The IMEJ of Future Scholarship:
A Prototype for an Interactive Multimedia Electronic Journal
Jennifer J. Burg, Wake Forest University
Yue-Ling Wong, Wake Forest University
Anne Boyle, Wake Forest University
Abstract: Although hundreds of journals have gone online in the past few years, most are simply a translation of text from paper to electronic form. Very few of them take advantage of the multimedia capabilities of the Web. Clearly Web technology is ready to support a new kind of publication, one which augments text with motion, sound, 3-D images, simulations, and tutorial or experimental interactivity. At the same time, interest in computer-assisted instruction is high, and a journal that can present ideas for technology-based education -- especially a journal that can do so dynamically and interactively -- would have a ready audience. Bringing together these converging trends, we propose the creation of The IMEJ of Computer-Enhanced Learning, an "interactive multimedia electronic journal" in the new mold. We describe our conception of the journal, outline our editorial and production approaches, and raise the difficult issues which arise in the publication of an IMEJ-type journal.
The time is right for a new kind of interactive multimedia electronic journal. We are not just talking about another online journal. And we are not defining "interactivity" as it has generally been defined in online journals thus far, which has been little more than the reader's ability to download articles or email comments to the author. We propose an interactivity that includes experimenting with demonstration software, taking sample tests, going through tutorials, running programs written by the author, initiating net conferencing meetings, playing movies or sound, manipulating graphs and three-dimensional images, and searching text and even video.
Opportunity and need are converging at colleges and universities across the nation in the creation of the kind of journal we describe. A growing number of schools are making it their policy that all students and faculty have their own personal computers [Burg and Thomas 1998], creating a flurry of teaching innovation, experimentation, and, for many, just plain worry over computer-enhanced learning. As laptop computers are being placed into the hands of university professors, they feel obliged to figure out what to do with them, fearing that they may be left behind in empty classrooms with their blackboard, chalk, and lecture notes. They want ideas for how to integrate technology into their teaching and use computers to deepen rather than distract from learning. But where "technology-supported learning" is the subject, flat paper articles in hard-copy publications are unconvincing and not greatly illuminating. Teachers need to see innovations in action; they need to fiddle with application programs, try the tutorials, hear the words, see how things work, and ask questions. An interactive multimedia electronic journal -- or IMEJ (pronounced "image"), as we call it -- is an ideal medium for this kind of pedagogical exchange.
The technology is ready to support IMEJ-type journals and is evolving in directions which will make such journals even more useful and user-friendly. Through programming languages and tools like Java, Perl, CGI scripts, Dynamic HTML, VRML, ActiveX, Macromedia Director, Shockwave, ScreenCam, streamed audio and video files, and net conferencing software for real-time video, Web pages can be loaded with motion and sound, give direct access to executable programs, and respond to user input. Movies and audio files no longer need be a test of the user's patience. With direct network access, greater bandwidth, single-user segments, and ATM networks on campus [Brown, Burg, and Dominick 1998], and with faster modems and ISDN or cable connections for remote access, users have the high-speed connections they need to make Web-based multimedia feasible
In short, we have the means to create an IMEJ. The interest and tools are there, particularly in the growing number of in schools with ubiquitous computing. The technology has evolved to make interactivity feasible. The need for objective evaluation of efforts in computer-enhanced learning calls out for peer reviewed publication of teaching innovations. And publications of this type can offer the exposure and measurable reward-system that will continue to stimulate and disseminate worthwhile ideas for using computers in education.
In what follows, we describe the creation of an electronic journal to be edited and published at Wake Forest University. Since the fall of 1995, all incoming freshmen at Wake Forest have been issued new laptop computers, and as a result of this initiative, interest in the potential of computer-assisted instruction has been high. Our journal, The IMEJ of Computer-Enhanced Learning, responds to this interest. The journal can be visited at http://www.wfu.edu/IMEJ.
What kinds of electronic journals already exist, in what ways do they differ from traditional journals, and what can be learned from them?
