Using Computers in Environmental Education:
Interactive Multimedia and On-Line Learning
- Where the Action Is
- Environmental Multimedia
- Do Your Own Thing
- Storage Power!
- CD-ROM vs. Laserdisc Multimedia
- Why Bother?
- Ten Reasons to Use Multimedia
- Reasons to Use Multimedia in Education
- But How Can We Really Use This Stuff?
- Collaborative Learning
- Individualized Learning
- Creating Reports or Presentations
- . . . Other Ways?
- Training Tips and Techniques
- Technical Considerations
- Logistical Considerations
- Workshop Activities
- Consumer Testing Multimedia
- Create a Multimedia Teaching/Learning Station
- Literature Cited
YOU MAY HEAR IT CALLED "new media," "hypermedia," "integrated media," or more
commonly "interactive multimedia," but whatever you call it, it's the next
giant step in classroom technology and potentially a powerful tool for
environmental education. The term "interactive multimedia" covers a lot of
territory. "Interactive" means that this new tool offers multiple choices or
scenarios, and as the program unfolds, the viewer chooses which sequences or
subjects to explore. The presentation "interacts" with the viewer by responding
to these choices. "Multimedia" means graphics, music, sound effects, voice,
video, and animation, in any combination, in the same program or presentation.
These various media are the building blocks of a multimedia product or
presentation, but the cornerstone is the student's ability to interact
spontaneously with the information or images by using the computer.
Beyond assembling pieces in an electronic version of cut-and-paste, multimedia
tools can provide tremendous stimulation and resources for development of
critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Keep in mind that many multimedia products are nothing more than electronic
books or glorified page-turners. Instead of presenting kids with simple words
and numbers, we've added pictures and sound. They can be slow and boring. The
value of this technology only comes when we empower the student to take a more
proactive role in the acquisition and analysis of information.
Interactivity, therefore, is the potential of this medium that
distinguishes it from earlier instructional technology innovations such as
slides, film, and video. Where interaction formerly was limited to "off" and
"on," multimedia may provide a "hook" to help transform students from passive
recipients of information to active participants in their own learning process.
The dynamic, media-rich environment provides a potent way to reach students,
laying the pathway for truly investigative learning.
At its simplest, multimedia can mean programming one computer to play
selected portions of compact discs or laserdiscs on a classroom television
monitor or projection device for the whole class to view. However, for the
full-scale multimedia experience, environmental educators can turn to a growing
field of interdisciplinary programs that can be adapted to many different
settings. These programs may incorporate interactive audio and video from a
laser disc (sometimes called a videodisc), digital audio or video clips stored
on a hard drive or CD, or video footage from a now-conventional videocassette
Environmental multimedia offers the potential for true "whole systems
learning"-- mirroring the whole systems of mind and the planet. The flexibility
and multidimensional nature of these new media can parallel what we know about
research on learning style -- Gardner's
Theory on Multiple Intelligences (1985), McCarthy's 4-Mat process (1981), for
example--where we find students learn best in the style suited to them.
Multimedia also can model and mimic interactive, complex behavior of natural
and human systems. Environmental multimedia is therefore a dynamic, flexible
tool--promoting dynamic, interactive
learning in a dynamic, interactive world. Environmental multimedia can
mirror the way we learn and the way the world works.
If the formats of existing products do not meet your specific needs, then
"multimedia authoring tools" can be used to "mix and match" elements of these
products to personalize your multimedia presentation. Using these resources and
other materials of their choice, teachers and students can research, write, and
assemble their own multimedia presentations or reports, complete with video,
sound, text, and illustrations.
If you don't find all the media elements you need from commercial products,
you can create your own multimedia products. For several years, teachers and
students have been able to create their own laserdiscs; recent breakthroughs
now allow users to master (or "press") their own audio, visual, or data CDs.
Because CDs and laserdiscs store tremendous amounts of pictorial, audio, and
text information, they are particularly well-suited for encyclopedic reference
materials. A CD-ROM (compact disc read-only memory), for example, can store the
information equivalent of 350,000 pages of text -- 450 times the data of a
conventional floppy disk. Just one side of a typical laserdisc can store the
information equivalent of 52,000 slide images or 5,000 floppy disks. New data
compression will radically increase this storage power in the near future. And
remember, this information can be stored as sound, animation, video footage,
graphics, or text and any piece of it can be accessed almost instantly.
