|Australian Journal of Educational Technology
1995, 11(1), 28-35.
The merits and demerits of computer multimedia within the domain of CBE is a topical discussion point. Dan Ellis has recently argued a case for 'barefoot multimedia' based on his experience developing CBE at Queensland University of Technology (Ellis, 1994). The following article briefly relates some of the CBE development work taking place at Deakin University and takes issue with some of the points made by Ellis.
In a paper presented to the IFIP conference in August 1994, Dan Ellis presented a brief history of CBE at QUT. 'Since its inception in 1986, CBE at QUT has developed a strategy for success in exploiting computers to help students' learning outcomes.'
QUT has adopted a return on investment (ROI) approach which Ellis summarises by saying, 'We aim to provide conveniently, cheaply, and reliably, for very large numbers of students whenever possible, learning experiences that cost little to produce, that catalyse the reaction between student and existing learning resources, that induce active involvement by the student, and that enable lecturers to track the progress of individuals in very large classes.'
The resulting CBE products frequently take the form of text based programs which reflect a 'Socratic process' of learning.
This rationale is provided in response to recent (unwelcome) pressure Ellis has apparently experienced at QUT from teaching staff clamouring for multimedia in CBE: 'Just when we thought we had it all solved, along comes chaos in the form of multimedia. Text based question and answer just doesn't look the same without sound, movement, and video ... (which) causes havoc for our ROI approach.' Ellis then looks at the issues surrounding multimedia use in universities' educational goals - when is it appropriate and when not? He argues that:
There is good and bad in multimedia CBE as there is in drill and practice (and as there is in print, video, classroom instruction, and any other form of educational presentation).
Furthermore, Ellis' dichotomy distracts attention from the continuum of forms of CBE. While the drill and practice produced at QUT and his caricature of multimedia may represent opposite ends of the spectrum, there is a range of further options in between. These mid-range Options may incorporate elements of drill and practice, text based exposition, simulation, hypertext branching options, and may use 'multimedia' techniques to some extent.
Ellis has a point regarding the relative cost structures of multimedia as Opposed to his more pedestrian style of operation. However, it really is a question of horses for courses. There is a place for varying degrees of sophistication in the field of CBE and cost is but one consideration in deciding the approach to be taken in any particular development situation.
The Ellis view is in danger of making a virtue of the economical but mundane electronic page turning approach to CBE to the exclusion of any effective enhancements. The opposite end of the argument would dismiss lower cost approaches to CBE as being ideologically unsound and wasteful uses of the processing power of the computer.
Irrespective of ideology, white greater programming complexity does result in greater cost, hardware and software developments are reducing the cost differential between the lower and higher order approaches to CBE.
Accordingly, the style of program adopted should be appropriate in the circumstances. This leaves the options very wide and open to negotiation in view of the resources available for development.
From the design point of view, other relevant issues are that:
A number of developments have been undertaken in the accounting/ business area where CBE is regarded as offering a teaching/learning strategy with significant advantages over existing print and other learning resources. The programs incorporate a variety of approaches to CBE although none are 'multimedia' in the sense of using sound and/or video inputs.
Some of the programs are outlined below.
The approach used combines extensive electronic page turning (to present descriptive explanation of relevant concepts and principles) in conjunction with numbers of exercises using an active spreadsheet which is embedded in the program. Screen text was pruned to some extent since the program was designed for use in conjunction with a printed study guide. An extensive text based help file is also provided which is accessible from any part of the program and which serves to reduce the amount of text presented in the main body of the program.
The spreadsheet exercises allow users flexibility in studying cash flow through the computer program. After data is entered, work may be assessed and initial feedback obtained. Users may then return to the exercise to amend work, call up more detailed explanations, refer to the related help files, or call up the solution to the problem.
A section of the program presents a multiple choice test on the content which is pitched at the level of the end of semester examination.
The tax accountant asks questions by selecting question keywords. Subquestion keywords which appear in relation to selected keywords allow further detail to be checked. The computer supplies answers to questions from the prepared client data base. Answers are then used to record data on the client's tax return.
Branching options provide access to a depreciation worksheet, relevant tax documents, and rebate forms and other schedules.
When the tax return is completed, the tax accountant has the return reviewed by the tax manager. This provides a summary of the time taken to prepare the return and the number of errors made.
A context sensitive help file is available and the user has an opportunity to review and amend the tax return before the second assessment by the tax manager, after which explanations for individual calculations and the solution to the whole exercise may be called up.
Practical exercises using the embedded spreadsheet function are included to involve the user in the process but there is less interaction in this program than the other programs described here. Exercises serve to confirm mastery of the principles presented as the user is introduced to the accounting equation and led through a cumulative process of refining the equation and devising associated rules and procedures.
The program does not provide textual exposition of the subject matter: this is covered in printed study guides and lecture / tutorial presentations. The purpose of the program is to provide a flexible mechanism for users to apply theory and test mastery.
The active spreadsheet embedded in the program uses a randomising function to generate an infinite number of practical exercises to present case studies, assess users' work, provide useful feedback, and present solutions to each randomly generated problem.
There is very little descriptive text in the program which is designed to be used in conjunction with a printed study guide. The computer program enables users to apply the theory contained in the text and acquire the procedural reporting skills by working intensively on case studies and reviewing computer generated feedback on their progress. The program also contains routines which explain the derivation of key figures in the case studies.
Thus far, Deakin has used a combination of text exposition, drill and practice, and simulation, with very limited use of 'multimedia' techniques. We have found that extensive presentation of text does not work well on screen and is not popular with users. Deakin has a long history of presentation of high quality print material which is where extensive text is best placed. Another useful option has been to place longer text sections in context sensitive help files which are able to be accessed from any part of the interactive programs.
The emphasis in future development work is likely to be in simulation, the development of program shells, and the use of randomising functions which the 1994 user feedback suggested were the most successful aspects of Deakin's CBE development and which we perceive to offer the greatest educational potential - particularly when used in conjunction with print and other existing educational resources. Moreover, authoring approaches are now available which reduce the development to runtime ratio considerably for the types of programs we are developing.
Ellis stresses that the QUT approach takes as axiomatic that 'it is the student that is intelligent, not the computer' (author's emphasis). While we recognise that CBE should be designed around intelligent participation by the user, Deakin projects rely on the computer providing an intelligent contribution well. In some cases the computer is breathtakingly intelligent.
Deakin will continue to use drill and practice where it is deemed appropriate, that is, where computer presentation offers significant advantages over presentation of the same content as printed text. We envisage the progressive introduction of sound and video (where appropriate) in future development work as CD ROM enhanced computers become more widely available.
'Does your proposed approach:Oddly enough, this advice bears a remarkable similarity to Ellis' rules of thumb for ensuring development of a 'product that does a decent job'. The point of divergence, however, is that 'barefoot multimedia' is one of many development options to be considered rather than, as Ellis suggests, the only option to present itself.
- address the learning need
- meet the expectations of the target learners
- enable learners to do things they can't do using existing resources
- motivate the learners to interact with the program and other learning resources
- place control in the hands of learners as far as is possible within the parameters of the program
- fall within the budget constraints of the developing organisation?'
'Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock.'
|Author: Keith Rees is an instructional designer at Deakin Australia, the commercial arm of Deakin University. He was the instructional designer and project manager for one of the CBE projects discussed in this article. His address is Deakin Australia, Professional Education Division, Deakin Australia, Geelong, Victoria, 3217, Australia.
Please cite as: Rees, K. (1995). Design issues in computer-based education. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 11(1), 28-35. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet11/rees.html