Environmental Context:
A CDRom Based Multimedia Educational Package

Sharon Beder


Citation: The following is an edited version of the report by Sharon Beder to the body which funded this development, the Australia Committee for Advancement of University Teaching.

This is a final version submitted for publication.
Minor editorial changes may have subsequently been made.

Sharon Beder's Other Publications


Review


A flexible computer-based learning package was developed that can be used to enhance lecture presentations and enable students to learn independently. The package, available on CDRom, has been designed to teach students about the social and political dimensions of environmental issues. It contains resource materials that can be used by the lecturer in a large theatre, including video clips, sound recordings and overhead projection slides. This material, together with additional text and graphic material, can then be made available to students who can revise lecture material in their own time, explore aspects of it in more depth, and interactively access references, information and primary material to help them with assignments. The package can be used by students individually and in small groups.

Major Objectives of the project

The major objective of this project was to develop and implement a teaching concept which would assist students to attain a deeper understanding and an ability to critically analyse the social dimensions of environmental issues by:

(i) giving the lecturer access to a variety of resource materials to enhance lecture presentations including video clips, sound recordings and slides;

(ii) enhancing learning autonomy by enabling the students to access lecture material for personal revision in their own time, to interactively query statements or concepts that were presented in the lecture and to explore particular aspects of the lecture that they wish to learn more about.

(iii) enhancing student learning by enabling students to prepare for tutorials and assignments using a variety of resource material including video and sound clips, extracts from books, journal articles, newspaper articles, press releases and additional references.

(iv) providing students with exposure to alternative views, philosophies and ways of thinking that can be applied to environmental problems

The above objects were to be achieved by developing a multi-media interactive computer-based package containing resource and guiding material on the social context of environmental issues.

Specific student learning objectives

The package has been designed to promote a program of interactive lectures, small group tutorial discussions and self-directed individual learning experiences. The aim of this type of program is to:

  • promote active rather than passive learning
  • motivate students
  • enable students to learn at their own pace
  • allow students choice of which topics and aspects they will cover in more depth
  • cater to those people who are more visually oriented and who are often disadvantaged by a more textual or verbal approach
  • utilise a variety of formats such as sound, video, animation, text and graphics in one package to maintain interest and attention
  • promote critical thinking and analysis of complex issues

Major achievements of the project

The achievements of the project have been at two levels. At one level a product has been developed which can be and has been used to improve teaching and learning of environmental studies. The CDRom contains primary source material in the form of video, sound, newspaper clippings and press releases as well as secondary materials including excerpts from books and articles, tables, graphs, text and other relevant information. it also includes references to library material. The CDRom has been highly successful as indicated by the results of evaluations below and it is general enough to be transferable for use by other lecturers in other institutions who are teaching similar subject material.

At a more general level, the package facilitates a programme of interactive lectures, small group tutorial discussions and self-directed individual learning experiences. This combined approach promotes active rather than passive learning by stimulating discussion during lectures and tutorials. It motivates students by making lectures and information gathering a memorable and interesting experience through the use of colour, graphics, video clips and sound clips in both lecture presentations and as part of the database of information that is made available for them to access. It enables them to learn independently and at their own pace outside of lecture and tutorial times and allows them to choose which topics and aspects they will cover in depth. Because the package incorporates such a variety of material and viewpoints which are presented in a clear and readily accessible manner, it provides a fuller understanding of the issues and promotes critical thinking and analysis of complex policy areas, encouraging students to form their own informed conclusions and views. The use of this medium, combined with small group work in the lecture theatre and in tutorials, provides a learning environment that is stimulating and effective.

The package has been evaluated by students, colleagues and by the reference group for the project. Details are included in the next section of this report but these evaluations have generally been positive and indicate that the objectives of the project have been met. Most of the problems and criticisms identified in these evaluations are easily solved through measures such as better accessibility of the CDRoms and computer facilities, changes in the design of the assessment, and the production of a simple manual to go with the CDRom. The main technical problem was the slow speed of access to material on the CDRom. This will improve as the technology improves.

