Multimedia in the Teaching of First Year Biology: The Use of Graphics and Animations


  • Sue Franklin
  • Mary Peat
  • Rob Mackay-Wood


First year biology introduced computers to the learning environment to help students understand topics which are difficult to conceptualise and are often difficult to demonstrate in the laboratory, to encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning and to enhance group learning skills. We deliver computer-based assessment (formative and summative), computer-based teaching modules and web-based materials. Biology is a very visual subject, thus high quality images and animations are essential, enabling biological processes to be illustrated in an animated and interactive manner. Pictures have a direct route to long term memory with each image being stored as a coherent 'chunk' or concept (Paivio et al, 1968), and without useful meaning the pictures are not easily committed to memory (Freedman and Haber, 1974). Guidelines summarised by Levie and Lentz (1982) in an extensive review of the effects of illustrated text against text alone suggest: ¥ the presence of pictures relevant to the text will assist learning; ¥ pictures not covered by the information in the text will not enhance the learning of the text; ¥ the presence of pictures in the text will not aid the learning of the text which is not illustrated; ¥ pictures can help learners to understand what they read and also to remember it; ¥ pictures can sometimes be used as substitutes for words or as producers of nonverbal information; ¥ learners may fail to make full use of complex illustrations; and ¥ pictures may assist learners with poor verbal skills more than those with good verbal skills. The use of graphics and animations in our computer-based teaching modules and web-based materials is designed to stimulate understanding and help in remembering the detail. Graphics are chosen for their meaningful input in portraying or understanding biological content. Graphics have been generated from original art work, both computer and paper based, and sources such as clipart, textbooks, magazines, video camera microscopy etc. These images have been generated using Adobe Photoshop, Aldus SuperPaint and Avid VideoShop. Some images have been manipulated to create animations using Elastic Reality (ASDG), ADDmotion (Motion Works), Director (Macromedia) and Authorware (Macromedia), and incorporated into our computer-based materials.