MET:Multimedia in a constructivist learning environment

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-Patason Brooks (2011).


Plato in the Phaedrus famously complained that books are passive; you cannot get them to talk back to you in a real dialogue the way that a person can face-to-face (Gee, 2007). Today educators are faced with the same problem, of how to actively engage students in the dialog of the lesson. The constructivist approach to education is a model that promotes student participation at every level of learning. This however requires a special environment that needs special tool in its design, the computer with its wide range of software can be one solution to that problem.

Why media is important to teaching

The Communication Cycle

The teaching and learning process is driven by communication. Communication require four elements, a sender, a message, a messenger,and receiver all operating in a particular environment. The sender and receiver switches rolls as they communicate. Media serves as messengers and thus are a vital part of the communication cycle. The relationship between the sender and the receiver is held together by the messenger for if it doesn't deliver the message there is no communication. Since there can be no message without a messenger then the relationship between the medium and the message is so intimate that message and the medium for all useful purpose is one and the same.

File:Two gun.png
The Bullet represents Message and the guns the media

This can be compared to the relationship between guns and bullets. This is why an empty toy or fake gun can be used to successfully control people.

This is summed up in Marshall McLuhan famous phrase “the medium is the message” It is supported recent research at Carnegie Mellon University that showed that we understand spoken and written language differently.

Semiotics, Multimedia and Multiple intelligence

Multimedia is media and content that uses a combination of different content forms. It enhances the teaching and learning experience from two standpoints:

  1. How meaning is extracted from symbols according to;
    • Semiotics domains
    • The cognitive theory of multimedia learning
  2. Learning styles (Multiple intelligence).


File:Semiotic engine.png
How meaning is extracted from messages.The broken arrow indicates possible pathways. Only if the message is made up of the sign or symbol is the path connected. Meaning is constructed by combining what is extracted each signs or symbols

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols, especially as means of language or communication. This involves more than more to the meanings of the signs and symbols. It also involves the social and cultural context of the people using them in a semiotic domains (Gee, 2003). A semiotic domain is an area or set of activities where people think, act, and value in certain ways For example the text and graphics of a diagram of a biological diagram all combine to give information on the specimen being studied. The image by itself is just a picture, the arrows or pointers will just be lines in empty space and the labels alone are meaningless string of words. The meaning here is therefore constructed from two media in a specific discipline. Such a diagram would be meaningless in a music book

The cognitive theory of multimedia learning

Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning also supports the fact that a multimedia presentation of words, pictures, and auditory information is not processed at the cognitive level in a mutually exclusive fashion; rather, these elements are selected and organized dynamically to produce logical mental construct. His research has produced the five major principles of how to use multimedia to help students understand a scientific explanation. One of which states that students better understand an explanation when corresponding words and pictures are presented at the same time than when they are separated in time.

Multiple intelligence

Professor Howard Gardner theory of multiple intelligencestates that we all possess varying amounts of seven intelligences. Multiple intelligences make it easier to learn some things than others. The study at Carnegie Mellon University found that some people are more skilled at one at comprehension from listening or reading and typically exercise a preference for their more skilled form where possible. . Each intelligence lends themselves to one or more types media, therefore using well designed multimedia will pitch the lesson to a wider range of individuals than is otherwise possible.

The constructivist learning environment (CLE) and multimedia

The medium is transported in the environment which ultimately determine if, when and how the medium arrives. The environment is therefore the foundation on which communication is built. The constructivist approach requires the teacher to create an environment where students can experience the lesson and not merely memorize the concepts being explored. This environment allows learners to work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and information resources in their pursuit of learning goals and problem-solving activities. Learners are free to construct new meaning within the context of their current knowledge, experiences and social environments (Neo and Neo, 2009). An environment that is called a constructivist learning environment. The computer with its ability to present text, graphics, video, animation, and sound in an integrated way and its ability to facilitate collaboration across the globe provides an effective means of both creating and enhancing a constructivist learning environment. Research by Thurairaj et al and Neo and Neo indicate that multimedia can help students construct knowledge in a well designed constructivist learning environment. The computer can even become the CLE with its ability to create immersive environments as seen in video games in what Gee calls “multimodal literacy par excellence” (Gee, 2003) because of its efficient use of multimedia.

In order for students to construct knowledge in a multimedia constructivist classroom, teachers' instructional strategies need to change. Conventions for presentation and communication are changing. This is because “[t]echnologies of representation and those of communication and/or dissemination are everywhere bound up with the larger, wider changes in the global economy, in social and political changes and in accompanying ethnic and cultural changes” (Kress, 2005, p. 6). Writing and the book are giving away to the image and screen (Bolter, 2000). This change is inevitable and thus, so too must the nature of teaching and learning change. For in order to be successful meaning makers in an increasingly image+screen dominant world, students need different literacy attitudes, skills and knowledges. This Videoscribe discusses the implications for teaching and learning in multimedia constructivist classroom:


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Ministry of Education (2015). ‘Introduction to British Columbia’s Redesigned Curriculum’.

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Neo, M., & Neo, T.-K. (2009).Engaging students in multimedia-mediated Constructivist learning – Students’ perceptions. Educational Technology & Society, 12 (2), 254–266.

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Thurairaj, S., Mangalam, C., Marimuthu, Maran . (2010) Reflection on Multiple Intelligences and Multimedia in the ESP Classroom International Journal of African Studies ISSN 1451-213X Issue 3 (2010), pp.16-25

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