LMU Experiences with Design of Computer-Based Multimedia Learning Systems

Dr Dave Hobbs and Dr Dave Moore

Faculty of Information and Engineering Systems, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK
Email address

Table of contents

Interactive Videodisk
Interactive Videotape
Virtual Reality
The future for multimedia in education
Knowledge-based Advisor
Future developments
Concluding remarks


The paper summarises the aims, methodologies, results and conclusions of a number of projects conducted in Leeds Metropolitan University (LMU) in the area of multimedia. These investigations include development of working prototype systems involving hypermedia, intelligent tutoring, educational knowledge-based systems, interactive video and virtual reality. Further, many of these projects have involved the interlinking of such systems within a multimedia context, integrating different presentation modes within a single teaching package.


An increasing amount of attention has recently been focused within the academic community on the possibilities offered by converging technologies in the area of presentation or retrieval of teaching materials. The quality of instructional delivery within computer-based learning packages is becoming increasingly enhanced by the ability to offer the student, within a single learning package, access to teaching which may take the form of graphics images and animation, hi-fi audio, photographic images and motion and Interactive Video (IV), as well as the usual text-based materials. Furthermore, these materials may link through a hypermedia system with any of the other media and cause them to be accessed automatically as the student explores the domain in a student-centred goal-oriented fashion.
The Faculty of Information and Engineering Systems at Leeds Metropolitan University has for several years been interested in the possibilities offered by interactive video and its inter-linking with other packages, such as databases, expert system shells, authoring languages and hypertext. The ultimate aim is to allow all of these to inter-communicate via the controlling mechanism of an 'educational advisor' program. A large part of the work has so far been conducted in recent years through a number of final year projects undertaken by undergraduates on the Faculty's BSc Computing degree who have chosen to work in this area. Some of these projects are outlined below. The facilities available for the projects included a laser videodisk player, professional standard U-matic VCR, a PC with Videologic MIC-2000 (and more recently MIC-4000) videocard, a Philips CD-I player as well as several MacIntosh and MPC level 2 machines.

Interactive Videodisk

Interactive video is widely seen as having enormous potential as a vehicle for student-centred learning. Its educational advantages have been discussed by a number of researchers (see, for example, Doulton 1986, Smith 1986, Ford 1987, Mashiter 1988), and it is claimed by Prewitt et al (1992, p 406) that 'interactive video could be the instructional innovation of the twenty-first century'. In particular, it can incorporate the advantages normally associated with computer-based learning such as increased student control, tailoring of material to fit different abilities, and infinite patience on the part of the computerised 'tutor', whilst at the same time avoiding the drawbacks associated with the passivity of a linear videotape presentation (NIVC, 1990, Prewitt et al, 1992). Furthermore, the technology is claimed to be suitable for group work as well as individual student learning (Atkins and Blisset, 1988).
A common failing of computer based learning systems is the inappropriateness to the learner of the materials they select and present to the student user. In order to improve the degree of individualisation of such systems, Thomason (1989) constructed a simple student model to be used in conjunction with a knowledge base linked to an interactive video system. He mapped the subject content of the BBC's 'Learn Golf' videodisk of originally linear BBC programme material onto a tree structure domain representation, wrote a designer toolkit in Pascal for creation and manipulation of the domain, and produced a tutorial comprising questions and feedback using an 'in order' traversal of the tree. The student model records the level of learning achieved for each topic node encountered by the student in the knowledge base, and the system then uses this in conjunction with a record of the student's desired learning goal to plan the next stage of learning towards this end. During this search process, a pre-requisite list is referenced for each node in order to select, access and play a segment of video from videodisk appropriate to the student's current cognitive state as reflected in the student model.
Perkin (1990) took this further, aiming to create an 'intelligent' IV tutoring system by incorporating a more comprehensive student model representing the current state of the student's knowledge as well as his/her preferred learning styles and previous relevant experience. Suitable representations for the knowledge base and student model to be used in conjunction with a chromatography videodisk were designed as Pascal data files. Search algorithms were written in Pascal and a system 'shell' produced which allows the user manually to select a topic and receive a list of advised materials (video, audio or text). The video-clips may then be viewed after which a test is administered and the percentage of correct responses is presented to the user.
By way of providing an evaluation of IV as a learning medium, Hussein (1990) studied the use of interactive video as a learning aid in comparison with traditional methods. A linear videodisk ('Play Golf' again) was taken as a basis for writing a Pascal program to allow the disk to be used interactively. It was also used to derive and produce a textual exposition of the same material. A series of experimental studies with users was conducted to compare the relative efficiency of three modes of presentation: IV, linear video, and textbook. Hussein found that IV scored better than linear video in terms of subjects' achievement and factual retention, and it also scored better than linear video and text book in terms of their attitudes.

