Image: Kibo Robotics
DIGITAL MEDIA IS HERE TO STAY
As one of my friends amusingly commented, teachers have little choice today but becoming multimedia experts ‘if they do not want to embarrass themselves in front of the kids’. Obviously, digital media have started to change classrooms forever as new government guidelines put pressure on teachers to comply with developing digital competencies for themselves and their students. Apart from a lack of experience as users of digital media themselves, many teachers (and seasoned school planners alike) face a bewildering plethora of gadgets, software, and standards on offer. The inevitable question arises how academic staff can develop logical strategies for media-based courses that intuitively make sense to students. Ideally, any decent media course should allow students to advance fluently from a novice to an intermediate level, to finally achieving expert mastery and competence.
Based on two decades of experience in designing media courses, I have compiled a little map that can help teachers make informed decisions. Experienced media buffs might skip this script. However, for anybody else, I have added a description to each topic to make the dependencies between the different stages of mastering media more transparent. Specialist areas such as Computer Animation, Virtual- and Augmented Reality or Robotics are not reviewed in this article since we focus on the basic media knowledge for teaching and academic staff at K12 and university level. Robotics have started to play a vital part in childhood education, To keep things simple, robotics is not part of the article and I hope to cover this great topic some other time. For now, I hope the described map, the Pragmatist Guide to Multimedia Prerequisites (PDF) helps. You can also scroll down to open the PNG-Graphic File in high resolution.
THE FOUNDATION: IMAGES, GRAPHICS & PRINCIPLES OF GRAPHIC DESIGN
Since images, graphics and their representation form the base of pretty much anything else in the media universe, mastering them stands at the beginning of almost any design foundation studies. This includes e.g., learning the basics about layout, image formats, editing, how to create visual hierarchies, how to use colour, grid systems, and contemporary layout for different kinds of target audiences and applications. For students, photography is a nice prerequisite for digital image processing as they can work with their original high-resolution material, rather than downloading images from the web, which is fairly dull. Vector graphics are useful in applications where scaling and avoiding pixelation matters, such as in STEM classes.
Since teachers need to explain phenomena, graphics are a key ingredient in almost any class. The illustration of this article was e.g., created in Powerpoint. There are free as well as commercial photo-and vector editors available, ranging from one-time payments for software to subscription models such as Adobe, from online to offline solutions. I can highly recommend the book ‘Multimedia Learning’ (Mayer, 2001), or Richard Meyer’s lectures on effective multimedia composition. This media-didactic knowledge, combined with image and graphic-production skills, form the backbone of teacher communication in the classroom.
Studies of the history of film, cinematography, journalism or experiences in theatre are, among others, great qualifiers to feel motivated in video production. The most essential skill, however, is storyboarding, which has two important aspects. One is to tell a story well, the other is, surprise, financial planning, time management, and cost control. Once broken down sequence by sequence and scene by scene, producers can estimate production time, plan for shooting at different locations, schedule performers and participants, estimate the need for titles, graphics, visual effects, and so on. Even for a humble production of a Youtube learning video, proper preparation is of the essence if it should outlast the current semester.
I would offer at least two different levels of video post-production. On this introductory level, importing files, cutting, pasting and being able to output video in different formats is all that is usually needed. Ideally, vide-post exercises should be accommodated by teaching basic editing skills, such as knowing how to avoid jump-edits, how to create a smooth-flowing video or how to frame shots to support the narration at hand. Advanced video-post includes skills such as keying and using greenscreen, motion-tracking, and the integration of motion graphics (animated graphics), 2D and 3D compositing, colour grading or composing multi-track audio to support the video.
Most teachers won’t have the time (or nerve) to produce beautifully polished videos, but they can still produce effortlessly video messages or create sensible videos within their means. You may look out for commercial products like Camtasia Studio, which also works with HTML5 or its free alternatives. Below: Da Vinci Resolve, a freely available high-end video and audio editor and Camtasia Studio, a very popular editor for producing e-learning content.
