How do you teach the MTV generation? Students entering college today are used to television remote controls, computer games, and Web browsers, all of which allow them to switch content at will. Their short attention spans, lowered tolerance for boredom, and aversion to static media all challenge educators to provide information in dynamic, compelling, and interactive ways.

Older students, a growing campus population, pose another challenge. Often juggling work, family, and school commitments, this group requires flexible course delivery methods and scheduling.

Multimedia helps instructors meet the needs of bothgroups and, at the same time, helps instructors integrate modeling, visualization, and decision-making processes associated with real-world applications. By combining learning technologies such as virtual simulations, Web-based environments, and interactive materials, educators can deliver information in shorter and more intense cycles葉he best method to grab and hold the attention of today's demanding students.

Incorporating Multimedia in Your Classes
The following tips are culled from the experience of those involved in the Academy of Electronic Media Development and Utilization at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). The interdisciplinary group, which includes members from the schools of engineering, science, management, and humanities and social sciences, has created dozens of multimedia products that range from minimally interactive tutorials to wholly immersive games. Here are some concepts to remember when you're ready to "plug in" your courses.

Keep the "Multi" in Your Multimedia
Highly interactive electronic media that simultaneously stimulate multiple senses can revolutionize learning at all grade and age levels. Interactive learning modules (ILMs) such as Twanger, a virtual guitar that students can "strum" using a mouse, offer a wonderful context for students to learn about basic and advanced engineering and science principles.

Developed by the Academy, Twanger allows students to adjust the virtual circuitry and then play the cyberstrings to hear the effects of the alterations. By both seeing and hearing how an amplifier increases the input signal's amplitude and volume, users gain a better understanding of circuit operation. To make the exercise even more interesting, I play a real electric guitar in class to generate the notes for the circuit under consideration.

Give Students a Chance to Explore
Traditionally, professors teach a concept by beginning with theory and later offering applications. Research shows, though, that some students learn best by first exploring specific applications and then inducing the theory. Multimedia software is perfect for such inductive learning用roviding "play spaces" where one can assemble, test, and assess virtual experiments to uncover and better grasp the underlying theory.

For example, in the simulated amplifier module, students discover Ohm's Law by adjusting circuit components and measuring the voltage and current at different places on the circuit. Students can actually hear the differences in sound performance resulting from their adjustments, encouraging them to experiment and to ask and answer "what if" types of questions. Exercises like these help develop the problem-solving and design skills that are such a valuable component of an engineering education.

Allow for Learning on Demand
By linking educational modules and other course materials to the Web, you can give students the ability to work anytime, from anywhere, so that they are not restricted by the walls of a classroom, the bindings of a book, or the capabilities of a single lecturer. The Academy's home page is located at

Involve Students in the Development
Students often serve on the ILM teams that decide how to present the information in an engaging and exciting manner. Having recently studied the subject matter in their courses, students can provide a useful perspective on what is either missing or unclear, and their input often produces the most effective, engaging modules. These student programmers also test the modules prior to full deployment in a classroom, offering commentary on the education garnered from the experience.

In the process, student participants gain valuable and marketable skills. There are tremendous opportunities for graduates who can combine their grasp of science and engineering principles with creative skills to represent physical processes in virtual multimedia simulations and models.

Rethinking Pedagogymultimediaspot
The availability of computer-based ILMs requires rethinking basic pedagogy. RPI has turned to the studio classroom to eliminate large lecture classes; instead, 40 to 60 students participate in sessions that integrate lecture, laboratory, and recitation sessions. Classes focus on student problem solving, not on presentation of materials. The instructor acts as mentor and advisor in a classroom designed for hands-on cooperative learning.

RPI has successfully pioneered this approach in introductory science courses and is now revising the electrical engineering curriculum, the first studio implementation in a discipline-specific engineering program. In these classes, teachers have introduced the use of our Web-based ILMs. RPI began using this model in both circuit analysis and analog electronics courses in 1996 and the instructors are extremely pleased with the results.

A studio class session is broken into five or six separate activities so students can switch gears every 20 to 30 minutes to maintain interest and motivation. Activities include mini-lectures (no more than 15 to 20 minutes), pencil and paper exercises, ILM activities, design, simulation, circuit construction, and experimental measurements.

