Chapter I: Introduction

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I N T R O  D U C T I O N

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            What stands between a “multimedia” message and the audience? Computer scientists call it the physical interface, form and function, and the means of delivering an application that is understandable by the end user. Artists talk of philosophical engagement, look and feel, and the effort to involve the audience. Multimedia draws on the resources of both artists and scientists. The art of the human-computer interface is to design interactive programs that encourage a behavior: interactions based on the level of participation and direction selected by the audience.

            Yet multimedia is no different than traditional forms of communication which face a gap between the intended message, the media used to deliver it, and the audience’s perception of these materials. “People transform their interfaces. Interfaces also transform their users. Studying the ways that distinct user populations think about and interact with interface environments can reveal these dynamics in dramatic ways.” (Laurel, 1990, p. 91) The goal of this project was to invite, instruct, and allow the audience to assist in the creation of a CD-ROM experience. The resulting CD-ROM and the role of the audience in the production were the “interface environment”, expanded to include the actual development process in which the audience participated.

            By enhancing the role of the audience in developing multimedia projects, an attempt was made to bridge the gap between the creator of the materials and the intended viewers. The Holocaust was selected as the topic, providing a distinct user population and also because at the time of this project few CD-ROMs on the Holocaust had been attempted. The presentation of the play Genericide was a central point of this process, a brief experiment in inviting the cast and audience to provide input on the message being developed. The responses of the artists, critics, and university community combined to provide shape and form to the prototype CD-ROM, It Can Happen Again…/Stories of Children, Survival, and the Holocaust. It Can Happen Again… was a CD-ROM prototype about the Holocaust created in an atmosphere of intellectual and artistic consideration of the Holocaust Remembrance Committee (HRC), which in the 1994-95 school year explored the issues of the Holocaust through a year of events, including this project.

        Problem Statement

        “From the Holocaust, there are no lessons. You can only teach people to know.” (Ben-Gal, 1993, p.3)

            The Holocaust was selected as the subject matter of the CD-ROM because it might provide an audience that would want to participate in the creation of materials. Given the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in 1995, along with the success of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List in invigorating public interest in the subject, the problem of finding an active and involved audience was solved because it is a subject that is important to remember to many. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Guidelines for Teaching About the Holocaust inspired this project and provides a moving rationale for learning:

        Through a study of the Holocaust, students can come to realize that: democratic institutions and values are not automatically sustained, but need to be appreciated, nurtured, and protected; silence and indifference to the suffering of others, or to the infringement of civil rights in any society, can, however unintentionally, serve to perpetuate the problems; and the Holocaust was not an accident in history — it occurred because individuals, organizations, and governments made choices which not only legalized discrimination, but which allowed prejudice, hatred, and ultimately, mass murder to occur. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1993, p. 12)

            By placing the multimedia development within the learning context of such an important educational subject as the Holocaust, the focus was intended to be on what the audience wanted, their needs. While the CD-ROM was clearly the means to deliver the knowledge, the content and structure were proposed to be developed with an audience that was intensely interested in the subject matter. Research focusing on multimedia effectiveness has primarily concerned cognitive learning (Newell, 1990; Brown & Sherman, 1982), providing reasons to choose interactive multimedia. While cognitive learning is a measured reaction to the technologies, the use of these technologies needs to be linked to more than the individual. Brenda Laurel’s Computers as Theatre emphasizes engagement and pleasure as central components:

        Direct engagement emphasizes emotional as well as cognitive values. It conceives of human-computer activity as designed experience, and it reconfigures the design of applications and interfaces as a single integrated process. (Laurel, 1993, p. xvii)

            This study was designed to link interactive multimedia CD-ROM development with the social context of learning, by direct engagement with the intended audience. Whereas cognitive learning measures knowledge gained, the engagement describes the ongoing interaction between the audience and varying perspectives on a subject. By providing social contexts such as rehearsals, theatre performance, personal interviews, and computer-based production, this project developed as a “designed experience” with the audience.

        Scope of the Project

            The content of the CD-ROM was developed in the social contexts of multimedia development created for this project. Interviews with historians in Israel, with the Jewish community in San Francisco, and the community of Chico were mixed with production work/feedback with a cast of the play Genericide, musicians, and graphic artists. The theatre play Genericide was presented to an audience consisting of students, faculty, and the local community on August 24-28, 1994 at Wismer Theater as part of the project’s development. The results were both a theatre presentation and the prototype CD-ROM for the Macintosh computer.