When the Internet became graphical and accessible to the general public through the World Wide Web, it didn't take long for librarians and researchers to see its potential as a publication medium. Already in 1989, prominent librarians were proclaiming printed journals obsolete and calling for a university-based system of self-publication [Rogers and Hurt 1990] [Okerson 1991]. The public has quickly been spoiled on instant access to information, and, increasingly, year-or-more turnaround times for scholarly publications are considered intolerable. The quickened pace in the research environment, coupled with the high cost of hard-copy journals, inevitably has led to the emergence of online academic journals.
Hundreds of electronic magazines and journals, both scholarly and popular, can already be found on the Web. (See http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/stacks/, http://info.lib.uh.edu/sepb/sepb.html, http://gort.ucsd.edu/newjour/, and http://www.edoc.com/ejournal/ for lists.) The emphasis thus far has been placed on the initial daunting task -- that is, transferring to the Web the huge body of already-existing journal literature -- rather than creating new journals of a more graphic, dynamic, and interactive nature. Notable projects and organizations that have tackled the job of moving journals online have included the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), JSTOR, Project Gutenberg, Project Muse at Johns Hopkins, ACM's Digital Library, and The Scholarly Communications Project at Virginia Tech. (Charles Bailey's bibliography of scholarly electronic publishing offers a more complete list of "trailblazers." See http://info.lib.uh.edu/sepb/rtrail.htm.). Along with developing the technology and databases for large electronic collections, the early contributors in electronic publishing also have worked on devising new models for sharing and paying for electronic publications [Bailey 1994], creating search tools, and coming up with new systems for peer review [Harnad 1996] [Wheeler 1997]. The SuperJournal Project (undertaken by the University of Manchester in cooperation with the SuperJournal Consortium and the HUSAT Research Institute at Loughborough University) is one of the few projects that purports to move toward multimedia innovations, but progress in this direction has been slow. Much of the work in the first two years of this three-year project was devoted to making clusters of journals available to the academic community and, more generally, "determining the features and functionality that will make electronic journals useful to readers" (http://www.superjournal.ac.uk/sj/project.htm).
Among the newly-founded online journals, a small but growing number are billing themselves as "multimedia" publications, or cite the advantages of sound, movies, and animations in their self-descriptions. For most of these journals, multimedia extends no further than the use of chat forums for responses to articles, online review procedures, hyperlinked footnotes, static graphs and pictures, and downloadable software or pdf versions of papers. (See The Journal of Interactive Media in Education at http://www-jime.open.ac.uk/, The Chemical Educator at http://journals.springer-ny.com/chedr/, Trincoll Journal at http://www.trincoll.edu/~tj/trincolljournal.html, and The Electronic Journal of Geotechnical Engineering at http://geotech.civen.okstate.edu/ejge/Announce.htm and for journals moving toward multimedia). Very few of the journals use any significant amount of video or manipulable objects, and there is almost nothing that you could truly call "interactive." A few music journals are making good use of sound clips (EOL at http://research.umbc.edu/efhm/eol.html and Music & Anthropology at http://GOTAN.CIRFID.UNIBO.IT/M&A/, for example ). But overall, the level of multimedia interactivity in existing journals is quite limited.
3. IMEJ - A New Kind of Electronic Journal
In what way is the prototype we propose different from what already exists?
Representative IMEJ articles can be viewed at our Web site, http://www.wfu.edu/IMEJ. The first full issue of the journal is planned for December of 1998.
Our first example article demonstrates the use of online tutorials and practice problems for students learning how to balance redox equations in a beginning chemistry class. The tutorials allow students to read through explanations and then test their understanding with questions that offer immediate feedback. Answers to the questions include motion and visual pointers back to relevant places in the figures. The tutorials are accompanied by a jotpad where students can record notes. Online exercises are also available as self-tests for the students. (See Figure 1.)
Figure 1. An exercise in Redox equations for beginning chemistry students.
