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Designing a web enhanced multimedia learning environment (WEMLE) for project management.

This article demonstrates how a Web-Enhanced Multimedia System for Project Management was developed and used, and then tested for its educational effectiveness. The design of this system was based on the premise that the use of educational multimedia should have a basis and a purpose. This multimedia system, Web Enhanced Multimedia Learning Environment (WEMLE) for Project Management, is based on the simulation of the way project management is taught within an undergraduate course at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ). It incorporates established educational concepts and the latest in web-based multimedia design. The multimedia materials were developed in conjunction with the Distance and e-Learning Centre (DEC) of USQ. The project was funded and supported by both the Faculty of Business and DEC. The feedback received so far has been extremely encouraging in terms of the system's teaching and learning effectiveness.

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Technologies associated with the Internet have added an additional dimension to modern computing. These technologies create an ideal environment for designing interactive multimedia materials, and delivering and distributing them in a very cost-effective manner. However, as in any teaching material, the bottom line in multimedia development is that it should also be able to convey the knowledge and underlying concepts to learners.

Web-enhanced multimedia does not have to reside entirely on the Web either. In a clever way, it can have static parts on a compact disk (CD), and seamlessly link with the dynamic parts on the Web. For instance, these multimedia materials can be run from a CD or even a mini CD and link with the web-based components. WEMLE is available on CD-ROM and the Web (http://www.usq.edu.au/course/material/MGT2102).

Project Management was chosen mainly due to the fact that it is a very popular subject and set of skills. Almost every business school in the world would find it interesting and relate to it. Hence, it was possible to receive feedback from a wider audience around the world.

For the purposes of this educational system, a project consists of a number of activities that produce an outcome in a collective manner and where there are defined starting and ending points in time. For instance, constructing a space station, building a bridge, arranging an overseas trip, writing a paper, or even making a cup of coffee may constitute a project. One of the main goals is to determine the shortest completion time, and thus the critical activities.

This research project proposed to prepare multimedia-teaching materials to correspond with the existing static paper-based materials, and to ascertain the perceptions of students who were invited to experience the additional materials for this module. A specially designed questionnaire was also incorporated into the system, and this instrument was used to collect the survey data.

In the next section, we will examine some of the latest and current projects related to the topic of our work.

RELATED AND SIMILAR PROJECTS

Similar studies are being done in other universities (Wilson & Whitelock 2002; UniNews Online 2000), but these have had a different perspective.

The study carried out at the University of Melbourne by the Teaching and Learning (Multimedia and Educational Technologies) Committee (UniNews Online 2000) concluded that "... students using educational technology believe it is useful in their learning and, significantly, the targeted group reported much higher levels of satisfaction. The students highlighted interactivity, flexibility of access, feedback and clarity of information as the key benefits." This was a broad ranging study and did not have a "business" education perspective.

Wilson and Whitelock (2002) carried out a study in 1995 comparing face-to-face teaching and the online equivalent, but the perspective was mainly from the tutors' point of view, and was based on a course in computing at undergraduate level. The benefits identified centered on improved access to knowledge, improved social interaction, and improved motivation through exposure to a new teaching medium. They recommended future studies consider techniques to compensate for the lack of visual and verbal clues that accompany electronic communication.

Research studies involving meta-analysis of other studies (Fletcher, 1996) looking at the application of technology to education have concluded that there are identifiable benefits, including the following:

* Technology improves instructional effectiveness;

* Technology reduces time to reach instructional objectives (concluding that "reductions of about 30% in the time it takes students to reach a variety of instructional objectives seem to be a good bet");

* Technology appears to be equally effective for knowledge and performance outcomes (which is the case with project management, of which large parts are skills based e.g., work breakdown structures, network schedules); and

* Technology can be used to teach "soft skills" (applicable to many areas of business).

