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Implementing Multimedia in the Middle School Curriculum: Pros, Cons and Lessons Learned

by DR. NORMAN K. PETERSON, Assistant Professor and BARBARA J. ORDE, Student University of Wyoming Laramie, Wyo. Multimedia technology has exploded onto the educational scene as the answer for educating the "television generation." The educational role of multimedia, however, has not been fully defined and many professional educators are skeptical of the hype surrounding this new panacea; they remember well the days of programmed learning, teaching machines, computer-assisted instruction, educational television, etc. Still, multimedia has impacted public school education in a variety of ways. Commercially available multimedia software is often employed as an individualized teaching station. Teachers use it for student remediation or enrichment, which frees them up for other tasks or to work with other students. Multimedia is also helping improve teachers' presentations as they can pull in material from videotape, videodisc or CD-ROM and present it on computers with projection capabilities. However, multimedia technology, as much as reading and writing, should be a tool for learning across curricular boundaries. While there have been successful efforts to teach students to utilize computers and software (typically word processing and HyperCard) to prepare reports and to give presentations, the technology is available to access a wide variety of learning resources, to challenge students to learn more, and to express that learning in a variety of ways. To Assist Pre-Service Teachers In the College of Education at the University of Wyoming, we have come to view the implementation of multimedia technology into the classroom as an issue that impacts not only the public schools, but also our undergraduate teacher-education program. Students planning to be teachers must understand that teaching roles in a technologically rich environment differ significantly from the roles they observed as students in the public schools and in many, if not most, college classrooms and lecture halls. Because students in the public schools are, and will continue to be, more technologically literate than their teachers, the faculty of the College of Education funded a multimedia center in order to examine the relationship between teachers and students when technology is central in the teaching and learning environment. The initial phase of integrating multimedia technology into the teacher-education program at the University of Wyoming began with the laboratory school. Between September 1992 and January 1993, a pilot program to implement multimedia into the middle school (grades 6-9) curriculum of the laboratory school (Wyoming Center for Teaching and Learning-Laramie or WCTL-L) was completed. This article reports on the implementation effort and issues that must be addressed when incorporating technology into the curriculum. Project Studies Integrating Multimedia WCTL-L has been successful in developing an integrated curriculum for the Unit I and II classrooms (grades 1-5), and has sought to expand that effort into the middle school. The purpose of this project was to introduce multimedia technology into the curriculum integration effort, to identify strengths and weaknesses in the overall curriculum plan, and to examine issues related to implementation. Extensive notes were assembled, reflecting observations of students in class and discussions among instructors on the progress of the program. Results revealed many positive, potential advantages of the medium for curriculum integration, as well as many areas needing improvement in the planning process. The subjects of the fall 1992 study were 92 Unit III students attending WCTL-L, including all students in grades six through nine. As was expected with this age spread, there was a large amount of variation in maturity levels, learning styles, attitudes and interest. Overall, the test group could be described as a random cross section of typical middle school-aged students with no prior computing knowledge. All 92 students, meeting during three class periods, had to be accommodated with only nine work stations. The solution was to divide each class in half, with the classroom teacher addressing related skills in the classroom while three instructors taught the multimedia curriculum. As multimedia and classroom units were completed, classes were rotated so that all students experienced both classroom and multimedia instruction. This resulted in approximately 18 students (two per station) during multimedia sessions. A 6:1 student-to-teacher ratio worked well enough. The Center and the Curriculum Six multimedia stations, the printer, the scanner and the file server were installed in the Learning Resource Center (LRC), a library facility on the second floor of the Education Building. Two additional stations, for digital video and audio capture, were on the third floor, more privately located due to the noise and disruption inherent in video and audio recording and editing. The stations in the LRC are equipped with a Macintosh IIsi 5/80, a Mirror color monitor, a Mirror CD-ROM drive, a Toshiba VCR, a Sony TV monitor and a Pioneer LD-V2200 videodisc player. The file server, also used as the scanning station, is a Mac IIsi with a color monitor. The video capture and editing station is equipped with the same peripherals as the LRC's stations, but utilizes a Macintosh IIci 5/80 outfit with a VideoSpigot card, a Mirror SyQuest cartridge drive for additional storage and an external Jovian Genie scan converter. The audio capture and editing station consists of a Mac IIsi, an audio cassette recorder, a Studio 3 MIDI interface and a Roland synthesizer. The LRC is neither a computer lab nor a typical classroom. Pieces of 2D and 3D art surround work stations that are clustered neatly together. In addition to the multimedia technology, the center was designed to be sensitive to learners' needs, stressing comfort, openness, accessibility and an assortment of print, audio/visual and educational software resources. The work stations have seating and sufficient space to allow two or three individuals to work together comfortably. The design provides privacy for students working singly or in cooperative learning situations, while at the same time allowing instructors to maintain visual contact with all students. Learning tasks are divided into five phases as indicated in Table 1. The stages of change listed in the table correspond to the cycles of instruction. The instructional materials developed to implement multimedia into the