In the 1990s microcomputers became powerful enough to process graphics, sound, and video. When Apple and IBM identified a fertile soil in schools, interfaces were created to make writing computer programming easier for the general public, especially teachers and students with no interest in the technicalities of computer programming and learning computer languages.. Thus, in 1987 Bill Atkinson introduced HyperCard, the first authoring application for Apple (Goodman, 1990). In 1989, IBM released LinkWay. Both authoring applications allow users to develop interactive programs including text, graphics, sound, and links to video players, without computer programming.3
Today, there are several authoring systems on shelves or under construction (including Hyperstudio, Authorware, and Macromedia Director) in addition to web editors, presentation software, graphics/drawing and painting programs, animation and audio/video processors, and so forth. Some of these authoring systems are made for small and personal projects and others are used for the development of major electronic publications. The personal systems are easy to master but have limited capabilities, while the professional authoring systems require systematic learning and practice. These application programs provide users with ways to customize or create their own material. Some educators found in such a technology an opportunity for a flexible and inclusive system for the expansion of the experiences of their students. These application programs provide users with the capability to create, manipulate, and store text, graphics, sound, and image. In an educational setting, as individuals or as a team, students can use these application programs to learn mathematics, science, languages, or make their own programs to express themselves using text, graphics, sound, music, and/or images. From merely using the already made software, today with hypermedia applications, individuals with limited knowledge of microcomputers can compose their own material and distribute it on floppy disks, zip disks, CD-ROM, or publish it on the World Wide Web. Companies such as Geocities (1997) offer free e-mail accounts and several megabytes of space on their servers. Some companies such as Spree.net (n.d.) offer unlimited space on their servers. This is enough to host a large web site with text, graphics, animation, sound, and video files. Such companies also provide subdirectories to help their clients organize their files, a full set of tools, and technical support. Users do not even need to own a computer. They can use a school, business, or library services to access their e-mail and to develop a web site for free in most of the cases.
Currently, we are working at Francis Marion University on the development of an electronic encyclopedia for the preservation and the implementation of the Thmazight language in the public sphere. This project has the objective of encouraging the indigenous people of North Africa to preserve their language/culture. Visual arts, historical artifacts, and songs are the core of the program, which explores various pervasive symbols and metaphors. By listening to the enchanting music and lyrics of the Imazighen, the user will gain insights of their everyday lives. The project provides users with a selection of songs from North Africa. They are invited to browse through the stacks and explore the songs in Thmazight, English, French, and Spanish. Other stacks will include “Spelling Games,” “Learn to Write,” and “Understand Thmazight.”