By Kent Andersen
This presentation is to cover four different aspects of multimedia
Before plunging into multimedia production, you should have the
right tools to do the job. Personally I only work with IBM compatible
computers but, of course, Apple computers are equally good, however
because of my ignorance I cannot recommend any hardware for the
The basic computer:
A good starting point for your production is to get a "plug
and play" (standard set by Microsoft to work with Windows
95) Pentium based computer preferably with at 133 MHz processor
or better. Put in as much memory as you can afford, 16 MB RAM
is just acceptable but 32 MB is probably three or four times better,
a large hard disk of more than one GB is mandatory, personally
I use two hard disks, one for applications and one for data files
like video, sound, pictures etc. You will also want the computer
to have a "plug and play" 16 bit sound card and a CD-ROM
drive (quadro speed or better). Finally the computer should have
a fast video card to handle the vast amounts of graphics usually
found in multimedia projects.
Hardware for video capture
Again you should look for "plug and play" hardware.
Using a lot of time (often days or even weeks) to make a system
work takes all the joy out of multimedia production.
Before choosing a capture module you must decide which kind of
video files you want to produce i.e. Video for Windows / QuickTime,
MJPG or MPEG. If you want to produce laser video discs, you don't
need a capture module and Digital Video Interactive (DVI) is more
or less obsolete.
Video for Windows (AVI files) and QuickTime are compression methods
that even allow 386 based computers to play videos without extra
hardware. Video for Windows and QuickTime can be compressed with
different algorithms like INDEO from INTEL, Fractal compression
and Video 1 from Microsoft. Today the videos are scaleable and
especially the INDEO video has many facilities for making an interactive
application. It's possible to playback a 240 * 320 pixel video
on a Pentium, 180 *240 on a 486 computer5 and 120*180 on a 386
MJPG video is hardware dependant i.e. the end user must have a
MJPG playback card in his computer in order to watch the videos.
The quality is generally somewhat better than Video for Windows
and MJPG allows a high frame rate on even slow computers. Another
feature is the high compression i.e. the files become much smaller
than .AVI files. MJPG capture cards are capable of capturing very
high quality video with a high frame rate and are therefore often
used for capturing raw video which are then by software compressed
into .AVI files or MPEG files, the latter to save money on buying
the much more expensive MPEG video card.
DVI video is like MJPG video i.e. the end user must invest in
video playback cards. The standard seems to be obsolete.
MPEG video is currently the highest quality (apart from laser
video) video for multimedia. Playback of MPEG video can be done
through software or with hardware. Software playback is possible
if the end user has a Pentium computer. With hardware, even a
386 computer can playback full screen video in VHS quality. Due
to the very small size of MPEG video files, i.e. the high compression,
it's possible to send real time MPEG video through networks and
it's even possible to watch real time MPEG video on the Internet!
There are currently two MPEG definitions MPEG I and MPEG II.
MPEG II exceeds the quality of VHS video tapes.
The prices for capture cards starts around 300 USD for an .AVI
card (Video for Windows), 1200 USD for a MJPG capture card to
finish well past 20.000 USD for a real time MPEG video capture
Video for Windows and QuickTime video files apparently don't need
very expensive capture cards. There are a number of possible brands
of which I personally only know the "VideoBlaster" card
from Creative Labs and the "Smart Video Pro" card from
MJPG video capture boards are approximately four times more expensive
than an .AVI card, however as it's possible to convert from one
type of file to another through software the MJPG offers a cheap
but acceptable way of producing MPEG and .AVI files. Personally
I use a Miro capture card from Miro Computer Products.
MPEG video capture cards offer real time compression of a very
high quality, but also at a very high price. The potential buyer
of a MPEG capture card is a producer who has to produce a lot
of video files and who does not want to spend time on software
compression which often is very time consuming.
Sound Capture Cards
There are numerous brands of good sound cards and it seems difficult
to tell one from the other, so unless you have special needs like
MIDI music or hardware based voice recognition, all you have to
buy is a "plug and play" 16 bit sound card which is
"SoundBlaster" compatible. The prices start around 100
There are several ways of getting a picture into a multimedia
program. The highest quality is obtained by having your films
processed as CD-ROM, but if you choose that solution I recommend
you have the films developed on paper also or at least to print
them out on a printer, as that makes it easier to get a good overview
of the pictures.
