Robin Blythe-Lord, (right), Manchester Metropolitan University course leader in interactive and broadcast media, talks to Chris Abbott.
Which information technology product - software or hardware - has made a difference to you?
Course Builder - a multimedia authoring package.
I use it to introduce first-year students to multimedia design and authoring.
What do you like or dislike about it?
It's a gem of a multimedia authoring program for the Macintosh, but little known outside schools and universities. Students on our BAHons Interactive and Broadcast Media course get a sense of achievement and a morale boost, especially those who are a little apprehensive about program authoring.
All designers of multi-media packages have to learn many software packages. An authoring package that eases them into the medium while they grapple with sound, image and video creation is a great help.
When did you start using it?
About 12 years ago. The art and design department at Manchester Metropolitan University bought six Macs, which came equipped with HyperCard. This the students found a bit of a struggle and not all that intuitive to use.
Who decided to buy it and were you involved in the choice?
We had a copy of a program called World Builder, a graphic oriented adventure game designer, and we contacted the publisher to ask if the company knew of an authoring system that had World Builder's ease of use, but with a few more gizmos, such as animation, colour, sound, click-on buttons, QuickTime movies and so on. The company sent a copy of Course Builder and we have used it ever since.
How does it compare with other ways of tackling the same tasks?
Its competitors are HyperCard and HyperStudio, then Authorware and Director at the top end. These last two have very steep - OK vertical - learning curves. Course Builder's beauty is that it provides an easy-to-understand graphical interface and you construct the flowchart as you progress. Blocks that will play movies or show graphics or animation are joined by arrows on the screen. These arrows, or routes, can be made conditional too, so the program will only travel along certain ones when conditions have been met. There is no coding to learn and students can concentrate on the shape and the design of the program without being distracted.
How do you think it could be improved?
The ease of use comes at a price. Clicking around all the pop-up menus and boxes to set up something can get irritating. It lacks some of the sophisticated animation effects of Director or Authorware and when it's working hard it can chug along slower than one would wish. But these characteristics can be worked around and it is only when you become very well used to the program that you notice them. Its drawing tools are rather basic and it really needs to be supported by a good image-generation program to get nifty pictures into your program.
If you had more funding, what would you invest in?
Course Builder is just what we need at this stage. Students will use more complex programs later but the priority in the early stages is different. They have to get results quickly and painlessly and not feel that when it comes to computers they have nothing but dead insects between their ears.
Course Builder is available at an education single-user price of Pounds 695 from: A M Micro, Roman Court, 48 New North Road, Exeter EX1 2PD Email: ammicro@mail. eclipse.co.uk Tel: 01392 426473.