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Multimedia in Lectures and on The World Wide Web. Part I


Brian Pankuch, Editor

How effective and efficient is the use of multimedia for learning in lecture and on the Internet? Most results are anecdotal and show positive outcomes, with students being enthusiastic about new methods of learning. It appears that most of this effect can be ascribed to using multimedia methods students are not familiar with (Hawthorne effect). No proof was found that multimedia learning is more efficient, i.e., that more is learned during the same time spent studying. Students did spend more time with the multimedia, so they Jearn more due to the increased time spent not because multimedia is inherently more efficient. This does not make the additional learning less meaningful.
It does suggest that a model for developing and using multimedia should include an awareness that the effect of 'new' multimedia may be short term. Development models should include the easiest ways possible of updating substantial parts of multimedia to include the newest and best material.
Note: This article was scanned using OCR from the Spring 1998 CCCE Newsletter. Please contact us if you identify any OCR errors.
My intention is to explore the effectiveness and efficiency of multimedia in teaching chemistry, particularly its use on the World Wide Web (WWW). By multimedia I mean text accompanied by illustrations, graphs, simulations, animations, etc. Hypermedia, the ability to link a given page of material with other material is generally part of most multimedia packages. I'm principally addressing the effectiveness of this technology both in lecture and on the web not the advantages of new modes of 'distance learning'.
Most of us don't have the time (or perhaps the expertise ) to develop teaching packages. We can, however, preview textbooks and their supporting materials. A number of publishers are beginning to include CO's filled with material. Some include an outline of lecture notes with demonstrations and additional multimedia material. So as this is written in early 1 998 we begin to have packages available so we don't have to be multimedia experts in design and general computer expert to use multimedia in lecture. We have a number options for bringing multimedia material to our lectures. Such as using rooms set up for multimedia display, or carrying a laptop and portable projector into the lecture.
Full access to WWW plus ability to use material on a publisher's CO's in any order we wish and our own Powerpoint lecture notes would likely open a number of possibilities in learning most of us don't use now. Although there are many possibilities for how the equipment can be supplied, I'll just mention my personal preference based on 30 years of working with instruments and computers is to have my own laptop for my material. Sharing a computer for this type of work is possible but very difficult. I'd just as soon have a shared projector in my own department, again more control.
I'm basing this on recent experiences at Princeton University as well as my college where we had some problems keeping equipment working, and especially trying to get material live off the WWW.
I've tried to find well done research studies rather than anecdotal material to support or negate using multimedia and hypermedia for more effective learning. Generally I've come across of requests for massive research into how people learn. In other words we haven't proven that multimedia is more effective. Many users think it is and students appear to like it better, but do we know that it is more effective? Multimedia itself may be a means to more effective learning, by itself there is no assurance of increased learning.
Performance generally improves when the way material is presented is changed, and users feel something special is being done for them. This Hawthorne effect is known in psychology. For instance if a professors' lecture method is changed improved learning will probably occur. A 'reasonable' change causes an improvement in student learning. Students study harder when they perceive the professor is giving them attention that seems special. The increased learning falls off as the new methods become the norm. It's important to keep varying the course to keep it from getting stale. To keep experimenting to keep it a little bit new. So it is quite likely that many effects attributed to multimedia are going to be short term or ineffective as more students find it to be the norm. But are their multimedia aspects which are more effective-learning the material long term?
Although much of what evolves below was done with K-12 in mind, most of the generalizations appear applicable at many colleges. Previous attempts to incorporate technology have been less than terrifically successful for a number of reasons:
From project 2061
Materials and Technology
... Previous technology reforms have almost always been hardware-driven and have largely ignored the content and structure of the curriculum they deliver. Therefore, the use of many technologies with potentially great educational value have followed a similar pattern: first, they are introduced with great fanfare and anticipation of the powerful impact they will have on student learning; then they are eagerly and hurriedly introduced into classrooms with little emphasis ever having been placed on examining their content or defining their role, and even less emphasis on training teachers to properly use them; and finally, their weaknesses are soon revealed to students, teachers and parents, and they are shelved permanently, their potential power forever wasted.