Interactive Videotape

The above projects were all based on the use of videodisk technology. This has advantages over videotape for interactive teaching in that it provides a reliable and dense storage medium, with high resolution moving and still pictures, and rapid, random access to individual frames or frame-sequences (Haynes and Parslow, 1986). In an educational setting, however, the use of materials based on interactive videotape also has its own attractive qualities. For example, videotape can make use of equipment already widely available in educational institutions (Shelley 1992) and a far greater range of library materials is available on tape than on disk. Tapes can be created and copied far more easily and cheaply than disks can be mastered (assuming only a limited number of copies are required), and existing tapes can be modified fairly easily. For example, scenes pertinent to the local situation may be inserted, a process which, according to Barker and Tucker (1990), can increase the identification of the user with the contents and raises the motivation. Furthermore, the extra speed afforded by disk is not necessarily an educational advantage for Barker and Tucker argue that time lags can, by allowing time for reflection, be beneficial to the user. Nevertheless, it may be possible to reconfigure the tape to minimise search time delays. Platts (1989) analysed students into 'types' according to their choice of learning sequence. 'Efficient' tutorial layouts (in terms of speed of access) were constructed and a Pascal program was written to simulate the search times for each student's desired sequence compared with the sequence in which the current lecturer normally delivered the topics. As expected, considerable variations in desired sequencing of topics were noted, confirming the need for adaptive and indiviualised learning programs. In this case the desired topic sequences clustered into seven groupings. According to the simulation, subjects working with a tape sequenced to match their learning preference 'type' would typically experience considerable and significant reductions in search times.
In another study, Jagger (1993) found differing needs by parents wishing to learn how to help their children to read and was able to go some way towards providing for these by converting a series of linear videotapes to interactive format. All subjects found the IV approach an improvement and expressed a desire for even greater control over choice and sequencing of the presented material. In a similar study, Stephenson (1993) transformed a linear video used in UK National Health Service training to IV format. After trialling with NHS trainees he concluded that IV is an extremely powerful teaching tool capable of capturing students' full attention and retaining it throughout the training period. He also found knowledge retention rose from 76% for trainees using the original linear version to 98% for those using his IV system.
Jagger and Stephenson used conventional programming languages to set up their systems. Another possible programming paradigm is to employ expert systems since there are now many successful examples of their use for representing and manipulating well-defined areas of expertise. A few project students therefore chose to take such systems as a basis for emulating the behaviour of an educational 'expert' who has to diagnose a student's current needs and meet them with appropriate educational feedback or materials. Chadwick (1991) successfully linked an expert system shell (XiPlus) to an interactive videotape player, and used an existing library tape to create a short interactive package concerning structured interviewing, a topic which forms part of one of the core modules at the University. As an assessment of the success of the package, three groups were tested for their factual knowledge of the topic: a group exposed to the interactive package, a group exposed to its linear equivalent, and a control group. The data indicated that the two video groups had significantly improved knowledge over the control group, but that there was no significant improvement of the interactive group over the linear group.
These projects have two important lessons for the future development of instructional technology within the University. One concerns the difficulty of achieving a meaningful and significant negative response to the question of the utility of a putative educational technology. Thus in Chadwick's study, the only conclusion was that no major educational advantages were evident; no conclusions concerning the wider issues of interactive tape or instructional technology in general can be drawn. In a similar study but in a different context, Farrow (1986) claimed an enhancement of the self instruction by making the tape interactive. The difficulty of rebuttal of a technology-based finding is an important consideration, and it is likely to be widespread in the field of instructional technology as the control of all variables is difficult. A second lesson concerns the difficulty of adopting, for interactive purposes, a video originally designed to be used in a linear fashion. The video is often found to leave a 'jagged edge' effect when used interactively.