Our second example article shows the use of a Lotus Notes-based environment called the Wake Forest Template in an English writing seminar. The Template, designed and implemented at Wake Forest University, is a Lotus Notes filing system built upon a metaphor of cabinets and drawers. A cabinet can be set up with special drawers for course material, the schedule, and online discussion and collaboration. In the discussion drawer, students can brainstorm as they develop ideas in their pre-writing phase; post rough drafts of their essays; comment on each other's work with different colored "pens"; and collaborate on a final document [Brown 1997]. Template cabinets are accessible through the Lotus Notes client software (part of the Wake Forest "standard load" of software on laptops); or, for participants off-campus who may not have Lotus Notes on their computers, the cabinets can be entered via a standard Web browser served by a Domino server. Figure 2 shows the discussion drawer of a cabinet shared by students at Wake Forest (in North Carolina, USA) and Acadia University (in Nova Scotia, Canada), whose assignment was to write about their different perspectives and sense of place in the world. This shows how the cabinet looks when accessed through a Web browser.
Figure 2. A Wake Forest Template cabinet viewed through a Web browser.
The representative articles we have published thus far should show that an engaging level of interactivity is already possible in electronic journals. Yet we do not mean to imply that all the problems are solved. To guide others in similar multimedia publishing ventures, we lay out some of the difficult issues below, and our thoughts toward their solution.
Making multimedia accessible to the largest number of readers entails adopting industry standards -- or at least current favorites -- in browsers and production software. We are currently using standard html, Macromedia Director, Shockwave, Javscript, and occasionally Perl and CGI scripts. We have chosen the .wav format for sound files. At present, we use the .avi format for screen cam movies (in spite of the fact that .avi is essentially designed for the PC-platform) because it produces smaller streaming files for our purposes. We would like to use Dynamic HTML (dhtml), which facilitates the definition of "styles" and richly-formatted journal pages. However, since dhtml is a feature of the newest browser implementations, pages formatted with dhtml would be lost on many readers with older browsers. One solution to the lack-of-standardization problem is to dynamically detect a reader's platform and browser and display journal pages in the appropriate format accordingly. This entails making multiple versions of articles -- a labor-intensive solution that we hesitate to adopt.
and Production Considerations
Another big challenge lies in sorting out the writing, editing, and production tasks related to an article's publication. To what extent is the multimedia production the responsibility of the author? If scholarly publication is to take this new multimedia form, do scholars now have to be technical wizards as well? The problem should be less pronounced in a journal where the subject matter so closely matches the manner of presentation, as is the case with IMEJ. Since some authors will be describing software that they have developed, they may have created a product which is inherently interactive and multimedia and which can be plugged almost directly into a Web page. Others, however, may be using commercial software in the context of a novel lesson plan, or software that is not Web-based and must be presented in the form of figures, audio, video, screen cam movies, or simulations.
Other practical issues to be settled are a reasonable policy for updates, revisions, and responses to articles, as well as a plan for archiving documents. Online publications can be more dynamic than printed journals, since changes can be made so easily to electronic documents. But for research purposes, it seems that each article must exist in some definitive final version, available to readers indefinitely. What commitment is an electronic journal making to both the readers and authors when an article is published? What happens to these articles if the journal folds? Our plan is to allow changes to an article only until the article's issue is made public. Any later changes or corrections would have to be in the form of addenda. Articles will remain online indefinitely after publication. We do not anticipate that disk space will be a problem at current rates.
We plan for our journal staff to work in collaboration with authors to translate their work into the IMEJ format. This is quite a different thing than the usual "Guidelines for Authors" that require authors to produce their articles in a camera-ready format. The need for collaboration between authors and editorial/production staff may very well be the biggest obstacle to a proliferation of multimedia journals. It remains to be seen if this collaborative model is a viable one for journal production, or if industry standards and general computer-competence among scholars will make Technical Guidelines for Authors and the author's own multimedia production possible.
However this may play out, it is clear that multimedia publication is inevitable, and we believe that it will find a useful place in scholarly publication. It will serve some purposes better than others, and is especially suitable where concepts can be visualized, demonstrations can supplement explanations, 3-D images are explicative, voices can humanize a topic, or music underscores the text. Our intention is not to replace text with graphics, sound, and animation, but to augment text in publication; not to turn the computer into a television for passive viewing, but to do something quite the opposite -- drawing the reader into exploring a subject interactively. This is an inevitable next step in publication, a step toward engagement and collaboration in scholarly communication.
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