Providing Structured Multimedia Learning Environments- Mosaic for the Internet

This paper is presented at the Association for Applied Interactive Multimedia Conference, July 21-23, 1994, Charleston, South Carolina.

Alan Levine
Instructional Technology Developer
Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction (MCLI)
Maricopa Community Colleges

                                   phone: 602/731-8297
2411 West 14th Street              fax:   602/731-8282
Tempe, Arizona 85281               email:


The Internet is primarily used as an information system. While Mosaic, the newest Internet navigation tool, is easy to use, it can make a person feel lost among the information. This presentation will focus on how instructors easily create their own multimedia learning environments that contain links to Internet-based information, using only a simple text editor. Results are immediately usable on both Macintosh and IBM computers.


Current metaphors of the Internet include a futuristic highway of data, an interconnected labyrinth of rodent holes, or a globe encircling web. New computer tools have greatly simplified the navigation of this vast landscape of world-wide information. Exploring the Internet is one thing, but how does one use it in a meaningful fashion? At the Maricopa Community Colleges, we have found that after the initial excitement of "going out there," many instructors are left with a feeling of being lost, of not knowing where or how to look for items of interest, much less of how to bring it to their students. This paper will present a rapid way to design an interactive, multimedia learning environment. These "media" available may incorporate almost any text, picture, sound, or digital movie stored on the thousands of computers on the Internet.

Mosaic is a free computer program offering "point and click" access to Internet-based information. We have expanded Mosaic's use beyond a tool of navigation. When used in conjunction with any text editor program, Mosaic may provide customized learning environments, easily created by instructors or their students. In the popular analogy, Mosaic is not only a vehicle to cruise the Information Superhighway, but also a utility to construct some on-ramps. In general, Mosaic provides:

This paper will focus on the types of interactive multimedia that may be created by a non-programmer using a desktop personal computer.

The World Wide Web

Mosaic is a "client" application, with versions for Macintosh, IBM/Windows, and UNIX platforms that view information provided by network "servers" of the "World Wide Web" (WWW). The Web, essentially a subset of the Internet, was pioneered by European scientists to share computer-based information by means of linking text in one document to another relevant document, perhaps stored on a remote site. The first of these WWW information browsers was text-based. A linked piece of text was indicated by a number in brackets, such as [1]. By typing "1" into the keyboard, the related document would appear. The advantage for users was that to access the information, they did not need to know cryptic commands or Internet address schemes.

A Mosaic View of the World Wide Web

The WWW hypertext browser has evolved into Mosaic, a graphical interface more properly termed a "hypermedia" browser. Mosaic was developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) in Illinois. Via a window environment, Mosaic provides access to documents on the Internet that contain not only formatted text, but also graphics, sound, video, and links to other related documents. These multimedia documents are linked together by an addressing scheme known as a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) that points to different computers, directories, or individual files on the Internet. Mosaic is also an umbrella with an interface that seamlessly gives access to Gopher servers, file archive (ftp) sites, WAIS databases, and Telnet (remote login) hosts.

The main elements of the Mosaic screen are the display area (the page), pull down menus, and buttons for navigating through documents. The user action is mostly driven by a mouse. By default, the program first connects to a "home" server, initially pointing to the NCSA site. The links to other media are indicated by text or graphics underlined in a key color. Simply clicking on the text will bring up either another Mosaic page, play a sound file, or display a graphic in a separate window. The linked media may reside locally on the computer or on an Internet server on the other side of the world. The user does not have to be concerned with the technical details; to them, the media are simply linked together at the click of a mouse. The major requirement for running Mosaic is having a connection from the desktop computer to a TCP/IP network backbone on the Internet. With a high speed modem and appropriate hardware/software access at a central site, users can use Mosaic at home. Several commercial companies also offer such Internet access.

