Allan Harrison and David Treagust
Science and Mathematics Education Centre
Curtin University of Technology
Interactive multimedia (IMM) is promoted as an effective and stimulating medium for learning science; however, students do not always benefit from IMM as intended by software designers. This paper discusses the effectiveness of IMM in teaching and learning introductory university physics concepts like projectile motion. Qualitative data collection using a video camera and split screen video-recorder were used to record each student's image and voice along with computer screen capture showing the student-program interactions. Left to themselves, student interaction with the program was limited and they prematurely moved onto the next graphic or screen. When the researcher asked students to explain their observations, two things emerged: students held common intuitive conceptions of projectile motion, and only following researcher prompts did they note and interpret abstract aspects of the program. Without intervention, students did not cognitively engage at a deep level, did not always read and follow all the instructions, nor relate the graphic to the text. These results suggest that enhancing the quality of IMM physics programs requires increased input from psychology, science education and content specialists and that commercial programs should be rigorously evaluated before use with school or university students.
The past 20 years has seen revolutionary changes in the philosophy, psychology and pedagogy of educational knowledge and practice. Not only have teachers' social and employment roles changed, but technology offers teachers the opportunity to partly replace or augment their teaching with IMM resources. Tobin and Dawson (1992) reviewed teacher uptake of new teaching/learning technologies and suggested that instructional designers have failed to take teachers' knowledge and the culture of teaching into account when designing multimedia curriculum resources. Consequently, many teachers either fail to adopt IMM based technologies or use them inappropriately. Advances in computer hardware and the development of sophisticated IMM software requires that IMM programs be critically evaluated (White, 1995).
Much research over the past 20 years has investigated students' understandings of scientific phenomena (Pfundt & Duit, 1997). Students bring to science lessons their own experiences, observations and understanding of the physical world (Treagust et al., 1996). Children's conceptions are variously called na•ve, prior or alternative conceptions and are frequently incompatible with scientists' conceptions and often inhibit science learning (Novak, 1988). Indeed constructivist knowledge theory holds that students actively construct their own experiential meaning by using their existing conceptual frameworks to interpret new information in ways sensible to them.
The question initiating the research was concerned with the issues surrounding the interaction between beginning physics students and an IMM program containing applied physics concepts. A preliminary study of 16, 15-year-old secondary students yielded extensive quantitative and qualitative data about their use of the program, their prior and changed conceptions, and their attitudes to IMM learning.
Preliminary results. Students using the program, settled into a pattern of action/response which seemed almost automatic, carried out as if to complete a task rather than to learn. Students frequently moved from segment to segment without deeply reflecting on the on-screen information and spent less than one minute per segment. For one series of related graphics illustrating the concept of balance, students averaged four seconds per graphic. Students did not always read everything on the screen and often chose not to access hypercard links to related information. Where information was represented in two or more forms (e.g., text and graphic) students sometimes attended to one or the other, not both, and they did not always follow the instructions for processing screen-based information. While all this was going on the students appeared a 'picture of concentration'. They hardly moved, apart from the hand operating the mouse.
These data elaborated the initial question as two research questions:
Subjects. Ten students participated in this research: eight had no substantial physics background and two had studied Year 12 Physics. The students were enrolled in a service first year non-calculus introductory physics course supporting degree courses in, for example, physiotherapy. At the time of their involvement in this research, they were studying an 'introductory mechanics' unit, thus, they were superficially familiar with the concepts of mass, force, weight, velocity and acceleration. All the student-subjects were volunteers. Before commencing, the researcher discussed with each student their previous and current physics experience. The program was introduced and each student provided with a brief summary of the program's key physics concepts. The students expressed familiarity with the concepts.
Two students worked as a pair and all other students worked on their own. The first five students, Lexi, Lia & Tonia, Sam and Hugh were allowed to complete the individual segment without interruption. The technique adopted for the next five, Alan, Nina, Evan, Tom and Aaron differed in that they worked without uninterruption until they were about exit each screen At that point, the researcher began an exploratory conversation asking for their understanding of the animated graphics and the information conveyed by the program.
The students were videotaped while working and all conversations and the computer screens were recorded simultaneously. The videotape carries the sound and shows the students working as an inserted picture on the main computer screen. The times students took to complete specific actions or program segments were determined and researcher notes also were made about each student. On completion, each student was given a brief pen and paper post-test consisting of questions designed to elicit their conceptual knowledge about the key concepts.
Animated graphics 1-3 appear in the lower left half of the screen when each of the three cameras is 'clicked.' Each graphic shows the motion of the ball from the selected camera's perspective. At the side of each graphic appears a small amount of text describing the ball's motion.
Graphic 4 appears when the ball is 'clicked'. Graphic 4 is quite complex as it combines graphics 1-3. As the ball moves along its trajectory, a red arrow changes size and direction to depict vertical velocity and the constant-length blue arrow depicts constant horizontal velocity.
Potential outcomes. The program intended students to learn that an object travelling in parabolic motion:
The equivalent data for students 6-10 is shown, but the last three columns reflect their interactions with the program following the researcher's intervention. These students' decisions to revisit any graphic may have been their own or may have been prompted by the researcher's questions.
The post-test contained a number of conceptually-oriented, but still contextually-based, questions. Post-test results are summarised in Table 2.
No student correctly identified position 6 as the point where the vertical velocity is greatest. The lower centre of gravity of position 6 compared with position 1 may have been too subtle for these students. Six students identified position 1 as the point of greatest vertical velocity and position 3 as the point of least vertical velocity. This is probably an acceptable response in the circumstances. Three students, however, chose position 3 for the greatest vertical velocity.
Strike and Posner (1992) believe that verbal messages that are at odds with the learner's conceptual beliefs are quite likely to be ignored, disbelieved or misconstrued. This may explain why all of these students failed to read with understanding the textual information about each graphic. Their reading of the text did not result in their accessing the appropriate information, whether incidentally or by choice. Students construct their understandings from what they know, see and read and in this case, this did not include the represented physics.
Prior to the researcher's intervention, all students were absorbed in the task; however, following intervention, the student-computer interaction altered markedly. The locus of control moved away from the student to the researcher. The student began to act more as an interpreter of information and thus started to compare the information on the screen with their own conceptions. Only at this stage did the students seem less sure of their ideas, thus making conceptual changes possible. Persistent teacher intervention encouraged students to interact more with the physics in the program. Students then used the computer graphics to illustrate what they were previously unable to explain.
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|Please cite as: Yeo, S., Loss, R., Zadnik, M., Harrison, A. and Treagust, D. (1998). Interactive multimedia: What do students really learn? In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 341-347. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/yeo.html|