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The massive advancement in the field of informational technology, including an upgrade in software and fiber optic connections, has significantly enhanced the capacity of different institutions in speeding up and extending their range of services and capabilities. In education, the design of multimedia software for teaching students through an online setting has been the focus of attention, effort, and support in different universities and teaching institutions.
Consequently, there are different types of online software media that provide such service, yet a few can be called effective and patronize by the majority of the student body. It is thus imperative that multimedia technologies be well studied and appropriately used in order to be successful in educating students. Design guidelines can guide the proponents of future multimedia software in choosing the optimal settings and features that may be incorporated in the online teaching website. This review paper describes the essential features of an interactive multimedia learning environment and explains the correlations between such features and the possible effects on the student and the teaching and learning processes involved in education.
The employment of the Internet in educating students has been the focus of attention of academic institutions for the last decade (McKimm et al., 2003). To date, there are approximately hundreds of online study programs that cover different areas of specialization. For example, there are currently almost one hundred online programs in medicine that could be taken through the Internet (Chumley-Jones et al., 2002).
Efforts have been made to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of online educational programs and it has been observed that not all programs are successful in terms of providing the best possible education through the Internet (Alur et al., 2002). Multimedia education has thus been misunderstood because these websites should not only serve as Internet resources for information but should also be hallmarks of learning for the student. Educators are aware that proper learning involves active critical judgment from the part of the student as well as feedback-based interaction between the student and the program designers.
So far, only half of the existing multimedia websites provide such features (Passerini and Granger, 2000; Minasian-Batmanian, 2002). This paper aims to describe the pertinent features that are essential in designing an effective multimedia educational program. In addition, other resources and literature will be mentioned that may further support the multimedia framework.
Analysis and Discussion
The term multimedia pertains to the employment of text, images, slides, audio, and other forms of visual objects in providing a message to its computer user (Alessi and Trollip, 2001). The use of multimedia in delivering a seminar, lesson, or lecture may be modified by changing the size of the text, as well as the font and color through the choices provided by the menu of the text processing software (Sabatini, 2001). It has been observed that multimedia software does not directly result in learning but it actually provides an alternative means of generating satisfaction as the student is been educated about a certain lesson (Bell et al., 2000). The proper employment of multimedia software can thus supplement teaching if four requirements are attained.
Firstly, the developers of multimedia software for educational purposes should bear in mind that the main purpose of the online learning website is to educate the user Cato J (2001). It has been observed that most multimedia software programs go beyond this expectation, wherein the focus of the developers tends to go to the technicality of the multimedia software itself, sacrificing the goal of educating the user. Simple multimedia software is actually much better in terms of resultant education because the goal of getting the user to learn the prime points of the study section are achieved, unlike other multimedia software that is masked by excessively technical features.
Another principle that is associated with effective multimedia software is that whatever features that are currently available do not automatically mean that it will be helpful in educating the user (Imel, 1994). There will always be obstacles that the developers of multimedia software will always encounter, including the goal of being one of the first websites to offer state-of-the-art multimedia teaching tools yet to the expense of attaining their goal of educating the user. The developer of the multimedia software should thus keep in mind that any modification that is made to the color or size of the text of the website may either enhance or destroy the attractiveness of the website to the user.
Another requirement in developing multimedia software is that an appropriate design should be created that will facilitate in educating the user (Rosenberg, 2001). The employment of multimedia features to an online learning website may increase the value of the website, but it also may decrease its significance. Another essential feature in designing multimedia software is the speed in acquiring the website. It has been determined that users are quickly deterred from using a specific website if the download speed of the site is slow (Sekikawa et al., 2001).
The connection speed of the user should also be taken into consideration, because individuals who are simply equipped with dial-up modems tend to take a longer time to access the multimedia website than those subscribing to high-speed digital connections and that the download speed of the multimedia websites thus magnifies the time it takes to get through each web page. The inclusion of high-definition images and videos on the web page will also decrease the download speed of a site.
Copyright law should also be frequently considered during the design of multimedia software for electronic learning (Davis and Harden, 2001). Since it is now very easy to copy and paste huge blocks of text and other information from one site to another, the developers of the multimedia software should be aware that fair utilization of such Internet resources should be performed with caution and proper citation. The increase in the use of the Internet is currently positively correlated with cases of plagiarism, both in academic and non-academic situations (Hoffman, 2001).
In order for a multimedia software or website to be effective in educating its students, thorough preparation and design of the program should be performed. The first essential step in its design includes the identification and description of the goals of the multimedia program (Horton, 2000). This step includes the requirements that are needed in order for the student to learn precise topics and achieve actual skills associated with the topic.
Cato (2001) explains that the user-centered approach in designing multimedia educational websites is probably the best technique that may be employed in generating online educational programs because it defines specific goals that the educator would like to provide to the student. In addition, the multimedia software should also include a provision that will gauge the knowledge of the student before he starts the study program because it would be a waste of time and effort for both student and educator to go through the same topics that the student has already learned previously. Another feature that should be also included in the design of multimedia software is the determination of the attitude of the student not only towards the topic to be learned, but also his perception regarding his employment of multimedia software itself (Derrick and Carr, 2003).
