Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 18, 1995

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

     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

     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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