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E-Learning and Multimedia Databases - INTRODUCTION, BACKGROUND, FUTURE TRENDS & CHALLENGES, CONCLUSION

video media efforts educational

Theresa M. Vitolo
Gannon University, USA

Shashidhar Panjala
Gannon University, USA

Jeremy C. Cannell
Gannon University, USA

INTRODUCTION

E-learning covers the variety of teaching and learning approaches, methodologies and technologies supporting synchronous or asynchronous distance education. While distance education is a concept typically used by conventional institutions of education to mean remote access and delivery of instruction, the concept of e-learning broadens the scope to all instances of learning using Web-mediated learning. The scope includes realizing learning organizations (Garvin, 1993), achieving knowledge management (Beccerra-Fernandez; Gonzalez & Sabherwal, 2004; Aussenhofer, 2002) and implementing organizational training.

Individuals continue to learn throughout their lives, particularly as a function of their work and profession. The manner in which they access information and use it often depends upon the available technology, their previously learned response for information acquisition and how their organization facilitates learning and knowledge transfer (Tapscott, 1998; Zemke, Raines & Filipczak, 2000). Hence, e-learning is not simply a consideration for traditional learning institutions, but for any organization.

As such, e-learning not only faces the traditional challenges of teaching to various learning styles while conveying the spectrum of educational objectives, but also faces the extra challenge of using emerging technologies effectively. The three significant emerging technology areas to e-learning are: networking, mobility and multimedia. These technologies can enable a highly interactive delivery of material and communication between instructors and students. Out of the three, however, multimedia technologies relate directly to pedagogical concerns in providing material tailored to the content domain, to the individual and to the learning objectives (Vitolo, 1993).

Currently, multimedia and e-learning initiatives focus on the presentation of multimedia. The adequate presentation of multimedia is often more an issue of the network being used and its connectivity parameters. Acceptable multimedia presentation depends upon the format of the multimedia and its ability to be quickly transferred (David, 1997). In these circumstances, the availability and appropriateness of the multimedia is assumed to have already been decided as necessary to the instruction.

Not being addressed currently is the storage of multimedia. Multimedia databases should allow for retrieval of components of the integrated and layered elements of the media data stored. In this way, the media would support learning goals. Its retrieval should be conditional upon a context and a content need. Context involves the learning situation – the educational objectives and the learner, combined. Content need includes the particular material to be acquired. Conditional retrieval of multimedia based upon a pedagogical circumstance implies that not all learners or situations need the same media to be delivered, but that a compendium of stored media should be available. In fact, the media alone cannot solely enable learning. Clark (1983) analyzed the effects of learning from different media and observed that significant changes in learning are a function of the media used for the presentation of the material. Significant attention must be given to the content material available for e-learning systems. The material in a certain media format should be included, because it adds or complements the underlying informational intent of the system.

Further, as educational objectives aspire to higher levels of competency such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation, more depth and variety of detail need to be communicated to the student. However, due to the connectivity issues of e-learning, often layers of representation are not available to the learner. For example, during face-to-face communication, student to teacher, the teacher provides the path to the solution and essentially trains the student when teaching analysis skills. However, with e-learning systems, just the end product—the "solution"—of the analysis is provided. When the underlying reasoning layers of the analysis are not available, the overall quality of the instruction suffers (Vitolo, 2003).

Multimedia databases added to an e-learning initiative would provide conditional retrieval and comprehensive storage of multimedia. However, no database management system (DBMS) exists solely for multimedia storage and access (Elmasri & Navathe, 2000). Several current DBMS do provide a data type appropriate for multimedia objects. However, the range of capabilities available for manipulating the stored object is severely limited. A pure multimedia database management system (MDDBMS) is not commercially available, now.

BACKGROUND

Learning, education and teaching are inextricably intertwined, highly complex processes. Each process has been researched as a social phenomenon, cognitive transformation, generational bias and personality expression. While the work on these topics is vast, several aspects are generally accepted as foundation concepts:

  • People interact with environments on an individualized basis. Learners have learning styles; teachers have teaching styles; individuals have personality styles.
  • Educational efforts seek to find a correspondence between these various styles so that learning can progress effectively.
  • Educational efforts can be described via taxonomies—progressions of objectives. The realization of these objectives does not necessarily require any specific learning or teaching modality. The communication of the content of the objective may be better suited to one modality (visual, auditory or tactile) than another.
  • Learning can continue throughout an individual’s life.
  • Technology can facilitate educational efforts by providing various formatted and comprehensive content for interactive and self-regulated learning. Multimedia technology provides an excellent opportunity for packaging content into a variety of modalities.

With respect to styles, Coates (2002) provides a condensation of the various style-based perspectives of learning. While much of these style-based analyses of behavior stem from the initial work of Carl Jung (1923), the facets of the styles are continually being researched. Learning is mediated by a variety of factors—some (such as modality of instruction) that can be manipulated successfully within an educational effort, some (such as generational cohort biases) that are out of the control of instructional design.

With respect to educational structures, educational researchers have developed taxonomies to explain educational objectives. (See Anderson, Krathwohl, Airasian, Cruikshank, Mayer, Pintrich, Raths & Wittrock, (2001) and Bloom (1984, 1956) for classic coverage of these taxonomies.) Essentially, educational efforts advance instruction in levels of difficulty and performance so that the breadth and depth of the knowledge of a field can be communicated.

As a foundation concept to using multimedia for e-learning, the media requires appropriate processing for adequate capture, production and distribution. For example, video may be shot using either an analog or digital camera. Before the source video can be edited using computer software, it must be instantly accessible from a hard disk and not the original videotape. The source video is imported into the computer by a process called video capture. Captured video is huge; 10 seconds of raw, uncompressed NTSC video (the standard for television video) use as much as 300 megabytes (MB) of storage space.

