Constructing Multimedia: Benefits of Student-Generated Multimedia on Learning
Mathew Mitchell, University of San Francisco
A challenge for educators is how to integrate technology into the classroom. Two graduate courses in education were conducted in an exploratory fashion where doctoral students in education completed their major assignments as multimedia projects rather than as written papers. One key to implementing such a change was to use affordable software combined with minimal in-class time to prepare students for creating multimedia. The resulting student products displayed a high level of congruence with key principles of effective multimedia communication, as well as an increased level of engagement with the material to be learned. This paper looks at how these two courses were implemented and provides a preliminary assessment of the resulting student products.
This investigation was done with doctoral students in education, specifically students interested in educational psychology. During the 2001/2002 academic year two courses (Creativity and Motivation) taught by the same instructor (the author) were re-designed so that the major course projects were to be completed as multimedia-based products rather than as text. This paper provides a snapshot of how students responded to these new challenges, what seemed to be the major benefits, and the major hurdles in developing such an approach to content- oriented courses (as contrasted to courses that are primarily technology-oriented). The potential implications of this investigation go beyond that of doctoral-level courses for students in education. These preliminary findings may apply to other content courses containing 30 students, or fewer, at the undergraduate, masters, or doctoral levels. The essential requirement is that the primary focus in the course needs to be on the integration and critical synthesis of course content.
1.1 Why Multimedia?
Multimedia can be defined in a variety of ways, but in this paper the term “multimedia” refers to an educational presentation made using primarily audio and images. Unlike hypertext and web-based instruction, for example, the reliance on text is minimized (though not eliminated) in a multimedia product. While multimedia has for years been considered high in “potential” as a tool for educators, Ellis (2001) notes two hurdles: there is still relatively little evidence to support the value of multimedia for enhancing learning and the cost of most multimedia production is still relatively high. Another hurdle is the perceived problems of integrating technology into a regular content-driven course. These issues are especially relevant in Schools of Education. For example, Moursund (1999) found in a national survey that in only 31% of teacher education programs was it likely that a majority of teachers modeled effective technology use in their teaching.
One of the main sources of scientific evidence supporting multimedia learning is Mayer’s body of research (2001). His research over the past fifteen years provides one of the theoretical frameworks used in this paper. In Multimedia Learning (2001) Mayer proposed seven principles of multimedia design based on several research study findings, plus two potential principles based on current research. His nine guidelines could easily be collapsed and re-organized into six key categories: integration, parsimony, narration, individual differences, personalization, and interactivity. Integration sums up research that indicates that audio/text need to be highly integrated with the images used. Parsimony indicates that there is better learning when extraneous words, sounds and pictures are excluded. Narration indicates that learning is better when words are presented as narration rather than as text. Individual differences indicates that learning is better if the target audience has low-prior knowledge of the content field and that they have high spatial ability. Personalization tentatively suggests that students work harder at learning when they feel involved with the presentation. For example, one study (Moreno & Mayer, 2000) found personalization could be achieved simply by the narrator using a conversational style of voice rather than relying on a third-person voice. Interactivity tentatively suggests students learn better when they can control the pace of the presentation.
Since students in the Creativity and Motivation courses were essentially being asked to be multimedia authors designing a learning experience for "new" or "low prior knowledge" future students, it made sense to assess to what degree students implemented Mayer's design principles. Just as Mayer found that products adhering to the six design principles led to increased retention and transfer of knowledge, so it was reasonable to infer that if student-generated products were made using many of these same principles then learning was also likely to be enhanced.
A second theoretical lens was framed by the work of Benware and Deci (1984) on active-learning. They hypothesized that “... learning material to teach it will lead to enhanced learning and to a more positive emotional tone than learning material to be tested on it, even when the amount of exposure to the material being learned is the same.” (p. 756). In turn, Benware and Deci built their study upon the theoretical approaches of Bruner (1966) and Rogers (1969) who both suggested that students learn better if the content of the instruction is useful for a task they are undertaking. The “activity” would, in turn, result in a fuller engagement of the material. The logic behind this line of thinking is straightforward: students approach the material with the anticipation of using it, so they become more fully involved. Benware and Deci’s research, as well as the subsequent research of others, has indicated that active-learning approaches can be quite effective (Benware & Deci, 1984; Brophy & Alleman, 1991; Kafai, 1995; Mitchell, 1993; Mitchell, 1997). More recently, Marks (2000) provided evidence that suggests authentic instructional work in general may lead to higher levels of student engagement.
