Game Design, Gamification, Learning Design and Assorted Other Strangeness

Multi-modal Media in the Classroom

When we define multi modal media as being an object that carries information through multiple channels as opposed to single mode transmission like simple text writing. It becomes clear that humans have been using this form of communication for a very long time with examples from cave paintings like Lascaux ( to Trajan’s column in Rome (  or even modern comic-books people have been using images to create multi modal media. 

To get a clear understanding of what the use of multi modal media can allow a student to do consider the phrase “I’m sorry” and all the different ways in which it can be said sarcastically, humorously, ireverently and so on author often spend large amounts of time attempting to capture in written form what can be much quicker conveyed by a multi modal approach. try reading the comic strip underneath by Will Eisner to see how it manages to express all the different ways of saying different phrases.

Multi modal media fits well with the theory of learning made popular by Howard Gardner Multiple intelligence’s. In brief it states that people prefer receiving information  through a specific mode, visual people enjoy pictures and video and so are more likely to remember the details presented in such a way where as auditory people are more likely to respond to speech and conversation. If we accept this theory of learning (and there are several who have noted problems with it) then it would follow that providing students with multi modal media would be the best way to present material to the widest audience.

Multi modal media has been present in the classroom in the form of project based learning, since the 1960’s. It has been used to good effect in demonstrating a students comprehension and ability to synethesis ideas.  The internet has not created this form of media it has merely made it easier to curate it. Easier to gather it in one place and to display it in a (hopefully) coherent manner. I bring this point up so that we can look at the problems that have beset the use of multimodal media in traditional classrooms and thus avoid repeating the same mistakes.

The first big problem is with the area of register. As much as we would like to believe otherwise certain forms of expression are valued higher than others. Even in this course points are awarded for academic referencing which it must be remembered is just a convention.

As the above Calvin and Hobbes shows we make judgments based on cultural norms and the literacy of the subject itself (in this case I am using literacy to mean the knowledge of how things are expressed within a specific domain like chemistry or music) . Thus things like Pokemon ( and other “childish” media are not considered appropriate in an academic setting.  As James Paul Gee has pointed out it is more likely that students who do well in school are expressing themselves in the valued currency of expression and those who do not do well are attempting to express themselves differently. Before the classroom is ready to be opened up to multiple paths for students to demonstrate their mastery of a subject, the teacher must confront these biasis clearly.

The next big problem is that of assessment, most teachers are not trained in the requisite skills to judge the artistic or cinematographic merits of a student produced work. We are however trained in judging when something is grammatically correct and following a pre determined layout. With multi modal media the teacher risks feeling under qualified to asses and so may prove resistant to using it in the classroom. Merely ask yourself how you would compare a painting say “The Scream” by Edvard Munch ( with “The Raven” By Edward Allen Poe ( Both are on a similar theme that of terror both capture it in very different ways, how would you decide a rubric for discussing which is better? 

The last big issue with using  multi modal media is the paradox of choice. With so much information available to the student (and potentially so many students remember affordance 1), how does a student decide what fits and what does not fit with the assignment? The possibility of merely information dumping at the problem is huge. Another point related to this issue is that of information overload where the teacher does not realize  that they have been had until after it is to late. I encourage you all to comment bellow with got it when you realize how I have elucidated this point. I am interested in seeing how many of you have gotten to the end of this discusion or caught my easter egg. 

In conclusion

Multi modal media is great it allows students to do some amazing things to demonstrate understanding / mastery of a topic. It is however not new and as such we can learn from its analogue application the pitfalls we may expect in its digital incarnation. Technology is pedagogically neutral but as this course shows it affords us opportunities to do things differently a little bit easier.

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