|Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings Contents ]
Developing a multimedia degree: Course development from an industry perspectiveJennie Bickmore-Brand
Teaching and Learning Centre
School of Media, Communication and Culture
It struck me, that if you could consider the outcome as the departure point from which to develop material, you could work your way back to what you needed to include and how you needed to include it. From my own experience I know what is required from a multimedia professional. I therefore know what I would expect from a graduate of a multimedia degree program. However, I am no educationalist and did not have any extensive experience in the development of course material for a tertiary course level.
Although the program structure was largely in place when I started on July 1, 1998, the 5 core units at the center of the degree program were non-existent except for their titles. The first unit, Principles of Multimedia, needed to run that second semester, so I had less than 3 weeks to develop the material. I was told: "they need to learn HTML", and that was all I knew. So almost inevitably, I took my own learning process as the basis from which to work. How do I learn and what do I find useful in a learning process, which I then combined with the base skills that would lead to the outcome "know HTML". In my mind students would learn if they could see the need to learn, if they had fun doing it and if they had something to show in the end. This is how it started....
Fortunately, I was able to attend the Tertiary Teaching Course (TTC) offered as Staff Development by Murdoch University's Teaching and Learning Center by Dr Jennie Bickmore-Brand. Although I was grateful for the opportunity it did fill me greatly with apprehension. By this time I had been running the first unit for one semester 'by myself' as it were, and had designed and was running my second unit, Visual Communication Design. I was afraid that I would be found out as a fake and be told that all the things I had put in place were of no value and 'the wrong thing to do'. I was also not at all convinced that I wanted to be a 'teacher' rather than a multimedia professional. I have since learned that you can be both. The Tertiary Teaching Course has given me the tools to have a much more structured, focussed and considered approach, taking into account different learning styles and the seven principles of learning developed by Dr Jennie Bickmore-Brand.
|Context||creating a meaningful and relevant context for the transmission of knowledge, skills and values|
|Interest||realising the starting point for learning must be from the knowledge, skills and or values base of the learner|
|Modelling||providing opportunities to see the knowledge, skills and or values in operation by a 'significant' person|
|Scaffolding||challenging learners to go beyond their current thinking, continually increasing their capacities|
|Metacognition||making explicit the learning processes which are occurring in the learning environment|
|Responsibility||developing in learners the capacity to accept increasingly more responsibility for their learning|
|Community||creating a supportive learning environment where learners feel free to take risks and be part of a shared context|
Teachers can apply this principle by:
For instance, I make the distinction between learning professional standards and learning subject skills. The first is manifested in on time delivery and producing your scope (ie. your assignments), whilst the latter is related to, among other things, content development and understanding the communication process that takes place.
Deadlines are an example of professional standards development. I am very strict about assignment hand-in dates and give no extensions. I justify this to my students on the basis that deadlines are real 'out there' and can mean the difference of being (or not being) paid at the end of the job. I often relate case studies from my industry experience, and fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be) there are plenty of malpractice examples out there.
The general rule is that as an industry practitioner I know what I would expect from a qualified person. I would expect them to have certain basic software/hardware skills, but more importantly I would expect them to understand the process of not only content development and production, but also self-training. In my units, for instance, I do not teach my students software skills per se. I investigate self-learning books on the software at hand and set that as required text. Then I set assignments around the particular skills sets the students need to develop. In the 2D Animation & Authoring unit the software program was Macromedia Director. There are many good self-learning books on that program which is an industry standard. I set a small animation assignment and a short interactive program assignment to test the students had indeed learned the material. The unit could then focus on developing dedicatedly designed interactive learning games for children with language difficulties, which was the brief for the units. I suggested that the students might want to develop an animation that would fit within the brief, but I did leave the choice to them.
To clarify the earlier made point, in the units Visual Communication Design and 2D Animation & Authoring, my students work on actual projects (not for profit, non-profit, charities) for assessment. They are given the choice of a number of briefs developed for on-campus and off-campus clients. In 2D Animation & Authoring the students were working with the Carawatha Language Development Centre, a school for pre-primary and primary school age children with language difficulties. Depending on the unit these are either for individual assessment or group assessment. These projects give the students as close to a 'real life' experience as possible, but within a protected and supportive environment. They can pick the brief of their choice, but they still have to work with that given client and to do that successfully they need to interact with a person not trained to 'teach' nor an 'expert' in the production of multimedia. They learn that work can be rewarding, and it creates a sense of responsibility because they are not producing the work just for themselves. The students had opportunities to talk to the teachers at the language centre to ask questions and get feedback. The results were 5 interactive CD-ROM prototypes that could be used and tested in the classroom.