HTML- The Language of Mosaic

A Mosaic document is delivered in a format known as HyperText Markup Language (HTML). The transmitted data of an HTML document are plain ASCII text that contain embedded codes, or tags, denoted by "<" and ">" characters. These codes determine whether a given piece of text is to be displayed as one of six levels of headers, as stylized text (bold, italic, underline), or if the text is a link to some other document or media. Graphics, sound, and video are sent in standard binary formats that different types of computers can receive, convert to a platform-specific format, and display (GIF, JPEG for graphics, AU for sound, MPEG for digital video).

The standard file formats are what allow Mosaic documents to be displayed on a number of platforms. As a provider of an HTML document, one does not have to accommodate the hardware, fonts, or operating systems, etc, of different users; if a user can run the Mosaic program, they use the developed material. The transmitted data are essential the same, plain text and binary media files. When received by the local Mosaic client (i.e. Macintosh vs Windows versions), the data are displayed in the appropriate format for that platform. When binary media are received, Mosaic may automatically launch the correct "helper application" to display the item. These programs are typically free or shareware programs readily available from various Internet sites.

Creating HTML Documents

Like any other multimedia application, with Mosaic one must initially organize the content, design its flow, produce the media, and continually test the functionality.

Because a Mosaic HTML document is plain text, the only tool needed to create one is a plain text editor that comes with system software, such as TeachText for the Macintosh or the NotePad for Windows. A wide variety of documents may be constructed using less than ten of the HTML codes. All images, sounds, and movies to be used are converted to "standard" formats with free or shareware programs. The various media may be shared between different Mosaic documents, since a given HTML file only points to the location of the media file.

The creation process involves embedding appropriate HTML codes in the text of a document. Here is a short example:

<title>Demo HTML Document</title>
The words enclosed by the "title" HTML code mark the text 
that will appear in the title bar of the Mosaic window.
This document was designed to show AAIM readers an example 
of an HTML document. The Introduction header is level "h1" 
which is the highest level; you can have headers of level 1 
to 6. All of the embedded codes are enclosed in the angle 
brackets and are invisible as displayed. Mosaic offers 
features to display styled text; i.e. <i>Italic</i>, 
<b>Bold</b>, or <u>Underlined</u>.
The "p" code forces a paragraph. Mosaic ignores hard 
carriage returns and extra space characters.
HyperText links are established with the  "a" or "anchor "  
tag. For example, <a 
Center for Learning and Instruction</a> is now set the be a 
link to our World Wide Web server. The anchor tag includes a 
statement "href=...." where  the right side of the equal 
sign contains the URL address for the document, graphic, 
Gopher Server, etc that the link will connect when the user 
clicks in the text between the URL and the end of the end of 
the anchor tag.

Click here to view in Mosaic format

This is saved as a file with a name that ends in ".html". When opened in Mosaic, this document is displayed with the "Introduction" header as a large text font, the marked text with the indicated text styles, and a hypertext link to another Internet WWW server.

A number of well-written HTML guides are already available on the World Wide Web. One way to start is to examine the HTML structure of an existing document. Mosaic includes a feature to save or view any page one finds on the Web as an HTML file. This file may then be opened in a text editor and compared to its display in Mosaic. We have made available several template HTML documents that new users may customize for their own lessons or presentations.

A working session with HTML files typically includes having the text editor open in a window adjacent to the Mosaic screen. After modifying and saving the HTML text file, in Mosaic one selects the option to open a "local " document. The user indicates the location of the file, and the HTML text file is displayed as a Mosaic page. With more changes in the text editor, by issuing the "Reload" command, Mosaic updates the current page. In this process, developers quickly see the results as their students or users will see the documents.

Providing Mosaic Documents

The HTML documents created in the described manner may contain the same media elements and links as any other Mosaic page on the Internet. However, one does not have to maintain an Internet server to deliver Mosaic documents. Mosaic only looks for a HTML file and does not care if it resides on a hard drive, a floppy disk, or a computer on a different continent. A single lesson may be stored on a floppy disk, and the same files may be used with either the Macintosh or the Windows versions of Mosaic. In a lab situation, the Mosaic programs may even be set up to initially open to a local home page (stored on each machine or a local file server) that directs users to information of local interest.

