The following article is a component of the May 1998 (vol. 50, no. 5) JOM and is presented as JOM-e. Such articles appear exclusively on the web and do not have print equivalents.


Multimedia Tutorials for an Introductory Course on the Science of Engineering Materials

C.J. McMahon, Jr., Ransom Weaver, and Seamus S. Woods

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The University of Pennsylvania is in the process of constructing a one-semester set of interactive multimedia tutorials that are being disseminated to students on CD-ROM and a local network for a course in introductory materials science and engineering. The topics that have been completed include dislocations and plastic deformation, phase diagrams, magnetic materials, and electronic materials. They are linked to the interactive glossary that is currently available on CD-ROM. Our goal is to replace the lecture part of the course with studio exercises for which the tutorials will be required preparation. As they are produced, the tutorials will be made available at no cost to instructors for use on local networks so that they can be evaluated. This article describes the tutorials and the animation player that is included with them and will give examples from tutorial sections and the animations. This work is sponsored by the National Science Foundation under grant DUE 94-55333.


When teaching an introductory course such as materials science and education, instructors usually face several challenges:

To address these issues, the University of Pennsylvania is developing a multimedia-based course for introductory materials science and engineering that serves as both a comprehensive one-semester materials education course for non-materials science and engineering majors and as an introduction to the subject for prospective future topic majors. The course employs computer-presented tutorials that can be utilized in several ways: as a replacement for classroom lectures in courses where the class meetings are devoted to studio-type active learning, as a supplement to classroom lectures that are illustrated by the animations provided, as a basic course in institutions where faculty from other branches of science or technology serve as coaches for materials science and engineering, or as a self-study course for those who must pursue the subject on their own.

SEA Icon Zip Icon A demonstration of the tutorials is available for download. The demonstration consists of three pages from the chapter on phase diagrams: the lever rule, relative amounts of and , and solute redistribution. The demonstration module is available in both Macintosh format as a binhexed self-extracting archive (3.3 Mb) and Windows format as a zipped file (2.9 Mb).
The tutorials can be played directly from a CD-ROM on either Macintosh or Windows-based machines; also, the compact disk can be copied to the hard drive of the computer for enhanced performance. Alternatively, the tutorials can be delivered from a server on a local network (with appropriate permission by the authors).

This project is attempting to face the challenges of introductory-level courses by putting the entry-level transfer of information at the disposal of the student, who can then control the pace of delivery, including the ability to stop and re-play portions of the lecture that seem unclear at first. A dissenter might say that this is supposed to be the function of a textbook, and it is true that a small fraction of students can use a textbook effectively for this purpose. However, experience shows that most students are unable to do this, whether for reasons of time, motivation, ability to absorb new information from a printed medium, or others. In any case, a textbook is a mono-medium that has great difficulty in presenting moving or evolving processes.


Figure 1 Figure 2
Figure 1. The chapters in the tutorial. Figure 2. Each chapter is divided into sections.

To develop a tutorial, an initial version of the script and a storyboard for the illustrations are developed first; the next step is constructing the animations. Next, the script is revised to adjust to the final form of the animations; the cues for the illustrations are inserted; the script is recorded; and, finally, the audio, illustrations, and other components are integrated in the finished tutorial.

Figure 3 Figure 4
Figure 3. Pages are identified and accessed by tabs that display a yellow subject blurb at the top of the page. Figure 4. The pages are designed like a lecturer's blackboard, where the instructor would normally write key words or concepts.

As in a book, the tutorials are divided into chapters (Figure 1), and each chapter is divided into sections (Figure 2). Each section contains up to 25 screens called pages, and any page can be identified and accessed by way of the tabs that display a yellow title at the top of each screen (Figure 3). The interface is a blackboard on which the navigation controls; the words or phrases that a lecturer would typically write on the board (Figure 4); and the diagrams, photographs, animations, video clips, and derivations that appear during the play-through presentation of a page (Figure 5) are displayed.

Figure 5a Figure 5b
a b
Figure 5c Figure 5d
c d
Figure 5e Film Icon Sound Icon Figure 5. Several features are used during the audio presentation of a page, including (a) diagrams, (b) photographs, (c) animations, (d) video clips, and (e) derivations.

A QuickTime video clip (4 Mb .mov file) and an audio file (258 kb .au file) from one tabbed segment in the recording and magnetism section (Figure 5d) can be played now.


At the end of each section is a set of questions for review (Figure 6), and the answer to each question can be seen by clicking on the question. Every page is linked to the interactive glossary (Figure 7), so that the student can look up any term that is likely to need some further explanation. Any page may be marked as a place holder or for review, and this is saved between sessions in a preference file.

Figure 6 Figure 7
Figure 6. Each section contains a set of review questions to conclude the presentation. Figure 7. A sample screen from the interactive glossary.
Figure 8a Figure 8b
a b
Figure 8. Presentations can also be played while viewing just the (a) illustrations or (b) text.