The teaching development

(i) Practical outcomes

A major outcome of this project was the development of a multimedia package. The package fits onto a CDRom which can be taken to lectures for presentation of material and lent to students to assist in their learning. The package incorporates a variety of resource materials including text (articles, newspaper clippings, press releases, overhead slides), graphics (graphs, tables, pictures, maps), video clips, sound clips and animations. It provides a link to the newsgroups on the internet and references to library material. It includes a mechanism whereby students can take notes, copy text and print or save the result. It also includes a way for students to test their own knowledge in a non-threatening and non-assessable manner. Students are able to search the database by key words, or use various indexes and maps of the content of the package. They can also post comments on a noticeboard within the package. All information about assignments and assessement and the course outline is also included in the package.

At a more general level a method or process has been developed which is of relevance to several different fields both within the university and in other universities and even schools. Educational research has clearly demonstrated that the one or two hour lecture, which consists solely of a verbal presentation, is seldom effective in holding attention, stimulating interest, or encouraging students to analyse, evaluate and think critically during the lecture period.

This multi-media package contains a variety of materials including video clips, sound recordings and colour slides that can be easily accessed and compiled into a presentation by the lecturer and projected using existing equipment at the University of Wollongong directly from the computer to a large screen. This enables the lecturer to add variety and interest to her presentation and to stimulate interactive activities in a large lecture theatre. These activities improve the learning process by keeping the length of concentrated listening to short managable periods and by promoting active learning and wider participation by students.

Following the lecture, each student is able to interact with the material, following up on their own interests and concerns and deciding for themselves how deeply they wanted to pursue a topic. They were able to undertake independent examination of environmental issues and problems and to come to their own conclusions and solutions.

(ii) Integration and implementation

The package was successfully used as part of the University of WollongongÍs course STS 300/301: ñ The Environmental Contextî. This course attracts students from across a range of university faculties (approximately 65-80 students each year) including those taking a Bachelor of Environmental Science Degree. The course consists of 2 hours of lecturing and two hours of tutorials each week. The package was used in the lecture theatre to enhance the presentation of lectures and by students in their own time to revise and explore lectures, prepare for tutorials and assignments.

Guided tutorials in the early part of the course enabled students who were uncomfortable with computer based learning to gain confidence in an informal learning setting, with tutors and more computer literate students acting as guides. These sessions ensured that 95 percent of the students used the package as part of their learning. Parts of the package were also used to teach a subject on Natural Resources Decision-Making in a Law Masters degree.

The main problem in implementation was related to development of the package and concerned copyright of materials incorporated in the package. The copyright agreements with Universities allow academics to photocopy articles and parts of books and distribute them to students but these agreements do not extend to digitising these same articles and making them available via a computer. This meant we had to apply for permission for each article and graphic and occasionally this was denied or payment was required, even for non-commercial educational use within the University of Wollongong. I believe this will be a significant dampner on this sort of development unless universities can either extend existing copyright agreements to cover electronic formats, or negotiate new agreements for this purpose.

As far as I know this integrated use of a multi media package for lectures, tutorial preparation and assignments has not be undertaken before.

(iii) Monitoring and Evaluation

(a) Quantitative Student Evaluations

During 1994 the lecture component of the multimedia was introduced and 75% of students found that it improved lectures and aided their understanding and was generally beneficial. 64% also found that the multimedia aided in the retention of the material compared with traditional lectures. In 1995 the multimedia was additionally made available for student learning in the form of a CDRom for loan. 71% said that the CDRom was easy to use and 76% of students found the CDRom was helpful as a source of information. 65% of students said use of the multimedia package aided their concentration and 67% said it aided their understanding of the subject material.

(b) Qualitative Student Evaluations

Students were asked two open ended questions: ñWhat was good about the CDRom (in lectures or as a resource)? What aspects did you like?î and ñWhat were the faults with the CDRom? How could it be improved?î In response to the first question a majority of students cited the increased availability and accessibility of information. Half the students also mentioned the use of sound, video, graphics which they felt added interest, helped them to remember concepts and facilitated understanding of complex issues.