HTML, WEB BASICS, CSS3, CSS BOOTSTRAP
HTML is very useful once teachers and students publish their own Webpage or Blog. A useful side-effect of students running their own Blog is to learn how to publish information responsibly and how to navigate the web maturely. Creating custom-tailored HTML pages, edit the code to fine-tune online pages (such as alignment, implementing media with iframes or checking for broken links), belong to the standard skills of anybody who uses the web to publish content. Besides, blogging is a nice way to get into writing, reflecting and finding one’s personal voice. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) allow keeping the formatting of complex documents and the layout of web pages consistent. CSS3, the latest version, allows for the design of rounded corners, shadows, gradients, transitions or animations, as well as new layouts like multi-columns, flexible box or grid layouts. Teachers should master at least the very basics, such as HTML Tables, in order to be able to troubleshoot simple mistakes and errors occurring in online media.
Blogs, such as the popular WordPress, belong to the class of Content Management Systems (CMS). Blogs are great to foster writing, reflection, discussions, the publication of research, projects and engaging with literature. More complex CMS such as Joomla or Typo3 are more suitable for commercial ventures and involve a steeper learning curve. Since all CMS feature an HTML Editor and CSS, it is useful to learn simple BLOG management simultaneously to get fast into blogging. Personally, I would not sequence both skillsets, as I believe that students should start responsible publishing, academic writing and creating their personal learning space as soon as possible. I recommend a two-level introduction: one for beginners so they can start blogging, and one for advanced students and teachers to develop their online presence professionally since online portfolios become our satellites in lifelong learning.
HTML5 is where things become interactive. For example, images can have Rollovers, videos can offer menus, interactive quizzes, or multiple pathways. HTML5 tools are also a great tool for teachers to obtain feedback from students on completed mini-tasks. It makes sense to introduce HTML5 after having mastered image processing-, video- and graphics-production, so teachers can create original interactive content. Luckily, most tools using HTML5 do not require coding or scripting, so users can focus on content, media-didactic and media-pedagogical issues. As HTML5 is applied to pre-produced media, it has been labelled as an intermediate skill for teachers to master.
THE CRITICAL ASSESSMENT OF APPS
As we find educational apps like sand on the beach, a central media competence is the critical evaluation of learning apps, both for teachers and students. Questions are: Does this work for me or my group? What are the benefits, what are the limitations? Do benefits outweigh the limitations? It is a skill that I would practice early at the beginner level since we like to implement those apps that we deem useful for our online and interactive media platforms later on. Below a screenshot of the popular Math App Geogebra.
DATA VISUALIZATION AND INTERACTIVE DOCUMENTS
Visualising data is a key skill for many subjects at school and university. Creating dynamic, interactive PDFs is a likewise nice (perhaps not must-have) skill as well and is mentioned here to give an idea. Before teachers and students engage in data visualisation, they should have at least basic knowledge of statistics and how to use a spreadsheet. It is recommended to brush up on basic competencies in these areas and to create entry-level refresher courses for those who do not feel confident. It is better to create no data visualisation at all, rather than to create visualisations that may mislead or wrongly inform the public. With going online, comes responsibility. This is how a critical review of statistics, their interpretation and visualisation should complement technical competencies. Look out for Tableau Public and other data visualisation packages.
LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS (LMS)
Since LMS represent another Pandora’s Box altogether, it may suffice to say that these complex CMS involve practically all other competencies and therefore stand at the top of the media competency pyramid. Teachers and school developers require experience in collaborative course planning, media integration and social design. Most teachers will use an LMS to publish their courses online, this is how prior knowledge of HTML5, CSS3, learning apps etc. on are of the essence. Few LMS accommodate Mastery Learning paths (personalized learning) out-of-the-box to support weaker students and to optimize programs. Administering LMS is a new full-time job in digital schools and universities.
TOO MANY CHOICES OF SOFTWARE, BUT SUSTAINABILITY AND INCLUSION MATTER MOST
From my experience, always go for those choices you can afford and those that allow a sustainable development of competencies. If you aim for a professional level, subscription models may be a convenient way to have access to the latest multimedia suites. If you specialize in only one area, you may only need specific programs in your field of expertise, and so on and so forth. If you teach students, think of how your students have access to affordable tools after they graduate. There is no point in training students to high levels of media competency using expensive software packages or costly licensing arrangements, if after their graduation finances get tight and their dream of participating in the digital economy falls apart.
Literature: Mayer, R. E. (2001). Multimedia learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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