Paul Hsu
Landscape Architecture Program, Oklahoma State University
360 Ag. Hall
Stillwater, OK 74078
Tel: (405) 744-5421


This multimedia interactive instruction software was developed by the author after attending a multimedia workshop at Iowa State University, sponsored by a USDA's higher education challenge grant. The software is designed to help undergraduate students understand different issues of land use and analysis in environmental planning and design. Subjects covered in this tutorial software encompass overlay mapping, GIS, planning, soil suitability, storm water, watershed management, solar energy, and vegetation.

Multimedia interactive instruction is also termed computer aided instruction or computer based training. It incorporates video, movie clips, 3-D animation, voices and sounds, graphics, text, and images into a computer based training software. It offers repetitive and interactive instruction with the aid of multimedia to users who are generally unfamiliar with the subject. It is a very useful educational and presentation tool not only for training, but also for information dissemination, sales and marketing.

The author plans to explain in brief the production of this multimedia instruction software and discuss the technical and time involvement of the authoring software experience for educational purposes. The up and downsides of using this technology will also be addressed.


Since the entrance of the personal computer age in the late 70's, the use of media has evolved from simple number crunching in a machine to the mixture of multimedia in a consorted computing environment. The rapid transformation of conventional computing to multimedia computing poses many challenges to our mindset. Whether one is authoring a multimedia software or is a novice user, the development of multimedia software requires creative endeavors and interactive communication to take full advantage of this new tool.

A good multimedia software design will allow people the opportunity to play with the tool in a pleasurable way, using a wide-band of interaction such as thinking, seeing, modeling, and writing. Learning in a multimedia environment is a combined experience where one needs to use a computer creatively with visual input, knowledge feedback, and decision thought processes.

"Multimedia Interactive Instruction: Learning Landscape Analysis and Use" software was developed by the author after attending a multimedia workshop at Iowa State University, sponsored by a USDA's higher education challenge grant. Throughout the intensive workshop and with continuous effort and time, the author gained rich experience in authoring software as well as a better understanding of multimedia instruction. The author does not wish to get into the details of how to create this particular software. Instead, this paper will present some pressing issues regarding multimedia interface design, interactive instruction, mind over media, and software development.


The goal of multimedia interactive instruction is to have better communication among the users, the software media, and the instructors (or authors). Up until recently, our instructional process has been almost one directional with a single medium. We may use chalk on a blackboard to write down our verbal statements in text, or we may show a series of slides with narration. The interaction between students and teachers is limited to verbal discussion and feedback. Very rarely do students have an opportunity to experiment with the medium and explore a concept in other dimensions. Multimedia applications provide diversified opportunities for instruction in text, graphics, video, movie clips, voice, audio, animation, modeling, and images. This extends the boundaries of learning, using more human senses (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: On the left is a single medium instruction, on the right is a multimedia applications with diversified opportunities for instruction.

With the advances of computing technology and the affordability of software and hardware, many people have rushed onto the bandwagon of multimedia production. There is no doubt that multimedia applications are good tools that help visual understanding and spark creativity. However, simply exporting text and pictures to a multimedia application will defeat the good inherent quality of multimedia. A good multimedia program design needs to be easier to understand, create good learning strategies, have a well tailored structure, be easy to navigate, and deal with complexity (Baecker et. al. 90).

Like many other design disciplines, a successful multimedia interface design should consider the many facets of design issues such as effective representation and presentation, set objectives, environmental consideration, design and layout, color, graphic, and user interface (Wodtke, 93, Rabb, 90). Multimedia applications offer a wider domain of communication. Communication can be made between human to human, human to computer, computer to computer, and computer to human. Proper interface design will direct these communication flows and result in a better instructional and learning process.

Presentation and representation: With the ease of using computer technology along with an abundant information exchange, the line between a graphic artist and a producer/author is getting thinner. Perhaps because it is too easy, most of us forget the difficulty of producing a well presented graphic or book. Frankly speaking, a well designed multimedia application needs to pay great attention to visualization and graphic symbol representation, color choices, type specification, image quality and density, and other design issues that follow in this discussion.

