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Using Multimedia in Teaching Terry Hewitt

Terry Hewitt reported on the workshop on the theme of Multimedia Presentations run as part of the SIMA Project by Sue Cunningham and himself. The summary of the event and the recommendations are given in the paper below.



Recent years have seen a rapid increase in the numbers of computers used in education. Computers are now regularly used by staff and students, for a variety of tasks from computer aided learning to word processing and E-mail. However, presentations, and particularly lectures, are probably the last area to be affected by computer technology.


The fact that multimedia presentations are not in common use shows there must be a number of problems, and these are not only associated with production of multimedia materials, but also delivering them, particularly at remote sites. It is well known that producing any multimedia materials can be expensive and time consuming, and materials for presentations are no different. In addition once produced the materials must often be used at foreign sites, creating problems of portability. Finally, despite the increased investments in computers on many sites, lecture theatres often lack the facilities necessary to give electronic presentations.


Despite these problems, multimedia presentations offer sufficient benefits to make them worth pursuing. During the course of the workshop a number of benefits were identified including:


Increased student motivation - lectures are perceived as more interesting and informative.

Increased understanding and retention - often complex ideas can not be easily explained using only text and graphics.

Electronic presentations can easily form the basis of ancillary support material, allowing students to explore lecture material in more depth.


As an example of some of the issues that have been raised, let us consider a recent international conference '3D and Multimedia on the Internet, WWW and networks', held at the National Museum of Film and Photography, Bradford in April 1996. This has been highlighted simply because it happened close to the workshop, and is typical of a high profile, well organised and well equipped conference.


Despite the nature of the conference, the vast majority of speakers used 35mm slides or OHP transparencies to give their presentations, supplemented by analogue video clips in some instances, including analogue videos of computer animations. Only a couple of presenters actually used electronic presentations, indeed they were recommended not to in the presenters notes (see Case Studies).


'Computers can give very effective presentations and for interactive demonstrations - but we have seen many examples of computers not working during the actual presentations even though they have been tested out beforehand'


Resolution was also a problem, not necessarily of the projection equipment, but also screen resolution of portable computers (the venue did not provide computers). One presenter commented, that although he had intended to use a computer, when magnified on the large screen, 600x800 resolution seemed very poor quality.


Even so, the final advice to the presenters, highlights the need for multimedia presentations.


'The main thing which will survive in the long term memory of your audience will be your visual images and/or animation, so be sure to include visual results in your talk, and make them of high quality'


Issues and Recommendations

Multimedia presentations are time consuming to produce

A good multimedia presentation will require considerably more time and resources to produce than a traditional one, making it impractical for individual presenters to develop suitable material alone.



Set up a database of media clips (copyright cleared or easily obtainable). This might include video, audio and image clips as well as interactive simulations, perhaps written in a standard authoring package like Toolbook, or programming languages such as JAVA.

Commercial resources should be investigated, including resource banks and commercially available configurable CD's.

Institutions should give more academic recognition for production of such material.

More publicity is required for national and institutional facilities which can help presenters, such as video and scanning services.

Promote the use of standard formats for all types of media, so that clips may be easily exchanged.

A cost benefit analysis of CBT/CAL is needed to show that it has value and will improve teaching


There are perceived problems moving from traditional methods of generating presentations to electronic ones.

Many people are reluctant to learn to user new applications, particularly if they are perceived to be very technical or require programming skills, and they will not wish to discard existing materials.



Develop a list of criteria for choosing presentation software, including features such as wizards or templates to help novice users

Survey of presentation tools based on the above criteria.

Provided access to staff development to learn the skills required to develop multimedia presentations.


Multimedia does not necessarily mean good quality

Any presentation can be good or bad, but while a fairly simple set of rules for producing good quality text only presentations has been established, no such guidelines really exist for multimedia presentations



Develop a set of guidelines for developing multimedia presentations.

Create a repository of good examples.

A central unit should be set up to disseminate good practice.


Lecture theatres are not 'multimedia ready'

Presenters are reluctant to use electronic presentations as presentation equipment in lecture theatres is often unavailable or unsuitable. Even if they bring their own computers, projection equipment is often low resolution and low brightness, and there may be problems with connections. Using computers provided by host sites may cause software compatibility problems.



Adequate technical support must be available to presenters.

Develop a set of guidelines for the creation of a multimedia delivery box.

Develop a set of guidelines for a minimum standard for presentation equipment in lecture theatres:

Institutions should provide an information sheet describing the hardware and software available in each theatre

Encourage institutions to invest in and improve their facilities. They should be prepared to be loss leader initially.


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