middle school curriculum are a combination of computer-based (CBI) and paper-based. The computer-based material consists of several HyperCard stacks linked through a map stack. Students are able to proceed through instruction sequentially, or to select a specific topic to study or review. Paper-based materials instruct students in the operation of hardware and software, where a HyperCard stack would not be appropriate. Students in the test group were required to use HyperCard, a variety of application software plus multimedia hardware to complete their final projects. The ultimate goal of the instruction was the appropriate application of these tools for learning across curricular areas. In keeping with that philosophy, the subject matter for all final projects was student-selected and topics were interdisciplinary in nature. Evaluation of student progress was based solely on the interim and final projects. Table 1: Phases of Instruction Instructional Stages of Instructional Periods Change Content Phase I 2 Knowledge Introduction to hardware & software Phase II 3 Knowledge Macintosh basics (tutorial) Phase III 5 Persuasion HyperCard & multimedia (cooperative CBI) Phase IV 4 Decision Create a practice /trial period stack with graphics & audio Phase V 10 Implementation Multimedia hardware & software operation, final project development What Type of Data Was Collected The collected data was grouped as student behavior, instructional materials and instructional management. Student behavior was noted as the prime indicator of the success of the other elements. Positive attitude and successful completion of tasks indicated proper and effective application of the other components. For example, few questions, timely completion of tasks, positive comments, etc. indicated the hardware was operating properly, the software was holding attention, the instruction was clear and meaningful, and the instructional strategy (text-based or CBI) was effective. Results in Terms of Behaviors The majority of students preferred hands-on exploration. (Occasionally they spent too much time discovering capabilities!) The use of sound and clip art in practice stacks generated enthusiasm from most students. Videodiscs and CD-ROMs were also of interest, even though the subject areas were limited and quality varied greatly. Students were very eager to share all new discoveries, which at times made it difficult to control student movement and socializing. Quite often students became so involved with the technology and their projects that they failed to reach their next class on time. When text-based and computer-based materials were first introduced, some students were insecure with both the instructional method and the technology. This became evident when instructors inquired about the progress or content of their HyperCard creations. Many students had made little headway and did little self-evaluation, indicating they were unfamiliar with this type of individualized, open-teaching structure. The format, however, offered an opportunity to teach self-analysis and related problem-solving skills. In most cases all that was required was some one-on-one instruction, coupled with a little encouragement and reassurance, to build skills and confidence. Lists of objectives were handed out to enable students to check their own progress and to facilitate critical evaluation. The ratio of computers to students made cooperative learning necessary, and the learning environment was specifically designed for it. Students could have benefited from some prior experience in this learning method. Sharing the mouse became a major area of disagreement, and self-selection of partners resulted in either exceptional cooperation or incessant arguing. Random pair assignments alleviated some of the difficulties of uncooperative teammates. In Terms of Instructional Materials Comments of "boring" were often heard when CBI materials were too slowly paced, too text-oriented or written above or below the students' intellectual and/or maturity level. Students failed to complete materials that were too difficult or had a great deal of text. Concise, step-by-step, paper-based instructions of two pages or less were most effective. Students showed great interest in the demonstration stack used in the introduction (which included an instructor-developed QuickTime movie) and played it repeatedly. They quickly gave up on HyperCard stacks consisting of lengthy text with little interaction. Paper-based materials proved very useful for providing both quick reference and detailed procedures for accessing applications and carrying out assignments. Indexed binders containing general information as well as specific lesson materials were placed at each station. Long-range goals of the instruction need to be clearly defined for students, to provide motivation and a global concept of the desired outcomes. This appeared to be especially important for these students, engaged with both the new technology and a cooperative learning environment. As with any instructional design, students need to know what they are striving for so they know when they have attained it. This security was provided verbally by instructors as well as in the written directions. Results in Terms of Management The LRC is a facility designed for multiple use as classroom area, writing center and quiet study space. In such an open facility, excessive noise was a disruptive factor, not only for students in the multimedia classes, but also for others in the facility. Noise from the networked dot-matrix printer had to be muffled by placing it in an enclosure. HyperCard audio, (and audio from CD-ROMs, videotapes or videodiscs) often attracted other students to the multimedia stations. The additional audience shared both the enthusiasm and the socializing, thereby increasing the noise. To minimize such distractions, multimedia stations should have headphones. Workstation design had both positive and negative impacts on class behaviors and learning effectiveness. Students in this study were required to complete a final project as a cooperative effort. Two students at each station seemed to work best; there was more disagreement with three, and insufficient space for more than three. Ergonomic considerations should be factored into workstation design. The keyboard and mouse should be on the same level, requiring that a keyboard shelf be sufficient in size for both. Monitors were moved to the table top, rather than on the CPU, to avoid neck strain. Adjustable chairs were placed at each station to accommodate people of all sizes. (Chairs with casters soon were a preferred method of "transportation," facilitating social interaction between people at different stations.) The innate appeal of this type of visual medium leads to an irresistible urge to explore. Student exploration at times resulted in damage to student work, application software and the computer's System Folder. Some damage was intentional, but most was accidental. Our solution was to install At Ease security software, which limits the level of use, enables passwords and requires individuals to save files to a floppy disk. Observations and Recommendations The implementation of multimedia into the WCTL-L middle school environment has been successful to this point. Throughout the implementation we attempted to identify processes that worked, as well those that needed improvement. The following recommendations are based on our observations: It is recommended that a formal instructional design process should be followed. Small group and individualized instruction of this type must be appropriately designed, taking into account prior knowledge, maturity and other characteristics of the learning population. It is imperative that instructional materials, whether computer or paper-based, be designed to accommodate the learning preferences of the intended students. Formative evaluation is essential. Time must be taken to adequately test materials and methods using subject matter experts, individuals and small groups before a pilot study is done. We found that fast-paced, highly interactive lessons that are short and have limited text were most effective. Software, whether developed commercially or in-house, must be chosen with the capabilities and characteristics of the potential user in mind. Software must also be adequately tested for motivational appeal and effectiveness. During the formative evaluation stage, environmental concerns such as furniture, lighting and ambiance, should be considered along with instructional materials and methods. Issues relating to comfortable, ergonomically designed workstations need to be discussed during formative evaluation. Workstations are a big investment and should undergo design testing. Lighting should be adequate, but not glaring. A pleasant learning atmosphere leads to positive attitudes and productive work. Time on task and time for exploration should be considered. Students could benefit from a flexible schedule that allows time for in-depth exploration and higher levels of accomplishment. Curriculum sequencing, which takes into consideration long- and short-range goals, facilitates daily lesson planning.

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This can then be translated into relevant activities. The efficiency of the materials and methods used in teaching relies on a comprehensive curriculum, followed by appropriately assigned learning events. All instruction should relate and be clearly understood for its content and purpose. When team teaching, successful classroom and student management is primarily an issue of proper communication. Each person involved with instruction must be aware of any changes in hardware or software status, as well as schedule and planning changes relating to instruction. All members of the team should be aware of what is working and what isn't. Routine communication allows everyone to help with solving problems of all types -- classroom management, hardware and software. Hardware should be selected based on its ability to implement the curriculum and its applicability to the school environment. At the university level, the temptation is to obtain state-of-the-art equipment. Pre-service teachers, however, need to be exposed to the technology they will find in the public school, especially in terms of curricular uses. The hardware selected for this center has proven adequate except for insufficient RAM. Additional hardware requirements would include amplifiers, headphones, a network modem and more removable storage capability. When Set Up Right, It Works Well When activities and schedules were well planned, the hardware operated correctly, and the software and curriculum ran smoothly, students appeared to learn more effectively and instructors were better able to meet individual demands. During these periods, there seemed to be an appropriate balance between self-directed materials, independent thinking, problem solving and teacher interaction. It was at these times that student attitudes were good, everyone was interested in their tasks, and discipline problems were few. There has been a tendency in education to restrict the use of these tools to a level that d'es not threaten teachers' understanding. All too often educators have defined the computer as a page-turner and multimedia as entertainment. That notion is outdated. To be prepared for life and work in the 21st century, students need to experience as many aspects and capabilities of technology as resources will allow. Our experience has shown that students are capable of using the technology creatively, and, if left to their own devices, they will discover new ways to use technology as a tool for learning. Norman Peterson is an assistant professor in the Division of Lifelong Learning and Instruction at the University of Wyoming. He developed the proposal for, and implemented, the multimedia center in the College of Education. He has supervised and taught the multimedia course for middle-school students and also developed and taught multimedia coursework to undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty in the college. E-mail: iepete@uwyo.edu Barbara Orde is a doctoral student in Instructional Technology in the College of Education at the University of Wyoming. She has developed curriculum to teach multimedia and has taught it to middle-school students in the laboratory school. Products and companies mentioned: At Ease security software and Macintosh models; Apple Computer, Inc., Cupertino, Calif., (800) 776-2333 Color monitors, CD-ROM drives, SyQuest drives, etc.; Mirror Technologies, Inc., Edina, Minn., (800) 643-3372 Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc., Irvine, Calif., (800) 959-4100 Sony Electronics, Inc., Computer Peripherals Products Co., San Jose, Calif., (800) 352-7669 Pioneer LD-V2200 videodisc player; Pioneer New Media Technologies, Inc., Long Beach, Calif., (800) 444-6784 VideoSpigot; Creative Labs, Inc., Milpitas, Calif., (800) 998-1000 Genie scan converter; Jovian Logic Corp., Fremont, Calif., (800) 756-8886 Studio 3 MIDI interface and a synthesizer; Roland Corp., U.S., Los Angeles, Calif., (213) 685-5141

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.

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