... Technology and media innovation in American schools has been characterized by cyclic fads and a failure to use the sound tools and processes of science to systematically and progressively improve the quality of instruction. As we enter the 21st century, technology has become a far too powerful and valuable learning tool to allow this pattern to repeat. (1)
Just transferring age old lecture notes to PowerPoint, Astound or some other presentation software will not likely increase learning. Nor does our average student necessarily need a great deal more information, they need to learn how to use information effectively. How to use it to solve problems.
... For decades, cutting edge technologies have been touted as groundbreaking boons to American education. But despite the optimism that frequently accompanies the introduction of new technologies into American classrooms, research on their use in schools has found a pervasive cycle of inappropriate use followed by disappointment and abandonment (Cuban, 1986). Perhaps the main reason for the repetition of this cycle is that when instructional "innovations" that use new technologies are introduced, the focus has centered on the Jure of the new hardware and its ability to process or deliver information faster, in greater quantities, and from greater distances, rather than on the quality of instruction that the hardware carries or supports. These
are hardware-driven, rather than content- or instructiondriven, reforms.
Hardware-driven reforms are doomed for three major reasons. First, they assume that technology alone will improve student learning, ignoring how it might actually produce affective and cognitive results. Second, because the hardware is assumed to make the difference (as opposed to the teaching or the quality of its software), new hardware tends to be introduced into classrooms hurriedly on a wave of enthusiasm and public support, but with little time and few resources devoted to training teachers to integrate the hardware into their curriculum. Third, because technology is often hurriedly introduced, its role and purpose in instruction is usually left undefined. These severe problems cannot be solved without drastic changes in current practice by the producers and marketers of hardware, in the research on educational technology, and in the ways schools select and implement hardware.(!)
We are currently in a similar rush to keep up, to do the new because our competitors are doing it. With little regard to the effectiveness other than that it is new and other colleges may be more effective in attracting students (true). Of course sometimes just being new is enough to get a positive response from students even if they don't learn material any better.
. .. Although technology was important for providing access, these results were attributed in large part to the specific combination of pedagogy and curriculum organization in the program content.
... Teachers are, therefore, put in an extraordinarily difficult position. They are often charged with designing instructional materials to accompany technologies that they are not familiar with and whose educational purpose is often ill-defined. On the occasions when staff development does take place, methods for teaching with a new technology are often prescribed by individuals far removed from the classroom, and they have little relevance for the unique needs of each teacher's classroom. (1)
So if you don't have specific reasons to use new technologies tread carefully. If you don't have a need to show material not easily produced by cheaper means why are you changing? Keeping your job because the administration wants to try is a good reason, but may not be sufficient to increase student learning.
Many uses for the same technology may occur to each of us. We may very well be able to use instructional technology in innovative ways after tweaking it to our students needs.
... the machine alone makes no significant contributions to student performance.(1)
Well done research on the effectiveness of an entire package plus its implementation are difficult to come by. Even packages that are effective with some test groups may be less so with our students. Using a package and trying to separate out the material which works and changing what doesn't to be more effective is challenging, but rewarding.
... for decades researchers have studied whether one mechanical or electronic medium produced more student learning than another, with little reference to the educational context or pedagogical or curricular content of these media. Much of this research is confounded by uncontrolled variables, rendering it invalid and not replicable. A reasonable first step in future research would be to move away from comparing technologies or methods and begin to describe carefully the science teaching and learning situations in which technology has an impact on student performance and behavior. This research-based focus on observation, analysis, and synthesis of approaches that work would at the same time meet the need to tie technology to science content and provide science teachers with specific information about how to implement technology successfully.
... Effectively used technology would have three simple distinguishing characteristics. First and foremost, technologies should provide quality education to students. There are numerous examples of effective applications of technology that not only are better than traditional approaches, but also offer unique learning opportunities. Collaboration via the Internet, real-time data  collection, computer modeling, and image analysis are all examples of science learning that is either impossible or cumbersome without technology. An important distinguishing characteristic of these applications is that they focus on the specific combination of teaching and curricular organization resident in the content of the program, and on the subsequent benefits to students, rather than on the hardware that carries the application. In these examples, technology can be integrated fully into the curriculum so that all students gain an understanding of its nature, power, and  limitations. (1)
A good step would be to have well researched and designed packages from publishers of the text, a combination of CD and an accessible webpage for constantly updated material. Well designed, but editable by the professor teaching the course to take account of the needs of the particular group of students at a particular institution. Training in how and why to make effective changes for different student groups would be helpful.