Hypermedia potentially has much to offer for designing educational packages. It is particularly well-suited for open learning applications where students are allowed freedom of action and encouraged to take the initiative. Such systems allow the user to progress or navigate in an intuitive, non-linear way through the information the system holds, enabling him or her, for example, to investigate previously unfamiliar concepts involved in the system's domain.
The use of hyper technology per se may bring a number of educational advantages. Bielawski and Lewand (1991) suggest that it may save users' time by allowing them to browse, that it can aid in the discovery of new ideas by indicating links of which the user was previously unaware, that it offers user-defined system navigation, and that it has the potential to provide collaborative work environments, for example for group work. These advantages combined with those of interactive video technology appear to hold great educational promise. Against this context Kay (1991) chose to explore the use of hypermedia as an authoring environment and controlling medium for a multimedia system. He successfully linked Hyperpad (a PC-based hypermedia system) with an interactive videotape player in a prototype system whose knowledge domain comprised problem-solving techniques in junior school mathematics Kay's study pointed to a dilemma in this area for if a browsing facility is central to the concept of hypertext, it may be in conflict with the wish to help the student avoid a tangled and ultimately meaningless route through the domain. Conklin (1987) described this as the challenge to prevent the student becoming disoriented, or 'lost in hyperspace', whilst at the same time permitting sufficient freedom to obtain the benefits of using hypermedia. Kay sought to overcome this criticism by representing the complex and variable relationships between the techniques within his domain in a meaningful way via a sequencing mechanism called a 'dynamic web'. The dynamic web provides a means by which the student can be prevented from straying from the principal area of study by restricting the links and therefore the movement of the student within the domain. The web may be made responsive to changes in the student model and allow individual students to develop a map through the knowledge structure which is valid for the domain and reflects their learning strategies.
Seth (1992) constructed a prototype in HyperCard which illustrates the working of several standard algorithms of computing. The system presents text to the learner and reveals the effect of the program at each stage as the algorithm manipulates the data. Seth intended that the package could replace a lecture, and require minimal lecturer assistance to the students during their work with these algorithms. Some sample screens from the system are shown in Figure 1 (5.39, 5.39a, 5.39b).