CD-ROM is likely to be the fastest growing product in the next few years.
Even though there is still a relatively limited base of installed CD-ROM
drives, many developers are convinced that the expansion of CD-ROM drives into
the consumer marketplace is likely to follow the same path as VCRs in the late
'80s. One reason for the growing interest is the advent of new technology that
allows video to be displayed directly on the computer screen, avoiding the need
for an additional video monitor.
Laserdiscs and CD-ROM offer very different strengths. CD-ROMs were conceived
as storage media, and can be used to store just about any data, including text,
numbers, audio, images, and video. They store data in a digital format.
Laserdiscs were conceived as a storage medium principally for motion video,
images, and audio, and use analog encoding. Perhaps the biggest limitation of
laserdiscs is that their analog data cannot be shared over a local area
computer network (LAN), which "speaks" digitally.
Today, some of the most exciting EE multimedia combine the best of both
storage media, utilizing CD-ROM to store software which accesses motion footage
and sound stored on a laserdisc. While the future of compression technology and
storage media is highly uncertain, for the foreseeable future, schools
interested in multimedia should purchase both laserdisc players and CD-ROM
For a list of publications which cover the latest CD-ROM, multimedia, and
other computer-aided environmental education products, see "Environmental
Education Software and Multimedia Catalogs" in the File Folder section.
Interactive multimedia is being aggressively funded by many school districts,
and many museums, zoos, aquariums, and other education centers are following
their lead. For example, the Lee County Public School System plans to buy 4,000
personal computers and has set aside $35 million for educational technology,
especially the purchase of multimedia material. In North Carolina, the
Department of Public Instruction is requesting $356 million over 10 years to
provide schools with upgraded technology, including CD-ROM drives and other
multimedia hardware. Texas was the first state to adopt multimedia software as
a textbook substitute. Given the costs of technology, the need for additional
training, and the cost of multimedia products, you may be asking yourself, "Why
do these educators bother with this new teaching tool?"
PC World magazine (October 1993) outlined "Ten Reasons to Use Multimedia in
Education." While in many cases unproven and overstated, they also underscore
the potential of multimedia in education.
fast -- learning speed accelerates.
cheap -- the program never asks for a raise; the more you use it, the less
it costs per use.
consistent -- no mood swings, yawns, or lapses.
private -- ask what you want; no one will laugh, no one will scold.
safe -- experience nuclear meltdowns without fallout; experience drunk
driving accidents or electrocution without blackouts or death.
personal -- it never tires of praising and motivating through positive
feedback, any time, day or night.
a strong foundation -- on which to build mastery.
a tool to make remembering longer, easier -- many parts of the brain are
more information faster -- on things a school couldn't afford to teach:
like space-shuttle repair, brain surgery, black hole sailing.
fun -- like a game: yes, like Nintendo, which, with a joystick and a
screen, has already captured the brains and fingers of an entire
Definitive research on the positive impacts of multimedia in education has not
yet been assembled. While many would argue that the jury is still out, here are
some important reasons to utilize this technological tool in EE:
Now that we've addressed the "what and why" of interactive multimedia, let's
turn our attention to the "how." While environmental educators already have
numerous ways to use these new tools, the interactive multimedia teaching and
learning frontier is wide open ... and the technical horizon continues to
- It facilitates student-centered learning allowing choice in the pathways for learning and the rate at which new material is introduced.
- It can address several learning styles and modalities -- providing a rich variety of instructional approaches which can teach in most of the ways that students learn best.
- It motivates student interaction, experimentation, and cooperative learning.
- Students often work together on computer projects as they never did on paper-and-pencil projects.
- It facilitates "storylines" or thematic learning -- where a pathway for exploration can easily be woven around a particular concept dynamics.
- It promotes the "constructivist" view of learning.
There are five principal ways multi-media technology is used in EE today:
- at the front of the classroom as a more flexible and versatile update of traditional audio visual media used in lecture/presentation;
- in student groups for collaborative learning;
- in individual student use for independent learning;
- in the creation of reports or presentations; and
- in assessment.
Connect a single computer to a projection device and you have a powerful tool
providing audiovisual support to emphasize lecture points. The instructor can
incorporate printed barcodes (similar to UPC codes on retail packaging) into
lecture notes, then use a barcode scanner to activate recorded images and
sounds at appropriate times.