Since students in these two courses were put in the position of "learning in order to teach others" through an authentic instructional challenge, it was important to assess how students perceived these new multimedia challenges: did they feel more "engaged" with the material and was their motivation to learn enhanced?
Making multimedia is essentially high-level problem solving. The demand in many doctoral-level content courses to "make sense" out of conflicting ideas and then communicate that synthesis effectively to others is not that far from the work of artists. By requiring students to make multimedia products, they had the opportunity to explore, and make something, out of their investigation into critical theories and the applications of those theories. This approach could be called an academic studio learning environment. The notion of an academic studio is a specific implementation of the more general category of active-learning environments.
The notion of a studio is an important one: it is where one develops ideas and then goes on to create a piece of work. In the beginning stages there is almost always a great deal of ambiguity about how the new project might look. Yet, once an initial idea is developed, the studio environment invites experimentation and risk taking during the process of transforming that initial idea into a final product. Through trying things out (whether it is dance movements or an architectural design) individuals are pushed to look at their own work, and the work of others, more acutely. At various stages in the development of a new work individuals make new connections that enrich the development of the product or enrich their own understanding. Perhaps most importantly, a studio is a dynamic environment. Original visions for a product can change, new sources of inspiration may be incorporated, and new skills may need to be developed. At its core, a studio is the place where an individual “goes to make stuff.” In the two courses reported on in this paper, the attempt was to create an academic studio environment where students could make meaningful products that would deepen their understanding of critical theories.
In summary, this investigation proposed that using the challenge of student-generated multimedia products that would teach "future" students about key theories and the potential applications of those theories, would encourage learners to think carefully about the design of their multimedia work and to foster a more active level of learning. Did the products that students produced seem solid from a multimedia design perspective as delineated by Mayer (2001)? Did the experience of making such products within an active-learning environment lead to a fuller engagement with the material and increased student motivation? This paper provides an initial research "snapshot" into the nature of student work in this multimedia academic studio learning environment.
2. Participants and Context
The students in the two experimental courses were doctoral students in education. Typically these students are relatively unsophisticated when it comes to technology. Students take their courses on the weekends and often live from 50 to 200 miles away from the campus. This profile of the students helps to frame the constraints that the instructor had to consider when thinking about incorporating technology into the courses. In particular, there were five major constraints:
This combination of constraints led to the selection of LiveSlideShow (Totally Hip Software, 2001) as the software used with students. It was affordable (under $30), worked on both operating systems, and was relatively simple to learn.
LiveSlideShow was originally created for the “photo enthusiast” market to create slideshows where static images are placed in a timeline, with transitions between those images. LiveSlideShow also allows the user to include audio as a background track. The final product exported from LiveSlideShow is a QuickTime movie (Apple Computer, 2002) that can be played on any computer. The ability to integrate audio and visual tracks was essential to LiveSlideShow being chosen as the software incorporated in these exploratory courses.
It was reasonable to assume students could construct their multimedia product at home in terms of the creation of images and integrating those images with the audio track. Students created images using digital cameras, scans, simple illustration or presentation software, or they found images by conducting web searches. However, it was unreasonable to assume that students could create their audio files at home. This constraint necessitated that the instructor arrange for students to come to his office to record their audio script. Later, students could download the resulting MP3 file from the class website.
2.2 Software Learning
In both courses there was not enough time during the semester to fully cover and discuss all the course content to the depth the instructor would have preferred. Thus in-class time could not be easily allocated for learning multimedia. It was crucial that the instruction provided for learning the LiveSlideShow software minimally disrupt in-class time for presentations and discussion. In both courses about 2 hours total of in-class time was used to address software learning issues. This was supplemented with a tutorial CD providing support for out of class learning of the software. Each of the major components of the software support considerations is discussed below.
In-Class Tutorial. A 2-hour in-class tutorial was conducted to help students understand the basics of using the LiveSlideShow software program. This tutorial was essentially a stand-and-deliver presentation.
