Digital Imaging System Brings Image-Rich Lectures to Students? Computers

While serving as Director of Princeton University's Educational Technologies Center, Art Historian Kirk Alexander noticed that certain academic departments were running out of space for slide display. If an Art History Professor wanted to leave a hundred slides for students to review after the lecture, she would have to reserve an entire study hall room so the slides could be displayed for student viewing. Not only was this system a huge space consumer, it still offered students only limited time for studying the slides.

Meanwhile, (it was the early nineties) internet browsers were being introduced into the mainstream. Recognizing the potential uses of the emerging technology for managing images, Alexander and his colleagues at Princeton created Almagest, an online media management and presentation tool that integrates images, text, video, sound and other file types onto one centralized platform.

About a year ago, when Alexander headed west and landed a job at Mediaworks the Manager of Educational Technologies and Faculty Support Groups, he brought Almagest with him. He proposed to Mediaworks that it be employed as a content management tool at UC Davis, and the staff had faith in the potential educational value of this tool. Almagest rolled out last December with the graphics-heavy American Studies course, ?Objects and Everyday Life.? Since then, the departments of Textiles and Clothing, Theater and Dance, and Landscape Architecture have begun incorporating the tool into their curriculum.

Almagest has a presentation component similar to PowerPoint that allows instructors to display slides and other lecture materials. It has a unique two-panel setup, allowing for the mixing and matching of media. For example, video or flash animation may be displayed alongside still images. Below the two images on the screen is an optional thumbnail display of the next set of slides, giving the instructor some extra prep time.

Almagest is no t only a presentation tool, but also a repository that allows the user to store and access content about the images. Thus, a higher level of cataloging can be performed and in that respect the tool acts like a Web site, according to Alexander.

Because it is Web-based, Almagest also allows the students to access course materials when they are away from the classroom. From any computer, students have the capability to access summaries of slides with thumbnails and annotations, a quiz tool and a print option. The instructor may configure the settings according to different needs on a class-by-class basis.

While it does take some effort, the payoff level is high, according to Alexander. ?The more you do, the more you can get out of it,? he says. ?It encourages faculty to organize better. If you take the time to organize slides they can be retrieved in different ways.? He adds that once the instructor lays the groundwork, it takes much less work to prepare lecture material the second time around.

To gauge Almagest's use and appeal to UC Davis faculty, Alexander reviewed the projects of Educational Technology (ET) Partners, a Mediaworks-sponsored program that pairs faculty with tech-savvy students. He then met with interested faculty members and arranged for ET Partners students to be trained in using Almagest so the faculty could start using it. Alexander recently previewed Almagest for other interested faculty and staff at a ?Meet the Experts? presentation held at the Arbor, a faculty technology consulting and training center on campus. Gene Steffey of Surgical and Radiological Sciences in the School of Veterinary Medicine attended the presentation and noted that ?Almagest holds real potential for assisting professors who work in particular fields of the sciences.? He adds that while Art History is very different field of study than Radiology and Ultrasound, the two have a lot in common in terms of the need to use image-rich instructi on, making Almagest a useful tool across disciplines.

Heath Schenker of Landscape Architecture has thousands of slides to digitize. By using Almagest, she expects to devise an efficient way of categorizing them and grouping them by lecture. Alexander and the Mediaworks team are still working on tailoring Almagest to the UC Davis campus, as well as evolving interfaces such as building a tool that works with maps and other visual materials. ?Almagest is not just about developing a small project,? says Alexander. ?It has the larger potential to address wider pedagogical needs.?

Interested faculty are encouraged to apply for ET Grants, which will help fund important steps in the Almagest process, such as getting images digitized or for developing new interfaces to the media and metadata. For more information, contact Kirk Alexander at kdalex@ucdavis.edu or visit an online brochure about UC Davis Almagest resources at: http://mediaworks.ucdavis.edu/almagest/New_AlmagestSCREENfinal.pdf