Navigation Controls

The student can listen to the presentation either while seeing the illustrations or the text (Figure 8). The presentation is set in motion by the "Play" button and halted for a fresh start by the "Stop" button; it can proceed continuously or page-by-page. The presentation can be paused and resumed from the point of the pause at any time, and the audio volume can be adjusted. The traveling red ball slider at the top of the blackboard can be used to repeat any portion of the presentation.

Chapter Topics

The sequence of topics used by the tutorials follows the chapters in the textbook used in the course (Introduction to Engineering Materials: The Bicycle and the Walkman by C.J. McMahon, Jr., and C.D. Graham, Jr; the CD-ROM has the same title). The course topics are:

The topics in boldface are complete and comprise the content of the first CD-ROM; the interactive glossary is also included. The topics in italic are presently under development and will comprise the next CD-ROM, which is anticipated for release in early 1999.


SEA Icon Zip Icon A demonstration copy of the animation player is available for download. Featured are examples from the chapter on dislocations and crystal plasticity. The player is available in both Macintosh format as a binhexed self-extracting archive (1.4 Mb) and Windows format as a zipped file (1.2 Mb).
Because of the procedure for developing the tutorials, the animations are available for use well before a tutorial is complete. We have used these animations for several years as illustrations in our lectures and have found that they are enormously successful in presenting concepts that require visualization of moving or evolving images, of which there are many in materials science and engineering. The animations for the four completed tutorials have been collected in a player developed for lecture use and are included in the first CD-ROM. Because the pace has to be controlled by a lecturer providing the voice-over, they are probably not appropriate for the beginning student. It is possible, given sufficient time and resources, that a version with a pace timed to a voice-over will be developed for student use, if sufficient demand arises.


Student evaluation, feedback, and modification have been on-going since the beginning of this project. The first two tutorials that were completed were Magnetic Materials and Electronic Materials, and these were tried at the end of the fall 1996 term. Because of a unique scheduling problem that semester, both had to be covered in the final week of the term rather than at the normal pace, which would have been over the final two weeks. In addition, the class meetings were held in a question-and-answer format, rather than in the special studio format that is planned for the future to take full advantage of the tutorials.

Nevertheless, an analysis of the questions on the final exam showed that the average score on this material (62) was not much different from the average for the material covered in the lecture format (67), which had been covered at the normal pace and had mostly been treated in the two-hour exams during the term. This early version of the compact disk lacked some of the refinements added later, such as the slider (the red ball shown in several figures) and the question-and-answer list at the end of each section (Figure 6). Given the students' responses, it was concluded that the approach was feasible.

The improved version of the chapter on magnetic materials was tested by a group of volunteer students who had no prior knowledge of the material during the spring term of 1998. Four students learned the material (in a preliminary way, as they probably would have in preparing for a studio class) by using the CD-ROM, and four others learned it from the textbook. All eight had access to the question-and-answer list—four on the CD-ROM and the other four in printed form. They were given a test comprising ten of the 61 questions on the list. The averaged scores were 59 for the CD-ROM group and 56 for the textbook group. Given the small sample size, the difference is not statistically significant. The real difference came in the averaged estimated time that each group spent on the subject: 3.1 hours for the CD-ROM group and 4.1 hours for the textbook group. In addition, the former group expressed a preference for learning from the CD-ROM over the textbook method in a follow-up questionnaire. This provides encouragement that the multimedia tutorial will be a viable method of getting students to prepare for the studio classes, which would depend heavily on prior preparation. (Of course, some coercion will presumably be needed and applied in the form of short daily quizzes.)


The first tutorial CD-ROM should be available for distribution some time in June 1998. Any instructor can obtain one, without charge, by contacting C.J. McMahon, Jr.. It is hoped that those instructors interested in obtaining a CD-ROM will use it in some way during the fall 1998 term and respond to a short evaluation questionnaire on the Internet by the end of that term. The results of that evaluation will be taken into account wherever practicable in the preparation of the second release. The CD-ROM will be available to students either by direct mail or through a bookstore.


This project is being supported by the National Science Foundation under grant no. DUE 94 55333. Some of the early animations were supported by the NSF Gateway Coalition.

C.J. McMahon, Jr., earned his Sc.D. in physical metallurgy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963. He is currently a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. McMahon is a fellow of TMS.

Ransom Weaver earned his B.A. in literature at the University of Pennsylvania in 1990. He is currently a graduate student in Arabic studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Seamus S. Woods is an undergraduate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

For more information or to acquire a complimentary copy of the CD-ROM (instructors only), contact C.J. McMahon, Jr., Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, 3231 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104; (215) 898-7979; fax (215) 573-2128; e-mail cmcmahon@lrsm.upenn.edu.

To order the first CD-ROM (Introduction to Engineering Materials: The Bicycle and the Walkman) after it has become available, contact Merion Media, c/o Whitman Distribution Center, 10 Water Street, Lebanon New Hampshire 03766; (800) 353-3730; fax (603) 448-2576.

Copyright held by The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society, 1998

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