For video to be played in a Web browser or distributed on CD-ROM, the file size must be reduced significantly. This file size reduction, or compression, is achieved using codecs – compression/decompression approaches. Source video captured from a digital camcorder will already have been digitized and saved in a digital file format inside the camera. Digitizing a video sequence results in extremely high data rates. For example, an image with a resolution of 720×576 pixels and a color depth of 16 bits produces a data stream of 1.35 MB per individual frame. At the rate of 25 frames per second required to render smooth video scenes, a gigantic data volume of 3,375 MB/second results. This volume is far too great for the average hard disk to handle; a CDROM would only have enough space for about 16 seconds (Adobe Press, 2003; Bolante, 2004).

Next, the capture process involves transferring the digitized video file to a computer hard disk. Once captured, the multimedia requires further considerations for production and dissemination considerations. The analog or digital source video is captured using video editing software and saved into an appropriate video format. These video formatted files are also large; 60 minutes of video can consume 12 GB of disk space. The media file is manipulated within software via timing option, making it ready for rendering and production. After rendering, the video file is processed further depending upon its desired distribution modality:

  • Exported back to video tape (analog or digital)
  • Compressed further for distribution on CDROM or DVD
  • Compressed further for distribution across the Internet

The final presentation also has options. Progressive encoding refers to where the entire video must be downloaded before any viewing occurs, regardless of its format. This case occurs with any of the formats considered so far. Alternatively, Internet streaming enables the viewer to watch sections of video without downloading the entire file. Here, the video starts after just a few seconds. The quality of streaming formats is significantly lower than progressive formats due to the compression being used (Menin, 2002).

Finally, appropriate display of the material for effective consumption is improved with interactive multimedia. However, interaction with a media file—the goal of interactive multimedia—is restricted; navigation is possible using pause, forward and reverse controls provided by the player installed on the client computer. To create interactive media for the Web, CDs, kiosks, presentations and corporate intranets, a multimedia authoring program is used. These programs enable the combination of text, graphics, sound, video or vector graphics in any sequence. To add more interactive features, powerful scripting languages are also provided (Gross, 2003).

Hence, the situation for e-learning is bound in several ways by the available multimedia technology. First, the production and distribution of multimedia is not a trivial undertaking, requiring specialized skills and technologies. Second, the viewing of the multimedia requires the client machine and user to have appropriate technology. Third, the goals of the e-learning effort must be in balance with the available and expected technology. Fourth, the multimedia technology itself is providing limited options for interactive manipulations. After these steps, the media as a data-rich structure can be stored in multimedia databases.

FUTURE TRENDS & CHALLENGES

Multimedia capabilities will continue to improve, becoming more economical and more usable. In time, the authoring, production and distribution of multimedia will become as easy as word processing. As with many information systems efforts, the challenge resides with understanding the infrastructure commitment to deploy such efforts in terms of hardware, skills and procedures. Successful efforts require high-capacity, secure servers and connections. Individuals need to understand the nature of multimedia to manipulate it successfully within the software. Finally, well-defined procedures for the distribution and maintenance of the multimedia over a desired architecture must accompany the effort and must be handled by systems staff cognizant of the desired performance levels.

The future of multimedia databases shares this same positive outlook. The capabilities sought in various data-typing of media, querying of media segments and indexed aspects need continued addressing.

For e-learning, the challenges parallel those of multimedia. E-learning efforts need to understand how the infrastructure can limit the instructional goals. The skill level for development efforts requires technical competence and instructional design principles. When future e-learning efforts include multimedia databases, then the required technical skills will be further specialized. E-learning efforts will require teams of highly specialized individuals, bridging the different technical needs for pedagogy, multimedia and multimedia databases.

The final future challenge to be addressed is one shared with many Web-based developments—intellectual property rights. Intellectual property is a sufficiently difficult concept currently when multimedia is part of a single application. Once the multimedia is part of applications connected through a database, then the intellectual property rights of the database and its development must be considered also.

CONCLUSION

E-learning continues the efforts of computer-mediated instruction. The depth and interactivity potential of multimedia components is a highly attractive factor to add to instruction. Multimedia offers the capability to construct interactions tailored to the learning needs of a specific student, within a specific learning context, being taught a specific content domain.

Multimedia technology has matured significantly as its complementary technologies of network capacities and deployment hardware have advanced. However, for the next generation of multimedia and e-learning to progress, multimedia databases should be used. The database configuration would increase the potential use of the multimedia across multiple application instances, the multimedia could be queried for access and, ultimately, the elements composing the multimedia could be accessed as opposed to accessing the entire multimedia file—the current option for multimedia access.

Multimedia databases not only would enhance the technical delivery of e-learning efforts, but also would enhance the pedagogical aims of e-learning efforts. Instruction of the higher-order educational objectives requires layers of a representation to be presented. Multimedia databases could store media in its elemental segments so that selective delivery of pieces of the media could be offered for instruction—not the media file in its entirety, leaving the parsing of the relevancy of the media to the discretion of the student.

While multimedia databases would increase the flexibility, access and reuse of the media, other challenges arise. Multimedia databases are complex technologies requiring more specialized skills beyond simply building and deploying multimedia. Adequately supporting multimedia databases requires continued, expensive investments in infrastructure to support the deployment of the databases and e-learning efforts. Further, not all of the required features of true multimedia databases have been developed to date, but are part of the current efforts of database developers and of standards communities. Finally, intellectual property issues are a challenge of applications using multimedia databases. As in most development aspects, the intellectual property issues will be as difficult to resolve as the technology was to develop.

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