Using Computers in Environmental Education:
Interactive Multimedia and On-Line Learning

Section II
Interactive Multimedia

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?
Lecture/Presentation
Collaborative Learning
Individualized Learning
Creating Reports or Presentations
Assessment
. . . Other Ways?
Training Tips and Techniques
Technical Considerations
Logistical Considerations
Workshop Activities
Consumer Testing Multimedia
Create a Multimedia Teaching/Learning Station
Literature Cited

Interactive Multimedia

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.

Where the Action Is

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 recorder.

Environmental Multimedia

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.

Do Your Own Thing

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.

Storage Power!

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.

CD-ROM vs. Laserdisc Multimedia

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 drives.

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.

Why Bother?

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?"

Ten Reasons to Use Multimedia

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.

Multimedia is:

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 stimulated.
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 generation.

Reasons to Use Multimedia in Education

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:

But How Can We Really Use This Stuff?

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 rapidly unfold.

There are five principal ways multi-media technology is used in EE today:

  1. at the front of the classroom as a more flexible and versatile update of traditional audio visual media used in lecture/presentation;

  2. in student groups for collaborative learning;

  3. in individual student use for independent learning;

  4. in the creation of reports or presentations; and

  5. in assessment.

Lecture/Presentation

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 skip to...

Collaborative Learning

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.

Individualized Learning

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.

Creating Reports or Presentations

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.

Assessment

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.

. . . Other Ways?

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 EE.

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.

Training Tips and Techniques

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.

Technical Considerations

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.

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 ahead.

Logistical Considerations

Workshop Activities

Consumer Testing Multimedia

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?

Create a Multimedia Teaching/Learning Station

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 these activities.

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