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MediaActive 96, 30 June - 2 July 1996 Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts

MediaActive 96, sponsored by Liverpool John Moores University, was held in the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, a forum for the integration of popular and academic culture, partly funded by Paul McCartney of "The Beatles" fame.

The Conference focussed on three primary themes: Visions of the Future, Design for Learning: Tools, Contexts Issues, and Networks for Learning.

Peter Fowler, Conference Chair, noted that the venue for the Conference reflected an important aspect of the future of media, and the way in which academic and cultural worlds have come together in the context of learning futures and the use of new technology for information and communication. Current changes are profound in their impact, and are expected to become devastating over the next 10 - 20 years.

Dr Mike Fitzgerald, Vice-Chancellor of Thames Valley University, opened the first session on the topic Campus 2000. Dr Fitzgerald has just been appointed Vice-Chair of the CVCP Council succeeding Prof David Melville of Middlesex University (THES, 5 July, p4, article p12). He summarised the two attitudes to the impact of new technologies on the learning environments of the future -
New technology will result in the redefining of the scope of a University as a distributed community of teaching and learning, which draws on the lessons we are currently learning from the virtual research consortia that are now connected by e-mail and international networks. It has been noted, for example, that researchers and research groups in Universities are now communicating more with other researchers off campus than they are with their own University - simply because it is easy to create and support these 'communities of excellence'. Similar developments are expected to migrate down into the teaching and learning curriculum in one form or other.

Learning environments should not be technology driven but rather involve people learning with, and from, each other. A virtual world of isolated students is not a learning community, but it is clear that students can learn within the University whilst not being physically located at it. Technology can support this requirement.

The University is not about information but about learning. Too much time is spent on information via IT which can overwhelm and disable learners. Accessing information is not the main purpose of education, but creating knowledge and supporting learning is.

The current tendency to regard students as 'consumers' of educational resources produced by Universities can be very damaging to the overall process of learning. Students have to invest in their own learning. New technology (active, interactive) can assist in redefining this paradigm. Projects which students work on this year as part of their own learning can become part of the learning environment of tomorrow's students.

Multimedia is often seen as a way to do more with less staff. This is a mistake. The true way forward is a multiple medium which integrates students and faculty in a fruitful learning environment. What is needed is appropriate uses of technology which facilitate this, not any uses of technology.

Ted Nelson, Professor at Keio University, Japan, and author of hypertext and hypermedia, dispelled some serious misconceptions about copyright on World Wide Web and proposed some solutions in his presentation on Transcopyright, Micropayment, and Nanobucks. Project Xanadu had been considerably misunderstood in the press (eg Wired, June 1995, and Ted Nelson's response, July 1995). Xanadu supports pointers and these can be used to access information anywhere on the Web, with the permission of the owners of the information pointed to. This is the notion of transcopyright. Publishing which is based on the concept of sending arbitrary portions (and quoting arbitrary portions) requires that the material to be accessed (ie pointed to) be purchasable in arbitrarily small amounts (eg 200 nanobucks per byte). This is micropayment.

MediaFusion presented a multimedia musical theatre production which allowed interactive real-time presentation of large screen images and high-quality sound supported by Silicon Graphics Supercomputers and high speed ATM networks. It represented a convergence of education, entertainment, technology, and communications.

In A Future of Music, Brian Eno discussed his work with generative music which allows a composer to control 150 musical and sonic parameters within which the computer then improvises. Like live music, it is always different. Like recorded music, it is free of time and space limitations - you can hear it when and where you want. It represented a new era of music and a departure from over 100 years of tradition based upon recorded music and interpretations which were fixed for ever.

Prof Patrick James (University of Adelaide) presented DIY Multimedia and outlined how the use of Hyperstudio (relatively inexpensive and easy to use) had resulted in good multimedia presentations to replace traditional lectures. It had also been used for assignments for students, and this enabled multimedia project materials produced by the students to be included directly in future versions of the course. Thus the whole project was itself a developing and expanding teaching resource.

Jane Prophet presented an Interactive Artworks Environment with over 30,000 users since it had been released on World Wide Web in September 1995. 40,000 artificial life forms had been generated by the users. Further information may be found at

Roy Stringer (Creative and Technical Director of Amaze) outlined the design and production of two CD-ROM projects: Monsters and Miracles for Croydon Museum Services, and Immunology. The latter was designed to complement an immunology text book and covered 14 topics with 700 diagrams. The topics were presented as 3D computer animation. It was designed so that after use of the material over a 4 hour period, the student could grasp the essential principles of immunology.

The following lessons were clear from these two projects:
Linda Creanor and David Whittington (University of Strathclyde) outlined the Virtual University project in Scotland centred on the recently established Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs). Course materials have been designed for access over the World Wide Web and included graphics and animations. Java Applets were being used for Virtual Laboratories in disciplines such as Civil Engineering and Chemistry.

The advantages for such a virtual university of the future were:
Joe Simpson, BBC, spoke on the World Learning Network initiated by Sir David Puttnam in the context of the future of the audio visual industry in Europe. Education is expected to be a bigger driver than entertainment within the next 20 years as the demand of education and training at many levels continues to grow. Retraining and reskilling is likely to increase as people move towards a series of different careers within one lifespan. Major media organisations are targeting the area of education
and the good marketeers are likely to be successful.

By the year 2000 education on demand services will be able to deliver the virtual classroom to the mobile student. Telecommunications networks will provide the links between digital repositories, content management systems and user communities.

The Conference enjoyed a Civic Reception and Banquet at Liverpool Town Hall hosted by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Frank Doran. A Jazz Band provided musical accompaniment. This was followed by an after dinner exchange between Ted Nelson and Roy Stringer who debated the future of multimedia (with a flip chart and not a video or CD-ROM in sight!).

It is anticipated that the Conference will subsequently produce a CD-ROM which will include video recordings of the addresses at MediaActive 96, extracts from the discussion, and the media demonstrations (as for the previous Conference in 1994).

Rae Earnshaw