Education Development Center, Inc.
Center for Children and Technology
Kathleen Wilson and William Tally
New interactive multimedia tools and applications
are becoming available for use in classrooms, but little is known
about the nature and value of using such materials nor the conditions
which might best support their integration into classrooms. This
paper describes a brief exploratory look at what can happen when
multimedia hardware and software are introduced into a supportive
school and classroom setting. Within a few weeks of their introduction
into a fifth-grade classroom, multimedia materials had become
part of the classroom culture, and were being used by students
for game- playing, research, and, most interestingly, the creation
of individual and collaborative presentations and interactive
multimedia "reports." In this mode, students used multimedia
software tools to select, construct, and revise ideas with moving
and still images, text, and sounds, creating products that included
visually annotated reports and narrated presentations. This paper
describes the highlights of children's work as multimedia "authors,"
and details the conditions which surrounded and supported their
Our research was conducted in the Hillcrest
School, a public elementary school located in a well-to-do suburb
north of New York City. We observed a fifth-grade class of seventeen
students taught by Lucy, who had been teaching at Hillcrest for
over eight years. Lucy and her class were assisted in their multimedia
experiment by Richard, a science curriculum coordinator for the
school district, and Sam, an elementary math and science coordinator,
who provided intermittent support and advice in implementing the
program. Over the six weeks of use, researchers observed the class'
use of the multimedia system five times, videotaping each two-hour
session. Researchers acted as participant-observers, freely interacting
with students and teacher, and occasionally intervening to help
resolve confusions with the software, or to ask questions about
the students' thinking process. Observations were supplemented
by videotaped interviews with Lucy, the two administrators, and
four student users.
Hardware and Software
The multimedia system used included a MacIntosh
computer, a Pioneer videodisc player, and a prototype videodisc
and computer software (supplied by the researchers), as well as
a monitor and two additional videodiscs (supplied by the school).
The software used was Interactive NOVA:
Animal Pathfinders (WGBH-TV, Boston; Peace River Films, Apple
Computer, Inc., 1990), a then-prototype program on animal migration
that combines HyperCard computer software with video images and
sounds on videodisc. The program offers "Overviews"
to introduce users to the basic operations and ideas in the material,
a "Database" that allows students to search and sort
through information about various animals and habitats, and "Activities,"
including a simulated field study of monarch butterfly migration,
an exercise in interpreting bee dances, and an investigation of
human threats to sea turtles. In addition, there is a "Resources"
section of the software that allows students to make multimedia
reports and presentations using on-line video editing and report-maker
The two additional videodiscs used were
National Geographic's Whales (1983) and The Voyage of
the Mimi prototype videodisc (Bank Street College, 1985).
The software was chosen by teacher and researcher
consensus from a range of multimedia design examples because of
the breadth and richness of its content, the clarity of its interface,
its apparent accessibility to students of varying abilities and
learning styles, and in particular, the coherence of its "authoring"
Learning to use the multimedia materials
and tools was not difficult for the children. After an initial
introduction to the system by Lucy, they proceeded to discover
its features by trial and error, and by sharing their expertise
with others. The multimedia system remained in Lucy's classroom
for six weeks. Over this time about three-fourths of the children
worked with it in one or more of the three main modes (database
browsing, activities, and report-making). Approximately one-third
of the students chose to work in the latter, most intensive mode.
The program was used before, during and after school, and as word
of it spread around the school, interested students from other
classes would come during recess to use it as well. The more concentrated
report-making often happened at lunch time and during designated
class periods. In all three of the modes, children worked alone,
in pairs and in small groups, with only occasional input from
In the discussion that follows, we emphasize
three dimensions of the multimedia work that went on in Lucy's
class: I) the image provided of "integrated" multimedia
use; II) the glimpse offered of multimedia "authoring"
as both process and product; and III) the ways integration was
supported by aspects of the teacher's style, the school environment,
and the design of the software.
I. Multimedia as Integrated Technology
Technology integration means at least three
things: embeddedness in a curriculum; continuity with the prevailing
pedagogy; and physical and temporal accessibility. First, integrated
use of technology means computer use that happens within a meaningful
curricular context organized by the teacher. It may be
a unit on plane geometry, the study of blacks in the Civil War,
or an effort to understand Hamlet; the criterion is that
technology use, instead of being an isolated vehicle of learning,
serves a larger curricular aim. As such, it may be surrounded
by other activities such as group discussion, writing, or research
with other sources.3 Second,
technology-based materials are integrated pedagogically
if their organization and function fit the style of teaching that
prevails in the classroom. For example, a program that approaches
Greek history through a computer-simulated archeological dig will
be more easily integrated into classrooms where open-ended research
projects are the norm, than it will in those where history is
approached as names, dates, and events to be lectured about and
memorized. Third, technologies are integrated physically
and temporally if they are accessible to students and teachers
where and when they need them. This may mean being located in
or closely adjacent to the classroom instead of being concentrated
in, for example, a separate computer lab.