Ten students took part in an evaluation study and from observation and questionnaire, Seth established that they were impressed by his system and found the presented information easy to understand and navigate. They also valued the presentation of several options and the fact they could decide which to pursue. Seth also reported on the simplicity of the authoring environment: the hypermedia system was reasonably easy to set up, enabling the designer to concentrate on the design of materials themselves. Seth acknowledged the problem of becoming 'lost in hyperspace' and suggested that a future development might be to incorporate an Artificial Intelligence component which could maintain the learning goals by giving intelligent advice about the best direction to take through the hypertext material at any particular time.
In another hypertext study, Clark J (1993) and Abbott (1993) collaborated on development of a prototype IV guide to the facilities available to students within and around Leeds Metropolitan Univerisity. Although not intended directly as a learning system, it is of interest in that it could potentially form the basis of a student-centred browsing system for learning. In evaluating the system, Clark found better retention of presented material by those who had viewed facilities in the IV guide as compared to those students who had read about them in the conventionally published student guide. This IV guide was programmed by Clark in dBase. As an alternative design, Abbott built the same IV guide on top of the framework of a hypertext system. He also found a greater learnability with the IV system than with the text-only hypertext equivalent.
Another open discovery guidance system was followed up by Clark A (1993) who aimed to develop a design for an art gallary guide based upon the concept of an electronic book offering text, graphics (digitised paintings), audio (expert opinions), and video (for appropriate films of background and related material). In his design prototype, pages and sections of the book are linked together using hypertext principles to enable the visitor to explore related topics.
The prototype system was created using the 'notepad' facility of the Lotus Organiser package through which pages could be customised to include text and graphics which could then be linked to any other pages. The metaphor used by Organiser is that of a personal organiser, a multi-sectioned book with coloured tabs indicating the location of each section. A series of skeleton books was developed, each one representing a different type of classification (by artist, theme, picture type, artist gender, art gallery room, chronological age, medium, country of origin, style). One book was developed in full (an arrangement of works by artist) and divided into a number of sections (help, artist, work, criticism, style, medium, glossary and gallery plan). A tutorial was created using Micrografx Charisma Slide Show to be used as an introduction to the prototype system.
Two types of potential users were identified. Firstly, casual visitors who may visit the gallery possibly only once might wish to find out more about a work they have seen which appeals to them, or alternatively browse the system in a more random or linked way to discover information which will then lead them to view a work in the gallery. Secondly, those with an active interest in art may use the guide in order to extract more detailed and specific information; from their wider perspective and familiarity with art terminology they will gain a greater appreciation of the more complex topics.
The information was structured in terms of a 'web' which it was felt was more appropriate in conforming to the traditional relationship of one page to the next in a book metaphor. In this respect the structure was analogous to the stacks used by the Apple MacIntosh HyperCard system. Access to topics and material within the guide could take place using section tabs, contents pages, pull-down links, dedicated link pages, sequential page turning, free text search, and pull-down menus. The defining and use of hot areas was unfortunately not a feature available within that version of Organiser. Figure 2 (4.3a-d) shows some example pages from the prototype guide book. A comprehensive evaluation through questionnaire of the system using 40 questions with 22 subjects chosen from both types of user resulted in an overall positive response. The book metaphor was considered by users to be successful and to compare favourably with paper guide books.

Virtual Reality

All of the learning systems so far described have employed metaphors for the learning environment. However good these metaphors are, they usually fall well short of reality and the user has to make an internal translation in order successfully to employ the system. More recent attempts to convey reality through the computer have taken place within the umbrella term of virtual reality (VR). Although the public's perception of VR will probably be of full-immersion systems employing headset with stereoscopic displays and binaural stereo sound, the more conventional desktop VR systems, through their much longer pedigree of Computer Aided Design experience, still have a role to play in presenting and allowing manipulation of three dimensional objects and scenes. An increasing number of packages in the large games market now employ such techniques and a several students chose to investigate the possibilities offered by desktop VR for learning systems.
Clark J made use of the film footage in his IV guide described above to develop a surrogate walk system, an off-shoot of VR, which allowed the students to explore the nearby shopping and recreational area off-campus through an on screen map which then brought up appropriate film footage of scenes and facilities available at that map reference. Nichols (1993) took the surrogate walk concept further by developing a simulated Virtual Reality library system. This made use of a 3D graphics program presented on the 2D screen of a fast PC which allowed the user to navigate through the building and shelves. Initially it was conceived as a navigational aid which, linked to the library's existing catalogue browsing system, would enable the location of the chosen book or books to be judged visually on screen. He found that users did indeed retrieve the books more quickly from the bookshelves as a result.
His longer term vision was of an educational facility which, with the advent of more widespread use of full VR, could enable each user to retrieve electronic versions of books in a remote library, viewing the retrieval process as one of 'virtually' removing books from shelves and opening them to read their contents. Furthermore, each user could tailor their own version of the library, populating it with books in their own subject area according to their own particular interests. As part of his art gallery project described earlier, Clark A (1993) designed a VR Art Gallery in which the user could appear to move around a gallery with pictures on the wall, choose to stop in front of one, and request details of the painting. This system was created using 3D Construction Kit, a program used for building Virtual Reality worlds. Although not technically possible within this package, Clark's design allowed for import of graphics into the program to give the realistic effect of 3D paintings on a wall. The paintings can be viewed from many angles and distances and the image change accordingly to reflect the new viewing position.
In addition, three-dimensional sculpture and mobiles were also modelled to illustrate the effects that can be achieved using a three-dimensional interface. All artifacts in the gallery have an entry on the information system, including works held in a reserve collection. Each work is processed graphically and textually. Attributes are assigned to that object such as artist, country of origin, and subject matter. All links to other objects are held either with the work object or in a dynamic link library as used by Windows programs. As well as moving visually through the gallery to discover works of interest, a searching mechanism was proposed which employs an iconographic classification system search based on the ICONCLASS system for classifying images (Pountain, 1992) as well as on a conventional database-style search on key fields. This search then takes the user to the graphical representation of the gallery, placing them in front of one of the works matching their criteria from which they can obtain more information or move on through the gallery to other related works. Some sample screens demonstrating this mode of working appear in Figure 3 (4.2a-f). Again a 14-question questionnaire with 22 users gave a unanimously positive appraisal of the system. Alternatively, the user may set up their own personalised gallery populated with artificacts of their own choosing.

