The purposes or objectives of a particular piece of courseware should be the starting point for choosing evaluation criterion. Standards used to evaluate entertainment packages, video games or even widely distributed educational software will not be applicable to courseware created for the purpose of informing a particular class about a specialized subject area. Due to the limited scope of the Mattel Color Spin website, I have only utilized those multimedia evaluation criterion which are applicable and highlight the interesting points of my experience with the site.
This particular courseware was meant to educate a mechanical engineering class about the process of re-engineering and re-manufacturing consumer products using the Mattel Color Spin case study as an example.
The website provides a good general introduction about the Mattel project. As a laymen in the art of mechanical engineering and manufacturing, I was able to quickly learn the key concepts.
The information presented in the site was straightforward and did a good job of educating the user about the nature of the subject matter. In evaluating the multimedia criterion I found that the way in which content is presented is closely tied to the content itself. In this case, content was presented in a simple and easy to follow fashion which aided the user in understanding the subject matter. Flashy graphics and innovative uses of HTML may be appropriate in some cases, but the Mattel Color Spin site limited the uses of these devices, focusing the user's attention on the textual content which is at the heart of the study. When the site strayed from this simple formula, as will be outlined below, the website suffered for it.
The information on the site was organized in a linear fashion which invited the user to view the material from "left to right."
While the site works well when the "left to right" concept is understood, it is not immediately apparent how to navigate in this manner. The user is supposed to move through the site using the arrows presented on the screen, not the "go back" arrow on the browser. The user is not shown the number of pages in each category (depth) and therefore can miss some important material. Confusion in this sense can allow a user to "go back" to the main menu and only view the first page of each category. This problem could be solved with a note explaining the correct way in which to navigate the site.
Graphic Design/Icons/Programming Techniques
The website utilizes a very simple design concept which minimizes the use of flashy elements. The use of simple icons works well in that the pictures (at least in my mind), closely correspond to the processes described in the text.
Imbedded throughout the site are Quicktime film clips. These are problematic because they take forever to download and can only be viewed with state of the art hardware. Furthermore, these films contain information which cannot be obtained from the text alone, wholly excluding those users who do not have access to the proper equipment.
When the filmclips were viewed with state of the art equipment on a fast network however, they did tend to add another dimension to the site. It was interesting to view the manager in charge of the project speak about various design issues and his role in the process. Upon viewing the clips, it became apparent that the manager had an Eastern European accent which could not have been gleaned from a textual representation of his dialogue. While this information does not have a bearing on the study itself, it did add an interesting human dimension to the site. In addition, the filmclips showed the Color Spin "in action" which is something that could not have been experienced from a textual or graphic representation.
Overall, it is questionable whether the film clips add value to the website given the technological constraints facing many of the users. Anyone viewing the site using a 28.8 modem for instance would have had to wait around 5 minutes on the average to view the filmclips. For the most part, the clips show the manager talking about the Color Spin, this could easily have been accomplished by adding an image rather than a film clip. This would have saved precious bandwidth resources while still imparting the necessary information. This is an example of style over substance where the site could have benefited from the simplicity utilized in the other design elements.
Overall the site did a good job of delivering the necessary information. While the "left to right" navigation technique is a good one for this type of case study, the introduction should have told the user the correct way of following the arrows presented on the screen rather than using the browser to "go back" to the main menu. The simplicity of the site is its strength. The instances where the site strays from this formula are where the user gets lost. The Quicktime movies are a good example of this. The clips could have been done with still images while still imparting the necessary information. Perhaps a lesson to take away from the Color Spin case study is that design and content go together in developing good courseware. Innovative design elements should be utilized where they add to the users appreciation of the content. Design elements which distract from the mission of the courseware should not be included.