Multimedia in Geographic Education: Design, Implementation,
Department of Geography
State University of New York at Buffalo
National Geographic Interactive
Department of Geography
Pennsylvania State University
Department of Geography
Pennsylvania State University
This paper describes an educational application of multimedia
for geography and earth science education based on the assumption
that multimedia is more than mere technology. Arguing for a focus
on a coherent set of multimedia design guidelines informed by
a broad array of evaluation functions, the paper takes the position
that such design and evaluation guidelines must be shaped by broader
educational and content (geography and earth science) goals. It
suggests that this approach to the design, implementation, and
evaluation of educational multimedia resources may guide other
Proponents of multimedia claim it can change the way we understand,
think, learn, and work; they have heralded it as bringing about
an end to printed books and static graphics. Advocates of multimedia,
both in its research and educational applications, see it as much
more than mere technology. Multimedia is garnering increasing
attention in cartography and geography, although there is a paucity
of literature on the prospects of multimedia as a research or
educational method in geography and the earth sciences.
Setting the Context
The typical design of multimedia is an array of representational
forms (e.g., image, map, diagram, sound, video). Hypermedia is
multimedia with substantive links between the various representational
forms (Andrews & Tilton, 1993). For convenience, I will collapse
the two terms into one (multimedia) in this paper. Multimedia
does not necessarily require computers. For example, geographic
educators often combine the use of slides, overheads, chalkboards,
movies, videos, and sound recordings in their lectures and academic
presentations. Further, atlases have a long tradition of integrating
text, images, maps, diagrams, and graphs. Thus the multimedia
concept is not completely new to geographers and cartographers.
However, although we can draw on past experience to assist in
the design and production of multimedia, we should not approach
multimedia as nothing substantially different from what we have
done in the past.
Pennsylvania State University has been developing technology classrooms
for the past five years (Morrow & Boettcher, 1995), equipping
them with an array of computers, software, network connections,
and projection equipment. Our College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
(EMS) has made funds available for the development of educational
multimedia resources for the course entitled "Gaia: An Introduction
to Earth Science" taught in the College. The Gaia course
is a large-enrollment course taught in several sections each semester
by different faculty.
The Penn State Deasy GeoGraphics Laboratory, affiliated with the
Department of Geography and the College of EMS, offered the expertise
required to design, produce, implement, and evaluate multimedia
teaching resources for the Gaia course (DiBiase & Krygier,
1994). Two graduate students, one undergraduate student, the director
of the Deasy GeoGraphics Laboratory, and an educational technology
specialist have spent the last two years working on multimedia
resources produced on the Macintosh using Macromedia Director
Our design, production, and evaluation strategy has been
to synthesize an awareness of geographical and educational goals
with multimedia design goals. The result is not only a series
of multimedia resources for teaching a single course, but a detailed
planning, design, production, and evaluation strategy currently
being used to develop materials for other courses. The process
that produced our design strategy (see Figure 1) reveals two primary
interactions: those between content/educational goals and multimedia
design goals; and, within the context of the designer's goals,
the interaction between multimedia design guidelines and evaluation
guidelines. I stress that the process of such interactions is
integrated, as the diagram suggests.
Figure 1. Overview of Multimedia Design and Evaluation Process.
Designing Educational Multimedia Resources
Our strategy for the design and production of educational multimedia
resources divides into two subsections. The first concerns the
design of the general interface and structure for all of our resources,
which we call lectureware. The second subsection concerns
a typology of multimedia forms and functions used to guide the
design of individual resources, defined as particular multimedia
units that explain a single concept or idea. Both our lectureware
and the resource typology were informed by the evaluatory methods
described in our third subsection.
Multimedia design and lectureware. The design of the general
interface and overall structure of our materials has focused on
the creation of what we call lectureware, designed to be
used during lecture by instructors. Lectureware differs from courseware,
which students use by themselves outside of lecture. Three design
strategies that shaped our lectureware include (a) resources as
a single concept or idea, (b) an easy-to-use interface, and (c)
general graphic design guidelines.
Each multimedia resource should consist of one basic concept
or idea, so that instructors can piece together a series of
resources in the order with which they are comfortable. Instructors
should also be able to use the same concept (resource) in several
different lectures as appropriate. Designed to stand alone, the
resources can be coherently related to each other when appropriate.