Teachers can apply this principle by:
In my first unit I will allow students to choose their own topic to make a website on. That way they can work on something that has their interest. They are not allowed to make it a personal homepage, it does have to have some broader purpose either education, community or commercial.
In my assignments I incorporate a written component called 'justification'. This gives the students the opportunity to explain what it was that they were trying to achieve as opposed to what their skill level allowed them to achieve. I do take that into account when assessing the work. The degree is also about developing students with the critical and analytical skills, who will be able to make decisions about the approach to the work on the basis of thoughtfully developed arguments. The assessment of the justification does take academic writing standards into account and it requires the students to substantiate arguments and to site their sources appropriately.
The units are developed with a range of different activities and assignments to cover many different approaches. Although there is a conventional one hour lecture every week, the workshops have many different activities related to the development of understanding and base skills. These range from large group work to small team and individual work.
In two of the units students are also required to keep a visual diary/journal and every week in the workshop I will talk to each student individually and look over their weekly entries. Some students have a need for extensive reflection, others collect pictures, and yet others simply note down URLs of websites they visited and looked at. I make no distinction between these forms of journals, I simply want them to develop a continuous engagement with their study topic. We discuss what they like and dislike about the material, why they chose it, what significance it holds and how it relates to the unit topic.
Each unit is a pre-requisite for the next, which allows students to build on prior knowledge. In Part 1 students start developing software skills from semester 1 (B108: Introduction to Multimedia and the Internet) through to their final year. In their last semester they utilize all the skills in their industry project.
The modelling principle refers to the influence people whom we admire can have over us when we try to take on board their knowledge, skills values and or culture (Combs,1962; Jourard, 1964, and Purkey, 1970). Observing young people's efforts to imitate their peers, sporting or media personalities clearly reinforces what a powerful learning tool this can be. Peers can be used as mentors or the teachers themselves can authentically model the concepts they are teaching. A teacher can model for the learners their own thinking strategies (see Metacognition principle) eg. solving a problem they have a need to solve, either orally or on the blackboard or overhead projector etc. The students see their teacher grappling with ideas rather than presenting everything in a highly structure logical way. Learners are often left with the impression that they should be able to master the efficient short-cuts demonstrated by teachers from the outset rather than appreciate the reality of a struggle through the meaning making process. Similarly getting students to model how they went about a problem and comparing different methods can free up a learner to adopt the model which suits their own style best.
Teachers can apply this principle by:
All unit material is available on the MMlab server from the dedicated B.MM website. The weekly schedule is updated with new material when it becomes available and the readings are posted there. These are in PDF format and downloadable for printing from every computer in the MMlab. Although I do hand out a printed unit outline at the beginning of semester, all additional material is simply put on the server. This includes articles, lectures and lecture notes, image material, sound material and anything else relevant. The students are encouraged to access the material regularly and the B.MM homepage is the default page when opening any of the two web browsers available on the computers. I feel this approach is important because it immerses the students in the topic material I am teaching. A multimedia degree entirely based on paper teaching material would be inconceivable (in my book, anyway).
Where possible I try to model professional behavior: handing back marked assignments on time, develop class material that is put together in a professional manner, and being well groomed for presentations. My lectures are always created electronically (MS PowerPoint) and projected from LCD projector. I am very aware of instilling due regard for process (as a practitioner myself).
Interactionists (see, for example,Bauersfeld, 1988; 1992; 1995; Voigt, 1985; 1994; 1995) discuss the various assumptions, patterns and routines occuring during classroom discourse. Certain kinds of classroom interactions, such as "funelling" focusing, reciting, and "concrete-to-abstract" practices can have a profound effect on the quality and extent of the learning occurring in the classroom (Bauersfeld, 1995; Brousseau, Davis & Werner, 1986; Bruner, 1996; Krummheuer, 1995; Voigt, 1985; 1995). If these classroom interactions are sensitive to the learner's conceptual understandings and build on these, they have the potential to act as a scaffold for the learner.