It's also possible to get ION cameras, i.e. cameras that record
the pictures on a little floppy disk which can then be read into
the computer through a special interface card. However I find
the general quality of the pictures inferior to pictures taken
with e.g. a NIKON camera, which costs about half of the money
needed to buy a ION camera.
I prefer to work with pictures on paper which I then scan into
my computer with a scanner. A scanner good enough for most purposes
costs from around 1000 USD including software for processing the
pictures after scanning.
Unless you want to distribute your multimedia programs on a network,
it's necessary to put the data and programs onto CD-ROM. A CD-ROM
recorder is now available for around 1000 USD. I consider a CD-ROM
recorder a must in multimedia productions. Of course it's possible
to make tape or diskette backup of your work which is then sent
elsewhere for CD-ROM recording, but it's too inefficient for serious
When the finished program is to be distributed, the number of
copies probably determines if it's better to have the CD-ROM produced
elsewhere. The cost of producing 100 CD-ROMS with two colour print
and in jewel boxes is approximately 1000 USD, but the price steadily
decreases per unit when the number of CD-ROMS increases, e.g.
1000 CD-ROMS is approximately 3500 USD
There are many good authoring systems available and it seems difficult
to advise which system is better than the other. I have decided
to use Multimedia ToolBook from Asymetrix. ToolBook is a true
hypermedia authoring system and is available for Windows 3.x,
Windows 95, and Windows NT which means that programs written in
ToolBook version 4 can run on most modern computers including
Apple Power PCs. Multimedia ToolBook also comes in a CBT version
(Computer Based Teaching) which has a lot of pre made facilities
like multiple choice, drag and drop, special hotword utilities
and much more. For the beginner, or even for any serious language
teaching multimedia author, this seems a very good package which
will take most of the hardship out of the authoring job. ToolBook
comes with a free runtime module, i.e. you can publish your work
without having to pay royalties. Multimedia ToolBook version 4.0
is approximately priced 1100 USD. The full CBT version of ToolBook
4.0 is priced around 1500 USD.
The choice of video format is not just a matter of quality but
perhaps even more a matter of quantity, i.e. which types of computers
are available to the target group. It might be tempting to choose
MPEG video which is the video of the future, but remember that
90% of the computers still cannot play MPEG video. Whenever possible
you should make two versions of your programs so you can cater
for users both now and in the future. At least remember to keep
your original data like video in a premium quality like raw video,
then you can compress them in coming formats in future versions
of the program.
Nowadays most multimedia programs use the windows sound files
with the extension WAV. However, the quality of the sound recordings
differs a lot depending on the recording parameters. You have
a choice of 8 bit or 16 bit sound files, 16 bits giving the best
quality, also the sampling rate must be chosen, you can choose
between 11KHz, 22KHz and 44KHZ. 11KHz takes up less space on a
CD-ROM but the quality is not very good, however 11KHz is often
used on digital video because of the limited size of the file.
Finally, you have to choose between mono or stereo. When I produce
multimedia programs I usually make a rough calculation to find
how much space is available on the CD-ROM for the sound files,
I then let the space determine the sampling rate. Of course, the
demand for quality differs from program to program depending on
the issue being taught.
Like with the sound files it's necessary to find a format that
caters best for your needs. Some authors insist on millions of
colours in high quality pictures while others, like myself, are
satisfied with 256 different colours. It is possible to compress
the pictures using different compression programs some of the
formats are GIF, TIF, BMP and JPG, it is also possible to get
fractal compression with very high quality. Before deciding which
format to use, it is advisable to check on royalties that have
to be paid for the use of certain compression techniques.
Types of exercises
Computers have been used for language teaching for quite a number
of years. It seems, however, that only a limited number of types
of exercises have been "invented." Often the students
would even be better off with the same exercises on paper.
There is not any record of this, but I believe that the first
type of exercise for language training on a computer was some
sort of vocabulary training program. The user was presented with
a foreign word or phrase that had to be translated by typing in
an answer that was then controlled against one or more "correct"
answers made by the author. The weaknesses of this type can
be the lack of context and also the number of correct answers
that are limited by the imagination of the software author. The
vocabulary training exercises have been refined over the years,
e.g. they can control the input letter by letter and thereby prevent
the user learning a misspelled word.
This type of exercise has also been used for a number of years.
