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Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations
C O N C L U S I O N
Overview: From Theory to the Heart
This project began with grandiose goals of videoconferencing, a play, and a fully funded educational CD-ROM about the Holocaust. It resulted in the production of the play Genericide and a CD-ROM prototype. The purpose of the project was to create a CD-ROM that evolved out of more than a single person and a single computer. By integrating the audience into each step, an exploration of the role the audience could play in multimedia development was promised.The project was designed for a two year period in order to allow time to develop it fully. Yet even within that time period, the enormous amount of time and energy required to promote, involve, and absorb the role of the audience in this project limited the actual completion of the project. The CD-ROM prototype has been completed, but it hasn't been evaluated properly. It works only on Macintosh computers and likely cannot be completed as a final product due to lack of funding.
The original objectives of this project were to:
2. Deliver a concise history that invites the user to listen to the surviving voices of history and relate their experiences to the present.
3. Produce an interactive product based on stories that the user can move through freely, while at all times being able to access other stories and textual information.
4. Motivate the student to change the title of the CD-ROM by gathering clues hidden in 20 stories and lighting the final candle of the Menorah metaphor, Never Again. By creating an environment based on listening rather than movement, the affective domain focused on the need to communicate and explore the true stories of the survivors.
The goals were not achieved for several reasons. No where in the goals was a specific application to a classroom setting addressed. The goal of the project was to create a CD-ROM and see how it was used. Without any connection to ongoing educational efforts, the descriptive nature of the project was weakened because the person describing students' reactions was not a subject matter expert. Many factors affect motivation to learn. By simply setting a student down, providing a goal of listening to 20 stories to finish the CD-ROM (and see if one would continue using the materials after the initial stories were observed) and seeing what would happen, the results were of little practical value to teachers.
Given such a new medium as CD-ROM, the goals would have been better achieved if an ongoing classroom effort and curriculum could have been adapted to fit in and test these learning materials. The time and costs involved in the CD-ROM put such efforts beyond the scope of the developer. The tremendous amount of labor involved undermined attention to the learning objectives, such as creating a "feel" of learning through a computer interface. No controls existed to measure against, so the measurement of opinion were the basis of the project, limiting the outcome.
The objective to deliver a "concise' history was again delivered in the opinion of the developer, not of a teacher with expertise in teaching the Holocaust. While a CD-ROM prototype was produced, the unfinished result could not be used to accurately describe the effect of the CD-ROM on learning. Motivational components were also lacking, since an unfinished computer piece failed to motivate learning. The lack of funding and the overwhelming scope of the project undermined the learning objectives. Yet it opened up creative avenues that may be of value to teachers learning to develop CD-ROM based materials.
What is ironic is that the intention to open up multimedia to the audience became a dependence once the funding was not found. This dependence required interacting not just to get viewpoints or understand what should be taught about the Holocaust. For such an effort, a detailed plan and questionnaire would have had to been constructed. What resulted was a collaboration with the audience and a personal involvement in their interest, resulting in the gaining of content and the creation of the CD-ROM.Those who research the Holocaust and are interested in studying it often have an serious interest in the issues and remembrance of the events. By working with them, the importance and relevance of these events penetrated the project. It was not a case of adapting to limitations, but of finding some way to add to the knowledge that has already been developed. To understand the audience studying the Holocaust, one has to find out that drive, that interest. It is not a subject taken lightly, but one that absorbs the every day life. It is that important. A project that began as an interactive multimedia developer attempting to work more with the audience changed course in the middle. The stories of the survivors and the sixth graders' paintings took over control of the project. The interface was simplified and all revolved around these people's stories. Anything that distracted or undermined simply listening to the oral histories was eliminated.
Interest and experimentation in the field of interactive multimedia was created, using theatre as the means to integrate the audience. But instead of bringing the audience into the development process, the developer was taken away from the technology and into the human exploration of genocide. This reversal of roles created a cultural study based on interactive participation of the developer with the audience, instead of vice versa. The CD-ROM prototype was not created by bringing the audience into the developer's viewpoint and then directing him; the developer was directed by the audience's needs and viewpoints. The power of interactive multimedia was not found in the technology, but in the audience's need to express ideas and promote learning about the Holocaust. The project did not achieve all its goals, because the goals were faulty. The real power of multimedia was found in the messages about the Holocaust and the people dedicated to preserving the memory of the events.
