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1 Introduction

2 What is Multimedia?
3 Pedagogy and technology
4 Networks
5 Future Work

Case Studies


Information displayed and presented in multimedia formats can be a powerful tool in teaching and learning. This paper discusses how information can be introduced into teaching space over communications networks and how it can be displayed. The present-day desk-top or lap-top computer systems have sufficient power that they are capable of digitising media in the analogue form and manipulating this information to be displayed on suitable devices for use in teaching space. The most commonly available media are audio and visual information, and there are many techniques to digitise this information and then process and manipulate it. The term multimedia arises because different media can be used, multiple bit-streams of these media can be used simultaneously and synchronously, and these information streams can be merged or split as required.

Once digitised this information can be stored or transported over networks and thus it is available to be used in teaching and learning. The capacity of the computer systems which can be used in the teaching space is such that this information can be stored within a desk-top or lap-top computer and used in the stand alone mode or it can be stored on network servers, especially large amounts of information, and passed to the teaching space over suitable high speed networks as required.

The introduction of multimedia material and information into teaching space raises both pedagogic and technical questions. The way in which this digital information is converted back to the analogue form for display and presentation, and the nature of the user interface raises important pedagogical issues, especially if an interactive environment is required. Interaction must be considered carefully as the timescale of interaction can vary from the real-time to asynchronous situations, and these will place very different requirements on the computer systems.

The production and storage of multimedia information is expensive because sophisticated equipment is necessary to digitise, encode and compress the information for communication across networks, and then decompress and decode the information to be able to hear the audio, or display in video. Therefore it is necessary for the benefits for teaching and learning to be justified, especially when it is still commonplace for academic staff in universities to continue to be satisfied with the traditional methods of blackboards, whiteboards and overhead projectors. Teaching applications using multimedia information will be produced and delivered through a collaboration of those people experienced in the technology and pedagogy such that the benefits are immediately apparent and attractive to the teachers. To bring about this change in attitudes the technologists have a delicate task to increase awareness and provide substantial support to the teaching staff at the present stage of the process of these new and innovative ideas and facilities.

The technological issues at one level are concerned with the delivery of multimedia material and information at a reasonable cost, combined with simplicity of operation. At another level the opportunities exist to be able to do things which have not been done before, and therefore to develop new and innovative ideas for teaching and learning. A good example is the opportunities and openings in distance learning, to attract to universities a spectrum of students which was not possible previously and to provide tuition and tutorials to students at times and places convenient to them, i.e. the teaching is being taken to the student as opposed to the student attending a teaching institution. The methods being developed for distance learning should also be able to bring benefits to conventional teaching.

In practice how multimedia information is introduced into teaching space is largely a question of what communications technology network is used. There may well be local issues involved in installing networks in teaching space, i.e. lecture theatres, seminar rooms and other specialised teaching rooms. The networks used to bring multimedia materials into teaching space can be expected to use a variety of different network technologies; e.g. ISDN and IP. Already in UK we have a number of experiments supported by JISC using different network technologies, e.g. the MANs which are high speed broadband networks, the INTERNET and the public networks such as ISDN.

One precaution to be recognised for teachers is that introducing a wide variety of multimedia materials into teaching can provide a multitude of options to the student and teacher which do nothing to enhance the learning process; there must be a balance of the effort put into producing multimedia materials and their use, otherwise the technology intrudes into the teaching and learning processes.

The following logical approach should help the user to understand the options available.

Figure 1

Various claims have been made about multimedia information and communications, and it is worth quoting the statement of Nicholas Negroponte, of the Media Lab, at MIT (Massacheusect Institute of technology) when he said "multimedia is the slayer of boredom, the seducer of the senses and the arch nemesis of the `been there, done that' attitude". Multimedia information is more interactive than print and today's student must beside being equipped with the basic skills of learning, must also learn new skills to be capable of dealing with the information rich society. The teacher and student can interact using more flexible tools, but the essential information in teaching and learning must be decided by the teacher, hence the performance of the technology must develop in such a manner that there is a sympathy and understanding between the teacher and the technologist.

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