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Multimedia - Are we all speaking the same language?


Dr. Marco Molinaro
MultiCHEM-Director of Multimedia Development
Modular Chemistry Consortium
Department of Chemistry, University of California Berkeley
Berkeley, Ca. 94720-1460

Note: This article was scanned using OCR from the Spring 1997 CCCE Newsletter. Please contact us if you identify any OCR errors.
It's 11 pm once again! For the last 4 weeks no one gets to leave before midmght. The programmer has been glued to the computer to the point that he can't see straight and my assistant and I have been burning (writing) CO-ROMs and testing them furiously mimicking all the varied things that students may do to the product once it's in their hands. Once again it's product deadline time. Sound glamorous? Well, it really is not, but it is the reality of larger scale multimedia productions. For the last 18 months, this large scale CD-ROM project has come in and out of my life, and if I'm lucky it will be done within the next six months. This is what happens when you have virtually no budget and a staff that until recently is mostly volunteers. On the upside, I have learned a tremendous amount (directly proportional to the number of hairs I've lost from my head) and my current co-workers are becoming professionals. So I hear that you are interested in multimedia, I am all tor it but make sure you think about it seriously before diving in, it will save you a lot of time in the end. I have been thinking non-stop about multimedia in education
for the last 3 years and I hope I can shed some light on the process.
But before even thinking about making multimedia, what is multimedia? This term has been overused in the last few years to where it is used to describe almost anything that is on a computer. If we look at its traditional definition, it really just means that more than one type of media is used, e.g., .pictures plus sound. Just think, lectures are multimedia if you write on a board and talk all in the same presentation I So how do we describe multimedia since the word is really not specific at all? I have been struggling with defining different educational media materials because in working with tens of different instructors, I find that a common vocabulary is a real challenge but necessary to understand what instructional media can do. I will apologize in advance that the samples I mention in this article are biased towards what I have been personally involved with or have had contact with the author - there are many wonderful pieces of instructional multimedia I have never seen.
Now to the task at hand, what vocabulary do I use when thinking about, and describing multimedia? To start, I ask myself several questions about various aspects of the media in order to describe it, including: 1) How is the information structured? 2) How does the user interact with the information? 3) What type of media is it? 4) How is it distributed to the user? I will expand on these questions below.
1) Structure of the media (information flowl can be classified as:
Singular-The media has only one screen or general interface. An example is a program such as the Rasmol molecular viewer or the emission apple! on the web lou nd at In singular flow, the user can usually alter variables and manipulate data.
Linear- The media flows linearly through its content. A prime example is a movie or Powerpoint presentation.
Branched-The media elements flow through various branches that may, or may not have, interconnections. Examples include textbooks on CD-ROM
2) User interaction with the media can be thought of as:
Presentation mode
Passive-the user has little control over the flow of information other than stop, go, rewind, fast forward. This is the interaction found in a Powerpoint presentation or in a movie.
Active-the user has a choice over which paths to follow through the information. This type of interaction is found on the World Wide Web where there are millions of linear paths the user can navigate.
Interactive mode
Static- the use of choices, or question responses, have little or no effect on the flow or continuation of the piece.
Dynamic-the users' choices, or responses to questions, alter the behavior of the piece beyond just informing you of a right or wrong answer.
Synchronous- the use~s actions, words, or images are communicated in a synchronized mannerto.instrumentation, various different locations, or to other individuals or groups. Examples of this include controlling machinery remotely and videoconferencing.
Asynchronous- the user's actions, words, or images, movies, etc. are communicated to others in an asynchronous fashion. E-mail and newsgroups are two examples of this type of interaction.
3) Type of media
Animation -A series of cartoons, drawings, or models that are played in a fairly linear fashion.
Video Movie· A video that is played back on a VCR.
Digital Movie· A movie that is stored in a digital fashion and viewed on a computer. The computer allows the user to resize, play in forward and reverse directions, alter speed, and step forward or backwards frame by frame.
Simulation- Theusercan alter variables and affect what happens on the screen. Things like the passage oftime, size, scale, shape, color, behavior of objects, can all be changed and the effects observed.
Visualization tools· The user can view information and manipulate it to see different representations of given data. Molecular viewers are a prime example of this. 
Databases-Repositories of information that can be used to gather information to complete a task. A prime example is the MoleculesR Us site sponsored by the NIH where the user can search for the coordinates of any large bio-molecule -
Explorations - Content provided to the user without a great deal of structure for the purpose of letting them explore and gather information to answer a given question. Examples of this include Web pages with a series of links for students to wander through to answer specific questions. More complex uses include pictures, movies, simulations, and animations.
lmmersive environments - The user is immersed in a context and affects the outcome of what happens to him or her. Usually there is a story element that lends an element of reality. Examples of this type of media include our AirbagsRUs virtual company or the Wiley Liftoff module.
4) Ways of distributing the media
Internet. The material is made available on the Internet and is accessible via FTP or Web browsers like Netscape. The limitations with this approach include: the necessity of an Internet connection, slow transmission rates, and limitations to what web browsers allow.
Floppy discs- The old standard -almost everyone has the capability to read one. Main drawback· cannot hold more than about 1.4 Mb of material.
Removable discs- Removable discs such as Zip or Jaz discs hold 100-1,000 Mb of material plenty but few people have them.
CD-ROM- The new (sort of) standard for delivering up to 600Mb of material. Relatively inexpensive but rather slow when looking at complex media pieces.
I hope that by mentioning how I think about media I have stimulated thoughts in you the reader. Be aware that any given multimedia piece can contain various media types. There are numerous other crucial issues that I think of when thinking about media including: 1) Educational value and effectiveness, 2) People, time and costs associatec with producing the media, and 3)
Strengths and weaknesses of the media. All of these issues are extremely important when you are creating educational media- I will not say more about them here but I will write more about them in the future with references to the latest literature.
As I return to burning more CO-ROMs, I just want to mention that the ways I think about media are in no manner exhaustive and this is really my first stab at putting all of this down on paper. I would welcome and appreciate any comments directed at I find media fascinating and a wonderful tool to teach chemistry. I am certain that the next few years will bring us wonderful media that will enhance our students' understanding of chemistry, as well as our (at least my) own.


03/10/97 to 03/14/97