There is no expectation that the learners will become independent learners independently. Scaffolding is essentially a hand-holding strategy, tailored to the needs of the individual and is provided at any stage when joint assistance might be beneficial for the learner's development. It will vary in difficulty and length of time.
What is being suggested in the light of the preceding principles, is that the learner's own communication be valued and the teacher, (it may be a peer 'mentor') modeling reflective language, encouraging when the learner is grappling, reshaping their expressions to clarify at times and extending in a more complex ways at others.
Teachers can apply this principle by:
The first part 2 unit (J217: Visual Communication Design) teaches students image manipulation software skills, the difference between a creative process (mostly internal) and the production process (mostly external with due regard to industry standards), and how to work with clients. In this they are measured against industry, which I believe - as stated before - gives students a goal.
The second part 2 unit (J218: 2D animation & authoring) teaches students the more in-depth approach to interactivity and screen design, but also very importantly it revisits the relationship between contractor and client as well as developer and content expert. In this unit the students are also introduced to teamwork. The projects undertaken are produced in teams of 3 with each student having a specific duty statement with a relevant set of deliverables. Each group will have a project manager, a programmer and an interface designer and each of these tasks will have their own individually assessable components (called deliverables). The project manager is responsible for the schedule and client liaison. The programmer is responsible for the architecture/structure of the work and the ensuing documentation. The interface designer is responsible for the 'look and feel' and needs to develop the graphical interfaces.
Within the units the same principle is followed. The first assignment is the first step in creating the final assignment so the material learned is applied to the various steps in achieving the end result (this does simulate industry, where set phases are the general practice).
In Part 1 and early Part 2 units the assignment sheets are very detailed in their explanation (see H118: Project Design Document), but they become progressively less prescriptive. For instance in J218: 2D Animation & Authoring the students need to produce a short animation for individual assessment. The reason for this is that I need to know that they worked themselves through the first part of the set text that teaches them the software. So in class we discussed this assignment on the basis of the need I had and we jointly constructed and agreed on the assessment criteria. I did not prescribe a topic. They could develop anything they liked. I did, however, remind them that it might be useful to develop something that could fit with their final assignment, so that the material could be re-utilized.
This teaching/learning Principle highlights the importance of encouraging students to articulate their thinking processes. It is through such articulation that students should be able to judge the soundness of their thinking. Vygotsky (1962) used the term "verbal thought" to describe how learners conduct an inner dialogue with themselves. Students, hearing the speech patterns of the teacher or peers can internalise these and make them part of their own inner speech (Vygotsky, 1978). Mead (1962) also emphasised the notion that thinking originates and develops through experience with verbalisation, and that we tend to conduct an inner dialogue with ourselves.
Asking students to think aloud can also assist the adult/expert to gain insights into possible strategies that may have prompted the "miscues" (Goodman, 1983) students make. Research suggests that students already know the extent of their misunderstanding before they seek the help of their teacher (Newman & Schwager, 1992; Rohrkemper & Bershon, 1984). There is some evidence to suggest that learners who have been identified as helpless by their teachers, actually have the needed ability and skills, but consistently display negative self-involved inner speech (D'Amico, 1986).
The issue of self-correction is an important one. It is based on the premise that learners will recognise their own errors. However, in order for this level of awareness to be developed the learner needs to have been exposed to feedback on two levels(on the one hand, internal monitoring and on the other, outside evaluation (Newman, 1988). The first form of feedback has to lead into the development of an internal mechanism, by which students can validate their meanings as well as the development of their processes of learning. In other words, they not only comprehend but have become critical thinkers. McCormack and Pancini (1990) describe "being metacognitive" as meaning that
we become aware of and responsible for the way we approach new ideas and new skills. Being metacognitive means that we do not have to be just passive victims of our past habits or experiences-we can take control of the way we go about learning. (p. 19)Teachers can apply this principle by:
I also try to include peer-assessment where appropriate to the learning process. For instance, in J217, students had to develop 2 distinctly different logos according to the client brief. Their fellow students then had to pick the one logo they would develop further into a style guide (final assignment). Their initial reaction was negative. They did not like the idea of being assessed by their fellow students, because they did not possess 'expert knowledge'. So I explained that,
In order for this principle to be effective it will depend on the integration of the other principles. The idea behind giving learners responsibility for their learning is not that they are left stranded to survive or alternately to run amok in our classrooms, but that they will gradually be in a position to accept increasingly more responsibility for the curriculum.
