Increasing Student Learning Through Multimedia Projects
reviewed by Anthony G. Picciano - 2003
Title: Increasing Student Learning Through Multimedia Projects
Author(s): Michael Simkins, Karen Cole, Fern Tavalin, and Barbara Means
Publisher: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA
ISBN: 0871206641, Pages: 154, Year: 2002
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Increasing Student Learning Through Multimedia Projects is a guidebook for teachers interested in using project-based multimedia in their classrooms. In this well-written book, based on the experiences of 150 teachers who participated in the Silicon Valley Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project, a Technology Innovation Grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the authors share their knowledge and encourage others to become part of the community of multimedia project users.
The book accomplishes its purpose to serve as a concise guide for teachers who are considering a project-based multimedia approach for instruction. Organized into nine chapters, it takes the reader through a step-by-step planning and implementing process that beginning and intermediate technology-using teachers will find especially helpful. A brief glossary and resources list is also included.
The opening chapter entitled, What is Project-Based Multimedia Learning, is very well done and key to understanding the topic. The authors define project-based multimedia as "a method of teaching in which students acquire new technology and skills in the course of designing, planning, and producing a multimedia project" (p. 3). They also establish the fundamental aspects of this approach. First, project-based learning is an old, respected educational method grounded in experiential learning theory. Second, while multimedia is a powerful tool for presenting material, in project-based learning, students are not simply receivers but become developers and creators of multimedia. The authors make it clear that teachers must commit to an active learning environment where students control a good deal more of the instructional activities than is commonly allowed in teacher-centered classrooms. This chapter also initiates a discussion of the positives and negatives to be considered in adopting this approach and the challenges, such as assessment, with which teachers need to be concerned.
In Chapters Two (A Multimedia Primer) and Three (Making a Real-World Connection) respectively, the authors provide fundamental definitions and descriptions of what is multimedia and emphasize the importance of establishing project themes that allow students to connect their activities to real world phenomena. Whether the subject is social studies, science, language arts, or mathematics, real life situations found in student interests, hobbies, personal histories as well as societal and world issues provide a plethora of possibilities in connecting almost any topic or subject to the "real world."
Chapters Four (Defining and Planning a Multimedia Learning Project) and Five (Ready, Set, Go!) provide practical advice in developing and implementing a multimedia learning project. Chapter Four defines the goals, instructional objectives, and standards that will be met by the activity. Without explicitly stating that multimedia-based activities will test the wherewithal (talent, creativity, technical knowledge) and resources (equipment, time, library materials) of most teachers, the authors nevertheless make it clear that a successful project needs to be well-planned and carefully monitored throughout its cycle. The authors aptly suggest using progress charts, timelines, filing systems, storyboarding, on-going assessment techniques, and self-evaluation.
Chapter Six entitled, The Role of Assessment, is perhaps the second most important chapter in the book. Assessment of project-based learning has been considered problematic for a number of reasons. The authors demonstrate their practical knowledge of this subject by identifying several critical assessment issues including:
The above questions are difficult to answer by simply looking at the finished multimedia project. While they offer several suggestions, the most illuminating was that teachers may have to rely on additional assessment techniques such as traditional testing, written reflection, and oral interviews. They also correctly recommend ongoing assessment to provide students with a sense of how their projects are evolving over time and not simply giving a grade on submission of the final product. This chapter ends with a four-page figure of assessment activities that should be carefully read and reviewed by any prospective multimedia project teacher.
Chapter Seven (Teachers and Students: Evolving Roles) reviews the well-observed changes that are occurring in technology and project-based activities in teaching and learning. These changes reflect a movement away from teacher-centered ("sage on the stage") activities to student-centered ("guide on the side") activities. This discussion is especially appropriate because students take control of a good deal of the technology (delivery mechanism) as well as the content in their multimedia projects.
Chapters Eight (Finding Support for Your Project) and Nine (Building Systemic Support) identify key support (financial, technical, curricular) issues that need to be addressed in implementing multimedia projects as part of a school or district instructional plan. One critical issue mentioned here, relates to the increasing importance being placed on meeting standards and raising test scores. The authors suggest that teachers considering using the multimedia project-based approach may have to consider seriously the environment in which they work. In schools and districts where standards are highly emphasized or where test score results have not been particularly good, teachers might think twice about the time and resource commitment to multimedia projects and perhaps start off on a much smaller scale.
This book is a well-organized, concise guide targeted to the reader seeking basic information on developing a project-based multimedia approach to instruction. However, those interested in the pedagogical and historical bases of the book's insights, issues, and suggestions, must look beyond its pages for more in-depth discussion of the topic. For instance, the rich history of project-based learning used during the Progressive Era of American education could have been referenced as well as the readings of John Dewey and Jean Piaget. More recently, the work of Seymour Papert and the development of the Logo instructional software system, is also a very appropriate example of how technology has been integrated into the project-based approach. The issue of assessment is covered well, but here too, a reader might want a more thorough review of the concerns associated with collaborative learning and time-extended student-centered projects. The paragraph (p. 90) in the book suggesting other traditional assessment techniques could have easily been expanded into several pages. Lastly, the authors could have provided more discussion on the issue of where multimedia project-based activities fit in the current standards movement. While respected for their pedagogical value, multimedia and project-based learning require significant amounts of class time which increasingly are being devoted to assuring that students meet standards and are able to pass "the tests." As a result, educators at all levels are forced to make choices about devoting extensive resources, especially class time, to multimedia and other project-based activities.