Interactive multimedia can create compelling classroom audio visual
demonstrations. The teacher can pause at critical points, show entire sequences
of a video presentation in slow motion and review important concepts quickly
and easily, then pull in a computer-generated map with today's data, and then
Utilized as a learning station in a classroom, interactive multimedia enables
small groups to share their expertise and to explore in the learning process
together. Teachers can facilitate the learning process and guide learners down
pathways, working in a collaborative process. Thus, specialized training is not
limited by the knowledge of instructors, the availability of scarce or valuable
teaching materials, or the availability of teachers.
Educational presentations on the computer provide a private, non-judgmental
learning environment: The student controls the pace in a "hands-on" learning
experience and can back up, repeat a segment, or ask for further explanation.
For quick learners, multimedia allows the opportunity to explore beyond the
basics of the course. For slower learners, individualized learning situations
lessen the fear of having to publicly ask for extra help or admit that they
"didn't get it" the first time around.
Students who have missed class, or who need to review, can study
audio/visual supported lectures and demonstrations independently.
Students enjoy developing their own multimedia products. With authoring
programs students can prepare a variety of audio visual reports. Computerized
slide shows are simple; for extra pizazz try a "video term paper" with
complementary moving footage, charts, pictures, and music.
An authoring system connected to a laserdisc or CD-ROM player simplifies
the task of producing and editing videotapes. Cues, cuts, captions, and other
editing chores can be preprogrammed from
an assortment of different discs to create smooth, professional videotapes.
Teacher-compiled material can also be transferred from high-quality master
tapes directly to custom-made laserdiscs for classroom use.
In an increasing number of schools, teachers are combining an authoring
system, laserdisc or CD-ROM player, computer, word processor, and graphics
software in a state-of-the-art curriculum development workstation. The
materials they are developing range from simple handouts and overhead
transparencies to student workbooks and even complete course textbooks. (See
the Handouts section for a sample technology learning center.)
It is important to note here, however, that most studies of introducing
computer-based technology in the classroom say time for teachers to learn to
use and then to apply such technology is a critical but often missing element
in achieving success. Your workshops and follow-up support could make the
difference for many teachers.
In a group testing environment, the teacher might call up a frame illustrating
various environmental problems from a disc and ask the students to identify
potential solutions. For individual testing, the students can take entire exams
at a computer connected to a laserdisc or CD-ROM. Answers to
audio/visual-supported multiple choice, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank
questions are entered into the computer, recorded and graded instantly. The
power of this technology lends itself to more sophisticated testing procedures
and various aspects of "authentic assessment" -- taking assessment beyond mere
record-keeping. Computer technology puts feedback on progress within reach of
each learner, and provides powerful tools for building student portfolios.
The ability of multimedia to present material, ask questions, and respond
according to the student responses, opens up an exciting new venue for
educational media: interactive lessons and activities. Teachers already are
creating activities where students are shown, for example, insects and asked to
identify shared characteristics. The teacher programs the system to ask more
probing questions, based on individual student response.
Are our current uses of computer technology in EE unnecessarily confined by our
limited experience? Are our applications "boxed in" by how we have taught in
the past and how we have utilized educational technologies of the past? For the
future, we may need to "get out of the frame in order to clearly see the
picture." Our challenge in the years ahead is to not let historical patterns
and experience limit our creative application of new educational technologies
In John Naisbitt's "Megatrends" (1982), new technologies pass through three
stages. In the first stage, the new technology follows the "line of least
resistance," into a ready market. At the second stage, users improve or replace
previous technologies with new technologies. Finally, in the third stage, users
discover new functions for the technology, based on its potentials.
In the third stage, educators using technology bring
about a paradigm shift. They don't just squeeze technological tools between the
existing bricks of yesterday's educational practices. They ask, "What can we do
now that was not possible before? How can these new tools contribute to a more
powerful educational experience?" As environmental educators, we are just
entering this third stage.
It's very difficult to verbally explain interactive multimedia. It's unlike
anything you've experienced before. There are no adequate analogies. You have
to see it demonstrated and you have to try it yourself to really get a clear
sense of this medium. This poses significant technical and logistical
requirements for an effective training workshop.
You can see that the easiest way to do a workshop is in
a computer lab or training center. Many school districts and universities, as
well as some libraries, already have all of this technology, fully integrated
and compatible -- ready to go. It will save you hours of time and oodles of
money if you can bring your participants to a facility where the technology is
already available, as opposed to bringing the technology to them.
