Courses Let Students Develop Digital Educational Software Emil Venere ----------------------------------- Homewood News and Information Innovative educational software packages promise to add a new dimension to teaching; but Hopkins students won't just be using the applications, they are creating them. Picture this: instead of simply reading a play, students compare scenes from different theatrical productions of the same work, examine costume and set designs, and then study the social climate surrounding the time the play was written. They do all of this simply by clicking on a few icons. Suddenly, the play comes alive, adding more depth and opening up a whole new world for students not fortunate enough to regularly enjoy the theater. In the realm of science, biology students "dissect" an animal and perform a range of experiments by using an interactive CD that provides the finest details of laboratory procedures and techniques. The students don laboratory gloves and operate various apparatuses. They pose questions and explore hypotheses in their simulated lab, supplementing far more expensive and time-consuming actual lab studies. Such software packages will be available soon. Hopkins students ought to know; they are creating these applications in two multimedia courses, and then they are actually making marketable CDs through the university's Center for Digital Media Research and Development. The result: students are producing a Digital Drama Series that has already attracted national attention and $153,000 in grant money. "The ultimate goal is for the student to be able to sit in front of a computer, ask a question and get an answer," senior Joseph Hanna said. "They should be able to ask and explore and use the computer as a tool." Hanna was a sophomore when he took Harry Goldberg's Applications in Multimedia course. In just one semester he developed the prototype for an interactive neurosciences laboratory. Projects like Hanna's are more than an educational exercise for Goldberg's pupils. They represent a needed change in the direction of educational software, said Goldberg, a biophysicist at the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute. "I'm reluctant to support or recommend most of the educational software available today," he said. "It's usually poorly conceived and terribly short on content. Often the software is little more than a textbook converted to CD." Goldberg began teaching his Applications of Interactive Multimedia course for undergraduates two years ago. It soon became apparent to him that the Hopkins campus harbors an untapped resource of creative minds. Last fall he started teaching a second multimedia course, called Multimedia Computing, a more project-oriented version of the first course. At the same time, he and English professor Jerome Christensen teamed up to form the Center for Digital Media Research and Development. Soon Christensen, currently chairman of the English Department, recruited Humanities Center graduate student Michael Kohler, who had background in drama as an undergraduate. Last spring students in the Multimedia Computing course worked with Kohler, Christensen and Goldberg to develop the prototype for the first in a series of digital drama educational CDs. Their prototype, based on Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House, earned them a $58,000 grant from the Annenberg Corporation for Public Broadcasting Project. Since then the digital media center has nearly completed that software, which is intended for college and advanced high school students. It will be marketed early in 1996 through Annenberg and Johns Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth, Christensen said, with the aim of bringing in money for future projects. On the strength of that work, the center has received a $95,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Human-ities to continue the series with an instructional software package based on Lorraine Hansberry's Raisin in the Sun. Perhaps the most critical aspect about the technology is that students don't need to be computer experts to create such educational applications. That's the beauty of it; software is getting so powerful that multimedia courses can be truly multidisciplinary, with humanities and science majors working together on projects. "Ten years ago a course like this would have been extremely difficult to offer," Goldberg said. "The tools available today facilitate the creative presentation of complex ideas. "We are developing new ways of presenting information. In fact, our students are writing and developing software that will be used by others in educational institutions worldwide." In addition to drawing out the creativity of Hopkins students, the projects are teaching them valuable lessons. When students become the developers, they establish an entirely new perspective on their role in the learning process. Undergraduates taking Goldberg's two multimedia courses are suddenly thrust into the role of teacher, which forces them to gain a deeper understanding of the material, Hanna said. "My whole life I've been the student," said Hanna, 21, who is from Sterling, Mass. "Now you have to learn to go around the other side of the desk, understand how to take that chunk of information, break it down into smaller, understandable pieces, and pass that on to somebody else who has no idea what you are talking about." The course reminded him of independent study, with the teacher serving as an adviser of sorts and fellow students as colleagues, said Hanna, who plans to attend medical school. "In class there was a lot of brainstorming and critiquing," he said. "This was the first course I had taken that brought up the multimedia topic, much different from the mundane programming courses you ordinarily see in college."
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