Text Guide. The in-class tutorial was supplemented with a text guide containing many screen shots showing students how to do various operations in LiveSlideShow. The guide was written by the instructor and was closely aligned with the type of course requirements the students would be fulfilling.
QuickTime Tutorial Movies. These movies were probably the most critical factor in students being able to learn the software in a timely manner, as well as being a medium for presenting "advanced" topics to those students interested in learning about them. The QuickTime movies provided students with a way to watch and hear how to do things in LiveSlideShow. The ability to stop the movie, go into LiveSlideShow to try out a procedure, then return to the movie was crucial for many students being able to easily grasp how to implement various procedures.
Feedback. The first time that LiveSlideShow was used in a course (Creativity), all students were scheduled to meet with the instructor so they could receive personalized feedback regarding their projects. While this process worked well, it is impractical to implement consistently. During the second semester of using LiveSlideShow (Motivation), students shared a draft of their work with the rest of the class. Then each member of the class filled out a feedback form so that the students presenting their draft work left with extensive and anonymous feedback from every other student as well as the instructor. Students noted that this process of seeing everyone’s work "in progress," as well as the substantive suggestions made on the feedback forms, helped them complete their projects to a higher level than would have been possible otherwise. Unlike one-on-one meetings with the instructor, this form of feedback is practical to implement.
The structure of this investigation is best described as employing a design-based research methodology (Design-Based Research Collective, 2003). Design-based research is seen as being highly iterative where the "primary goal for a design experiment is to improve the initial design by testing and revising conjectures as informed by ongoing analysis of both the students’ reasoning and the learning environment." (Design-Based Research Collective, p. 11, 2003). In this initial exploration, a content analysis of student work in the two courses was done using two key sources of information: (a) a short open-ended email survey that students completed about three months after each course was completed, and (b) an analysis of the student multimedia work itself. The framework for the content analysis was based on Mayer’s multimedia design principles and Benware & Deci’s active-learning theory. How well would student products and student reports "fit" with these two frameworks? The content analysis also looked for additional patterns of behavior that seemed not to be captured by either of these theoretical frameworks.
4. Student Products and Perceptions
In the first course (Creativity) students were required to make two multimedia products: (a) a model of creativity based on course readings and interviews, and (b) an applied presentation demonstrating how how key creativity variables could change educational practice. In the second course (Motivation) student products included: (a) a report on one specific motivational theory chosen from the primary course text (Stipek, 2002) and (b) their ability to connect their chosen theory to enhancing educational practice. Student products varied in length and quality, but most presentations were about 8 minutes long (varying from 5 to 26 minutes). Below, (Figures 1-4), a short synopsis of how the student products and perceptions "fit" with each of the six themes of multimedia design and the two themes for active learning is provided. No additional themes were identified beyond these eight.
Clips of Student Products: See Figures 1-4, and:
MP3 audio (~1.6 MB). This 2:21 minute audio-only clip from the middle of a student product shows one way that students could take on new challenges. In this specific case the student used music created by a friend to supplement her voice.
QuickTime audio only (~6.8 MB). This 14:45 minute clip provides the full audio track from a student product. Just the audio alone provides a glimpse into how students could succinctly and powerfully teach other students about key content: in this case self-worth theory in motivation.
Figure 1. A screenshot from Jan McMillan's motivation project.
QuickTime movie (~10 MB). This 5:23 minute clip from the middle of a student product displays the tight integration needed between audio and visual tracks in a multimedia project.
QuickTime movie (~2.3 MB). This 1:27 minute clip from the beginning of a student product shows how simple and streamlined some multimedia products can be without compromising effective communication. In this case the student was very comfortable using only a few images to support her narrative rather than trying to “fill space” with a number of different images that would have detracted from her story.
Figure 3. A screenshot from Melba Rhode's motivation project.
QuickTime movie (~4.2 MB). This 4:05 minute clip from a student product shows how some students constructed very personal connections that they would share with other students.
Figure 4. A screenshot from Rick Robert's motivation project.
QuickTime movie (~7.4 MB). This 7:24 minute clip from the beginning of a student product is indicative of the level of planning and detail students needed to master. The audio in this clip includes both the author and the supporting voices of “characters” in his product. The visual material includes both digital illustrations made in software and photos of the same “characters” in a mock-classroom setting.