Both Clark's and Nichols' systems present intriguing possibilities within an educational setting. Nichols' system could greatly facilitate retrieval of educational materials, especially for distance learning students. Clark's could form the basis for the front end to a teaching system, the metaphor being that students could move around a teaching room with the appropriate subject visibly materials laid out for their selection and educational study.

The future for multimedia in education

Multimedia systems are not as widely used in education as in business because of the high cost of the systems. As a foretaste of how possible future educational systems might look, and to evaluate the current uses and their suitability for import into an educational environment, Davies (1993) investigated the adoption of such systems within the advertising and retail industries to evaluate their current uses and to assess their suitability for import into an educational environment. She found an increase in the use of video units and interactive systems for point-of-sale applications. The reasons for this include the trend of increasingly rapid turnover of staff in the service industries and the desire by companies to retain valuable expertise after their employees move. Also it allows producers to differentiate their goods which may be similar to those of their competitors.
Davies investigated the Zanussi Optima system, an example of how interactive media are currently being used for advertising and retail purposes in public access areas. The system provides information about domestic appliances and is now installed at over 500 stores in the UK. Results of observation, questionnaire and interview, during and after subjects' completion of a set information retrieval task with the system, were almost overwhelmingly favourable. The multimedia aspect was greatly appreciated and felt to be an effective means of communicating information and retaining the user's attention. The overall high general rating of the system suggests a possible educational value for students who might be set self-exploration tasks and be expected to work on these with little if any lecturer intervention or assistance. This augurs well for the introduction of such student-centred learning systems. Indeed, Cooper (1994) designed and trialled a prototype hypertext-based multimedia system using Macromedia Toolbook and video footage shot in Germany. His aim was to create a rich environment in which language learners could use and improve their language skills. This improvement was to include increasing knowledge of the target language through introduction to new language grammars and vocabulary. He drew attention to the fact that students need to gain competence in reading, writing, listening and speaking in equal degrees and that a human teacher's skill would be to recognise an imbalance of ability across these four aspects and to select and deliver appropriate teaching to the shortcomings. A hypermedia learning environment, he claims, must also offer such a flexible concentration of skills rather than just supplying simultaneous delivery of meaterials which use all skills. Hence there is a need in a language learning application to support work on both mixed and individual skills. Thus the individual work must be supported by separate utilities and the learning environment will consist of several applications rather than just one.
Accordingly Cooper's prototype learning environment contained a number of utilities including a hypertext control bar, hypertext navigation tool, history and book mark facility, dictionary, phrase book, picture tool for image viewing, video library, email, and login for user identification and user keeping. Using video compression techniques he was able to place the video sequences directly on the hard disk of the PC making for rapid random-access retrieval and eliminating the need for a videotape player. A small scale evaluation of the prototype using a 'discovery' task requiring use of many of the features of the system showed the application to be usable and attractive to the users
Barton (1994) also developed a prototype multimedia learning system incorporating windowed video alongside windows of textual explanation and navigational maps for location within and guidance through the teaching material. This was constructed using Owl International's Guide hypertext authoring tool. Functionality included an electronic notebook for the user to record notes of material viewed, a multiple bookmark facilty, and an index which could take the user to a graphical map of the system showing the current section entered which complemented the identifying header which appeared in the top right-hand corner of each page. A small scale evaluation elicited a positive response from subjects who enjoyed the mix of text, colour graphics and video.

