Multimedia in Education Executive Summary: There is substantial research supporting the effectiveness of information technology-assisted project-based learning (IT-assisted PBL). When IT-assisted PBL is used in a constructivist, cooperative learning environment, students learn more and retain their knowledge better. Moreover, students learn the content area being studied, how to design and carry out a project, and uses of IT. Because this approach to teaching and learning is significantly different from the "stand and deliver" didactic approach used by many teachers, it tends to require a significant amount of professional development for its effective implementation. As computer technology becomes more accessible, we increasingly encounter products classified as multimedia documents. These documents are used in electronic format and can include text, sound, graphics, animation, video, color, and interaction with the user. Some authors reserve the term multimedia for electronic documents that have an intrinsic linear design (e.g., PowerPoint or ClarisWorks slide shows) and use the term hypermedia to refer to documents that incorporate a planned non-linear organization (e.g., Digital Chisel, HyperStudio, or MicroWorlds projects). Most authors (and this document) make no distinction between the terms hypermedia and multimedia. Multimedia documents provide a means of communicating and storing information. Since such documents are used in electronic format only, many variations in viewing result as each user controls the order and manner of interacting with each element in the document. In addition, multimedia documents can also be designed to receive information from the reader and process it to provide individualized responses. This interactivity adds a new dimension to the reading/writing process and the capabilities of reading and writing. Standards Promote Multimedia Use in Education Swan (1999) analyzes a number of sets of national standards in various disciplines. Her article contains a summary of the IT-related standards from a language perspective. She emphasizes that non-print literacy is a common component of many sets of national standards. The ISTE National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) profiles describe expectations of students completing various grade levels (International Society for Technology in Education). Here are a few multimedia examples: (PreK-2). Use developmentally appropriate multimedia resources (e.g., interactive books, educational software, elementary multimedia encyclopedias) to support learning. (PreK-2). Create developmentally appropriate multimedia products with support from teachers, family members, or student partners. (Grades 3-5). Use technology tools (e.g., multimedia authoring, presentation, Web tools, digital cameras, scanners) for individual and collaborative writing, communication, and publishing activities to create knowledge products for audiences inside and outside the classroom. (Grades 6-8). Design, develop, publish, and present products (e.g., Web pages, videotapes) using technology resources that demonstrate and communicate curriculum concepts to audiences inside and outside the classroom. In summary, the ISTE NETS call for students to learn to read and write multimedia. Other standards include similar expectations (McREL). Often the standards call for students to develop substantial multimedia skills by the time they finish the eighth grade, and that they routinely use and extend these skills while in high school. Developing Multimedia Documents A report from the U.S. Department of Education (1999) contains several white papers focussing specifically on multimedia. In general, these papers indicate that the research reports support of the use of multimedia in IT-assisted Project Based Learning (PBL). In such PBL, the content and assessment tend to be authentic, and students learn both the subject area being studied and also how to create multimedia documents. However, the research points out that there tends to be a steep learning curve for teachers, so that professional development is very helpful. Moreover, initial use of multimedia in IT-assisted PBL tends to over emphasize IT and under emphasize the underlying subject areas being studied. This appears to be a standard transition that teachers and their students go through as they learn to use multimedia. Creating multimedia documents is a rewarding, but complex and challenging task. The Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education [http://hi-ce.eecs.umich.edu/] provides some excellent examples of interactive, multimedia documents designed to be used by students and teachers. Giving students an opportunity to produce documents of their own provides several educational advantages. Students that experience the technical steps needed to produce effective multimedia documents become better consumers of multimedia documents produced by others. Students indicate they learn the material included in their presentation at a much greater depth than in traditional writing projects. Students work with the same information from four perspectives: 1) as researcher, they must locate and select the information needed to understand the chosen topic; 2) as authors, they must consider their intended audience and decide what amount of information is needed to give their readers an understanding of the topic; 3) as designers, they must select the appropriate media to share the concepts selected; and 4) as writers, they must find a way to fit the information to the container including the manner of linking the information for others to retrieve (Smith, 1993). All of these contribute to student learning and help to explain the improved student learning that is often associated with IT-assisted PBL. There is another aspect to developing multimedia documents that empowers students. Students quickly recognize that their electronic documents can be easily shared. Because of this, students place a greater value on producing a product that is of high standard. An audience of one–the teacher–is less demanding than an audience of many–particularly one’s peers. Students quickly recognize that publishing a multimedia document that communicates effectively requires attention to both the content and the design of the document. Information Retrieval Using Multimedia The Web can be thought of as a digital global multimedia library. With the steadily increasing classroom use of multimedia resources, students are required to develop the skills needed to locate information contained in this format. Classroom instructors and students alike must learn the search skills previously considered the domain of library specialists. Developing skills for locating and evaluating information found in multimedia documents requires the consideration of how the technology handles information. It requires learning to distinguish good multimedia (good content, good design) from poor multimedia materials. In addition, the ability to conduct searches using Boolean logic is required for effective use of multimedia documents. Students that experience the challenge of creating multimedia documents are better prepared to make use of documents created by others. Through creating multimedia documents, students learn how to link ideas and how to establish good ways to navigate documents visible only in small pieces. The technical aspects of multimedia are no longer hidden to students. This combined knowledge and skills help them evaluate and use multimedia documents effectively.
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