Multimedia computing is the integration of multiple media--text, graphics, animation, video, and sound. The combination of these media may take such forms as computer-based learning systems, online journals, information kiosks, virtual fieldtrips, and electronic entertainment. Multimedia computing is particularly powerful when it is interactive, allowing the user to control the sequence and pace through self-selected content. At its best, multimedia computing is user centered, serving the personal needs of the user rather than focusing the user's attention on the machine. When it exploits the strengths of the computer for instruction, research, productivity, or entertainment, it is computer imaginative, making possible certain tasks that could not be accomplished in other media.
Despite the promise of multimedia computing, its potential has not been realized within the academy to the extent seen in other settings. The reasons are numerous, each involving financial, technical, social, and political challenges. Of these, I will discuss three: roles and content, structures, and training.
Content will change as well. Traditionally, we have organized content into disciplines--the social sciences, physical sciences, humanities, fine arts, etc. We further divide and subdivide these disciplines into smaller boxes of content, each to be learned by the student. The problem with this strategy is that students fail to gain an understanding of the interconnectedness of the ever-expanding number of boxes. We must engage this glut of information in new ways, emphasizing multidisciplinary organizations of content; encouraging multiple perspectives of knowledge, viewing information as a vehicle to solve real-world problems, teaching specific concepts as variations on larger themes, and valuing insights and connections to what we already know over memorization of disconnected facts. Unlike the end-of-chapter problems students solve in today's textbooks, we need to engage students in problems that are ill-structured, context-dependent, complicated, messy, and stubbornly persistent.
We must begin to ask ourselves challenging questions. What does it imply for the design of a residential campus when students can access from their dorm rooms or their homes a set of interactive instructional activities from universities worldwide? In what new ways will faculty interact with students and other faculty? In what new ways will students collaborate with other students located anywhere in the world? Perhaps, more fundamentally, how will we allocate time, space, and resources? How will we preserve or transform traditional values of scholarship and academic independence?
While the challenges are many, faculty and staff within the academy are attempting to address these and related issues. The work described in this issue of Research & Creative Activity represents some of the best multimedia computing for teaching and research at Indiana University. Each example implies new roles for the teacher and student, each redefines the role and organization of content, each moves pedagogy along the lecture-based to problem-centered learning continuum, and each requires multidisciplinary development teams.
Like Vannevar Bush's 1945 essay, the digital learning environment may foreshadow a new academy fifty years hence. When the time soon arrives that it is possible to carry the entire contents of the Library of Congress on a chip no larger than a postage stamp, the challenge we will face will not be knowing how to build the information database we carry, but how to think about the information it contains in imaginative ways. Perhaps this is the principal value and best destiny of multimedia computing.
Martin A. Siegel
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