My studies for my MA in EdTech and TESOL have started again. This semester I have just one course to take (I guess I should enjoy the lighter workload ahead of what is bound to be a hectic second semester!) entitles Multimedia Design & Development. I was keen to take this course as I believe using a variety of media in our lessons is essential to provide variety and a range of activities appealing to different learning styles. However, effective use can only be brought about by effective design so I wanted to explore what considerations should be made when developing such materials.
The start of the course has focused on core issues such as responding to specific learner needs and teaching contexts, providing interaction between the learner and the materials, and taking approaches and methodologies into account. The main thing that struck me through the reading and discussion points was that multimedia and technology in general are really just tools at the disposal of the teacher. They do not change our teaching philosophies, nor do they magically make the learning experience more modern. Just like any other educational resource, it all depends on how it is put to use.
The fact is many CD-ROM packages, video activities, slideshows and other ‘multimedia’ used in class follow an instructionist approach. The learner is expected to sit at the computer, follow on-screen prompts and do the activities in a prescribed order with right or wrong feedback. I have seen classes with bountiful computer equipment where the teacher is still the focus of the lesson, the students are not interacting and everything is done in a rigidly controlled way. The fact is investment in technology must be accompanied by training in how to get the most out of it. Yes, technology can be engaging and motivating but only if it is used in engaging ways. Multimedia and technology can (and should!) be used to encourage collaboration, problem solving skills and independent thinking. With some thought and careful design, these resources can be used for student-centred lessons which facilitate communication.
The current generation of web 2.0 tools offers the chance for students to learn by exploring and experimenting. There’s a wealth of information out there that they can be directed too through links and embedded files but we also should encourage them to go out there and find more of their own. I firmly believe technology is at its most powerful in the hands of the learners. Class blogs, Glogster, Prezi, Xtranormal and all those other cool tools out there are great for enriching the classroom experience but they are even better when the students themselves are producing projects, experimenting, cooperating and learning.
As part of the course, I need to develop my own materials for my students to use bearing these pedagogical principles in mind. I’ll keep you posted on what I’m working on! I’d also love to hear what your experiences of using multimedia with your learners are. What is your approach? How do the students benefit from it? Does it improve their learning experience?