Usually a word has been replaced by a box or line in a text, the
user is then supposed to type in the missing word. This type ot
exercise is related to a context and it works much like a "Cloze
test" the critics, however, claim that the exercise works
more like an IQ test instead of teaching/training a foreign language.
This type of exercise is not used very often though it is simplicity
itself. To make an "Empty-text" exercise you take every
10th word from a text and put into a word processor. The user's
job is then to write a story (instruction, essay) using those
words. This type of exercise makes the students use their creative
minds as they "page" through their active vocabulary
to construct a story. Originally this exercise was used in drama
This type of exercise is usually used for controlling the student's knowledge. The student is presented
with a number of answers to choose from. In itself, the multiple-choice
exercise does not train anything, but it is useful for testing
the student's understanding of a text, video, or sound sequence.
Find the Correct Sequence
In this type of exercise, a story is cut into a number of pieces
that are then mixed up. It is the student's job to find the correct
sequence. The story can be a text, a sound sequence, or a video
clip. One of the advantages of this type of exercise is that
authentic "texts" can be used because the student does
not necessarily need to understand everything to decode the message
and then find the correct sequence.
Solving an adventure game can be a complicated task. However,
adventure games made for language teaching can be a refreshing
exercise. The student is presented with a situation which he can
then deal with by typing in commands. Depending on the situation
and other circumstances (like the sequence of words used in the
command), the computer responds to the student's input, thus creating
a surrogate conversation.
This is really not an exercise but more of a help tool for the
student who is reading a text. By clicking on a hotword (or otherwise
signalling an interest in the word) a student can get a translation,
an example of the use of the word, a video clip, a pronunciation,
This was one of the first steps into the world of multimedia. The student uses his computer as a tape
recorder. The computer can either have digitised speech on the hard disk drive or it can control a
laser disc player or a compact disc. The advantage is the immediate
access to the sequence, unlike a tape that has to be rewound.
Pictures and Graphics
The computer's ability to display high resolution pictures and graphics is often used in exercises. The
student is instructed to click on a particular part of the picture, and when he does so, the computer
registers where he clicked and then responds accordingly.
The "good old fashioned" language laboratory drills
are transferred to a computer system. The drills can be text or
sound based where the computer replaces the laboratory tape recorder.
In the future, voice recognition software will also check the
The computer can play a video sequence either from the hard disk
drive, from a CD-ROM, or by controlling a laser video player.
With a combination of subtitles and video, the student is given
a maximum of information which can be used in many kinds of exercises.
All the mentioned exercises can (and ought to) be combined in
multimedia language teaching systems. Learning a foreign language
can sometimes be a tedious task, but by carefully drafting the
lessons with a mixture of exercises, the students find the lessons
interesting and perhaps even entertaining.
It is necessary to do a lot of consideration before starting on a multimedia programming project and
finally, the project should either improve on the learning methods or decrease the overall costs of
foreign language teaching.
Selecting the Right Materials
This is probably the most important part of the project. The materials should have the right level of
difficulty, be interesting to the future users, if possible contain
some humour, and be visual - remember that texts are usually better
on paper! Also it might be ideal to look at existing materials
that could be repurposed. Finally check on copyright. Some years
ago, IBM sponsored a project using interactive video called "Murder
auf Deutsch." Unfortunately, the background music was
copyrighted and the finished project had to be shelved!
It is also important to choose which platform to use (i.e., CD-ROM,
DVI, CDI, MPEG, laser disc, bar-code, programming, and hardware
[Mac or IBM]).
The layout of the computer screen is very important but it is
also important to choose between using a keyboard, a mouse, a
press sensitive screen, etc.
Identify who could help you through a project (e.g., technical
assistance, programming, video recording, project management).
Investigate how to get financial aid for the project (e.g. EU
and other government funds). Odense Technical College (Odense
Tekniske Skole) is interested in finding new partners for future
Kent Andersen is a member of the MultiMedia Group at Odense Tekniske
Skole (OTS-MMG) in Odense, Denmark. He has been working with computer
assisted language learning (more than 10,000 lessons using CALL)
and programming since the early eighties. He has produced a large
range of commercial and public domain software (authoring systems,
interactive video, adventure games, grammar games, multimedia
software for deaf students, etc.)
Bygge & Anlæg
Odense Tekniske Skole
DK 5100 Odense C
Phone +45 6591 5080
Fax +45 6591 6154
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