Set objectives: In creating a multimedia application, a great amount of time and resources are invested to please a group of students or customers. At the outset, it is wise to have a road map or plan. Start with a conceptual sketch and write down the objectives and who the audience will be, then develop an outline of the contents and draw up a schematic structure for the whole application.

Environmental consideration: Multimedia applications demand a large computing environment. The speed of CPU, the monitor size and resolution, RAM memory size, disk memory size, networking, audio and video input and output, color display panel and projection, printers, and other input and output equipment need special consideration.

Design and layout: Unlike writing an article using a single medium such as paper, multimedia interface design is another professional discipline which will take time and effort to master. A well trained designer starts the design process with thumbnail sketches and then weaves them into story boards. Artistic and creative thought processes will evolve along with the development of a schematic design, preliminary design, master plan, and design development. Great consideration should be reserved for the types of media one is working with, and enrich the design with layouts of screen presentation and overall structure.

Color: The availability of color palettes encourage the use of colors in a screen presentation. People tend to use too many colors or simply choose the wrong color that degrades the presentation. There are three major elements in a color: hue, value and saturation. To fully understand the magic of color, one would need to grasp the meaning of color harmony, color analogous, triadic relationships, split compliments, direct compliments, cool to warm progression, dark to light progression, depth perception, and mixing basics. (Doyle, 81)

Graphic overload: Today's computer software provide many gadgets for designers to experiment with. It is so easy to pull down menus and select different typefaces and assign vivid colors that people tend to get carried too far away. A graphic overloaded design is confusing to users. Good graphic design will convey the intended message without distractions of any kind (Rabb, 90). Therefore, careful selection of color, contrast, typefaces, shadows, patterns, lines, and borders are keys to a successful interface design.

Sequencing and hierarchy: A good way to make a complicated multimedia software easy to use is to set a hierarchy of subjects according to their importance. Think about the creation of multimedia software like an architectural composition. Topics, subject matters, demonstration, and exercises are similar to forms, functions, spaces, and abstract symbols in a spatial organization. Well organized spaces with hierarchical importance will guide people with proper sequencing. Color schemes, unique size and shapes, and strategic locations are good tools in organizing a logic sequence.


What has set multimedia instruction apart from many other conventional teaching tools is its ability to provide an interactive learning environment. Multimedia gives people the opportunity to play with the tool in a pleasurable way. We mean play because people can set their own pace and explore their own routes of study. Based on the users' knowledge feedback, computers interact with people. There are many varieties of interaction a multimedia software can utilize. These wide-band interactions can include hearing, seeing, moving, thinking, modeling, painting, speaking, writing, composing, drawing, and other media mixing.

Traditional instruction relies a lot on verbal explanation. In contrast, multimedia capitalizes on several technology tides. With the aid of computer media, we extend the interface to other media such as video, text, voice, audio, animation, images, and modeling. This is an evolution from verbal to visual. For example, after a teacher discusses the topic of sun and shadow, a student can use the multimedia instructional software to learn more about the subjects while experimenting with a topographic model having landscape architectural design on top of it. Students may set variables of time, date, location, height of building, and grouping of trees to see the effect of sun and shadow on the land.

Multimedia interactive instruction is a combined learning process. People do not just sit there and listen. People can use their left and right brain with human senses to visualize things happening while they are processing their mental thoughts. People can learn by doing and not have to worry about making a mistake or messes. People can use the computer creatively and repetitively. To have well developed strategies for media integration will transcend a combined learning through visualizing, knowing, doing, creating, and more often, doodling.


Mark von Wodtke in his book, Mind Over Media, explores many creative ways to use electronic media. He states that mind is that which thinks, perceives, feels, or wills. The mind is the source of thought processes that facilitate the use of computers for artistic expression, design, planning, management, or other problem-solving and issue-resolving applications. Media is the intermediate material for expression. People use the computer to express and experiment their mind and ideas through electronic media (Wodtke, 94).

