The Pedagogy of Multimedia Presentation


David P. Diaz, Ed.D.

New technologies are flooding the academic arena bringing with them a plethora of unique teaching and learning opportunities. According to the 1998 National Survey of Information Technology in Higher Education (The campus computing project, 1998), about 18% of all college classes use multimedia instruction, compared to a little over 13 percent in 1997, 11 percent in 1996, 8.5 percent in 1995, and just under 4 percent in 1994. About 36 percent of the college classes use computer-developed presentation handouts, compared to 28 percent in 1996. Smith, et. al. (1996), suggested that multimedia presentation can meet the needs of the adult learner by creating an environment where students can become active learners. Well-crafted multimedia presentations provide a variety of multimedia resources and move the teacher into the role of facilitator rather than authoritarian messenger.

Some researchers indicate that computer-generated slide presentations can enhance classroom lectures by providing better organization of information, creating greater flexibility in preparing and delivering content, and by creating greater interest in classroom materials (Sammons, 1997; Rivera, 1996). Marshall pointed out the cost effectiveness of multimedia (1996). He noted that in educational psychology, the cost of using specimens and dissections for studying the brain is prohibitive. However, with multimedia technology, students have access to scanned illustrations that are accurate, permanent and easily accessible. The only "cost" is the time spent organizing the materials.

Sammons surveyed over 500 students to evaluate the effectiveness of computer multimedia presentations. The students reported that multimedia slides were clearer and more legible than overhead transparencies and chalkboard materials. They also indicated that lectures were easier to understand and more interesting when delivered in a multimedia format. On the other hand, some students reported difficulty in taking notes in rooms poorly lit for projection purposes. Another criticism was that some teachers moved too rapidly through the multimedia slides, making note-taking and comprehension more difficult (Ibid.).
These comments point out that, while students were impressed with the technology, some teachers were more efficient and effective in applying the technology towards the teaching/learning process. The successful incorporation of multimedia presentation into the educational setting will become, like other teaching methods, an art as well as a science. Using multimedia effectively entails more than just knowing how to use a piece of software or digitizing equipment, it involves an understanding of new pedagogical principles that address the use of this relatively new, and rapidly evolving modality.

Some faculty have noted the importance of proper room lighting in optimizing presentations (Diaz, 1997; Smith, et. al., 1996; Sammons, WWW 1997). Insufficient lighting will make it difficult for students to see well enough to take notes and may promote drowsiness. Too much light will wash out presentation colors and/or make it more difficult to see presentation elements. Ideally, lighting should be adjustable, either by some kind of fading switch or several switches to control separate banks of lights.

LCD or Data Projection. The LCD panel or data-projection option is the best option when the student population or room sizes are large. Projection systems can vary in type and quality. LCD panels operate by placing them on top of an overhead projector, thus a requirement for two pieces of hardware. Though panels can be cheaper than an all-in-one projector, projectors have greater versatility because all audio and video components reside inside the projector, thus projectors are easier to transport and set up. Variables to consider are lumen output (a measure of lamp brightness), lamp wattage, resolutions supported (VGA/SVGA), color-depth, built-in audio (speakers), platform support (Mac and Windows), and flexibility of controls (video and audio adjustments). Projection systems with higher lumen output will require less light-dimming and allow students better lighting for note-taking.

Presentation handouts should be an essential element of multimedia presentation (Diaz, 1997). Since multimedia is intended to engage the visual and auditory senses of students, it is imperative that they not spend all their time with their heads down taking notes. Instructors using multimedia will want to regulate student attention so that they fully experience graphical, animation and audio/video elements of a presentation. One way to facilitate this is through the use of slide handouts. Handouts allow students to focus on the presentation, provide visual cues to help students follow sequence and flow of information, help with information recall, and facilitate note-taking (Ibid.).