Both the student products and the student responses to the email survey indicated that the biggest practical issue for students was the tight integration needed between the audio and image tracks. In the end, virtually all of the student products displayed a high level of integration. That said, it was easier for some students to practically implement such an integration. One of the common requests from students was help in how to organize their work so that this process of integration (or "timing" as the issue plays out in LiveSlideShow ) was simpler to conduct.
The quality and effectiveness of student products could be largely explained by parsimony. Usually student audio tracks were fairly parsimonious, but there was great variance in how students used images. In some student products images were too often used as "filler" whereas in other products every image seemed necessary. Yet, overall, students recognized the need for parsimony in their work. As one student noted, "I had to be succinct and to-the-point in explaining ideas and concepts." Students noted that the assignments forced them to distill the essence of a theory to communicate it clearly and effectively in a multimedia format. Many said that the simple act of recording an audio script solidified their understanding of the content, so much so that even 3-9 months after the courses ended many still remembered and could discuss their presentations (and those of some other students) fluently.
This principle was a non-issue since all students had to use audio narration. Students typically used some text (such as text in a heading) in their products, but always in a manner that supported the audio.
4.4 Individual Differences
Mayer used this term to indicate that the target audience benefitting the most from multimedia presentations would be those who had low prior-knowledge of the content area and those who had high spatial ability. Students were told to "assume" that their target audience had low prior-knowledge. The resulting products appeared to be quite appropriate for a novice to use. However, there seemed to be no specific attention given to the varying spatial abilities of learners in these products.
Mayer used this term to refer to the use of a first or second-person voice in the narration. Every student’s product had this basic level of personalization. However, a surprising result of these initial multimedia products is that they seemed to encourage students to make very personal connections with the academic material. As one student noted, "Multimedia has given me a chance to develop a personal relationship with the topic... when I do a multimedia project I do much more reflection on the subject matter (relative to a paper). I strive to develop a personal vision of the material that goes beyond words. I am surprised at how much this intensifies my understanding of the material."
To some degree the personalization factor seemed to be in conflict with the parsimony factor. Specifically students had a strong tendency to first create a "context" in their products. This could be a professional context (such as something that typically may occur in their own classrooms) or a personal context (such as an event that actually happened in their lives). This initial setting of a context certainly made the products more personalized, but not necessarily parsimonious. Nonetheless, it was the setting of such a context that tended to "hook" viewers and get them engaged. This, in turn, supported the effectiveness with which authors could then communicate their content.
Mayer used this term to refer to the inclusion of buttons that would allow a user to control the pace of the presentation. While LiveSlideShow does have the capability of including control buttons in the presentations, no student did so.
Benware & Deci’s active-learning principle predicts that students will become more engaged with the learning material. There were three distinct ways in which students communicated they felt an enhanced engagement: greater attention to details, embracing new challenges, and co-constructing the curriculum.
Greater Attention to Detail. One student noted, "Doing multimedia projects has given me more planning skills. Once I pick a topic, I need to begin planning the timelines and storyboards. A multimedia presentation is dependent upon the completion of multiple sub-tasks. The presentations I have done have given me an opportunity to develop more planning skills." Another student wrote, "The creation of a project necessitates demonstration of a higher level of knowledge than a traditional paper. Written demonstration of knowledge only projects a singular, verbal orientation towards the content. The projects required demonstration of knowledge through a multimedia orientation which not only required the learner to understand the concepts through these orientations as well, but to integrate these perspectives appropriately." Virtually all the students noted how multimedia creation required higher levels of organization and planning than working on a paper.
Embracing New Challenges. Many students noted that these projects challenged them in new ways, demanding them to rethink how they communicate essential ideas. It wasn’t just the challenge of using visual material, or the challenge of using audio material, but the unique requirements of trying to integrate these two modes of communication. Most students thought that they would not have taken on these challenges themselves outside of a classroom setting.
Co-construct Curriculum. Students noted they got to help "co-construct" the curriculum through the creation of their products. As one student put it, "I had to learn the material well enough to present it." Their multimedia projects were shared in class and on a final course CD. Since the products were viewed by the other students, they perceived that they had helped define the curriculum for the course. For example, in the Motivation course each student specialized in one motivational theory and conveyed the "essence" of that theory in a presentation. When students subsequently viewed these theory products they said they had a much better grasp of the important issues underlying each theory. All of the theories were covered to some extent by textbooks, but the student products seemed to be especially effective in establishing a firm understanding.