Design of some resources aids the instructor in relating particular
concepts or ideas learned to a more general goal. We have used
graphic icons to make such relationships explicit. For example,
an icon that summarizes the concept learned in one resource can
be used at the beginning of a related resource that depends on
understanding the material summarized in the icon.
Our second lectureware design strategy is the provision of
an easy-to-use interface. We have constructed a simple menu-driven
interface allowing easy access to the selected list of resources
and other basic commands (e.g., editing a lecture menu, blanking
the screen, or quitting). Second, we provide a lecture-building
resource so the instructor can view available resources, search
for particular topic, and add resources to a lecture-list, which
is then installed as a universal menu item used to access the
resources during the lecture. Finally, we have endeavored to provide
a consistent set of navigational buttons to guide movement within
individual resources. Our general goal is to make sure that the
same buttons do the same things and are located in the same place
on the screen from resource to resource. Our third strategy is
to maintain strict consistency in design, to minimize confusion
and maximize the manner in which the different resources can be
used together, so that a series of resources looks as if they
were designed to be used in that order.
We have linked these three design strategies--resources as a single
concept or idea, easy-to-use interface, and general graphic design
guidelines to educational and content goals to shape the concept
of lectureware. Our multimedia resource typology complements and
closely interrelates with the design of particular multimedia
Multimedia design and the resource typology. Complementing
our lectureware design guidelines is a resource-typology, which
provides a means of linking content goals to appropriate representational
forms, and assists in making design decisions about particular
resources. Our resource typology consists of two dimensions (Figure
2). The first dimension, a range of representational forms, includes
imagery, maps, diagrams, graphs, and tables. The resource typology
second dimension encompasses a range of resource functions, including
static, animated, sequential, hierarchical, and conditional resources.
Figure 2. Resource Typology.
Resource forms are useful for matching particular educational
goals to appropriate representational forms. Careful consideration
of educational goals in tandem with available resource forms has
allowed us to avoid replicating inadequate or inappropriate materials
in our resources. The resource form continua also helps guide
consistent graphic design guidelines. For example, graphs have
consistent design guidelines for colors, line widths, typography,
and placement. Maps are usually designed to have labels that can
be turned on and off. Such guidelines make the production of individual
resources easier, and insure consistency from resource to resource.
Thus the resource forms match educational goals to appropriate
representational forms while facilitating particular graphic design
and production decisions.
Resource functions, combined with resource forms, facilitate
matching educational goals to a logical level of multimedia functionality
(or interactivity), while providing guidance for consistent navigation
and graphic design. Resource functions include (a) static, (b)
animated, (c) sequential, (d) hierarchical, and (e) conditional
- Static resources include images, maps, diagrams, graphs,
and tables that do not require interactive performance. Although
static resources may be appropriate given particular educational
goals, we have tended to avoid them, focusing instead on providing
resources that help explain concepts and ideas not provided by
slides or overheads.
- Animated resources express change or motion when activated
by the user. Interactivity is limited to starting and stopping
the resource. Animated maps and diagrams are useful in representing
phenomena over time.
- Sequential resources allow instructors to construct
a linear sequence of elements one component at a time through
a series of button clicks. The difference between an animation
and a sequential resource is one of control over the materials
being presented. An animation can be started, watched, then stopped.
A sequential resource requires interactivity by the user in order
to construct, step by step, an understanding of some final idea
or concept. This difference has important effects on the material
being presented and on the design process. In an attempt to take
advantage of the interactive capabilities of multimedia, and to
maximize the instructor's ability to effectively present a sequence
of information that results in the understanding of a concept
or idea, we have often imposed sequential functionality on material
that could be presented as an animation.
- Hierarchical resources move away from a linear construction
of an idea or concept to a nonlinear means of exploring the depth
of information embedded in a particular concept. Hierarchically
nested resources, embedded with hidden information that can be
revealed by selecting linked information in the initial display,
are particularly important when the educational goal is to interrogate
a concept of depth and detail, rather than one constructed from
a sequence of elements.
