Blog Pile

The Past Golden Age of Multimedia Development

I’m tired and ought to be resting a throat that is rumbling soreness, but a hearth of nostalgia is welling up reading Mike Caulfied’s memories of his experience if Big Learning Objects Gone South– my title, his is The Coming Golden Age of Open Educational Simulations.

Mike talks about his time of golden glory years (dot yum com) of the 2000s when he worked on high end million dollar computer based learning production at Columbia — that got left hanging on the gold vine. Mike cites both the lack of his “black box” simulations being open as well as butting up against David Wiley’s Reusability Paradox– which pitted the inverse relationships of context and reusability.

It got me thinking about a favorite project I got to steer in the mid 1990s; it’s not quite the parallel of Mike’s story (heck I think it is in a different quadrant), but there may be a strand. At the time I was an instructional technologist in the Maricopa Community College system and was working with some faculty led brainstorming groups aiming to make the process of multimedia development easier to do (still somewhat of a grail)

I cannot remember what movie it was I saw at the time, but remember thinking as the credits rolled about the impressive number of people and roles that are represented in the production of a movie. I remain mesmerized by this,. and was one of the last people to leave the theater after Avatar because I watched the full credit roll… did you know one of the New Zealand units had a Second Second Assistant Accountant?

So I came up with the idea of using a boiled down version and metaphor of a fictitious studio that would commission multimedia production work. My office was the Maricopa Center for Learning & Instruction- acronym MCLI, and I made the leap of converting that to romaon numbers, and ended up with Studio 1151

The idea was we set up production teams at two different colleges- the teams included a faculty member and a handful of their students, and they spent the semester going through a multimedia development process with parallels to producing a movie- with everything from making a pitch to submitting an RFP in response to call from the studio, to assigning roles, doing production, and hosting a premiere. We had them submit journal entries online (really crude web forms and perl scripts) that was in a way like blogging.

Yes, I got seriously caught up in the metaphor. We created an online Studio 1151 Guidebook that contained all of this reference material and sample forms, etc.

The real point was to create a different development environment for creating some educational materials- rather than faculty crating stuff for students, they would work as a team to come up with an idea. We supported two teams, and their role was really yo come up with the idea, and the studio would actually do the production (that was me).

The two projects that came out this were (and they still exist, projects from 1996):

The Scottsdale project was in many ways a highlight. I recall hearing about their early brainstorming session, when the faculty member, Bernie Combs, was really trying to lobby for an idea he had, and his students pushed back and suggested looking at the finals from the last semester and seeing what topic students had the hardest time learning, which is how they ended up with covering Negative Reinforcement.

But they went further, with the flow chart design they cast a concept that would make it more game like, and using what was then pretty crude 3D software and authoring in macromedia Director, we did come up with something that even in its process illustrated the concept if wanting to avoid negative consequences (after the project, I took what was a CD-ROM desktop app and in the early version of web-based “Shockwave” got a web version going, it still sort of works) Lots of stuff is still there at and the web walk through shows screens from the app developed in relationship to the storyboards the team created.

The realization was we spent a rather inordinate amount of effort to create something that, when you look at the entire semester of introductory Psychology, was a small fraction. So obviously, you would never be able to scale something like that for a course.

That’s where the less tangibles emerge- the real gains were not about the media objects produced, it was the process of doing it. I ended up hiring one of the students from one team to work for me, and now he is a professional web programmer. The faculty member ended up shifting his approach to creating multimedia content. Both of the faculty involved shared comments about the power of shifting to a model of working with students on content creation (see their comments on a press release the studio did when the project was presented in 1996) That old guidebook got lots of hits, in fact, a colleague this year emailed me and told me how she found it via a web search on storyboarding.

What I resonated with in Mike’s story of his experience with the Black Box sims is that we typically always focused on the things produced- the learning objects, the media, etc– when there was really more to be gained from the process parts of things- or maybe its that what is more reusable are the ideas for te ways to use and create those coherences around the media, more so than the media itself. I am not sure if that is where Mike is going in his thinking, but I’m curious to see.

Mostly, I just wanted to walk down memory lane. And now that I have my old MacBook that can play my pre OS X software, I can load NRU back up from CD-ROM and see if I know how to get my degree from Negative Reinforcement University

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. What great projects!

    I think they are more related to where we are going than where we’ve been, though what I’m thinking is a hybrid approach — BFLOs (Big Freaking Learning Objects, a technical term) that are developed by educational professionals to start along with domain experts, but then left open so that students who go through them or teacher that use them can edit or extend them. In my thinking, students would initially be consumers of the BFLO but then might critique or extend it.

    Memory Lane is fun — I’ve recently reached the point where I am questioning what we might have wrongly thrown out in the past seven years or so, possibly because I’m a natural contrarian and as so-called Learning 2.0 ideas become pervasive I can’t help but go looking for an argument. But partly because I think there’s a lot of stuff from the past that could mesh nicely with the open methods, and I think it’s a prime opportunity for reintegration.

  2. Ahhh, yes… I savored your trip down memory lane and went on one of my own. In the 90’s I was a media producer on a series of CD-ROM products (remember those?) intended for the anatomy and physiology course that pre-nurses and allied health students take. I have very fond memories of laboring over storyboards, iterating with digital artists, talking through possibilities with Shockwave (gasp) programmers. And I completely concur with your conclusion, Alan. The lasting elements of that experience, still with me today, center around the work we did figuring out what would work best for students to help them understand. The process. Hours spent in classrooms, watching students try out the activities, hearing their honest (sometimes too honest) reactions, getting into the details of what precisely is happening in a nerve cell when it’s conducting an impulse and why we should care. How to make cool stuff in Shockwave? Nah. How to crack the nut of using media to learn? oh yeah.

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