In a typical class, an instructor briefly explains a concept用erhaps the operation of an electronic sound mixer, which combines the sounds from the different instruments and voices in a rock band for recording or concerts. The instructor then asks the students to run through a simulation module. Swiveling their chairs to face tables behind them with multimedia-capable personal computers and an array of electronic equipment, students work through an ILM that shows them step-by-step pictures of the circuit's operation. Once the students have explored the module, the instructor asks them to assemble their own circuit.

Students clearly consider the ILMs an exciting, fun alternative to traditional paper-and-pencil problems, and enjoy exploring concepts in the context of real-life applications. Initial assessment results indicate that student satisfaction and achievement levels are quite high. Because students work at their own pace, more capable students can progress further in the same amount of time.

Although students are not yet required to use the ILMs outside of class, faculty members encourage them to do so to further their understanding and practice. Outside-of-class use is high, as measured by the levels of activity on our servers, but the effect of this on their learning has yet to be specifically documented.

The early results of the combined ILM/studio approach has been so encouraging that the faculty has voted to move six additional introductory courses to this format, eliminating several required laboratory courses. RPI is completely renovating the classrooms needed to teach eight one-semester courses謡ith typical enrollment of 80 to 150 each擁n this format.

Future Outlook

 Technical Tips

If you're ready to start writing your own multimedia software, consider the following strategies.

Select a User-Friendly Authoring Tool
Multimedia developers now have a proliferation of user-friendly multimedia authoring tools to choose from. Adobe's Photoshop (for image and graphics manipulation) and Premiere (for video capture, editing and compilation) use intuitive graphical user interfaces that allow novices to develop and modify media in dramatically reduced production cycles. Even software once viewed as primarily office tools (e.g., Microsoft's Office) now focuses on rapid Web-oriented media development and use.

Today's tools allow developers to push current technologies to their edge, to augment existing multimedia authoring programs, and to discover unique applications. For example, Macromedia's Director (which the Academy uses for multimedia authoring) and Dreamweaver (for Web site development and organization) allow users to add applications from higher level languages such as C++ and Java.

Develop a Storyboard
Storyboards typically feature depictions of the module's screens, including the intended interactive elements (e.g., scroll bars, graphs, and so on.). Creating a thorough storyboard upfront can drastically reduce the number of feedback cycles necessary to create the final product.

Take a Top-Down Approach
Organize your multimedia materials in a way that encourages students to peel off successive layers of information様ike an onion葉o gain a full understanding of the basic principles and concepts. The 555 Timer Tutorial, for example, simulates a popular and versatile electronic timing device. With a series of double-clicks, the user can remove the top of the virtual chip to see and play with the circuitry inside. With further mouse clicks, the user can continue to move down through the layers of the 555 integrated circuit.

Although the program has made significant progress, in many ways the Academy is just getting started in multimedia development work. Current ILMs need to be embellished and new ones that focus on the design of cutting-edge products (e.g., very high frequency clock signals on a computer motherboard) must be developed. As part of this, the Academy will add design-for-manufacturing considerations to the Electrical Engineering Handbook to give users a better sense of the limitations that production considerations place upon the development of electronics.

An increasing number of companies are putting together teams that span great distances and multiple time zones using project Web sites. Educators need to further explore the potential for collaborative multimedia across the Web, to prepare students for this trend. RPI is researching the potential for collaborative ILMs across the Web. In addition, the promise of real-time, fully rendered, three-dimensional virtual reality being available on affordable systems offers an even greater opportunity for engineers and scientists to collaboratively explore the unknown.

Most important, educators need to ensure that multimedia in engineering education is a true augmentation of what is provided by books, lectures, and hands-on experiences rather than repackaged versions of what already exists. By using dynamic, interactive modules that keep students' brains in constant motion, engineering educators will be better able to keep the wired generation still in their seats long enough to teach them what they need to know.

Don Lewis Millard is director of the Center for Integrated Electronics, Electronics Manufacturing, and Electronic Media and director of the Academy of Electronic Media Development and Utilization at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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