... The first and most important way in which research on the use of technology must change to support science education reform is to make student outcomes the primary measure of a program's effectiveness. Observations of teacher behavior, costs, and physical and social infrastructure are important in assessing a technology's worth, but they are nonetheless secondary to that technology's ability to produce positive changes in cognitive and affective student performance.
Learning and teaching are going to be more deeply affected by the new availability of information than any other area of human life. There is a great need for a new approach in new methods, and new tools in teaching, man's oldest and most reactionary craft. There is a great need for a rapid increase in learning. There is above all, great need for methods that will make the teacher effective and multiply his or her efforts and competence. Teaching is, in fact, the only traditional craft in which we have not yet fashioned the tools that make an ordinary person capable of superior performance. (Heinrich, 1970, p. 56) 1 Along a similar line the "Report to the President on the Use of Technology to Strengthen K -12 Education in the United States" speaks to the  need for definitive research to ascertain how people learn and how we can most effectively use technology to increase the ability to learn. Although the report doesn't deal directly with multimedia and hypermedia the call for meaningful research beyond anecdotal experience is clear.
Chaired by David E. Shaw, Ph.D.
Chairman, D. E. Shaw & Co., Inc.
Juno Online
Services, L.P.
(David E. Shaw has a Ph.D. from Stanford in computer science and uses sophisticated computer modeling programs. He knows a lot about computers and what they can do.)
To some degree we need to know what we are trying to teach that goes beyond the important material of a discipline. Just facts and equations don't make the grade. Methods for learning new material has to be part of what we are teaching.
... it is widely believed that workers in the next century will require not just a larger set of facts or a larger repertoire of specific skills, but the capacity to readily acquire new knowledge, to solve new problems, and to employ creativity and critical thinking in the design of new approaches to existing problems.
... Initiate a major program of experimental research. The Panel believes that a large-scale program of rigorous, systematic research on education in general and educational technology in particular will ultimately prove necessary to ensure both the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of technology use within our nation's schools.
... should encompass (a) basic research in various learning-related disciplines and on various educationally relevant technologies; (b) early-stage research aimed at developing new forms of educational software, content, and technology-enabled pedagogy; and (c) rigorous, well-controlled, peer-reviewed, large-scale empirical studies designed to determine which educational approaches are in fact most effective in practice. The Panel does not, however, recommend that the deployment of technology within America's schools be deferred pending the completion of such research.
... Section 8 focuses on the need for rigorous scientific research designed to evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of alternative approaches to the use of technology in education, on the extent to which such research should be funded at the federal level, and on the manner in which it might best be organized and administered. (2)
So here are two national studies who conclude that technology might help, but call for substantial research to find out what will work efficiently. There are lots of anecdotal stories about successes, but not controlled well designed studies. We seem to be flying blind, as to what technology works long term to increase learning. So at this point we can't say definitively that technology will increase learning. We need to do more well designed research. We can't answer the question I started with.
We are, however, under a pressure to do something with this new technology. Areas such as multimedia and hypermedia and using the Web are popular with students and administrators. Funds are usually available. If nothing else the 'Hawthorne effect', using something new should increase learning and have the usual short term effect of increased learning. I'll go a little further and hope that combined with experience, an application of multimedia and hypermedia will have some longer term effect on learning. Perhaps tying the new methods to current learning theory would be beneficial. What do we mean by learning? The constructivist learning methods are close to what we do in some chemistry labs.
... (students) will thus need to be prepared not just with a larger set of facts or a larger repertoire of specific skills, but with the capacity to readily acquire new knowledge, to solve new problems, and to employ creativity and critical thinking in the design of new approaches to existing problems. In the words of Frank Withrow, the director of learning technologies at the Council of Chief State School Officers, "the US work force does not need knowers,' it needs learners."'
... constructivists believe that learning occurs through a process in which the student plays an active role in constructing the set of conceptual structures that constitute his or her own knowledge base. (2)
1. Project 2061 Blueprints On-Line
American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC 1997
2. Report to the President on the Use of Technology to Strengthen K-12 Education in the United States


03/05/98 to 03/09/98