Hillcrest's multimedia system became integrated
into Lucy's classroom in each of these ways. The curricular connection
was established by Lucy herself, who wanted to use materials that
could supplement her class' study of a topic they had been working
on all year -- whales and marine life. She saw Interactive
NOVA: Animal Pathfinders, and the additional discs on whales,
as vehicles for extending students' inquiries into a subject they
were already quite knowledgeable about. Their study of whales
had been underway for quite some time and had included the use
of Bank Street's Voyage of the Mimi materials, as well
as reading the novel "The Island of the Blue Dolphins."
Many of the students had just completed written reports on whales,
illustrated with drawings, and, in some cases, paper mache whales,
at the time Interactive NOVA was introduced. Lucy invited
her students to explore the images, sounds and text information
in the NOVA program, and see whether they wanted to create
something that related to their prior reading and research.
The multimedia system was also integrated
physically and temporally into the classroom environment. Placed
on a rolling cart, the materials were kept inside the classroom
throughout the period of use, and they became treated much like
any other classroom resource, such as encyclopedias, drawing materials
or reference works: children consulted them as their interests,
needs and time dictated. While not invisible, the system was not
visibly intrusive, nor was students' use of it disruptive to others
working on other projects. For Lucy, the system did not change
the "flow of activity" in her classroom, but enabled
her to continue moving about and helping students with whatever
projects they were working on.
Finally, Lucy's style as a teacher -- she
saw herself as a "guide" to students in their inquiries
-- was in concert with the pedagogical orientation of the software.
At the general level, the program's flexibility and open-endedness
as a database fit her student-centered approach. More particularly,
Lucy's emphasis on self-directed research and expression (through
writing, drawing and making) found an echo in the authoring components
of the NOVA materials. Students who used the program's
Report-maker and Video-editor tools to create reports and presentations
were engaged in a kind of work they were quite familiar with.
For example, it was not unusual for most of the class to be working
on independent projects at the same time, with a great deal of
movement, talk and collaboration going on, and Lucy moving about
as "coach" to student inquirers. Significantly, Lucy
did not require that students create multimedia reports, but only
encouraged those who expressed an interest in doing so.
II. Multimedia Authoring: Some Initial Questions
Interactive multimedia is a relatively new
environment for student authoring. Our questions, therefore, were
straightforward: First, would authoring be an engaging
activity, and if so, for what kinds of students? Second, what
form would the products take, and how would they be interpreted?
Most important, what kind of process would their creation
involve? How would the curricular context shape the students'
aims and approaches? Would this multimedia system support collaborative
as well as individual authorship? What kinds of guidance would
be needed to help support student revision? Finally, what relationships
to sources (videodiscs, books, computer data) would student authors
For the students who chose to do so, creating
multimedia products was a very engaging activity. Among the seven
or eight students who experimented with the software authoring
tools in some way, four persisted long enough to create finished
multimedia products: Laurie, an extremely bright and mature
girl who excelled at reading and writing; Jeff, a somewhat
inward boy whose attention span tended to be quite short; and
Nancy and Helen, two close friends who liked to
work together on projects.4
In using the system, these four students became engaged in ways
that Lucy had not seen before. Laurie, who had not previously
shown any interest in science, technology, or math, spent much
of her spare time creating and revising two separate presentations,
and in doing so became the class "expert" on the system,
the resource to whom other students went when they needed help
using a particular feature. Jeff also worked alone on a presentation,
but because of the public nature of the product, according to
Lucy he ended up "exposing himself in front of others"
in ways she had not seen before. Finally, Nancy's collaboration
with Helen on the system was engaging enough that she saw their
presentation through to completion, something she had great trouble
doing with her other work.
Multimedia Authoring: The Products
The multimedia products students created
took two general forms, both shaped by the software tools. Visually-annotated
reports were created using NOVA's Report Maker features,
and consisted of a linear sequence of written "note-cards"
(appearing on the computer monitor), each of which was accompanied
by a motion video segment or one or more still images (appearing
on the videodisc monitor). Narrated videos were created
with the program's Video Editor features, and consisted of video
clips and slides arranged in sequence and played back under student
control, accompanied by the "author's" verbal narration.