The Fourth Wall: Merging the Audience with the Developer
The project began as an intellectual approach to multimedia. Yet upon reaching Israel at the beginning of the videotaping of this project in 1993, Joel Dorkam shared a story of how he escaped before the war, making his way to Israel and enroute surrendering his German name, Dispeker. He spoke from his heart of the 1.5 million children who didn't survive the Holocaust. That was the heart of the Holocaust for him. There were hundreds of examples of war over land, over money, over greed, but there was only one Holocaust. The target of that offensive was not a strategic military site, nor an enemy, just the Jewish child. The Germans attacked the Jews right to exist. Joel's eyes reddened as he spoke of Yad Vashem's Children's Memorial and how it moved him. The developer left to visit this site.
In that darkened sphere a mournful tune played, with angelic voices singing in the background as a man and woman read the names of the 1.5 million children who didn't make it. The darkness was illuminated by a night sky, by thousands of lights representing the souls that had left. Yet the light came from just a few candles, burning in memory. The project became more than an intellectual effort to hammer down the effects of atrocity on a few students, or multimedia on the population as a whole. The metaphors for teaching had already been created. Those candles became a symbol that created the centerpiece of the CD-ROM's Menorah.
This event began the social context for the developer. By becoming involved with the audience, the project constructed a social context of development that depended on the stories and opinions of others. Instead of the traditional model of multimedia - a person or group of people locked away for months trying to create something the audience would appreciate - this developer immersed himself within the audience itself. The social context became the project's context, inextricably entwined. The audience began directing the project because they had the true interest, built over years of researching the Holocaust. The Holocaust was part of their lives, not just something to be presented on a CD-ROM. It was impossible to divorce oneself from the message, the importance, and the dedication of the audience. They shared one simple message that became the foundation of the CD-ROM: "Never Again."
The purpose of the project was to provide a variety of experiences and viewpoints, directed by the audience and influenced by their needs. Those who were interviewed as historians, as students, as audience members of Genericide, and professionals who wanted the Holocaust to be remembered all pointed to one goal; remembering the humanity of the individuals who survived. Those were the voices to be heard, the stories to be shared. Their opinions were the social context of design.
The design was based on interactions throughout the development with people interested in teaching about and learning from the Holocaust. This population was broad and varied, from historians in Israel to sixth grade students in Paradise, whose teacher encouraged them to imagine rather than explain. Perhaps the project might have benefited from a more scientific approach, attempting to provide the right atmosphere. But the people who participated consistently pointed out that there were plenty of materials on the Holocaust that brought an intellectual focus. They wanted the emotion, the bonding, with those who survived. In this case, the lack of content and materials forced the developer to adjust to their wishes; the content was defined by access. So what was planned as a comprehensive overview of the Holocaust became a simple CD-ROM focused on survivors' stories. The audience had spoken.
With all the power of computers, of mixing sound with graphics, video with fancy fonts and programming tricks, nothing approached the power of the human imagination. All the power of multimedia to possibly enhance learning, or create special environments where students learn more effectively, was secondary to the power of learning about the Holocaust. The message was something people dedicated their lives to for no other reason than to never let the events be forgotten. While thinking that the audience would assist one developer's viewpoint, it became clear that it was the developer that was assisting a long history of learning.
Technology was a useful tool but to take full advantage of the possibilities, but interactive multimedia was a particularly difficult element of the project's development. Few of the tools work correctly, the creation and implementation of it was troublesome, and the tricks needed to maintain interest seemed to be more based on fooling a short attention span than in engaging the audience to learn. Movement and loud sound bursts merged with changing colors and screens filled with numerous buttons was what many termed multimedia.
For this project, multimedia was listening to another human speak, illustrated by the art of children. The imaginations of the children brought to life the stories of four survivors who were children during the Holocaust and survived. Listening to these stories was a transformative experience, first from videotape to transcription. Re-editing the words and listening over and over again as the stories were broken down into the components shared by the survivors provided a perspective based more on literary tradition and oral history than multimedia technology.
The social context that this project promised to explore was already alive without the technology. People were more interested in learning about the survivors than in discussing the latest tools. Multimedia was a fad to many of the evaluators, not a passing one but still one that brought more attention to the tool than the message. In the beginning the question was posed whether the medium, CD-ROM, or the content, learning about the Holocaust, was the message. The audience provided the answer.