Prior to delivering a presentation, an instructor should "troubleshoot" the room they will be using (Diaz, 1997; Pence, 1996; Sammons, 1997). They should test the projection system along with the lighting to ensure optimal visibility for presentation and note-taking. The instructor should check the view from all class seats to ensure proper line-of-sight. If necessary, chairs should be moved in order to prevent oblique viewing angles. If using audio, the system should be checked to be sure it is loud and clear enough to be heard from any seat. Screen design can also be tested for appropriate slide color schemes, and font type, size and color. Finally, it is imperative that computer hardware functions properly and that an instructor is familiar with the use of computer and projection hardware. Sometimes faculty will use one computer to develop, and another to present, computer-generated slides. This may cause problems if the computers differ significantly in processing power, video capabilities, and/or fonts installed. If this is the case, the presentation computer must be adjusted to each presentation. Slide transitions and fonts should be tested for proper execution and appearance.

Processor speed
A Pentium 400 MHz or Power Mac G3e/200 Mhz should be the minimum processor speed for typical playback needs in the multimedia environment. While the newer MMX technology may be desirable, it is not necessary except for the most disk-intensive of multimedia applications and uses.

Random Access Memory
Random Access Memory or RAM is the memory which is used to store information used by the multimedia application as it is processing information. The more RAM, the faster the processing will take place. A minimum of 64 Mb of RAM is recommended.

Video Out
Video-out refers to the number of colors a computer system can output. The more colors that a computer can output, the richer and more realistic will be the colors projected to the screen. It is recommended that a computer be capable of outputting 16-bit color (thousands of colors). If a laptop is used for presentation, be sure that it has at least 16-bit video-out capabilities. A video output of 24-bit color (millions of colors) would be nice, but is not noticeably different than 16-bit color to the untrained eye.

Compact Disk Player
A Compact Disk player or, CD-ROM, is used to play interactive multimedia titles. These interactive CD-ROMs are often used by faculty as part of their multimedia presentation. CD-ROM player speeds have been increasing exponentially. At this time, it seems reasonable to suggest at least an twelve speed (12X) CD reader.
Storage/Network Requirements
If design and presentation takes place on different computers, or if a presentation computer is shared, eventually there will be a need to consider the storage requirements of multimedia elements. Storage solutions like Zip, Jaz or Syquest may be a sufficient answer for storage needs. If a presentation computer will have access to a high-speed network (10-base T or above), then the storage solution will require a network (Ethernet) card. This piece of hardware is standard in most desktops, but is usually an "add-on" in laptops.

According to Diaz (1997), many faculty are simply not familiar enough with the software and related applications to even begin incorporating advanced multimedia elements into their presentations. While it may be true that a logical starting point is one that can be easily attained by the instructor, it nevertheless must be stated that the normal evolution should be toward the integration of many multimedia elements into presentation design. The efficacy of multimedia presentation-compared to traditional delivery using overhead transparencies, 35 mm slides and chalkboard-is related to the power of the presentation software to engage various learning styles through it's multimedia features. Faculty, besides serving as content experts to guide the development and design of the multimedia presentation, must learn how to judiciously use the more powerful features of the multimedia software.

Appropriate use of screen space keeps a presentation simple and understandable. Positive screen space is the space being covered by either textual or graphical elements of the individual slide. Negative space is the space between and around the positive screen elements. Diaz recommends an optimum 60:40 ratio between positive and negative screen space. Examples of appropriate and inappropriate screen space are illustrated in this and the following slide.
Colors of fonts, screen background or graphics should be carefully analyzed. Colors should be used consistently throughout a presentation. Since colors may look different when projected, one should check for "washed-out" colors or colors that do not have enough contrast with associated screen elements.

Changing slide backgrounds and color schemes may detract from the presentations message. Backgrounds should be applied consistently throughout a presentation. This does not mean that the same background must be used througout, only that there should be some consistency in usage. For example, main slides could have one background, while the sub-heading or bulleted slides could have another color scheme. This cues the viewer to the nature of the slide and its relationship to preceding or succeeding slides.

The pedagogy of multimedia presentation involves both planning and design elements. The faculty who engage in this technology will require new knowledge and skills. While this technology has much to offer the teaching/learning environment and the students of today, it carries its share of obstacles as well. This paper underscores the need for training programs to acquaint faculty with the pedagogical principles of multimedia teaching modalities. Faculty may also want to conduct formal and informal (classroom-based) research to acquaint themselves with student preferences related to this technology.