Effective online educational programs usually provide the student with a description of the objectives of the study section, so that the student will be aware of what he will be tackling for that specific section. Some online programs also provide an estimate of the amount of time that will be consumed in order to complete that study section. The study program should also provide references should that student want to find a reference book that he may read in order to supplement his studies.
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One advantage of a multimedia learning platform is that the educator/designer of the online program will have the opportunity to immediately hear of any issues the student may be experiencing by providing a feature in the software that the student may hit whenever he has problems or finds difficulty during his study of each particular section. This “panic” button may be very helpful because it has been observed that there are particular types of students that are too shy to approach their instructor to ask for clarification.
In the situation of the multimedia instructional programs, the student is psychologically “masked”, wherein he does not have to physically face his teacher and fear that his questions may be rejected by the teacher and he would end up in shame. A student identification number or a course access code is the only identification data that is often used in multimedia learning websites hence any interactions between the student and the online course instructor will be conducted using an Internet interface (Toohey and Watson, 2001).
Another important feature that should be considered in designing effective multimedia software is that instructional software should be created by a team that is composed of a number of specialists, from both the topic of instruction and the multimedia technology itself (Maarten et al., 2002). It is often rare to have an educator or specialist in instruction to be well trained in handling informational technologies hence a person who handles the technical aspects of running the website also plays an important role in developing effective multimedia software.
The information technologist also has the capability of including audio and video features in the website so that the student will have the chance to view or hear any lessons that may be better presented in such format. It is also important that the images provided in the multimedia software are of good quality and that clarity is the prime goal of including such images in the lesson. The images should also have the option of enlargement or reduction in size so that the student may have the chance of zooming into the figure for a closer look at the image.
The word courseware is currently employed to denote the software that is employed for managing electronic learning programs on the Internet. The courseware also allows the inclusion of short examinations to test whether the student was able to imbibe the information that was given to him in the current study section.
Another step that is important in developing multimedia software for educational purposes is to test the online program in a set of subjects for feedback (Morrison, 2003). It is not enough that all the information has been included in the website, but that the interaction and its friendliness to the student user should be checked before it is released for massive interaction with a larger group of students. This human element is very important because the information gathered through its testing and collection of feedback will indicate whether the multimedia website does achieve its goals of serving as another mode of instruction other than classroom teaching.
One common obstacle to multimedia software for educational purposes is that the student is not familiar with the use of computers, or should they be computer-literate, the student may be resistant to studying a course over the Internet instead of in the classroom (Dastbaz and Kalafatis, 2003). Another usual issue that may be observed from feedback reactions during testing of the multimedia software is that some users may not have enough time to finish reading a study section or complete a short quiz on the website, should this quiz be timed for a few minutes only. The information that may be gathered from the testing of the software should be taken into consideration immediately and modifications should be incorporated as needed.
The proponents of multimedia software for educational purposes should also be aware that electronic learning tools should not be treated as the equivalent of classroom instruction, wherein they course simply copy or replicate resource material from textbooks and paste these sections onto the website (Koller et al., 2000). There should be a lot of modifications that should be performed to the content of the course so that the interaction between the software and the student will be effective and significant for learning. Aside from employing audio and video features in the multimedia software, there should also be online communication that is available for the student in order for him to ask questions or to clarify ideas.
The employment of hyperlinks in multimedia software allows the user to go from one website to another. Another version of linkage is the target link, which allows the inclusion of tables or illustrations to supplement the instruction. Other multimedia programs employ hyperlinks to attach specific articles or journals that the user may use for further reading. Discussion or message boards may also be attached to hyperlinks, which provide a venue for the user to communicate and discuss issues that he may encounter during his study of the course section (Papa et al., 1999).
This feature serves as the equivalent of personal classroom teaching, wherein the student may ask a question and will consequently receive an answer from the teacher (Collison et al., 2000). After each study section, the multimedia software should be able to affect the user in a positive way and this may be done by enforcing what the student has learned so far as he has read through the website. A short quiz may be included on the site to check the comprehension of the student.
Conclusion and Recommendations
There are currently hundreds of online study programs that provide an alternative means of education. Efforts have been made to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of online educational programs and it has been observed that not all programs are successful in terms of providing the best possible education through the Internet. The term multimedia pertains to the employment of text, images, slides, audio, and other forms of visual objects in providing a message to its computer user. The proper employment of multimedia software can thus supplement teaching if four requirements are attained.
The developers of multimedia software for educational purposes should bear in mind that the main purpose of the online learning website is to educate the user. In addition, an appropriate design should be created that will facilitate educating the user. Furthermore, copyright law should also be frequently considered during the design of multimedia software for electronic learning. The increase in the use of the Internet is currently positively correlated with cases of plagiarism, both in academic and non-academic situations. Thus, thorough preparation and design of the program should be performed when developing multimedia software for electronic learning. The first step in its design should include the identification and description of the goals of the multimedia program, which should always be to educate the user.
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