            This interactive CD-ROM was designed for high school students grades 11-12 and for college students, as well as consumers of varying ages. The target audience were:

        • male and female;

        • of varying ethnic backgrounds;
        • mostly ranging in age from 16-25;
        • both high school and college students;
        • challenged by the motivation to learn about such a difficult subject; and
        • attempting to connect this past to their own present.

        Significance of the Project

            The primary significance of this project was in creating educational materials about the Holocaust. The development process was an essential part of this project, but ultimately the creation of learning materials about this subject supersedes technological considerations.

            The significance of the project was also in the exploration of interactive multimedia within a variety of social contexts, including a theatrical production setting. Many efforts at interactive multimedia rely on a graphically pleasing appeal and an intricate matrix of indexing, resulting in the audience’s need for extensive instruction on how to use the CD-ROM. This project focused on the content development about the Holocaust by interacting with the audience first. This project intended to remedy questions of searching, organizing, and manipulating information by interacting with the audience at each phase of production. Enabling the audience to determine its own path, or direct engagement with the material, required the extensive study of live performance, drama theory, and narrative development. This approach moved the project beyond the reliance on computers to a learner-driven development. For the field of multimedia, it brought a challenge to remember the human component, the imagination of the audience that compelled the discovery of so difficult a topic through learning about the human beings who survived.

        Intended Effects

        The objectives of this project were to:

        • Create a cultural study of the Holocaust based on interactive participation of the audience;
        • Develop a prototype CD-ROM about the Holocaust; and
        • Promote interest and experimentation with the field of interactive media, using theatre as a means to integrate the audience into the design process.

            It Can Happen Again… was designed to be an informational and instructional project, with success being measured by simply being able (and wanting) to use the CD-ROM. While this sounds simple, the field of multimedia involves motivating people to use the new technology. Coupled with the challenges of learning about the Holocaust, the affective domain provided challenges to learning about genocide and of using new computer technologies. Interface design focused on simplicity and presentation of the survivors’ stories in an easy to understand context. By limiting the users’ need to understand the technology, learning was centered on the materials instead of the technology. Behavioral objectives for this project were not a consideration, except for being able to navigate through the CD-ROM. The intended effects were to be described, not measured, due to time and technology constraints.

            The expected users of the materials were students and the Chico community in general. Their choice to watch the play and to view the CD-ROM were the primary anticipated effects. By creating a theatrical setting for production, the actual interactivity was not in the presentation of the play, but in the overall production where the audience participated each step of the way.

        Limitations of the Project

            The primary limitation of the project was the volatility of interactive multimedia, which made CD-ROM production a lengthy task. A finished project requires immense amounts of testing which could not be accomplished by the single person producing this project. The computer platform was the Macintosh, selected for its operating system stability and multimedia capabilities. By designing for the Macintosh, the larger group of Windows users could not access the CD-ROM. The project did not promise to create a finished CD-ROM as much as a prototype, which may then be developed by the university if it chooses. The input of the audience was also limited by the content designed by the developer. For instance, when coming to the play Genericide, people were asked to provide feedback. They were likely influenced by the tone, themes, and message of the play in their responses. No matter how broad the intent might be, true audience-driven design would require more resources than were available. This limited the audience’s input to their reactions to the developer’s ideas, often not their own original ideas.

            The inability to raise financing for the project was a major limitation. Without this funding many possible additions to the development team were unable to participate. All funding for the theatre presentation and the CD-ROM came from the developer. In multimedia, time and labor were always limiting factors. Most projects use a team of five people to create the product; It Can Happen Again… used students as the developers on a part-time basis. The project was created through imagination and innovation, drawing on some of the university’s tools of multimedia production, but mostly on the narrative development and presentation of oral histories. Time was a limiting factor and the learning curve for the variety of software involved in creating sound, video, graphics, programming, and printing of the CD-ROM also inhibited a finished production. The promise of multimedia was found to be in the ability to adapt and understand new media technologies. Breakthroughs were found by adjusting to what the technology offered, not by forcing the technology to try to do something it couldn’t do.

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