Grassroots Program Lets Students Create, Share Multimedia Lessons

Current educator workloads have hindered the adoption within schools of new technology-based tools and processes. Educators are asked to carefully attend to all traditional teaching responsibilities plus learn about, help create and then implement the technology commonly utilized by industry and government. Many businesses have turned to computer-based courses provided by outside vendors to train their employees. But this approach has not always succeeded in education because it diminishes the important roles of curriculum development and administrative decision making. Crafting a New Solution Allen Communication (Salt Lake City, Utah), a pioneer in multimedia training, has been working with educational institutions at all levels for the past decade to craft and test a solution for integrating technology into education. The result is The Academy of Multimedia, a grassroots program designed to allow both teachers and students to learn about, practice and produce interactive computer-based courses as part of their normal classroom activities. The program comprises three key elements. First, educators are given a complete two-year curriculum that offers a day-by-day, week-by-week plan for showing students how to create multimedia-based lessons. The two main themes of the curriculum are instructional design (how to create a good lesson plan with objectives, audience analysis, etc.) and authoring (putting content into a computer-based format). These lesson plans are directly tied to software packages, forming the second component of the Academy of Multimedia. Teachers use Allen Communication's new Designer's Edge software to learn the fundamental processes and theories of instructional design, while students use the Quest Multimedia Authoring System to create the actual lessons. Finally, participants enjoy access to an Internet-based library of Academy-created courses and related chat sessions. The firm also provides technical support and regular newsletters. "The reason we adopted this program was that it was a whole solution," says Clay Epstein, general manager of UtahLINK, a division of the Utah Education Network. "We've seen lots of schools, at all levels, try to accomplish similar things without a complete program." Epstein adds that the Academy "gave us a proven curriculum, well-written software products, a comprehensive Internet solution and a well thought-out plan for successfully integrating this program into our schools." He notes that without such a package UtahLINK would have had to purchase products from multiple vendors that could not "tie it all together." Educators across the state echo Epstein's enthusiasm. "The Academy program gives students opportunities for real-life training," says Allen Arko, an instructor at the Jordan District Technical Center. "It helps them show competency -- not just a letter on a report card -- by developing a portfolio and skills that they can use throughout life." High-level administrators also voice support. "The Academy is a model of the future," says Stephen Hess, executive director of the Utah Education Network, noting that it brings teachers and students together to solve instructional problems. "This is quite different from the top-down proprietary model employed by commercial developers." Utah is the first state to deploy The Academy of Multimedia on a large scale, although schools nationwide have integrated the program at local levels. Scott Knell, responsible for business and applied technology services for UtahLINK, says students benefit by learning highly marketable skills. Business World Settings "It puts students into team settings -- similar to the settings in which they will work in the business world -- with teachers acting as managers and mentors," comments Knell. "Additionally, by applying this program statewide, we've provided a conduit for sharing the assets and lessons created via the Internet." Currently, 20 schools are participating in the Academy of Multimedia, and that number is expected to grow significantly in 1997. "My vision of this program is for it to be worldwide in two years," says Steve Allen, Ed.D., CEO of Allen Communication. "Within a few years, there will be a huge 'library in the sky' of resources created by students that can be used to enhance our children's learning experience while at the same time giving them a realistic business experience," Allen continues. According to Allen, participating students and teachers have exhibited increased cooperation and excitement. "The Academy program is not a quick fix. It is a way, however, to firmly embed new instructional processes, create new skills and open the doors to the world of multimedia technology that, when used appropriately, can bring important educational return."

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.