Both annotated reports and narrated videos
had a status as performance that these static descriptions
fail to convey. While being presented to others, both kinds of
products were embellished in several ways by their authors: through
gesture, through verbal elaboration, and through interactions
with the audience (sometimes other students, sometimes the teacher,
and sometimes the researchers. For example, an author might read
each text card aloud (in a report) or spontaneously invent narration
(for a video), while pointing out the relevant parts of the accompanying
images with gestures.5
Video Monitor Computer Screen
In a visually annotated report, images tended
to reinforce the text, the main carrier of meaning, by providing
examples and illustrations. Eleven-year-old Laurie's report on
sea lions initially mimicked the straightforwardly factual, descriptive
style of the software database, with images as illustrations;
later revisions became more evocative, and directed the reader's
attention to specific parts of the video images.6
In comparison to more traditional written reports, students' multimedia reports were shorter overall and more telegraphic in style, due to the authors' assumptions about how "readers" would interact with the material. As Laurie explained:
You write less here than in the paper report
because here you can see more (from the videodisc images), and
with the paper report you'd have
to tell more because you couldn't see. In the paper you'd explain
with words how they dive, how they move
their flippers; here you see it.
In the multimedia report you assume that people will look and
that you don't have to tell them
things in writing.
Video Monitor Computer Screen
In a narrated video, images were the focus
of attention, and were accompanied by students' prepared or improvised
narrations. (The computer served as the means of sequencing and
playing back video images.) For example, Laurie's narration for
the image above (taken from a motion clip) was:
"These pictures are of what people
used to think whales looked like -- they don't look like real
whales, because whales are very gentle and beautiful creatures
-- they look like the body of a fish with the head of a wolf or
a fox or something. People would draw these after they would go
whaling; they thought that the whales were terrible sea monsters,
and that's why they thought that it was OK to kill them. They
thought that whales could really hurt them."
In general, students' narrated videos achieved
a greater seamlessness of information and integration of media
formats (images, words, gestures) than their annotated reports.
Spontaneous narrations were often smoother, more varied in tone,
and more aware of the listener than were the text entries in reports.
This may have been due both to the familiarity of documentary
video conventions of voice-over narration and also to the greater
salience of the audience in the narration of the videos.
Authoring as a Process
The general pattern students followed in
creating multimedia reports included initial browsing of the images
and text, the identification of a topic, the writing of text "cards,"
a search for appropriate images, and revision of the text and/or
images selected. The text initially typed was usually adapted
from the students' previously written reports. Children selected
images according to several different criteria. As a general rule
they tended to choose motion over still images, and images that
were literal illustrations of the topic at hand rather than those
that required explanation, even if the latter might be more visually
interesting. Over time, however, as children became more adept
in handling images and text together, their ability to use and
explain more diverse and interesting images increased. Where children
had more opportunities (time, guidance, etc.) to revise, the more
the visual and textual components were articulated toward one
another in a mutually reinforcing way, and the more the text came
to embody their own unique voices.
If in making reports students tended to
start with text and add images, the process was often reversed
in the creation of videos. Children began by choosing images that
appealed to them, arranging these in a sequence that made sense
to them, and playing back the sequence with their own voice-over
narration as Ralph videotaped them. Revision occurred in the re-arrangement
of clips and stills, and in the spontaneous changes students made
during the performance of their videos.
Childrens' approach to the task of multimedia
authorship, and especially their ability to revise their productions,
was influenced by the curricular context of the work, the structure
and content of the software, the size of the working group, the
guidance of adults, and the differing personalities and styles
of the students themselves. In the next section, we illustrate
the role of curricular context and student personality in supporting
revision with reference to Laurie, examples of whose work are
Laurie: Independent Authoring with a Purpose
Perhaps more important than anything else
in engaging and sustaining students' efforts was the sense they
had of coming to the materials with a purpose, and with some "expertise"
on a topic contained in the materials. As we have said, nearly
all had spent a great deal of time studying whales and the marine
environment, and each had written their own report on a particular
type of whale. Students had also read fiction related to marine
habitats, and many had written book reports in response to this
fiction. With this experience behind them many students approached
the materials with a desire to see whether or not "their
whale" was included, and if so, whether their own expertise
would be validated by the images and information the program contained.
Laurie, a very proficient reader and writer,
wrote her initial report about sea lions, sea otters, and elephant
seals, inspired by her reading of the novel "The Island of
the Blue Dolphins." She had changed her topic from the whaling
industry (the topic of her written report) after playing the activities
in Interactive NOVA and browsing through the database and
videodisc images, where she could not find images of the whaling
industry. She did, however, see some "really pretty pictures"
of sea lions, which looked "really graceful underwater."
Having decided on her topic, Laurie began her multimedia report
by writing text on "alot of cards" and adding slides
from the Interactive NOVA videodisc that related to her
written text. She gathered information from external sources (books
from the classroom and from home), as well as using information
contained in the Interactive NOVA database. As she became
more comfortable with this process, she started to replace some
of the slides with motion clips, which she frequently customized
in length (changing start or stop points) using the video editing
tool. Laurie's process, then, was basically cyclical, consisting
of writing out her ideas on cards first, in a particular sequence,
then illuminating them with videodisc slides and motion clips,
then customizing the motion clips, then adding more cards.