Fletcher (1996) concluded that now starts the "difficult work of learning how to integrate our new technological opportunities into classroom practice." To assist in this regard, a large body of research exists into how instructional materials can be created using technology. The Association for Educational and Communication Technologies (AECT 2001) has produced extensive guidelines for the development of instructional materials using technology for improved learning.
 In some cases multimodal presentations ... may indeed improve
 learning. They are particularly likely to be beneficial when
 information is encoded via multiple coding mechanisms. Individuals
 possess multiple channels through which information may be encoded.
 For example, information presented in pictures may be encoded once
 as a picture and then again by the verbal description given to the
 picture. In contrast, text is encoded only once, via a verbal
 channel. Information that is processed more than once often adds to
 its retrievability. This so-called "dual-coding" of information ...
 essentially doubles the probability that it will be recalled (AECT
 2001).


Next is presented the main objectives of the WEMLE project.

PURPOSE AND OBJECTIVES OF THE RESEARCH PROJECT

The University of Southern Queensland (USQ 2002) specifically requires study materials to "demonstrate how students will graduate with the following attributes:

* competence and emerging expertise in their chosen discipline(s);

* analytical and critical-thinking skills;

* problem-solving skills;

* independent learning skills;

* communication skills; and

* information technology literacy appropriate to their discipline(s)."

As the following indicates, many of these attributes can be enhanced through the use of multimedia teaching materials.

Module 1 (Project Management) of USQ Course MGT2102 (Optimisation Applications) has nominated the learning objectives (Nooriafshar 2002, p. 1.1) for students to include having familiarisation with, and the ability to apply:

* work breakdown structure;

* network construction and application;

* Gantt charts; and

* concepts and methods to a variety of management/business problems.

These essential business tools and skills are not static knowledge constructs, and are best taught and illustrated with dynamic teaching methods, illustrating the relationship between the various tools, and how they constantly vary to reflect changing project circumstances. Multimedia teaching materials can provide the dynamic quality lacking in paper-based teaching materials.

The main purpose of this project is to identify and compare the effectiveness of teaching/learning by web-enhanced multimedia systems with traditional methods of business education. Hence, a single course module on the use of optimisation methods in project management, which is part of a Faculty of Business undergraduate course, was chosen as a typical representative educational component. Screen-based Macromedia Flash-driven objects using USQ's COOLTOOLS were utilised to develop interactive concept animations.

The system was up and running on Semester 2, 2002. A Faculty/USQ approved Learning Management System (LMS) such as the WebCT Vista will be also used as the development and delivery environment in the near future. This system may also be adopted as a typical model of teaching materials for business using the latest technologies in a LMS environment. The following provides an insight into the educational philosophy adopted in designing WEMLE.

EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY

If we can use the study notes and teach the subject in a face-to-face manner, then what is the purpose of simulating that situation and storing it as multimedia? The purpose is to capture and record the face-to-face teaching experience in a neat and rehearsed format with a lot of interactivity and make it available for all learners. The learners can then have the opportunity of recreating the classroom situation to suit their learning preferences. Others who have not had the opportunity of attending the lectures can also be exposed to a similar experience. Therefore, students will have the opportunity of having more control in the learning process.

Will the learning outcome be superior to the traditional face-to-face teaching? There is no doubt that a dedicated, skilled, and knowledgeable teacher who uses speech, drawings, text, and who possesses patience and willingness to repeat and interact with students represents perhaps the ideal "multimedia." It is rather hard to beat this kind of face-to-face learning. Looking at the audience (learners) and reading their facial expressions to assess whether they fully understand is most effectively achieved in a traditional way of teaching. Hence, the medium of body language is probably less likely to be a part of any current computer-based multimedia system. Who knows, in a not too distant future, we may be able to achieve that too.

An analogy for comparing face-to-face teaching with its simulation would be the difference between a movie and a play. For instance a well-known classic musical movie can be watched at a cinema, on television or video/DVD; or it can be seen as a stage production. We all know that even a locally produced play with average cast and limited background scenes, would have a special feel about it. If we regard a lecture as the play then multimedia will be the movie (recorded) version of it. Hence, like some of the successful movies, which are based on plays, multimedia would be based on lectures or practised and tested teaching sessions. As with a movie, multimedia can also include additional sound and vision effects, but the basis as suggested earlier, is an important factor for its success.

