologies to facilitate the development of long distance collaborative projects. Both of these factors have resulted in an international consortium of over 30 veterinary scientists working with a team of software engineers from Melbourne Information Technologies Australia (Melbourne IT)-the commercial Information Technology subsidiary of The University of Melbourne-to develop a Web application which satisfies the requirements of the VBM project as well as other courses. This Web environment is called cMILE (customisable Multimedia Integrated Learning Environment) and is a course management and authoring system that is designed to combine:

It provides a unique generic authoring tool and integrated platform for the communication of education over a network, either internet or intranet.

It has become trite to say, but is still true, that the role of the educator is undergoing a transition from that of the 'sage on the stage to the guide on the side'. Being a repository of expert knowledge is no longer enough to be accepted into the hallowed halls of pedagogues. The on-line world of the Internet can provide a wealth of information; the important skill now is to manage and synthesise it all. Many are struggling with the transition from an industrial to an information society. On the other hand, many are embracing the opportunities provided by new technological innovation (Reeves & Reeves, 1997).

With the convergence between database and internet technologies we are seeing the rise of education as a consumer item in a general sense. Something to be packaged neatly into modules ready to be taken away, unwrapped and 'consumed' at leisure. Coupled with this is the changing nature of educational delivery via the Internet, a delivery mechanism by virtue of bandwidth limitations, demanding that information be provided in snapshots or manageable chunks to enable acceptable delivery times on-line.

These forces combine to ensure that any semester course created or converted to on-line delivery will consist of many individual elements. Management of large sets of data has typically been handled by databases. They are purpose-built to store large amounts of data. The Internet is an excellent mechanism for serving-up information via browsers. In the past twelve months there have been rapid developments in the convergence between database and internet technologies to the point now where new middle layers of functionality are being developed to potentially revolutionise the delivery and management of on-line educational programs.

Once the question of getting course material on the Internet has been addressed, and the decision has been made to follow a digital direction, the issue then becomes one of how much time and resources are available to ensure delivery. This is where integrated authoring environments come into play. For small-scale teaching with only a few students and limited resources, the creation of ordinary HTML (HyperText Markup Language) files is quite appropriate (Hart, 1996). As a site grows with the accumulation of text, graphics and videos along with the incorporation of CGI scripts or Java applets to ensure some degree of interactivity, the site begins to require more and more basic management to ensure that the ever-growing number of individual files are organised in a coherent way.

The cMILE (customisable Multimedia Integrated Learning Environment) education server (HREF 1), currently being developed by Melbourne IT and due for beta release in November 1997, is intended to provide on-line solutions to the areas of:

cMILE is a WindowsNT server-based scalable system allowing for many thousands of students to access course material via any client computer with HTML browser software, certainly provides plenty of scope for expansion in tertiary teaching programs, whether it be with more students on campus or a greater number of students overseas.

An integrated environment based on active server page technology such as cMILE allows for resources to be stored in a database and then served-up 'on the fly', as they are needed. In this way, the same resources can be shared among many users. Of more importance to the authoring academic is the ability to collaborate with other academics via the Internet to assemble resources into learning programs.

The potential for on-line authoring in a virtual university environment is immense, particularly where the issue of Intellectual Property is addressed by allowing individually created learning objects, such as text, graphics, quizzes, Shockwave objects and so on, to be 'stamped' as created by a particular individual. cMILE allows for these 'learning objects' to be authored into a sequence of case studies, tutorials or lectures for delivery to students.

The administration module will provide extensive course management functionality by keeping a log of the actions performed by students during every session within the cMILE environment enabling customised reporting of student assessment.

Development of the VetSource Materials

An international consortium of veterinary bacteriology and mycology teachers using problem-based learning and interactive multimedia was formed in January 1996. The educational mission of the consortium is to improve the quality of veterinary bacteriology and mycology teaching by facilitating adoption of problem-based learning systems that incorporate innovative use of interactive multimedia. This is to be achieved through an integrated system that electronically links the learning (problem-based) process with multimedia information sources. In other words, it uses the educational concepts that have been practised over the past five years for teaching veterinary bacteriology and mycology at The University of Melbourne. However, there will be two important differences. The first is that the teaching materials will be delivered via the World Wide Web using the cMILE platform being developed by Melbourne IT. The second major difference is that the combined specialist talents of the teachers involved will be available to the consortium as a group. The most tangible immediate benefit of this will be the production of an international, multimedia textbook on the subject that is accessible to consortium members and their students via the Web. An editorial board has been formed to oversee the content and educational quality of the electronic text. In addition, it is expected that consortium members will share case studies and other materials. However, it should be emphasised that other than for the text content, the ways in which the materials are used will be up to the discretion of individual teachers. Flexibility of learning modes has been built into the system. As a pilot, two chapters and accompanying case studies have been produced to allow members of the consortium to comment on issues such as content and style. At this stage the information content is the focus; a focus on communications will follow.