In the early 1980s, people used computer media mostly in word-processing and spreadsheet. Text and numbers are the primary way to express the logical thoughts of a person. We may term this a left-side brain approach of conventional computing. With the availability of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Computer Aided Design (CAD), Data Base Management Systems (DBMS), and other visual oriented programs, people started to integrate different types of media in their computing environment. It is not a surprise that today's computer systems can integrate multiple media such as text, graphics, animation, 3-D modeling, image analysis, video, music, and voice. Symbol, image, and graphic oriented information spur the exercise of the right-side brain. Multimedia computing not only offers the channel of logic, deductive, and cognitive thought processes, but also introduces intuitive, interactive, and creative approaches to problem solving. Thus, multimedia computing transfers a wide range of information in a variety of formats that encourage creativity, productivity, and capability.

Consider the project experience like a journey of our mind through media space. In a normal project, we will set the objective of what we anticipate to do and what to accomplish. We then decide what will be the approach for our solution. We will need a draft, a method, a model, or an experiment to explore our concept. Our multimedia software and hardware will provide us with the testing ground for execution, procession, experimentation, and expression. Many different types of space exist in a computing environment. First, our mindscape where we perceive, contemplate, and express our ideas. Then, we have the media space that provides a working environment which connects the real and imaginary places with visual, graphic, text, or audio information. With powerful electronic media, several types of media space are becoming important to the representation of the reality in media space. Artificial reality, virtual reality, and cyberspace are prime examples.

If we just turn on the TV and tune into what the TV is broadcasting, we are simply watching the information fly by. Multimedia computing connects all types of media space with our mind, it allows the interaction of our design thought process with computer aided modeling, graphic representation, projected scenario, and computer aided feedback. This interactive nature of multimedia computing will enrich the learning experience and return the sensation of control to software users.


With the availability of multimedia hardware and authoring software, many people are very interested in designing multimedia software for instruction, demonstration, or marketing presentation purposes. Briefly, the author would like to share his experience of authoring the "Learning Landscape Analysis and Use" in the following section.

Most of the authoring software available on the market today are graphic interfaced or icon oriented. Use of alphanumeric symbols to write a program entirely is not necessary. In this respect, with proper planning and design, a usable multimedia software can be created with time and effort. In this particular case, the authoring software used to create this multimedia instruction is Authorware Professional(TM) by Macromedia.

In general, there are seven steps towards a software development: audience, environment, objectives, mapping concepts, design process, develop models, and design development. The following describes the author's approach to the software development:

Fig. 2: Computer modeling and design process

Audience: Landscape Architecture Program third and fourth year students (major requirements), Environmental Science Program students (electives), and graduate students (electives)

Environment: Macintosh 840 AV and Power Mac are the primary hardware for development. Other Macintosh computers such as IIci, IIfx, and IIsi are the platforms for lessons of the run-time version. Video, 3-D animation, sound clips, voice clips, images, and graphics are to be utilized throughout the lesson. Images are created either by a drawing program or by scanning. Sounds are short clips of light music and beep sounds from sound collections as well as live recordings.

Objectives: To develop a multimedia lesson that will examine selected topics and problems of concern in GIS and site planning, land use suitability and overlay analysis, solar energy, soil and development suitability, soil and landfill, storm water discharge, soil erosion and land use, and vegetation and environment.

Design process: In a typical design project, a designer's thought processes evolve from idea conceiving, real world conceptualizing, analysis, programming, model building, evaluation, to preliminary design. Deriving models such as schematic diagrams, project flow charts, suitability maps, and 3-D computer models for designers is part of the design process. These abstraction models help designers mature, design, predict, and critique design alternatives efficiently, inexpensively, and harmlessly.

Mapping concepts: The most important key to any successful project is to have well conceived concepts. Like traveling in a city, one needs a map to know how to visit points of interests strategically rather than spontaneously driving around and expecting miracles. Start with a bubble diagram, a flow chart, or a map to organize your thoughts. Use a hierarchy to determine the importance of the topics and arrange them into a sequential order (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: A content map of the instructional software that diagrams the flow of information in its hierarchical order.

After having a strong grasp of the development concepts, the real fun starts. The flow chart of your concept can be transformed into a flowline of icons. In this example, we inserted two map icons of "Title start" and "Begin" before the main interactive icon of "Contents". We also ended the program with a map icon of "Exit" and a calculation icon for "Quit to begin". For example, "Title start" demonstrates how to create titles with moving actions. "Begin" explains who the author is, who the publisher is, the copyright, and gives instruction of how to use this software (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: On the left is the flowline of the main software structure. On the right is the flowline of moving titles in action that is inbedded in the map icon "Title start".

