Is there an added added academic value in incorporating multimedia scholarship into student projects? This is the question addressed by Mark E. Cann of USC in a recent article titled Multimedia in the Classroom at USC: A Ten Year Perspective. This past fall he recast a previous essay assignment into a group multimedia project in order to compare previous students’ written work to current students multimedia work. He graded them according to the same basic criteria (clarity, coherence and cogency) and wondered if they would ” produce more insightful analyses than conventional written essays.”

He found four ways in which the students’ multimedia projects differed positively from the written version. According to Cann, multimedia scholarship invited or encouraged students to:

  1. prioritize and dramatize their main points by highlighting text, incorporating eye-catching images, or employing engaging video clips. This contrasted to conventional papers where students often buried their main point in the middle of a paragraph or expected it to emerge miraculously from the
    text.”
  2. “assume multiple perspectives by using hyperlinks…While students might have done the same class analysis in a traditional essay, the fact is that they had not done so until their use of new media prompted them to experiment with multiple perspectives.”
  3. layer their analyses. Students were able to explore an issue in depth by employing hypertext links to break it down into major components, then analyze major components by using links to break them down into subcomponents, and so forth.”
  4. experiment with interactive analysis. Students were able to use new media to demonstrate how making one choice likely results in one set of outcomes and subsequent options whereas making a different choice likely results in a different set of outcomes and subsequent
    options.

He goes on to describe how a grant had allowed a group of faculty from the university to develop and discuss similar projects between 1998 and 2003. Some of the challenges the group found were “that teaching and doing multimedia scholarship was extremely time-consuming for faculty, TAs, and students” and that there was a “tension between devoting class time to course content and devoting class time to training students in basic computer skills.” They concluded that “the time and tensions were tolerable because multimedia scholarship did in fact add academic value to our classrooms. However, we learned from our discussions that multimedia scholarship added academic value to our classrooms in very different ways. We also learned that we all had trouble explaining to each other exactly how multimedia scholarship added academic value to our classrooms.”

That experience led to the development of a university-wide Honors Program in Multimedia Scholarship. Developing that program, and undergoing the review process, forced the participants to articulate how multimedia can add academic value to student scholarship.

Implementing the program has confirmed the belief that multimedia “requires students to become adept in the use of new media tools” but that it can “develop students’ capacity for active learning and creative scholarship.” Faculty also “emphasized the importance of multimedia scholarship for enhancing
students’ analytical skills. Several faculty members emphasized the utility of new media for investigating multiple perspectives on issues, facilitating interactive understanding, and addressing issues involving contingency and ephemera.” Some felt that “employing new media promises to develop students’ capacity for active learning and creative scholarship. Multimedia authorship demands that students not simply receive meanings but also participate in the construction of meanings.” Others agreed that “multimedia scholarship promises to strengthen students’ ability to communicate their research and findings to other people.”

Cann concludes the article with a discussion of the recommendations the USC program has made for the program. These can be useful “best practices” for anyone contemplating the addition of multimedia projects into their course. Full article at:
http://www.academiccommons.org/commons/essay/multimedia-classroom