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Using multimedia in college English: state-of-the-art.

Much of the rising excitement about using new multimedia in education stems from its feature of interactivity. This feature allows the presenter to easily control the order of presentation within a multimedia production.

Let's take as example a class in world literature to which I bring my multimedia computer and connect it to the liquid-crystal display plate of an overhead projector. So equipped, I can now respond to a student's question both verbally and pictorially, by promptly projecting a video clip. I can readily select a relevant video clip from any of the dozens of video clips prerecorded on the CD-ROM inserted in the multimedia computer. This is interactivity. The inserted CD-ROM could be Creation Stories or Poetry in Motion (both described below) or a CD-ROM that I had produced myself with video clips of my choosing. Producing an interactive multimedia CD-ROM may seem like a daunting undertaking, but fear no longer - thanks to new authoring software such as the Macromedia Director 4.0 and the Apple Media Tool, you don't need any knowledge of programming to do so.

To teach yourself the basics of multimedia, start with Erik Holsinger's How Multimedia Works (1994), a 200-page book replete with lavish illustrations and lucid explanations. Early in the book, the author assures teachers:

"It is crucial to understand that teachers will always be an integral part of multimedia technology. Many have heralded the death of education due to multimedia. In fact, multimedia just enhances standard educational techniques." (Among its virtues, this book does not label the reader a dummy or an idiot as do several competing books - which are selling in obscenely high numbers! Could it be that a lot of technophobes feel complimented, in a convoluted way, by these odious titles, mistakenly believing that their cultivated ignorance of technology indirectly enhances their status as humanists?)

A standard multimedia computer costs from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on the configuration. After gaining access to a multimedia computer, the new user should immediately seek out Professor Multimedia. The professor comes incarnated on both Macintosh and Windows platforms and leads you to experience a dazzling hands-on proof of the power and beauty of interactive multimedia. His 8-hour tutorial comprises lively demonstrations of all the technologies that constitute multimedia: text, graphics, photography, animation, digital sound, and digital video. The professor frequently pauses to summarize tutorial segments and even pops an occasional quick quiz.

In my classroom teaching, the first interactive multimedia CD-ROM that I used was Poetry in Motion produced by Voyager Company. Our college did not have a multimedia computer, so I transported my own Macintosh Quadra 840 AV to the literary-art magazine publishing class. Although this system's standard AV monitor is only 14 inches, its excellent color resolution provided adequate visibility for the class of 25. Poetry in Motion features recitations and interviews with 24 contemporary poets including Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Ntozake Shange, Jayne Cortez, and Gary Snyder. Despite the somewhat jerky QuickTime digital video renditions, the student response was unanimously enthusiastic, confirming the recent resurgence of interest in poetry performance - a return to oral roots of literature.

A second use of the Macintosh Quadra 840 AV in this classroom was to proofread the text for the magazine. The automatic text-to-speech conversion done by the "PlainTalk" software module that comes installed in this multimedia computer allowed the editor of each section of the magazine to proofread the typeset text by himself or herself - without the help of a reader. The advantage of using the Quadra AV for proofreading is not only that you do not need another person reading aloud, but also that it will not deceive itself into seeing any word that is not there for the simple reason that it has no mind and therefore "nobody is home" to be deceived. The disadvantage is that the Quadra AV cannot be instructed to read aloud the punctuation marks as words; it will speak out the text and only make appropriate, or at least approximate, punctuation pauses and rising intonations.

In addition to the pioneering Poetry in Motion, several other interactive multimedia CD-ROMs suitable for college English courses are currently available and many more have been announced.

Creation Stories, produced by Time-Warner Interactive, features mythological lores from many groups about "the beginning of the world, the appearance of humans, the intrusions of disharmony, the horror of destruction and, finally and again, the new beginning." The more than 50 groups depicted range from the ancient Hindus, Chinese, Egyptians, Jews, and Greeks to contemporary scientific theoreticians.

Shakespeare's Life and Times features video clips of recreations of Renaissance music, dance, and speech as well as 200 color graphics of art and architecture. With its text and concordances for 20 Shakespeare plays, this interactive multimedia package is a powerful teaching tool.

Other CD ROMs currently available include the works of Mark Twain, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allan Poe. In addition, several pronunciation and American accent multimedia software programs that make full use of animation, sound, and text deliver vivid presentations for reinforcing instruction in the English as a second language (ESL) classroom.

On the basis of my experience using interactive multimedia in my English classroom, I feel confident in predicting that in the coming years college instructors of courses in composition, technical writing, and creative writing, as well as literature, will make increasing use of this powerful instructional technology, and, indeed, their students will insist that they do so.

Works Cited

Apple Media Tool. CD-ROM. Apple Computer Corporation, 1994. Macintosh multimedia computer.

Creation Stories. CD-ROM. Time-Warner Interactive, 1994. Macintosh or Windows multimedia computer.

Holsinger, Erik. 1994. How Multimedia Works. Emeryville, CA: Ziff-Davis Press.

Macromedia Director 4.0. CD-ROM. Macromedia Corporation, 1994. Macintosh or Windows multimedia computer.

Poetry in Motion. CD-ROM. The Voyager Company, 1993. Macintosh or Windows multimedia computer.

Professor Multimedia. CD-ROM. Individual Software, 1994. Macintosh or Windows multimedia computer.

Shakespeare's Life and Times. CD-ROM. Intellimation, 1995. Macintosh multimedia computer.
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Author:Wallia, C.J.S.
Publication:Technical Communication
Date:May 1, 1995
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