Teachers can apply this principle by:
I do not teach them software, they need to teach themselves. I recommend self-learning tutorial books and online tutorials are made available on the server in the MMlab. I set assignments that 'test' whether they have taken the trouble and make clear that the assessment will be based on the assumption that they have worked through some of those self-learn tutorials and that they have learned the basic software skills. In addition, in Part 1, my second year students come in and offer assistance to anyone who wants/needs it (which was an initiative by those second year students themselves).
For access to the MMlab I devised a MMlab Student Access Agreement. Every student who has enrolled in the multimedia units has to sign a copy at the beginning of each semester before they are given access to MMlab (secure swipecard access only) and server. It sets a number of rules and specifically states that: "The MMLab is a facility made available to you by Murdoch University for your benefit. You are therefore responsible for treating that facility with respect. Remember that you are sharing it with your fellow students, who are equally entitled to reasonable access." I hoped that it would instill a sense of responsibility in the students about their privileged position in having access to such a well-provided facility. So far this has been indeed the case. To date we have only had one virus in the mmlab in 3 semesters and all the equipment is still there even the very portable headphones and WACOM tablets.
I try where possible to focus firmly on the process of development, not on the specific tools. In my industry the tools change every week. If I were to concentrate too much on teaching students specific software, I will never be up-to-date and always chasing the latest gimmick. However, by concentrating on teaching them how they can (and need) to teach themselves relevant skills, the students will be capable of working with any piece of software they need.
Sharing even clumsily in the skillful activity of "significant others" establishes membership in the group and fixes valuing of the skill. The resultant sense of cultural identity supports a growing assurance of personal identity as one who belongs with, and needs to master, the skill. (p. 59)Learners feel supported in this classroom to take risks and to learn from their mistakes without any loss of dignity. Learners in this community feel empowered to negotiate the tasks. Their learning styles are valued and different levels of mastery are not only tolerated but create a scenario where the whole class can become a resource for one another, depending on which skills and abilities are needed at the time.
Burnes and Page (1985) believe that a teacher who creates and encourages a shared context in the classroom is going to be in a better position to select appropriate materials and instructional procedures. According to Burnes and Page, a shared context helps to reduce the distance between what learners bring with them to the classroom and the content of what is being taught. The classroom climate that the teacher sets up for student's learning will not only reflect what the teacher knows (e.g., about their content area), but what he/she believes about how students learn (Lubinski, Thornton, Heyl & Klass, 1994).
Teachers can apply this principle by:
As part of the Murdoch MSG the students have developed a website for which the University has made the server space and an alias available (http://wwwmsg.murdoch.edu.au). This website contains information about the MSG and showcases student work. In the near future the MSG site will tie into the B.MM section of the website of the School of Media, Communication and Culture (MCC) under the 'MM@MM Portfolio' (http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/multimedia) heading.
At a request by the second year students I am in the process of organizing visits to multimedia development companies in Perth and Fremantle.
All Multimedia students have a dedicated Multimedia lab that gives no access to other students.
We share knowledge: if anyone finds a good URL, it gets noted on the whiteboard for everyone to see and we accumulate those in documents available on the dedicated multimedia server in the MMlab. All students receive email access on enrolment. I have setup email groups in all my units and any information I get that I think is interesting I mailbomb out to all the multimedia students. There is a pinboard in the MMlab and next to my office where they pin announcements, interesting tidbits and invites to cool parties.
Please note that the program is still in development. Two of the core units have not been designed yet, and we are currently looking into growth for the program. I still have no way of knowing whether I am 'doing the right thing'. I am now in my 3rd semester and I do have to say that my students in part 2 units (the first cohort) are maturing and turning out some remarkable work. I am proud of what they are achieving and feel privileged to be a part of that.
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|Please cite as: Bickmore-Brand, J. and Towler, M. (2000). Developing a multimedia degree: Course development from an industry perspective. In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/bickmore-brand.html|