Just as important for students was that they watched and learned from each other’s work. While this sharing allowed for a viable way for students to help co-construct the curriculum, it also allowed them to learn from one another in other ways: students got ideas about how to create better multimedia projects and how they wanted to establish their own "voice" from watching the work of others.
Some of the above themes (especially "engagement") seemed to be directly related to increased student motivation. In addition, most students thought the creation of multimedia products encouraged them to use higher levels of creativity than they would have employed in a paper-based product. This implicit encouragement to use their creativity seemed to result in a higher level of student motivation to learn.
5. Conclusion and Summary
The student products and reactions to the multimedia assignments were very positive. These initial explorations into using multimedia within regular content-driven courses was encouraging enough that the instructor is now incorporating multimedia projects into all of his courses (including a foundation level statistics course). That said, these initial findings highlighted some limitations and quandaries that need to be addressed in the future.
All of the key limitations in this course were in teaching students to implement the software.
Tutorials. The 2-hour in-class tutorial needed to be improved so that students come away from the experience having made something rather than just listening to the instructor. Towards that end new materials have been developed that will allow students to create their own slideshow during the tutorial. It would also have been helpful for students to have a homework project using readymade audio and visual materials so that they could practice their multimedia building skills. Towards that end a small set of scaffolded multimedia homework projects are being developed.
Less Technical Ambiguity. Multimedia projects need to be suitably ambiguous in terms of the conceptual challenge students face. However, it was clear that there was too much "technical ambiguity" that tripped up the students who had a relatively low level of computer skills. In the future students will be provided with a ready-made LiveSlideShow template that has some key technical decisions already "completed" so that students can focus on multimedia storytelling. Hopefully this will provide novice computer users with an easier way to start developing their multimedia products.
Integration Bootstrapping. Students certainly understood the need for visual and audio integration on a conceptual level. However, some initially floundered with how to be pragmatically organized so their products were integrated without too much wasted time. Towards that end, a timeline organizational sheet has been developed that helps students systematically develop their multimedia timeline.
5.2 Future Directions
The major quandary left from this initial exploration was that of the seemingly conflicting roles of parsimony and personalization. Mayer’s definition of personalization was narrow with the focus being on using a conversational style. Furthermore, his conception of parsimony would seem to preclude any personalization beyond the simple technique of using the first or second-person voice. It is important to understand that Mayer’s research has focused on presentations of simple science-based systems (such as how a bicycle pump works) that tend to be 2 minutes or less in duration. In contrast, student presentations in these two courses tended to be much longer (most between 5 and 10 minutes, with the longest being 26 minutes) and cover content that was typically more complicated than that used in Mayer’s studies. It may be that when the content is richer, and the presentation length significantly longer, the concepts of parsimony and personalization need to be slightly redefined.
An alternative approach to defining parsimony may be that a "streamlined" presentation should not include "irrelevant details." Similarly it my be worthwhile to view personalization as the ability to create an "emotional connection" with the viewer. When working with more complex material, these slightly expanded definitions may better serve as helpful guidelines for creating effective multimedia presentations. In this exploratory study students appeared to naturally embed personalization in almost all of their products. In future explorations, however, more attention will need to be given to helping students focus on the essential role parsimony (especially with regards to images) plays in creating an excellent product.
The challenge to create effective multimedia products about academic topics appeared to result in students thinking carefully about the effective design of multimedia learning experiences as well as leading them to a higher level of engagement with their learning. Both of these findings are indicators of an increased level of student learning compared to previous text-based versions of the same course. Yet how far, really, can an academic studio approach be used with effectiveness in higher education? For students who are also educators there is a natural fit as the multimedia products challenged them to think more deeply about what it means to learn and how to communicate effectively. Yet the apparent increase in student engagement in these courses suggests that the academic studio approach may have a wider applicability than just with education students. It is hard to know at this point, but student-generated multimedia products may be a viable way to increase student engagement within a fairly wide range of academic disciplines where the primary emphasis is on the integration and critical synthesis of course content.
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