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Multimedia Authoring

In the conclusions from the TILT project they found that Information Technology (IT) could help "provide resources for learning which are more effective, richer, available for extended hours and open to a wider range of entrants to Higher Education". Most people recognise that computer aided learning (CAL) materials can offer a lot of support, but how do you bring CAL into your curriculum?

Your first choice should always be to see what is already available elsewhere. A great deal of courseware has already been produced, particularly through the TLTP project, and while these may not be exactly what you require, it may be possible to tailor them to your needs.

If, however, you decide there is nothing suitable, and you have to create your own, your next step will be to choose how you are going to create your package. Unless you are an experienced programmer, this will mean choosing an authoring system. This is by no means an easy task given the wide variety of systems available (see Authorbase, the database of authoring systems at the National Library of Medicine at

Before looking at packages, decide exactly what you require of it. Will it need to deal with large amounts of text, create graphics or animations, do you want hypertext features etc? You also need to be clear what machines the package will be developed and delivered on. Developing a package with sound and interactive video is pointless if your students have access to only very slow machines with no soundcards. The EMASHE group have produced a check list of authoring software characteristics which you may find helpful (Courseware in Higher Education, Evaluation 1: Planning, Developing and Testing).

Having decided what you require and what your hardware specifications are, have a look at some packages to see which best meet your needs. It is unlikely that any package will fulfil all your requirements, so you must be prepared to compromise. At this stage you need to consider the user interface of the packages, and the experience of the person doing the developing. For example, a package which requires heavy use of a scripting language may be difficult for someone with no programming experience to use. It is also useful to find out what packages are already in use in your institution, as you may be able to draw on the experience of others when you have problems.

Developing CAL means a large investment of time and resources, and it is important you choose the right authoring package for your needs. The ITTI booklet 'Choosing an Authoring Package' from the Educational Technology Service at Bristol looks at the issues involved in more depth, and Fred Riley has produced a review of 5 common hypermedia authorware packages. This review is available online

For more details about many authoring packages including Authorware, Toolbook and Director see the authoring links page on the AGOCG web server.


Many of the authoring packages available offer hypertext or hypermedia facilities, but what is hypermedia? It means simply that items of information are linked to and accessible from one another. A true hypermedia system will be able to provide links to any type of information, whether text, graphics, video or sound, though to provide a link to sound, some sort of visual representation will obviously be necessary. Please see figure.

Hypermedia systems can give the control to the student allowing them to learn at their own pace and in their own way. However, for below average students this may not be appropriate and a more guided approach may be needed. One system which can allow both free browsing and a 'guided tour' is Microcosm.

Microcosm is an 'open' hypermedia system developed at the University of Southampton which allows users to view documents in their native formats and provides tools to generate and search for links between the documents. Unlike other hypermedia systems, the links are stored in separate linkbases rather than in the documents themselves, helping prevent 'dead links' and allowing different users to store their own links for the same set of documents. A site licence for Microcosm is available through CHEST.

Sue Cunningham
Multimedia Support Officer
Computer Graphics Unit
University of Manchester
Oxford Rd
Manchester M13 9PL

Tel: +44 61 275 6095