At present in the Library theVeterinary Bacteriology and Mycology book has the chapters

There is also a Dictionary of Veterinary Bacteriology.

'Air sac disease' is an original VBM case study which has been translated to the Web environment. While the 'story line' of the linear unfolding of a case study is still apparent, students can access any place in the case study. It is hoped that the 'authenticity' of the original case study about problems in a 28 day old broiler flock still remains with additional flexibility and functionality. The material appears as a menu:

  1. Quiz about some important biological properties of the organism involved
  2. Quiz about culture of fastidious pathogens.
  3. Identifying a bacterial species belonging to a genus with unusual properties
  4. Quiz about some biological consequences of unusual properties of the causal organism
  5. Quiz on possible role of parent to progeny transmission in this case
  6. Identifying an important secondary pathogen
  7. Pathogenesis of the disease
  8. Controlling the infection
  9. Feedback

'Puppy diarrhea case' is a new case study designed for the Web environment. It was designed with the intent of getting veterinary students to understand some of the complexities of the problems that they will be faced with in their work, including highly charged contexts in which high value placed on an entity (here an unborn child) can significantly distort perceptions of risk. The case was designed to help students identify possible issues involved in a problem, then to use the search function of VetSource to identify an agent(s) of possible significance. As the Library element of VetSource is developed then other agents will be added to the list. As the case progresses, the students continue to search the relevant part of the text to increase their understanding of the sources of this infection, and of the relative risks of different sources. The underlying aim is to get the student to understand the sources of this infection, the type of disease that it causes, as well as how to analyse a problem which they might not see initially as within the field of veterinary medicine. They are led to engage with the material by their need to know and by the intriguing nature of the problem, rather than because some professor tells them this is important. It is also part of the concept behind VetSource that they need to find out about how to find and use information, and therefore need familiarity with a text that they can learn to know and trust. Like 'Air sac disease', the case study appears as a listed menu.

  1. Quiz about case
  2. Search on words: pregnant, diarrhea, young dog
  3. Choose what to do next.
  4. Choosing the correct laboratory sample
  5. Choosing an antibiotic
  6. Choosing a photograph
  7. Quiz about sources
  8. Put a list in order of importance
  9. Feedback

Student Response to these VetSource Materials

The first author interviewed five students. In most cases she watched them open VetSource for the first time and then came back a few times to see how they were progressing.

For example:


Student response to the initial VetSource materials is very encouraging. There is clearly a great deal of developmental work still to do but the results appear to be worth the effort. We believe we are entering a new phase of the use of CIT in T&L. We can use all we have learnt about designing for stand-alone multimedia environments in these new integrated on-line learning environments. It is a new phase but not a new slate.


Hart, G. (1996). Creating an online teaching space. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 12 (20), 79-94.

HREF 1 - customisable Multimedia Integrated Learning Environment

McNaught, C., Whithear, K., & Browning, G. (1994). The role of evaluation in curriculum design and innovation: A case study of a computer-based approach to teaching veterinary systematic bacteriology and mycology. pp. 295-308 in K. Beattie, C. McNaught & S. Wills (Eds.). Interactive multimedia in university education: Designing for change in teaching and learning. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Reeves, T. & Reeves, P. (1997). Effective dimensions of interactive learning on the World Wide Web. pp. 59-66 in Khan, B. (Ed.) Web-Based instruction. Englewood Cliffs: Educational Technology Publications.

Whithear, K. G., Browning, G. F., Brightling, P., & McNaught, C. (1994). Veterinary education in the era of information technology. The Australian Veterinary Journal, 71, 1-3.


(c) Carmel McNaught, Glenn Browning, Graeme Hart, John Prescott, Kevin Whithear


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