At this stage, Laurie was careful to choose
slides and motion clips that illuminated her written text, though
the illustration was just that -- a supplement to her factual
text material. Ralph (one of the administrators who actively supported
our multimedia experiment) noticed that Laurie's previous written
assignment on whaling had contained much more evocative language
and a variety of forms of address. He mentioned this to Lucy,
who suggested that Laurie try to add some of this narrative voice
to her multimedia report. In response to this, Laurie revised
the text of her sea lion multimedia report to include direct addresses
to the viewer and references to the "shots" on the videodisc,
calling attention to particular features of the image and specifying
the transitions between images as "close-ups" and "zooms."
The language of this revised report was also far more evocative
than her initial effort, using adjectives to describe the motions
and colors of the video images. At this stage, the video images
became co-equal with the text; the text illuminated the images
as often as the images illustrated the text.
Her report done, Laurie now discovered an
assortment of images related to whaling on the National Geographic
Whales videodisc and, still enthusiastic about creating
multimedia products, began working on a video about the whaling
industry, the topic of her original written work for Lucy. With
Ralph as cameraman and audience, she taped her own narration of
this video. Here Laurie's expertise about whaling converged with
the flexibility of the multimedia system (a sequence of customized
and evocative pictures and sounds was directly under her control)
to create a powerful synthesis of images, words and gestures,
general ideas and detailed evidence.
As a talented and independent student, Laurie
found the "room" that multimedia authoring gave her
to edit and alter to her needs normally "untouchable"
material one of the medium's most attractive features. As she
described her video-making experience, "I made my own film
by putting alot of the clips they had together and changing them
around." Once aroused, her impulse to customize the material
toward her own aims led her up against the limitations of the
system. Characteristically, however, she enumerated changes she
would like to see in the next generation of authoring tools, including
the ability to "marry" separate video clips, and to
add her own audio narration without using a separate video camera,
as she had done with Ralph. When asked what she had learned from
her experience with the multimedia system and software, Laurie
said she had learned "how to use a videodisc player, alot
about the computer, and alot about sea lions."
Jeff: The Limits of Collaboration and the Need for Guidance
Aware that not every student had Laurie's
independence of mind, Lucy encouraged several children to collaborate
with one another on the creation of a group report. In the end,
however, collaborations of more than two students did not occur
successfully in our brief experiment. Due to the size and brevity
of the study it is impossible to know precisely why this was so,
but likely contributors include the physical configuration of
the hardware (which made it difficult for more than two students
to sit directly in front of the system), the design of the software
(which is very open-ended yet allows for, at most, two students
to have meaningful input at any one time), the complexity of the
authoring task (which requires a degree of concentration that
is difficult to achieve with more than two users), and again,
the personalities of the students. Each of these factors introduced
a degree of "noise" into the authoring process, making
it easy for students to get off track and lose their momentum
(for example, by getting diverted into browsing, playing with
images, or arguing over control of the software). Guiding interventions
by Lucy, the researchers, and other 'expert' children were critical
in reducing this noise and getting children back on track. While
such guidance was not always successful in getting groups to collaborate,
it was indispensable, as Jeff's experience shows, in helping some
individual student authors complete their multimedia products.
Jeff was a boy whose concentration often
flagged, and Lucy initially suggested he work with three other
partners, John, Debby, and Sabrina, in exploring the software.
This particular foursome had never worked together before, and
found it difficult to coordinate their efforts at navigating around
the program. The difficulty with which the multimedia program
could accommodate four diverse users at once was illustrated by
the problem of typing. When typing became necessary in the course
of making a report, Jeff was not inclined to relinquish his seat
at the keyboard despite his lack of typing skills; Sabrina, a
better typist, was left to try to type for him over his shoulder.
Sensing a lack of focus in this group, Lucy came by and suggested
that they use the report maker and/or video editing tools to make
a collaborative report that combined all of their whale reports.
As they proceeded to look for images and decide on their topic,
they needed considerable help from the researchers using various
options on the screen. For example, they were confused at first
about the differences between the report- maker and video-editing
tools. Noting the remaining confusion about the groups' aim and
individual roles, the researchers suggested they assume different
"production" roles: director/scriptwriter, program navigator,
typist, selector of images. Despite this structuring, they continued
to need alot of prompting and support in the use of the interface
options and had trouble assuming their roles without bickering
and fooling around. In the very brief (two card) report that they
did manage to create in their forty-five minute session together,
the text was copied directly from the text of Debby's written
report on grey whales.
