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Multimedia in the Computing Curriculum

In recent years multimedia has become an increasingly important component within taught degrees in computing science. Indeed, so much emphasis has been placed on multimedia that many institutions are now offering full taught degree programs in multimedia at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. In light of these developments, CTI Computing in conjunction with the Advisory Group On Computer Graphics (AGOCG) organised a 1-day workshop looking at some of the issues involved in teaching multimedia.

The workshop, held at the University of Manchester on 18th June, was aimed at those who are currently involved with the design and delivery of modules, or degree programmes, in multimedia, and attracted 35 participants from around the country. The main issues considered were:

There was widespread support for teaching a broad base of subjects, both arts and technology based. Roger Green, from the Electronic Imaging and Media Communications unit at the University of Bradford highlighted this, using the courses run by the EIMC to demonstrate the essential ingredients for a multimedia course. He felt it was particularly important to bridge the arts - technology gap and consequently their courses provided both technical modules, such as software engineering and modules more traditionally associated with the arts, such as photography and graphic design.

There was some discussion as to the dangers of producing generalists rather than specialists in particular areas, a topic that was picked up again later by several speakers. It was felt that it was most important for students to be prepared to work in creative teams, so that the "anorak programmers" and "wacky artists" could effectively communicate, and the best way to achieve this was to teach a broad skills base.

Chris Speed, of the University of Plymouth, continued looking at the important elements of a degree course, but from an industrial point of view. All the students on their MediaLab Arts BSc are currently required to spend their third year on an industrial placement. This has a number of benefits for the students, allowing them to see practical applications of the theory they are being taught, and the problems that arise in a genuine work situation. It also provides good contacts for the university and helps keep the staff aware of industry trends and developments. However, student experiences are not always positive, and the placements do need careful management. As student numbers on all the multimedia degree courses were rising rapidly, obtaining full year placements is becoming increasing difficult, and a number of people felt that 3 month placements would offer equally good experience, possibly better, as it would reflect a 3 month contract common among freelance multimedia professionals. All the participants agreed that at the end of the day students would be looking to their employment prospects, and it was vital to design courses in liaison with industry to ensure the students came away with a marketable set of skills.

After lunch, Robin Blythe-Lord, from the Manchester Metropolitan University and Charlotte Corke, led a debate entitled 'Are computer scientists the right people to offer a degree in MM'. Both felt that teaching design skills was of prime importance, and this required an arts/design background. However, recognising that computing skills are also a vital component of multimedia, they felt that the emphasis must be on team work and collaboration, and that it would be a disservice to the students to teach design and computing skills in separate compartments. Charlotte felt that we are still in the very early days of multimedia, and that in the future multimedia would be ubiquitous, and no longer seen as a separate subject.

One major concern, raised in the final discussion, was the amateurism of much of the multimedia that is produced, mainly because of the large number of tools available to create multimedia applications without any requirement for specific skills. Although this was recognised as a real problem, a parallel was drawn with the emergence of DTP, when many companies abandoned graphic designers to produce their own material. However, after a while, the poor quality of much of the work was recognised and they returned to using professional designers.

In summary the main points raised during the workshop were:


A full report of the workshop will be available as a special issue of Monitor, the newsletter of the CTI (Computers in Teaching Initiative) Centre for Computing.

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