What was good about the CDRom?
(showing numbers who made particular comments out of 50 respondents)

availability/access. of information 29
audio/visual format helps 25
added interest 15
improved lectures lectures 11
aided understanding 10
variety of material 9
good for revision/elaboration 7
diversity of views presented 7
good for missed lectures 7
ease of navigation 7
ability to work on own 6
references to other material 6
encouraged thinking 5
new and exciting 5
liked ability to copy and save 4
attractive 3
memorable/aided memory 3
well researched/structured 3
comprehensive/integrated 3
liked interaction 1
helped research -other courses 1

What were the faults with the CDRom?
(showing numbers who made particular comments out of 50 respondents)

slowness of CDRom 37
restricted availability/ accessibility 25
problems printing/saving info 8
repetition between lectures and CD 8
navigation difficult 7
technical difficulties in lectures 6
lack of depth/detail 5
too many topics/too much info 5
lack of assessment on content 2
preferred text book 2
material not linear 1

The main problem with the CDRom was that accessing the CDRom was slow. This was a problem with the technology that cannot be helped at this stage. Those students using the package from a hard disk found this problem was alleviated. There was also a major problem with availability of the CDRoms and the computer room. In the first two weeks there were not enough CDs and some students, who were unable to borrow a CD at this time did not bother again. Also the CD was only available for borrowing during business hours which did not suit many students. These problems will be fixed in future by having more copies of the CD available and copies in the library that will be available for loan after normal business hours.

Some students seemed to misunderstand the purpose of the CDRom, as a way of revising and further exploring lecture material, and complained about the repetition between the CD and the lecture material. Whilst some students actually cited the ability to revise or catch up with missed lectures as an advantage of the package (in fact 60% claimed that they had used it to substitute for missed lectures) this purpose will need to be better explained in future.

Technical difficulties were experienced in a couple of areas. Firstly the Faculty computer laboratory was set up in such a way that the students were unable to save material to their own disk as had been intended by the programme. Also printing involved copying and pasting to a notebook which frustrated students wanting to print whole articles from the CD. Another technical difficulty was encountered during lectures when the sound did not always work due to a fault in the computer system in the lecture theatre complex.

Students were specifically asked about how difficult the CDRom was for them to use. Most students (over 90%) found the CD Rom easy to use with the remaining students expressing some problems to start with, generally because of their lack of familiarity with computers. 13% of students reported some problems with navigation whilst the same percentage commended the ease of navigation. In this case, I think that some students were unaware of some of the navigational aids built into the programme, which were explained in the first tutorial. I think a short clearly written manual could help here.

Students were also asked ñWhat sorts of things inhibited you from using it?î. Apart from the lack of availability of the CDRom discussed above, thirty percent of students said that they didnÍt use it as much as they would have liked because they were too busy or didnÍt have time and 17 per cent cited a lack of motivation, a couple of them explained they were not motivated because there was no examination on the content of the CD.

(c) other evaluations

Comments by my peers and other academics have all been favourable. The reference group was also impressed with the final product.

(iv) University Support

The Reference group helped with the initial application for this project and during the course of development made comments on its progress and gave constructive criticism. Dr Barry Harper of the Faculty of Education was of particular help throughout because of his wide experience with multimedia projects. He put me onto appropriate experts and students who could help with the project, and advised on technical matters associated with production of the CD Rom.

The University has been very supportive of this project. The Science and Technology Studies department purchased a computer system especially for this project that enabled me to develop the multimedia package. The Faculty of EducationÍs Interactive Multimedia (IMM) team allowed me and others working on this project to use their facilities including computers, scanners and video capture machines. The IMM team also cut CD Roms for me at cost price.

The Faculty of Arts has just recently set up a computer laboratory which gave the students the necessary access to computers. The University has provided various opportunities for me to view the work of others working on multimedia projects and to demonstrate my project to other academics within the university as well as to visitors to the university. Altogether the University has provided an atmosphere of encouragement for this work.


Professor Sharon Beder is an honorary professorial fellow at the University of Wollongong.
Sharon Beder's Publications can be found at http://www.uow.edu.au/~sharonb