After this initial group session, Jeff worked
with Interactive NOVA alone. After seeing Laurie's report
on sea lions, he decided to write what he hoped would be a similar
report on the killer whale, the topic of his previous written
assignment. When his initial search for images failed to turn
up many useful pictures on the NOVA disc, he decided to
look for images of killer whales on the National Geographic Whales
disc, and did so with the researchers' and with Laurie's help.
(Laurie had become class "expert" in the use of the
multimedia tools, even learning how to use discs that were not
perfectly compatible with the software, but whose images could
be used to advantage.) Jeff's search through the videodisc generally
lacked a focus. He became so excited by most of the clips on the
disc, even those unrelated to his topic, that he quickly forgot
what he was looking for and started writing down the frame numbers
of every clip he liked, regardless of topic. Jeff's difficulty
in logging frame numbers indicated that he did not understand
the format of the videodisc very well at this point. He was also
prone to digressions, and might, for instance, stop to play with
other, more amusing images while in the middle of his search for
killer whale images. With alot of researcher prompting, Jeff eventually
found and logged a few clips related to killer whales, and typed
text cards according categories that he transposed from his previous
written report, titled "The Pod," and "What They
Eat." Throughout Jeff continued to need assistance in the
use of the various Interactive NOVA software tools, and
sometimes turned to fellow students who were more experienced
Finally, with Ralph's encouragement, Jeff
too was able to narrate a video based on his multimedia report,
and here he seemed to take pleasure in performing what he knew,
supplementing the prerecorded videodisc audio with his own complementary
narration. Lucy, seeing his video, commented that she rarely saw
him risk displaying himself in front of others in this way.
Nancy and Helen: An emerging awareness of source materials
Our brief study of multimedia authoring
did not allow us to evaluate a range of outcomes that future research
should examine, from the effect on students' writing to their
ability to discriminate and synthesize disparate forms of information.
One unexpected outcome, however, warrants even speculative mention.
For the students we observed, the authoring task appeared to develop
an awareness of the nature, scope, and even the limitations of
the multimedia source materials that their work in other modes,
such as browsing or game playing, did not provoke.
An awareness of sources is important because
most multimedia materials are of uncertain scope. Students may
encounter thousands of still and motion photographs and graphic
illustrations, as well as a large textual and graphic database,
yet have difficulty in knowing at a glance what is included and
what is not. A computer software database and videodisc, unlike
more conventional resources such as books, do not outwardly convey
any idea of the amount of information they contain, and rarely
contain reliable conventions for conveying content scope, such
as tables of contents and indexes. In approaching the system as
authors, with a sense of the ideas they wanted to communicate,
students browsed much of the material serendipitously, and came
to evaluate individual images and text cards according to whether
they might further their ideas. As they came to understand how
limited (and in some cases, arbitrary) the materials' scope was,
children's initial disappointment at not finding exactly the images
they wanted was replaced by creative efforts to use and explain
more approximate representations. In doing so they seemed to develop
a realistic assessment of the materials' strengths (often striking
images that could be rearranged) and weaknesses (a somewhat arbitrary
selection of images and information) and saw the value of consulting
different sources of information. Laurie, for example, ultimately
brought several books from home into class, since they contained
more general information about sea lions than the disc contained.
She came to understand that some videodiscs, like books, "have
less information than others," but that "you can learn
things from the videodisc pictures that can't be shown in a book,
like how the sea lions move their flippers and stuff when they
The process of negotiating different sources
was best illustrated in the collaboration between Nancy and Helen,
two friends who had developed a shared interest in toothed whales
while working on separate research reports. They began their use
of Interactive NOVA by browsing through the database cards
and videodisc images. After deciding to create a multimedia report
on narwhals, the subject of Nancy's earlier research, they looked
through the NOVA disc together for appropriate video segments.
They quickly discovered, however, that the disc and software focused
on California grey whales and did not include pictures or information
on most other whales, including narwhals. Determined not to give
up, they enlisted Laurie's help in replacing the NOVA disc
with the National Geographic Whales disc, even while using
the original NOVA software to control it. Yet, to their
disappointment, Nancy and Helen did not find images of narwhals
on the Whales disc either. At this point, instead of switching
topics, they noticed that the Whales disc grouped toothed
whales separately from baleen whales, and decided to reframe
their inquiry as a report on the narwhal as an example of toothed
whales. This reframing set up a problem whereby they would
have to take account, in their presentation, of the relation between
a general category (toothed whales) and a specific example (the
narwhal) for which no pictures were available. Accordingly, they
browsed information and pictures about the feeding habits, nursing,
migration and echo location of toothed whales, noting the frame
numbers of relevant pictures. They then added these to the text,
already entered, that had been transcribed, with some modifications,
from Nancy's earlier narwhal report.7
At first, then, Nancy and Helen's multimedia
report was marked by a discrepancy between image and text, consisting
of text cards chiefly about narwhals accompanied by video images
of other toothed whales. In some cases, entirely different species
of animals were included, as when the card describing the narwhal's
tusk was illustrated by a picture of a walrus tusk. The connections
that Nancy and Helen had clearly made in their minds and in their
conversation -- for example, that between "narwhal tusk"
and the more general category of "mammal tusk" -- were
not yet apparent in the product they had created. The presentation
of their report to an audience, however, provoked explanations
that demonstrated their grasp of the relationships involved. They
explained, for example, that the narwhal's tusk was essentially
a large tooth, and that, as mammals, toothed whales could have
features that resembled quite different animals.