Knowledge-based Advisor

A third area of this related research programme at Leeds Metropolitan University has concerned the development of a knowledge-based educational Advisor which might eventually link the teaching materials available from a variety of media sources. Hobbs (1988, 1990), in a collaborative research project with Leeds University's Computer-Based Learning Unit, investigated suitable underpinning strategies and principles upon which to construct a design of the required Advisor. Within this framework, Fendley (1988) explored the use of a planner and knowledge domain to aid self-generation of teaching routes. He also incorporated a student modeller to cater for individual student differences. The knowledge domain was represented through a 'directed acyclic graph' and filled out with an example subject domain (descriptive statistics). A student model was then set up using Goldstein's (1982) method of overlaying the knowledge domain. Finally a 'planner' was developed based on the specification given by Peachy and McCalla (1986). The outcome was a working demonstrator program capable of selecting an appropriate sequence of topics for the learner together with individualised teaching advice on each topic. Wong (1990) continued this line of research and investigated possible search strategies and mechanisms for use in the Advisor, with a tree representation for the knowledge domain'. She used an overlay student model to record for each learner his/her current topic strengths, together with additional information about preferred teaching style, learning type, time available and confidence. Possible candidate rules were formulated for navigating the domain for the purpose of deriving a sequence of learning advice and a set of design tools was constructed for creating and modifying the domain and student model. On the basis of student stereotype data supplied to it, this program then produced traces of the corresponding advice sequences. These topic sequence traces were subsequently found to match closely the advice sequences produced for the same data by an experienced lecturer in this field.

Future developments

The preceding discussion describes a great deal of valuable exploratory work and a number of useful and interesting prototypes. The next task will be to target appropriate curriculum areas, apply the lessons from the projects to develop applications within these areas, and evaluate the applications in field trials with students. This evaluative process is particularly important in the hypermedia work for, as Tucker et al (1992) claim, 'there is little empirical evidence concerning hypermedia's learning effects'.
A second development will integrate the various aspects of the different projects (multimedia technology, expert system technology, and hypermedia technology) into a coherent teaching and resource package. In this respect, the Advisor developed by Hobbs (1988,1990) could provide the basis for a suitable controlling framework. A possible system architecture is depicted in Figure 4.

A relatively simple enhancement would be to allow the student to take snapshots of such screens as they deem appropriate, and thus build their own individualised learning resource, after the manner of Tait (1987). A more complex, but potentially very valuable, enhancement of allowing for a mixed initiative dialogue as part of the teaching interaction, is currently being investigated (Moore and Hobbs 1992, see also another paper in this WWW collection).
Longer term developments will include the utilisation of a wider range of media, such as Compact Disc Interactive (CD-I), and Digital Video Interactive (DVI). More tentatively, the work of Nichols (1993) and Clark A (1993) described earlier in this paper raises the possibility of incorporating Virtual Reality in learning systems after the manner of Blackwell (1992) and is worthy of further investigation when such systems become sufficiently developed and affordable. Much of the work may parallel studies elsewhere involving 'electronic books' (eg Barker and Giller 1992) which may well become more commonplace with the recent arrival on the market of hand-held CD-ROM/CD-I players with miniature screen and keyboard and powerful keyboardless personal organisers with handwriting recognition.

Concluding remarks

Whilst much work remains to be undertaken as part of our research at Leeds Metropolitan University, it is felt that the projects outlined above have provided a valuable initial exploration into a range of media types and controlling mechanisms for these media, and have indicated how these might eventually be integrated into a unified teaching system. As such, they indicate a fruitful way forward for a continuation and expansion of this research.


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