- Conditional resources produce a graphic or numeric
solution, according to the rules of an underlying algorithm, in
response to the user's manipulation of an initial display. Responding
to the particular user desires, they are not limited by either
a sequential or hierarchical framework. Conditional resources
focus on what-if interactions rather than the construction of
concepts (linearly with sequential and non-linearly with hierarchical
- The range of resource forms and resource functions can match
general and particular educational goals with appropriate resource
forms and functions while simultaneously providing consistency
in the graphic design of the resources. Resource typology is at
the core of the planning, design, and production process for educational
multimedia resources. In practice, many resources combine a varied
set of forms and functions. Nevertheless, the first (and most
fundamental) step in the process of creating successful educational
multimedia resources is the critical and logical connection of
educational and content goals to appropriate resource forms and
functions. Given coherent educational and design goals, we have
created a series of resources and implemented them in the classroom.
Since the onset of the project, evaluation methods have informed
our design guidelines.
Evaluating Educational Multimedia Resources
Evaluation should be used not only as a means of assessing
the impact of existing resources, but in shaping and informing
the design process. Evaluation is useful for informing the design
of educational multimedia resources but not for prescribing it.
Given the new (and in many ways unexplored) technologies available
for instruction, coherent, carefully designed, and innovative
examples of educational technology need to be developed (Ebel,
1982). A broader sense of evaluation is needed to assist in shaping
and informing the design of innovative educational multimedia
resources. We have adopted a four-part approach to evaluation
as described by Reeves (1992), consisting of evaluation functions
and methods (see Figure 3).
Broadly defined, evaluation serves four (often interrelated) functions:
goal refinement, documentation, formative evaluation, and impact
evaluation. Each of these evaluation functions can be facilitated
with a range of evaluation methods, including interviews, focus
groups, questionnaires, observations, ratings assessment, expert
review, and achievement tests (Reeves 1992).
Figure 3. Evaluation Functions and Methods (after Reeves 1992).
Evaluation I: Goal refinement function. Reeves (1992) defines
goal refinement as a "clear cut vision of what the [educational]
goals ... should be" (p. 520). These goals may change or
evolve in practice, but it is important to begin the process of
conceptualizing, designing, and producing educational multimedia
resources with specific objectives in place. We have attempted
to assess goals as seen by course instructors, students, and administrators
(who provide funds for developing such resources). These goals,
in turn, informed the initial design of our lectureware, with
attention to these differing (yet usually resolvable) goals. As
an initial evaluatory step, goal formation is fundamental in shaping
an overall design for explicit project goals.
Evaluation II: Documentation function. Reeves (1992) defines
documentation as simply keeping a record of what is actually done
throughout the process of creating educational resources (p. 521).
From the beginning of the project we have compiled extensive documentation
detailing what we thought we were doing, problems, ideas for changes,
and reformulated goals. Information drawn from this documentation
can make future projects more efficient. To keep a record of the
implementation of the resources in the classroom, the project
manager attended nearly every lecture taught with the resources,
and the resulting documentation helped us to fix bugs and reshape
our resources, thus serving a formative evaluation role (to be
discussed below). Other important documentary sources are the
yearly status and future planning reports compiled by the project
managers, which document what we accomplished, and force the project
managers to confront looming and unresolved issues. Careful and
methodical documentation plays an important role in shaping our
Evaluation III: Formative evaluation function. Flagg (1990)
defines formative evaluation as the systematic collection of information
for the purpose of informing decisions to design and improve the
product. Formative evaluation required that we consult with experts
in content and design. These consultations helped us rethink,
reshape, and reform our original ideas to remove the kinks in
our original design ideas.
Evaluation IV: Impact evaluation function. Impact evaluation
considers a range of methods to assess the impact of given educational
resources on student learning. Impact evaluation is appropriate
after coherent, carefully designed, and innovative examples of
educational technology have been produced, shaped by goal refinement,
documentation, and formative evaluation functions. Effective and
useful impact evaluation methods are often difficult to design.
Although evidence for the effectiveness of particular educational
multimedia resources exists (Podell, Kaminsky, & Cusimano,
1993), such studies say little or nothing about the quality and
effectiveness of any particular application.
We have employed two impact evaluation methods: focus groups and
questionnaires, both qualitative forms of impact evaluation. In
addition, we have provided our general sense of the impact of
our multimedia resources on the students. Information from these
methods of impact evaluation have led to modifications of particular
resources as well as a very general evaluation of some of the
fundamental goals of our multimedia resources. Generally positive
feedback from students has provided encouragement and has suggested
that our resources have been refined enough to begin formulating
more quantitative impact evaluations.