Their awareness of the multimedia materials'
scope enabled Nancy and Helen to compare these materials with
the resources, and the products, of their more traditional research.
Nancy, for example, felt that the system was "not a good
place to do research," compared to the books she had used
in preparation for her written report, which tended to have "more
detail." But she felt the system "was but really fun
to write on because it's something different. Instead of writing
on paper, you write on cards and add clips and slides." Helen
felt that Interactive NOVA could be used for research as
well as for writing, but only for researching topics that were
available on the disc. Both students thought the process of browsing
through images serendipitously, however, was useful and fun:
"I enjoyed this very much. It was really
interesting to find the different pictures. We learned by what
[the audio narration and text] told us, and by the pictures."
Finally, Nancy and Helen's authoring experience
led them to suggest changes in future multimedia resources for
student authoring. Regarding the structure and scope of the database,
they felt that discs devoted to covering one subject area in greater
depth and from a variety of perspectives would be more useful
than a broad and shallow database covering many different items.
"Things were too scattered around," said Helen, for
example, "Why not have each disc organized by one subject?"
Nancy, too, wished that there were more motion clips of all kinds
of whales, and more variety within the whale category, available
on one disc. She suggested that "there should be a different
disc for each animal with lists of slides and clips." The
students also thought that the software should provide more explicit
opportunities to include information from other sources. As Nancy
said, "The index makes you think you're limited to the NOVA
disc, but you can add pictures from other discs and writing from
books." Finally, the experience they had of creating their
own sequences of images led Nancy and Helen, like Laurie, to wish
they had even more control over standard "editing" functions,
such as the ability to "put two clips together from different
parts of the same disc and to be able to have more than one motion
clip per text card."
III. Conditions That Supported Multimedia Integration
Everyone associated with the exercise --
students, teachers, and curriculum administrators -- declared
Hillcrest's brief experiment with multimedia a success. Laurie
described the experience as "fun -- hard work, but mostly
fun. I made my own film....and learned alot about the computer,
and alot about sea lions." Lucy felt that multimedia "was
a wonderful addition to the class....the kids have had a wonderful
time with this and have learned a tremendous amount." Sam,
the curriculum coordinator, was "encouraged that the kids
could understand all of this, and that they got help from each
But the successful integration of Interactive
NOVA did not happen over night, nor was it an outcome brought
about by any magical feature of multimedia technology itself.
Several key factors combined to create the supportive conditions
in which these multimedia materials could be so successfully absorbed
into the culture of the classroom: the role of the teacher; the
role of the administrative support staff; the role of district,
school and classroom environments; the role of the software design;
the role of the researchers.
The Role of the Teacher
It is the classroom teacher who is most
responsible for the success of any educational innovation. In
this brief experiment with multimedia authorship, Lucy played
a critical role in interpreting, introducing, guiding and supporting
her students in their work with the new materials and tools. As
a teacher she cannot be called unique, because she combines so
many of the qualities that are widely regarded as desirable in
a teacher; by the same token, however, she cannot be called typical.
A brief resume of these qualities, and their role in guiding the
integration of multimedia work, follows. It includes: her previous
experience with technology; her eagerness to risk trying
new things, and to seek the help of others in doing so;
her dedication and conscientiousness; and the openness
and flexibility of her teaching style.
Compared to many of her colleagues, Lucy
was quite comfortable with technology. She had become Hillcrest's
defacto computer coordinator by virtue of having used computers
for several years in conjunction with the science and mathematics
program The Voyage of the Mimi, and in other contexts.
She had also taken several of the technology-related courses offered
by the school district's teacher resource center, including one
on the use of multimedia materials. Most important as a consequence
of her experience with different media, however, was her ability
to envision technologies as only one facet of a rich classroom
environment, something to make use of, when appropriate, for certain
ends, for certain students.
