Lawrence, who graduates Nov. 28 with a Master of Fine Arts degree, is the first UBC student to use the pillar of modern information technology to present his thesis in its entirety.
"CD-ROM is a valid medium and working with it was a learning opportunity that I didn't want to miss," Lawrence said. "Presenting linear subject matter using non-linear digital technology challenged me in different ways, and that's what education is all about."
His peers seem to be thinking the same way. Brenda Peterson, head of Special Collections at Main Library, reports that, for the first time this year, several students submitted parts of their dissertations on CD-ROM.
In his thesis abstract, Lawrence describes the interactive CD as a combination of text, video and audio, built using a mix of traditional cinematic methods and modern digital tools. Titled, At First Brush, the CD demonstrates the process of scene painting.
Earning his master's degree while working as a producer/director of educational videos for UBC Media Services, Lawrence got the idea while directing a series of telecourses for the Theatre, Film and Creative Writing Dept.
"Working on the videotape project focused my attention on the use of technology in education," he recalled. "With my thesis, I wanted to explore how we look at educational technology and how it can be expanded."
An Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design graduate in film and electronic design, Lawrence approached the project as a film-maker working with an interactive form. He spent about three months designing the background screens and master template for the CD-ROM, and another month directing the video material to be incorporated into At First Brush.
Being the first defence of a thesis entirely on CD-ROM at the university presented both Lawrence and his advisers with some unique challenges.
Chief among them was ensuring that everyone had the correct definitions and terminology which Lawrence provided in a production report, enabling his thesis panel to prepare appropriate questions.
"I received incredible support," Lawrence said. "My advisers, Ray Hall, Ron Fedoruk and John Newton were very willing to take this on as a first."
Hall, Lawrence's main supervisor, was excited by the project's potential to have use beyond being a graduate thesis.
"It was an opportunity for Paul to extend the video telecourse he had designed for Ron Fedoruk, incorporating features which would encourage students to interact with the course content in a more engaging and active way," Hall explained.
"As well, with CD-ROM, the content is instantly accessible. His thesis provides continuity between the disc and the telecourse."
Hall added that Lawrence's work broke new ground in the department and has provided other students with the opportunity to design in CD-ROM.
"We knew it would work but it was just a concept until Paul did it," Hall added. "I don't think that anyone else on campus can match his understanding of and competence in the digital arena."