Examination of Multimedia Program:
From Alice to Ocean

Timothy Hackett
Spring 1994


The Alice to Ocean multimedia CDROM is billed as an "interactive desert expedition through sights and sounds." Although I greatly enjoyed the presentation, particularly the spoken narratives taken from Robyn Davidson's journal, I had a difficult time reconciling the CD advert's claim that this "exciting new form of publishing which combines narration, photographs, video, and music in an interactive story" with my impressions about what constituted interactivity as well as what advantages were gained from the use of the CDROM medium over existing forms/hybrids of media (e.g. video/books-on-tape).

From my initial perspective, I was not quite sure whether this product was a media presentation in search of content or whether the content lent itself successfully to an `interactive multimedia presentation.' Until ascertaining an appropriate niche for this work, I had misgivings about its pedagogical value, but realised that this work marks the beginnings of a new genre format, namely it must be the inaugural `coffee-table CD.' Aside from a couple of maddening problems with running the CD on the Mac II, I liked the story, particularly its 'leitmotif' soundtrack.

User Interface Design

Using the map of Robyn's journey as a metaphor for the `chapters' of the CDROM was an excellent idea as it provided for the integration of content with that of the interface; in terms of the overall design of the CDROM, I felt that this presentation idea was the CDROM's strongest suit. Breaking down the chapters into sub-chapters via the presentation of the `key' event' photos also helped give a type of overview to the story and provided a format rather unique to a CDROM -or CAI-type of presentation.

Also helpful, in terms of setting the tone of the chapter, was the juxtaposition of explanatory text over screen-freezes ;these provided for `transitions' to what otherwise might have been a cut-and-paste type of presentation. The most `interactive-like' feel ,however, came from the use of the sidebars, viz. those sections of the CDROM that provided the background- or ancillary information about the history of camels, flora and fauna of the outback, aboriginal culture, Ayers rock, etc.

What I felt was missing within the design of the interface was the inability, or lack of ease, to navigate from the story to the relevant information contained in a sidebar. For example ,the ability to click directly from a frame with Robyn's story to that of one of Rick's sidebars would have provided more control, or "intra-activity", by the user over the presentation of the materials. Quite honestly, the first time that I saw the icon with the coffee-cup design, I assumed this to be a pause button rather than the gateway into the sidebar chapters! (I'll admit to being one of those who reads the "Read Me" folder after attempting to figure out the application first).

Educational Potential

In terms of Alice's educational potential, a number of questions arise that would merit consideration prior to its use as part of a curriculum. What discipline(s) would it support? On viewing the first couple of chapters, I assumed that Alice might be supportive of social studies at a primary level or possibly geology-anthropology-ecology at the secondary level; however, in looking at the contents and format of the entire story as well as that of the sidebars, it would appear that the CDROM would support photography more than those of more traditional content disciplines. One might also consider the content as a human interest documentary, particularly in giving the trek a revisionist slant fifteen years later.

What was taught/what method used via the CDROM medium that could not be learned, more or less effectively, from another medium? I would be hard-pressed to say what advantage(s) resulted from the CDROM format over that of a more traditional video-cubicle format, other than the ability to launch the story directly from the map/chapter icons.

One capability inherent to the Macintosh that would not be possible with current video setups would be the separation of the audio portion into individual tracks so that students could determine/manipulate the various portions of the multi-tracking used for the story's soundtrack. The dijeridoo audio was a great touch to this CDROM; I had hoped that one of the sidebars would have explained the recording and multi-tracking of this instrument on the sound track. Perhaps links within the sidebars could allow an instructor to write queries about the individual chapters.

Does the medium lend itself to skill development that might be gained through more traditional methods or media? One possible application of such a medium, given that there would be more immediate control of the photo clips, would be the use of Robyn's story as a catalyst for small group (e.g. whatever number a 13" monitor would support) cooperative/interactive education; perhaps this would be one of the most valid educational applications as the content would emanate from a 'third party (viz. neither the instructor nor another student) and might be more helpful in eliciting comments from students.

Does the product have stand-alone educational potential or would it require lesson plan(s) to 'educe', i.e. draw forth , the lesson(s) of the story? As the CDROM is primarily focussed toward a coffee-table format, there is no recognizable form of lesson plan, examination, or evaluation in its current format, so these procedures would most likely be the catalysts to grant the CDROM its educational potential/value. In this instance the corollary question might be would entertainment value alone suffice as a reason for its educational merit?

Initial wish-list for Alice, version two

What might have helped the program and made for greater ease of use? I had problems with the CDROM crashing at the same point in "Chapter Five", probably due to the length of the audio clip at this section of the presentation. What would have been helpful would be the option to adjust the window to a smaller frame size, or the ability to skip over RAM-intensive parts of the story, or having a dialog box open that would permit the user to close any unnecessary RAM-eaters upon the desktop.

From the point of view of Alice as a metaphor for an interactive book, I would have liked to see a couple of features that would have assisted navigation throughout the work and at all points within the work. One possibilitywould be to expand the initial map into a full-blown hierarchical tree of the various photos under their respective chapter icons. This would allow the user to get an overview of the story as well as to permit the capability of reviewing specific parts of the story without having to launch the story from the chapters' beginnings.

The other helpful feature would be the addition of a topical index, similar to the ones developed within the sidebars, that would allow the user to select a slide/photo from a related descriptor; a more advanced version of this feature might allow the student to retrieve a specific slide by way of a form of Boolean search, e.g. 'Ayers Rock' and 'flora.'

One feature that was in You Can't Get There From Here that I thought helpful was the ability to view the text of the narrative in order to follow faster passages more carefully, to discern words that might be hard to follow with the Australian accent, or to provide some form of background glossary to words, phrases, concepts used with the dialogue, photos, or soundtrack.

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