Despite her relative familiarity with technology,
however, Lucy initially felt apprehensive about tackling multimedia
authoring in her classroom, primarily because of the "lack
of success" she had felt in a teacher course that had involved
using computers to make multimedia materials. Because of this,
and because she had never used a MacIntosh computer in her class
before, Lucy initially felt "very apprehensive, even overwhelmed"
about about having the multimedia system in her classroom. She
"wondered how it would work, felt unclear and fuzzy, was
sure it would not work out," and even said to herself at
one point, "forget it." Her apprehension was overcome,
however, by other things: her interest in taking risks, her willingness
to embrace the role of learner, and her ability to draw in others
who could help her. After securing promises of help from Sam and
Ralph, two administrators who had introduced her to the researchers,
she said she "looked forward to her role as a novice, learning
with the students, rather than having to know everything"
about the materials ahead of time.
Lucy is also a hardworking and conscientious
teacher. Her sense of responsibility to her colleagues and to
her students led her to spend several hours after school on two
consecutive days becoming familiar with the operation, navigation,
and content of the multimedia tools and materials. She asked the
researchers for paper printouts of several screens and the keyboard
and icon functions for reference. Having prepared herself, she
also wanted her students to have as thorough an introduction to
the materials as possible, so she spent one hour on two more days
to explain them to the class as a whole. During the first session
she described the equipment and showed the class how to search,
using a software version of the videodisc remote controller, for
video clips and stills on the Interactive NOVA and
National Geographic videodiscs. During the second session she
demonstrated the "report maker" and "video editor"
tools of the Interactive NOVA software, and suggested that
students who were interested might create multimedia reports about
whales that could complement their current assignment to create
written reports and/or oral presentations about one type of whale.
Lucy's style of teaching, in particular
her orientation toward "student-centered" learning,
was equally important in helping her integrate Interactive
NOVA into her classroom, for it allowed her to let the students
find their own way of entering into the material. Once the equipment
was in her class and she saw the kids using it, she said, her
fears went away. She quickly saw that it was easy and enjoyable
for them to use, and she noted how quickly they absorbed the terminology
multimedia editing, in their casual references to "clips"
and "frames." For her, it was "never a disruption"
to have some students using the system while others were working
on other tasks. She monitored children's work on the system about
as much as she monitored other kinds of work, both to provoke
thinking or reflection, and to manage kids' behavior. She also
noted that the clarity of the software made it possible for kids
to share time on it without constant structuring and support from
Role of Administrative Support Staff
Our multimedia experiment also drew on key
supports available at the administrative level. Lucy was assisted
in her multimedia experiment by two school district professionals:
Sam, a senior curriculum coordinator in science who also heads
the district's technology-rich teacher resource center; and Ralph,
the Hillcrest School's math and science enrichment specialist.
Both Sam and Ralph were interested in using technology to promote
curriculum innovation. In particular, they wanted to promote two
levels of involvement: having teachers use multimedia software
to design materials and having students use multimedia software
to do research and make reports. Their interests, as well as Lucy's,
had helped determine the focus on student research and report-making
using on-line multimedia "production" tools.
Ralph, especially, was "on-call"
whenever Lucy encountered a problem with the software. In the
course of the six weeks of use, he responded to such calls only
twice, but his promptness helped reassure Lucy that she could
negotiate the new technology successfully.8
It was also Ralph who, aware of Lucy's desire for "hard copies"
of children's multimedia work, set about videotaping students'
presentations of their work, so that she and the students had
something to look at, reflect on, and take home with them. Ralph
also had a researcher's interest in the way that the materials
functioned in the class. He cautioned that, while Lucy embraced
the medium quite easily, other teachers would probably want and
need more structure and support from him than she had.
Role of the District, School and Classroom Environment
Hillcrest's school district, the school
itself, and the environment of Lucy's classroom also played important
roles in supporting our multimedia experiment. The school district
was, first and foremost, relatively sophisticated in its approach
to the use of technologies in teaching and learning. District-level
administrators had become interested in multimedia and had set
up several multimedia courses, in addition to other computer courses,
for teachers at all levels within the school system. These courses,
available through a centrally-located teacher resource center
that was well-equipped with hardware and software, introduced
teachers to multimedia tools and encouraged them to use these
with their students and/or in the collaborative preparation of
Notably, teachers received salary credit for participating in
these and other courses. As a result, teachers in Hillcrest's
school district considered themselves professionals, an important
factor in motivating them to take on new challenges such as multimedia
computing. In addition, the school system as a whole had developed
a program of "action research," in which selected teachers
became active as researchers while developing new curriculum materials
and activities. The current interest of the action research program
was in the integration of computers into all major subject areas,
focusing on one course per year.
Technical support also made a difference.
The district was fairly well-equipped with computer hardware and
software, and was able to contribute a video monitor, cables,
and supplementary videodiscs to our multimedia system.
At the school level, the single most determining
factor affecting the "quality of educational life" for
Lucy and her students was the size of the class, seventeen students.