Problems encountered along the way were mostly technologically based. If more people had been available to work, if more money had been available, if this project had the time to be completed as a full time venture, all of this would have assisted development enormously. But lack of time and technology was found to be a faulty excuse for lack of creativity. Each time the challenge came in the two years of production to leave the project, the ability to adapt to financial and creative barriers allowed the project to reach completion. The result was a project based more on improvisation than technical planning, on imagination more than financial funding, and on the human experience rather than the multimedia-hyped bells and whistles. The purpose was to design an innovative way to approach the Holocaust. The innovation was always there, in the voices of survivors recorded over the past decades. This preservation of materials was essential to the success of this project.Problems could have been solved or avoided by knowing beforehand that the technology was not the answer. Going beyond the illusion of technology was a challenge to many multimedia developers. Often the tools were the focus but it became clear that the narrative, the learning process and delivery of information, was the driving force. As a tool, multimedia CD-ROM allowed the integration of different materials that together created a powerful learning experience. Oral history was a tradition that people referred to over and over; multimedia technology was simply an interesting way of mixing the message with the medium. Expecting to know what to do or not to do with the technology was a faulty premise.
The social context of multimedia development was created by the content, not by the technology. Multimedia development was a lengthy task that needs to be considered early on in a project. The technology inevitably takes more time than was expected. No individual has the time, technology, and funding to handle such a project alone. Team approaches would prove useful in integrating the multimedia experience.
The experiment in multimedia was successful in providing a interesting medium of expression which revolved around the audience's expressed needs. Multimedia development is a costly process and takes a long time to complete. Many long days and nights over two years were required for a project that was planned from the beginning. Few other models would suffice, because it takes that long to think out the process, put it into the technology, and deliver the product. The primary barrier was one of content. CD-ROMs can handle enormous amounts of information. Getting permissions and access to these materials is one of the least understood and most time consuming processes of multimedia development. Even with all the content, the difficulty in playing a CD-ROM reliably from computer to computer was difficult.
Perhaps the single advantage this project had was not making a profit; as long as no one was making money, content was donated. These resources were essential to completion of the project. On one hand, there was the advantage of having access because it was a gift to educators. On the other hand, surviving as a multimedia developer without funding was like having a second, volunteer job for two years. The time and effort needed to complete the project would inhibit those who want a quick solution for instruction. Multimedia was time consuming and frustrating. There was no other way to do it, judging from my experience and those of others in the field who were funded. It was a fascinating trip through the cutting edge of knowledge; such trips rarely have the blessing of funding and must be driven by a passion for the medium and the message.
Creating multimedia required understanding that the media must be made transparent. The minute the audience understands that it is watching the technology work, or a trick completed, they begin to lose the message and focus on the weaknesses of technology. Try showing a QuickTime video on three different machines and there will be three different results. While one might attribute this to expertise, the multimedia field is full of these stories. This was and is the nature of the media, volatile and intriguing. By making the technology less noticeable, the content was brought to the forefront.
Evaluation was not as important a part of this project as it should have been. Feedback from people and testing and retesting would be the best means of creating quality multimedia. Yet the involvement of the audience in the multimedia project brought the innovation, if not evaluation. The key to multimedia development was surrender, to the oral histories and the shaping of a project built on multiple perspectives. It was important to start with an idea and then let it go once others' opinions indicated the need for a change. Theatre is based on participation, creativity, randomness, and collaboration. By working with the audience, the project was a collaboration built on a theatrical influence. Clearly theatre would not be the path for every developer to pursue.
But for this developer, the interaction with a live audience was an inherent part of breaking down the fourth wall. Mixing tradition with technological advancement was an essential part of completing the project. Find out the approach that works and experiment with it. Be it theatre, programming, or storytelling, each approach is based on a unique perspective. Interactivity is a two-way street. This developer found that interactivity wasn't merging the audience with his viewpoint, but in surrendering his outlook to the needs of the audience. The Holocaust was more important than multimedia, because it represents a searching for answers that human beings engage in. The passion and power of this search led to breakthroughs in this project that could not have been conceived had the audience been forced to adapt to the developer's viewpoint. While Genericide represented an artistic (and hard to understand) viewpoint, the CD-ROM was simple, direct, and clear. The survivors lived to tell their stories and to never let the Holocaust be forgotten. All the technology in the world cannot approach this power.
The power lies not in our technology, but in our collective imaginations.