- You'll need a speedy computer with eight or more megabytes of RAM and a
compatible CD-ROM drive and/or laserdisc player. The computer may also need a
big chunk (several megabytes) of available hard drive space and the software
necessary to run the multi-media products you are presenting.
- If you are demonstrating a laserdisc, you will also need a color monitor
(basically just a color TV) to run the video footage. Digital video on a CD-ROM
should run directly on the computer screen, so no additional monitor is
- Unless you are training a very small group that can crowd around your
computer screen and monitor, you will also need a way to project your screen so
that everyone can see. A color liquid crystal display (an LCD plate) and an
overhead projector work just fine. An alternative is a new piece of technology
where you plug your computer into one end and a monitor/TV into the other, and
your monitor/TV now shows what appears on the computer screen. This same
hardware can be plugged into a VCR so you can tape exactly what is appearing on
your computer screen! New projection and presentation technologies are always
hitting the market.
If you can get access to a computer lab or training
center, go there well in advance of your presentation and "crash test" the
products you will be demonstrating. Try in advance everything you plan to do in
your workshop to be sure that things won't grind to a screeching halt because
of "technical difficulties beyond your control."
If you are responsible for providing equipment and
setup, do your legwork well in advance. It almost always is more time-consuming
and complicated than you expect, and something often goes wrong, so plan
Once teachers are sold on multimedia, they'll want to purchase software for
their school. Here is an idea for engaging workshop participants in a
discussion about their criteria: Set up stations where participants test
software or multimedia programs that you have available, and ask them to write
a catalog-like description for this item. Then compare their versions with the
real sales pitch and lead a discussion that will help participants become savvy
multimedia consumers. What are companies likely to emphasize? How well does
this coincide with what teachers need to know?
- Arrange the training so that the workshop participants can see the computer
monitor or projection screen, and the trainer looks at the class. This way you
can monitor and respond to looks of delight or confusion as well as
participants' questions. It may be helpful to enlist one or more participants
to operate the computer keyboard according to your directions.
- Briefly state the goals of the training and the specific objectives you plan
to address. Poll your teachers to see which have experience with interactive
ultimedia and which do not. Encourage them to share their frustrations and
their success stories.
- At the beginning of the workshop, find out what participants want to know,
then respond directly to their needs by weaving in specific examples, products,
or techniques. It's ideal to actually do this with a pre-workshop
- Consider pairing or grouping more experienced and energetic participants
with those who are new to or pensive about computer technology.
- Strive to show the variety, both in form and content, of multimedia
resources. Demonstrate the unique capabilities of both CD-ROM and laserdiscs.
Show them the tools of today, but be sure to mix in some of the possibilities
- Show specific examples of how interactive multimedia resources can be used
for lecture/presentation, collaborative learning, individualized learning,
creating reports or presentations, and assessment.
- Remember that your participants will have little if any previous experience
with this new medium (unlike other traditional teaching tools). Share with them
lots of stories about how other educators are using technology, but also remind
them that they are participating in a unfolding process.
- Emphasize how this technology is only a tool to enhance what they are
already doing and that it is not just another thing they should add to their
- Be sure to allow time for small teams of 2-5 teachers to explore together.
While demonstration to large groups is fine, to fully experience the dynamic of
cooperative, self-directed, interactive learning that this technology allows, a
small group is a must. Give participants plenty of time to have direct,
hands-on experience with the technology.
- You may wish to duplicate pages from the "Helpful Publications and Other Resources" section in the File Folder to provide a list of EE-related computer products and resources.
- The Workshop Resource Manual unit, "Designing Effective Workshops," offers
tips for facilitating discussions, organizing small groups, and developing an
appropriate agenda for workshops.
Give each teacher team a catalog from an educational technology catalog selling
hardware and software, a $5,000-$10,000 budget, and the job of creating a
multimedia teaching and learning station that could roll around in a typical
classroom. Have teams report their expenditures for hardware and software and
describe at least three activities students could do at the station. The most
creative spenders can keep the catalogs! Pick up a few copies of a newsstand
computer magazine, or contact your local computer store or reference librarian
to obtain copies of current prices for hardware and basic software.
The resources listed in the File Folder section may be helpful for each of
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