Educational evaluation of an interactive multimedia learning platform : computerized educational platform in heat and power technology

Abstract: Learning materials have multiple forms, such as books, overhead slides, computer files, blackboard notes by teachers, narration to the notes, video/audio tapes etc. Since the forms are highly inhomogeneous, it becomes difficult to collect and practically use them by a particular learner for individual study at home. Such multiple media are also expensive in management, since human resources are needed to keep the material repositories in order. One solution of the problem lies in centralized active digital repositories. Such repositories aim to simplify the learner’s work and boost learning efficiency. With introduction of interactivity and live communication tools such repositories become learning platforms exceeding the functionality of “passive” digital libraries. Such learning platforms could be easily used both for on-campus and distance education. This dissertation presents an evaluation of a digital repository of interactive multimedia content in the field of Heat and Power Technology: Computerized Educational Platform (CompEdu HPT). The platform evaluation consisted of integration of the tool into the university curriculum and then collection of feedback from students and teachers. The evaluation concerned usefulness of the platform for learning, aspects of instruction improvement, collecting observations about how the platform is used by students, as well as their opinions about the IT application direction chosen. The methods included: online feedback forms, questionnaires, interviews, discussions and observations. The evaluation demonstrated that the main strength of the platform is the integration of learning materials in one portable package. The students appreciated structured and logically arranged information that was available for easy access. Coverage of a broad area of knowledge related to heat and power technology was also pointed out as an advantage with reflection on the very low price of acquisition of the materials. The most popular elements of the content in use included: simulations, lecture notes, the print function, the glossary, and calculation exercises. A major part of the students declared the high value of CompEdu in facilitating home study. Nevertheless, not all the students had a positive impression: around one-fifth of them did not find the platform useful and expressed preference for more traditional learning media. The majority of the negative opinions concerned content quality, which directly related to weaknesses of the content production and review process. The evaluation emphasized the importance of material quality and amount as the key issue for a good learning platform with relatively smaller importance of presentation forms. The evaluation also considered aspects of functionality from the user point of view. Differentiation between popularity of simulations showed that simulations used by teachers during lectures have higher educational value than those for individual use only. The popularity of the printing option indicated a need for adaptation of digital materials for paper publishing. The general conclusion for practical use of multimedia tools in education was that high usability and simplicity of information access should be the focus point of any chosen approach in the direction. The CompEdu evaluation suggested that after thorough content review and addition of an efficient search mechanism the platform can successfully deliver rich learning content. The platform gave an extensive real-case illustration of how multimedia can be used in educational practice. Due to the evaluation, the CompEdu e-learning group has collected rich experience and know-how in the field of active knowledge repositories. The experience will be used for development of a more sophisticated learning platform working in the global Internet environment with major focus on information accessibility by easy search.