Teaching and Learning Forum 98 [ Contents ]

Rotational kinematics: A multimedia module

Geoff I. Swan
Physics Programme
Edith Cowan University
A multimedia module in rotational kinematics has been developed for use in the first year physics programme at ECU to be implemented in 1998. The multimedia approach allows students to vary rotational quantities and see the corresponding rotational motion of wind generator blades. This module aims to help students gain a more concrete conception of quantities used in describing rotational motion and the relationships between these variables.


Although rotational motion surrounds us in everyday life, the quantities which are used to describe that motion are unfamiliar to most students. Rotational kinematics is generally introduced to physics students in their first year at university. Even so, it is usually covered rather quickly due to the strong analogy between rotational kinematics and the more familiar rectilinear kinematics. Unfortunately, many students have not sufficiently mastered the concepts needed to describe rectilinear motion. A detailed account of the difficulties students encounter in learning kinematics, including an excellent bibliography, can be found in Arons (1996).

A multimedia approach to this topic provides an opportunity to explore the unfamiliar rotational variables and how they relate to rotating objects through the use of simulations. Interactive simulations could allow students to vary rotational quantities and immediately see the corresponding motion of a rotating object. This would enable a concrete conception of the rotational variables to be obtained directly, and there would be less need to teach the content through analogy to rectilinear motion.

An application for financial support to develop a module in rotational kinematics was successful and $20,000 from the ECU quality assurance in teaching fund was allocated for this project in 1996.

Development of the module

A project team was formed in 1996 to develop the module using Macromedia Director. It combined staff in the multimedia development unit at ECU who possessed skills in programming, graphic design, instructional design and project management with the author's content knowledge and teaching experience. The rotating blades of a wind generator was deemed to be an appropriate context in which to simulate and explore rotational motion.

The process for developing the module was highly iterative. It started with the author providing content pages within a rudimentary instructional design to the rest of the team. During regular team meetings problems were identified and possible solutions were discussed. Content pages were often substantially changed to incorporate new ideas or to make the content workable within the limitations of Macromedia Director. The author had no previous experience in Macromedia Director or in the development of multimedia module. It was soon clear that a 486 PC would not be able to run suitable simulations smoothly and the module would therefore need to run on a pentium level PC or better. Even then, simplification of the some of the simulations was required.

The product

At the time of writing this paper, the final version of the multimedia module is not complete and all figures have therefore been taken from the penultimate version. As this project is already over budget, only minor changes are being made. The final version, which will be demonstrated at this teaching and learning forum, is very similar to the penultimate version being described here.

The introductory sequence leads the user to a menu page (Figure 1.). The main body of the programme, which contains the content pages, is then accessed by selecting one of the five topics.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Initial menu screen. The content pages are accessed
for the first time by selecting a topic.

The content pages have been designed with common navigational icons situated at the bottom of each screen (see Figures 2, 3, and 4), which are selected using the mouse. The two main navigational icons are the topic icon and the page type icon. These allow students to move between topics and the type of page (theory, play, or predict) within each topic.

An example of a theory page is given in Figure 2. The theory pages tend to have a larger amount of text which is supported by diagrams or simulations. They define the rotational quantities and give the relevant equations as well as examples or demonstrations.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Theory page for angular position. Theory pages define variables,
give equations and give examples or demonstrations.

Figure 3 shows an example of a play page. On this page the angular velocity of the rotating blades can be instantly adjusted by dragging the sliding bar. This creates an immediate link between the variable and the motion it describes. The play pages are designed to help students get a "physical feel" for the relevant quantities.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Play page for angular velocity. Play pages contain interactive simulations.

The predict pages ask students to use the theory content to solve quantitative problems. Figure 4 shows the predict page for the rotational equations after the student has selected two of the three known variables (the programme selects the first known variable in order to prevent the possibility of two solutions). The student is required to calculate and then enter the values of the two unknown variables. A hint is given if an incorrect value is entered by displaying the equation which should be used on the screen. The student has a second (and final) chance during which the correct answer is either inserted by the student or by the programme. Finally, the rotating blades demonstrate the motion corresponding to the given problem in order to reinforce the physical link between the variables which describe the motion and the motion itself.

Figure 4

Figure 4: Predict page for rotational equations. Predict pages set quantitative problems to
be solved by the user. The motion is then simulated by the blades of the wind generator.

Although there is a suggested sequence in which to study the topics, there is no suggested sequence for the different types of pages within each topic. An open architecture was chosen to give flexibility to the students in how they are going to sequence the material. Preliminary evaluations by students of the penultimate version have been positive. In particular they consider the content well explained, the simulations and illustrations helpful, and the module easy to navigate.

The future

The final version of this module will be available for implementation into the first year physics programme at ECU in the first semester, 1998. It is intended to investigate and evaluate how students use the package using special purpose multimedia research laboratories at ECU. Given the open architecture, one topic of investigation will be to observe how different students sequence the content and whether there is a corresponding affect on learning outcomes.

Funds are also being sought to produce two rotational dynamics modules to add to this rotational kinematics module to make a complete package for rotational motion.


This project was wholly funded by ECU and developed using the resources of the ECU multimedia development unit. I would like to acknowledge the high quality teamwork, expertise and efforts of Mike O'Grady (programmer), Raelene Perham (graphic designer), and Christy Pinfold (project management) in making this module a reality.


Arons, A. B. (1996). Teaching Introductory Physics. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Please cite as: Swan, G. I. (1998). Rotational kinematics: A multimedia module. In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 327-330. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/swan.html

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