Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

The MAEstro Multimedia Authoring Environment

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

The MAEstro Multimedia Authoring Environment

Article excerpt

Multimedia authoring environments are typically centralized environments, single stand-alone applications that provide built-in support for a number of media. A centralized authoring environment provides built-in support for a limited set of media, and the interface is designed specifically for those media. Since the authoring environment tries to support several media, support for any one medium is generally much weaker than that of an application devoted solely to that medium.

Centralized authoring environments provide single-source support of multiple media by trading away flexibility and power in any one of them. Although some environments provide hooks through which programmers can add support for new media, the user interface is not designed to handle them coherently. In addition, centralized authoring environments are designed explicitly with one model of authorship in mind and so are not flexible enough to accommodate new authorship models. Accommodating new media and new styles of authorship is necessary since change is the norm in the multimedia market and will remain so for the next few years.

Some have addressed these issues through the creation of courseware, customized software for a particular instructional or research domain. Courseware is typically written for a particular faculty member, the goal being to provide an authoring model specifically for that faculty's curriculum. The customized nature of courseware gives faculty the choice of media they want but does so on a case-by-case basis, thereby limiting the potential audience that can benefit.

In contrast to the courseware model, we have addressed the issue of wide access to media by creating MAEstro, a workstation-based multimedia authoring environment that focuses on authorship of multimedia documents. [1] Our goal is to create a rich environment that is simple to use while providing support for a wide variety of media. MAEstro is scalable so that authors can create multimedia documents with whatever media are available to them. A student can create multimedia documents in public workstation labs that do not have direct access to "hard" media such as videodisc and compact disc players but may have text, graphics and some audio capabilities.

The MAEstro project currently has two primary delivery sites within the Stanford campus: a small multimedia lab providing a wide variety of audio and video capabilities, that is accessible to faculty and students, and public workstation clusters that provide software-only media but none of the more exotic media supported by the multimedia lab. These two sites were chosen to test the scalability of MAEstro and to deliver the environment to a large community of potential authors.

Design Issues

New media are introduced to the workstation market every few months, making it extremely difficult to create a stand-alone authoring environment that coherently supports current multimedia products. Even if such an environment were built, new hardware and software introduced over the next year would likely render it obsolete. Our greatest problem during the design process was dealing with uncertainty: which media should be supported? What should our authoring application look like? How should new media be accommodated? How do we work user input into future design? How do we reduce the learning curve for new authors?

Demand has grown to a point where most people want to take advantage of multimedia capabilities in their own software offerings. However, different group of people have different requirements of media. For example, a music researcher might be interested only in MIDI-controlled audio and simple graphics, while a graduate student in German studies might want to synchronize video with digitized audio in several languages. And an engineering student might want to combine the visual results of a simulation engine with a textual description of the stimulation. …

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