A rarely-mentioned feature of opening local documents is that Mosaic may still be used even when the computer is not connected to the Internet. For example, a Mosaic lesson that does not links to external Internet sites could be used by students at home or sites where Internet is unavailable. Also, Mosaic documents may be created and tested without having the Internet connection.

Structured Multimedia Learning Environments

The use of "structured" environment implies that Mosaic users have some guidance for a particular discipline or subject. This guidance may be the complete display of all information, an index that points to related sources available on the Internet, or a series of suggested steps to get started. Mosaic offers offers an advantage that the "structure" can relieve the "I feel lost" anxiety while leaving paths available for other users that wish to explore. For an instructor, this can address the needs of a variety of different students. The student has control over the pace, direction, and order in which they learn.

Several examples of these structured environments are:

Virtual or Navigational Spaces.

These are visual metaphors in which users may travel different branches to interact with some model of information. In these learner-controlled spaces, users choose their own direction or order in which to process some content. Examples are where information is organized into some real-life model; a library, a train station, a museum, in which learners can select different "places" to view information.

Example: The University of California Paleontology Museum lets you wander through a virtual museum of its exhibits and then explore related Internet resources via a Subway Map

Linear Path:

For these environments, the order in which information is presented is tightly controlled. Learners may only have the option to proceed to the next portion or information (or also the previous). This might be used when it is important the learners see every step in a process.

Example: In a Geology lab exercise, the procedure for determining the hardness property of a mineral is a linear path.

Indexed information:

The reader always has access to an index of all topics. The information may be viewed sequentially or randomly via a return to the index. Information is "chunked' into chapters, and learners may decide which are the ones they do or do not need to see.

Example: Students in a Physics course at Chandler-Gilbert Community College used Mosaic to build an information base on Cosmology and Particle Physics.

Feedback to response:

The environment may include pre- designed feedback (by playing sounds, showing an "OK" graphic) to a list of selectable responses. This could present a multiple choice type of review for a learner or simulate a laboratory experience.

Example: A simple multiple choice structure with visual feedback.

Electronic Texts:

Many publications are offered now in Mosaic format. This allows portions of the text to be linked to other relevant information (i.e. a glossary, an image illustrating a complex device, the pronunciation of a medical term). It can be relatively easy to convert existing text information to HTML format, and add appropriate links or cross references when necessary.

Example: The Labyrinth-Forum is a publication from the Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction

Indices to subject related resources:

Several Internet sites have already accumulated lists of pointers to other information arranged by subject. A Mosaic document might contain a choice of research topics and links to starting points.

Example: This page on Philosophy Resources is part of larger project, The Source developed by an instructor who completed the MCLI tutorial on creating Mosaic documents


Students themselves can be shown how to create Mosaic documents that would present stories, poetry, music, or art they have created.

Example: Students at Grand River Elementary School created personal Mosaic pages.


Mosaic is exciting because of its ability to easily retrieve and deliver multimedia via the Internet. The interface is intuitive to most people in the way it associates relevant information. The excitement grows when one understands how easy it is to customize or structure the access to the vast array of information on the Internet. For our faculty, developing multimedia documents for the Mosaic is meeting a desire to provide their students access to up-to-date information. Yet, the development of a Mosaic-based lesson is something that instructors (and their students) can do without computer programming. It draws upon existing text and media, and it is quick to produce and deliver multimedia dcuments.

Mosaic may or may not be the ultimate means of traveling the much discussed "Information Superhighway." However, it is a step farther in that direction. At the Maricopa Community Colleges, we are actively experimenting with Mosaic's use as a means of receiving as well as providing information for the learning of both our students and their instructors.


For those that are interested, this paper is available from our Internet server at the URL:

Limited numbers of copies on floppy disk (both Macintosh and Windows formats) will be available to attendees of the 1994 AAIM conference.