Next is presented a short summary of research findings to date.

FINDINGS

As Figure 1 and Figure 2 show, the multimedia features of the system (sound and text control features) cater to different learning styles.

For instance, learners can view:

* the animation of concepts and listen to the voiceover (visual and aural);

* the animation of concepts, listen to the voiceover and read the voiceover transcript (visual, aural and text); or

* the animation of concepts and read the voiceover transcript with the audio switched off (visual and text).

The voiceover transcript can be viewed by way of a dropdown window as shown in Figure 2.

Data is being collected on a continuous basis through a specially developed survey instrument. Analysis of data collected so far (41 at the time of writing) demonstrates that WEMLE has been very successful as indicated in Figures 3 and 4.

Figure 5 illustrates the users' learning modal preference with regard to this multimedia system. Visual features and interaction with the system appear to be most popular amongst the users. Almost every user who favoured the system's interactive tools suggested that ease of understanding was the reason.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

In addition to receiving formal feedback from the users, the system was also presented to several universities in the United States and Europe. The very encouraging feedback from those who viewed the system has also demonstrated this project's success at an international level. Therefore, the educational effectiveness of WEMLE was put to the test both from learning (formal student feedback) and teaching (presentation feedback) viewpoints.

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

CONCLUSION

This research project was carried out to determine the effectiveness of incorporating web-enhanced multimedia teaching materials into undergraduate subjects in a business faculty. The multimedia materials were made available to students in parallel to existing paper-based materials used in face to face teaching and distance education, so that a direct comparison could be made by students and the effectiveness gauged. Feedback was also obtained from external students and academics from other institutions to gauge perceptions of teaching and learning effectiveness. Analysis of the results indicated that students view all aspects of the multimedia system's influence on their learning positively, and it is envisaged that the feedback and the experience gained from this project will be valuable in the establishment of guidelines for preparation of multimedia teaching materials for other areas of education within the Faculty of Business.
 Animations Voiceovers Interactive All None
 tools
Senesl 5 2 10 23 1

Figure 5. Students' learning style preference

Note: Table made from bar graph.


References

Association for Educational and Communication Technology (AECT) (2001). Research on and research with emerging technologies, Ch 12. In D. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research for educational communications and technology. Retrieved May 22, 2002 from http://www.aect.org/Intranet/Publications/edtech/12/12-02.html

Fletcher, J.D. (1996). Does this stuff work? Some findings from applications of technology to education and training. Proceedings of Conference on Teacher Education and the Use of Technology Based Learning Systems. Warrenton, VA: Society of Applied Learning Technology.

UniNews Online (2000), University of Melbourne, Teaching and Learning (Multimedia and Educational Technologies) Committee. Retrieved May 22, 2002 from http://www.unimelb.edu.au/ExtRels/Media/UN/archive/2000/517/itreview.html

Nooriafshar, M., (2002). Study Book Course MGT2102 Optimisation Applications. University of Southern Queensland, Distance Education Centre, Toowoomba, Australia.

University of Southern Queensland (USQ) (2002). Attributes of a USQ Graduate. Retrieved May 21, 2002 from http://www.usq.edu.au/vc/planstats/PS/graduateattributes.htm

Wilson, T., & Whitelock, D., (2002). Changing roles: Comparing face-to-face and online teaching in the light of new technologies. Retrieved May 22, 2002 from http://kurs.nks.no/eurodl/shoen/wilson.html

MEHRYAR NOORIAFSHAR AND BARRIE TODHUNTER

University of Southern Queensland Toowoomba, Australia

mehryar@usq.edu.au

todhunter@usq.edu.au
COPYRIGHT 2004 Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:University of Southern Queensland, Distance and e-Learning Centre,project
Author:Todhunter, Barrie
Publication:Journal of Interactive Learning Research
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Words:2268
Previous Article:Quality of students' communicative strategies delivered through computer-mediated communications.
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