It is this that allowed Lucy to foster a student-centered climate
for learning, one which respected children as individuals, and
hence as different kinds of learners who could benefit from different
kinds of interactions and materials, including electronic multimedia.
But other features of the school contributed greatly to the success
of this multimedia experiment. The organization of space in the
school building itself (built in the 1960's according to a unique
design that features window-lined corridors radiating out from
a central area to small classroom clusters) flexibly accommodated
the "spill-over" of students who sometimes wanted to
work in the shared public area just outside the classroom while
our research was underway.
Inside Lucy's classroom, other features
combined to create an ambience conducive to the integration of
a multimedia "workstation" used, at most, by only a
few students at a time. Her room lacked the overall grid-like
structure that defines the traditional classroom, with rows of
desks oriented to a clear "front" of the room where
a larger desk, podium and chalkboard designate the teacher as
the central, controlling figure, as information source and sole
arbiter of student contributions. Instead, Lucy's classroom was
"decentered" in several ways. It was roughly circular
in shape, with windows comprising about 2/3rds of the walls, and
desks were arranged in clusters of four, with pairs of students
facing each other or the windows; Lucy's desk was off to one side.
Together, these features allowed the multimedia system, placed
against one wall of the room near the door, to be perceived by
Lucy and her students as another more or less "natural"
addition to the classroom, neither a dominant focus of attention
at the "front" of the room, nor a marginalized object
at the back. The presence of other equipment in the room also
reinforced the sense that technologies were valuable tools to
be used when appropriate. Several computers and a printer sat
just outside the classroom in a common space, and were intermittently
used by students to print out reports, work through simulations,
and play games. A telephone on Lucy's desk rang from time to time,
giving the feel of constant contact with the world outside the
classroom. Freedom, flexibility, and a great deal of communication,
therefore, characterized the overall organization of the classroom.
Role of the Software
Lucy, Sam and Ralph concurred that the design
of the software was a key factor in the students' success as multimedia
authors, browsers and game players. For Lucy, two of the most
important features were the motivating, intrinsic interest of
the materials, especially the visuals, and the clarity and responsiveness
of the user interface.
"The visuals were so strong and great,
and the kids got so excited about the experience, that they even
told their parents, and some came into school to see the program.
Plus, it was user-friendly, and had quick control."
One crucial feature of the Interactive
NOVA software was that it is relatively easy to use, and could
be learned by trial and error, hence by "showing" rather
than by lengthy explanations. As Lucy described it, after her
introduction the children simply "took over" and wanted
to investigate the software on their own. They did not ask for
written support materials, such as a manual, as she had. One of
the students, Laurie, became very proficient with the software
quite quickly and almost immediately came to be thought of as
the classroom Interactive NOVA "expert." Although
Lucy was on hand to help her, Laurie basically taught herself
how to use the report-maker and video editing tools, and found
that she very much enjoyed customizing video clips for her own
purposes. As Laurie said, "when I'm stuck I try to figure
it out myself, rather than reading how to do it." When she
had questions Ralph helped her with some of the aspects of the
video editor and showed her how to use the Interactive NOVA
software tools with the two other videodiscs. In her role as "expert,"
Laurie helped many of the other children with the technical aspects
of the software when called upon to do so. Her advice to others
was "go slowly because you'll figure everything out in time."
Lucy's role became one not so much of providing technical guidance
as providing guidance in the formation of small groups to use
the software and keeping track of how long various children had
used it so that everyone who wanted to could.
Finally, the authoring components of the
NOVA materials compared favorably with most other multimedia
tools that Sam and Ralph had encountered. Having tried to teach
people to use other program's video editing features, Sam felt
that "this is the nicest I have seen." He had often
been frustrated by the lack of standardization between different
software tools, and he felt that the Interactive NOVA report
maker and video editing tools could well provide a standard. "Software,"
he said, "drives the industry, and this software is powerful
and makes it work. We need more writing and indexing tools like
Role of the Researchers
Finally, the researchers themselves were
active participants, as well as observers, in the multimedia experiment
described here. Throughout the process, researchers helped students
with small problems of software navigation and occasionally, with
the clarification of direction and purpose.
In order to successfully integrate advanced
interactive multimedia materials into classrooms, teachers and
administrators must confront a wide range of challenges. Integration
will be easy or difficult depending on the technical and social
support available to the teacher, the design of the multimedia
software itself, the structure of the individual teacher's classroom
environment, and the quality of fit between the multimedia materials
and ongoing classroom activities. This paper has described the
results of a brief field study in which prototype multimedia materials
were incorporated into a public elementary school classroom for
a period of six weeks. Amply supported in each of the above areas,
the materials were thoroughly absorbed into the classroom culture,
and became vehicles for small group activities as well as for
the creation of original multimedia products that furthered students'
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