Fig. 5: On the left is the outline of solar energy topic and sub-topics. On the right is the flowline of introduction to solar and vegetation, a video clip of shadow animation, and the interaction icon to several topics of solar and vegetation.

Develop models: Every sub-topic should have its own model of approach. We may reapply the content map or bubble diagram method to solidify our concepts. Choose the proper methodology for presentation and the most suitable types of interaction to develop each model. For example, in the solar energy sub-topic, a detail of the contents of this subject matter was developed. Animation and sound explained the subject of shadow (Fig. 5). Quiz, knowledge feedback, and instruction can also be developed with each model. However, each model should be different in its presentation of different topics so that users will not be bored by monotonous design.

Design development: The final stage is to add details to each modular of the software. Like a finishing touch in landscape design--exposed aggregate finishing, herringbone brick patterns, color coordination of plant materials, and other site elements can be an accent enhancement to the overall design. In multimedia software development, sounds, video, animation, spatial modeling, and other fancy gadgets can be applied to raise the interest of the users. The key importance at this stage is not to try to impress users with whistles and bells, but to increase the playability and interactivity through a higher level of modeling and interaction. For example, allow a user to change the land use types in a piece of development and see what the effect is on storm water drainage at the watershed in a progressive manner.


Anything that goes up will come down, as the expression says, and multimedia instructional software has its pros and cons too. The following outline summarizes these concerns:


1. It offers combined learning experience with wide-band interaction of thinking, seeing, modeling, writing, creating, and doodling.

2. It introduces intuitive, interactive, and creative approaches to problem solving.

3. It is a multi-directional mental process and not simply watching.

4. It allows repetitive learning and knowledge feedback.

5. It shifts verbal learning to visual learning.

6. It widens the domain of communication among humans and computers.


1. It requires a good investment of computer resources and technology.

2. It takes a lot of time and effort to produce a well-thought out software.

3. It needs a good understanding of subject matters, electronic media, and design principles.

4. It still have limitations of interactivity, especially with real-event scenarios.


If we examine the media we have used throughout the past, we can see that we are more and more relying on the existence of electronic media. Traditionally, we use pen, paper, brush, color markers, and color paste tubes to organize our thoughts and make a presentation. But today , we also heavily rely on TV, telephone, fax, video, digital sound, and other computer media for information dissemination. Multimedia applications are here to stay, and they are changing the way our mind works and the way we interact and learn. Like the question of who should write a book or who can create an art piece, the answer to who should write a multimedia instructional software is clear--it should be one who understands the quality of multimedia, one who is willing to invest time and effort, one who is able to convert field knowledge to electronic media, and one who possesses the ability to design, layout, and master plan a major project.

Based on the author's experience, every hour of multimedia instructional material requires 20 to 30 hours of preparation time. A successful multimedia application heavily depends on the quality integration of visualization techniques, graphic representation, color choices, type specification, image quality, content strategies, model development, design layout, and other design development issues. It is becoming obvious that with the technical and time involvement of developing a multimedia software, one cannot view the software development as the task of a single person. Perhaps a team of an electronic media designer, a software programmer, and a field specialist could collaborate the work using multimedia through a multi-workstation environment.

Although multimedia technology is evolving very fast, it is still in its infant stage. Let's raise a few questions. Could a multimedia application allow a student to make a design mistake such as improper road layout design and the software will emulate a scenario of bad consequences? Could a city planner propose certain types of commercial development and visualize the effect of his/her decision on the land use pattern changes though time influenced by certain social factors? Could a student in a chemistry class perform a wrong experiment and blow up the entire lab in an animation? All these questions are dynamic in nature and will require a great deal of computer interface and sophisticated software development to make them happen.


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Gimblett, Randy. 1990. "Visualizations: Linking Dynamic Spatial Models with Computer Graphic Algorithms for Simulating the effects of Resource Planning and Management Decisions." URISA Journal -- URISA, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 26-34.

Laseau, Paul., 1980. Graphic Thinking for Architects and Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

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