Focus groups seem relevant inasmuch as our lectureware is used
with entire classes rather than individual students (Monmonier
& Gluck, 1994). Feedback from student meetings provided us
with an overall response--what they liked and didn't like, and
how they would like to see the resources modified. The focus groups,
while very positive about the resources and the course, were also
able to articulate problems that had impeded their goals in the
course. Thus, focus groups served as a rough check on our original
goals, provided us with ideas for refining the resources, and
provided a forum in which students could refine and define their
educational goals in the midst of fundamental changes in the classroom.
Questionnaire impact evaluation was the second impact evaluation
method we employed. In the two sections of the Gaia course taught
by two different instructors our first semester, one section was
taught without the lectureware and the other was taught with the
lectureware. The first questionnaire (except for seeing the multimedia
resources in one review lecture) queried students about the advantages
and disadvantages of the multimedia materials. A second questionnaire,
given to the class taught with lectureware, queried students about
the use of the lectureware and its positive and negative attributes.
The responses to a latter set of questionnaires were similar,
and even more favorable, to these. In addition, comments culled
from our focus groups closely correlated with comments elicited
from the questionnaires.
The majority of students who saw the multimedia resources for
one day were in favor of its being used for the entire class or
at least in conjunction with other teaching methods. A number
of students who were exposed to the use of our resources for the
entire semester mentioned that they could not imagine learning
the material without the resources. A high percentage of the respondents
mentioned that the courseware was interesting and that it helped
them visualize and understand difficult concepts. They found the
step by step build up of ideas within sequential resources and
the explicit relations between different resources useful in understanding
concepts and their interrelations. Students particularly liked
resources with 3-D graphics, movement, and conditional interactivity.
Problems included technical difficulties (bugs, crashed computers,
fumbling with the computer), disrupted class, and wasted time.
Lighting problems were the second largest concern among students
who were in the multimedia section of the course. The more serious
critiques concerned the atmosphere for learning and cannot be
as easily fixed as the technical ones. Some students had difficulty
gleaning the key points from complex resources. Others were bothered
by the difficulty of depicting the gist of complex resources in
their notes. Numerous students in the section that saw the multimedia
resources for only one day expressed concern that the instructor
would be distanced from the class by focusing attention on the
computer and not the students. This problem, however, was expressed
by only two of the students in the section that used the resources
during the entire semester.
Qualitative methods of impact evaluation, along with goal refinement,
documentation, and formative evaluation have helped inform original
educational and design goals, and responses from students have
provided us with some key issues that more quantitative methods
of impact evaluation may address. Questions remain. For example,
students strongly prefer multimedia resources with some kind of
movement. Is this preference based on a desire to be entertained,
or on the understanding that movement (particularly on graphs,
diagrams, and maps) enhances the understanding of certain concepts
and ideas? Students also claimed enhanced understanding from some
of the more complex resources as compared to static depictions
of the same materials in their course reader. Impact evaluations
to assess such issues are currently being developed.
This integrated approach to the design, implementation, and
evaluation of multimedia educational resources included a summary
of our multimedia design based on consistent and coherent graphic
design principles and the matching of educational and content
goals to particular multimedia forms and functions. We used this
design strategy to guide the production and implementation of
educational multimedia resources from the onset of the project.
Our approach to educational multimedia evaluation was based on
a broad range of evaluation functions and methods implemented
from the onset of the project. Evaluation, broadly conceptualized
as goal refinement, documentation, formative evaluation, and impact
evaluation played an informative role throughout the design, production,
and implementation of multimedia resources rather than being introduced
only at the end of the process. Our design and evaluation strategies
were bound together by an iterative design approach by which the
goals and expertise of content experts and educators shaped and
were shaped by the goals and expertise of multimedia designers.
We hope that this approach to the design, implementation, and
evaluation of educational multimedia resources may guide other
similar projects, posing and addressing important questions about
the prospects and impact of multimedia on earth science and geographic
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- A greatly revised version of this paper will appear as "Design,
Implementation and Evaluation of Multimedia Resources for Geography
and Earth Science Education." Journal of Geography in Higher
Education 21:1, 1997, pp. 17-39. This version of the paper reproduced
with permission of the Journal of Geography in Higher Education.
Resources described in this paper (for the Gaia Course and several
other Penn State courses) are freely available at the following