Multimedia in a science learning environment.
Technology has improved so much today, that it is easy to teach in ways that are both interactive and communicative. Constructivism has come to stay and technology, and more specifically multimedia, has surely helped in its popularity. So, what is multimedia?
Multimedia today refers not only to what is presented through computers, but also through the composition of text and illustrations in print media (Iding, 2000). According to Mayer (1997), multimedia learning occurs when information is presented in more than one mode. It could be through pictures, words spoken or written, or through video. The effects of multimedia need to be critically researched under diverse conditions, in order to improve the instructional design process.
The multimedia learning curve can be steep. This could be due to various factors such as knowledge of software and its viability that is dependant on extraneous features such as the operating system used, the time taken for creating the multimedia and for downloading the created project, and the most relevant being the readiness of classrooms to make a success of the project. Added to these constraints are other challenges such as computer limitations involving both hardware and software, individual differences among learners' abilities, and their computer expertise, to name a few.
The use of multimedia software is becoming more popular with the improvement in computer technology. But should it be used because it is popular or because it meets the instructional objectives? There is debate going on about the effectiveness of computer-based instruction (CBI) versus the traditional classroom approaches or teacher-led approach. CBI or Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) as the sole mode of instruction has not been found to be as effective (LaBonty, 1989; Morrell, 1992; Ruef & Layne, 1990). According to McKethan and Everhart (2001), the effectiveness of CBI is dependent upon its purpose, the context of its use and the design of the software, while the effectiveness of lecture based instruction not only is dependent on purpose and context, but also diminishes with time (McKeachie, 1986). The debate on the comparison of different media as a learning tool takes this even deeper. Two of the best known articles on this issue, written by Clark (1983) and Kozma (1991), are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Clark states that it is "what the teacher does--the teaching--that influences learning" and that "we will not find learning differences that can be unambiguously attributed to any medium of instruction." He goes to the extent of recommending that no further research, in exploring the relationship between media and learning, is required. Kozma, on the other hand, takes a diametrically opposite view. According to him, some students will learn regardless of the use of medium while others need it to help construct knowledge. Therefore, medium and method have an integral relationship and they are both part of the design. McKethan and Everhart (2001) have concluded that multimedia as a learning tool is no better or no worse than the lecture method when the instructional objective requires only a recall of information.
Taking these factors into consideration, it would be interesting to see the effectiveness of multimedia in a learning environment, more specifically in a science learning environment and then to point out the lacuna that needs to be filled. But first, it is important to find out what teachers feel about this as it is they who will be guiding students through the whole gamut of the learning process.
Teachers'Views on Multimedia Instructions
With the availability of standards for using multimedia in classrooms, it would be interesting to know how teachers actually use it productively. Research has shown that teachers are interested in using technology in general and multimedia in particular, provided some of their doubts and apprehensions are removed. What are their apprehensions? Does it really serve their needs and that of their students? Is multimedia just an add-on or does it add value to the curriculum? Can curriculum balance be achieved by using multimedia? A common practical problem they face in a classroom is that there is no space to have desktops for each student, if they could provide one. This is more so in a science lab as the working space for experiments is equally important.
A study done by Iding, Crosby, and Speitel (2002) looked at it from the teachers' perspective and found that for most of them, use of technology for educational purposes was crucial and that technology was underused at present. This could be overcome if administrators were more supportive of the importance of learning with technology than they are. Lack of knowledge is shown by their deeply felt thought that there was no particular software that helped learning. This is surprising seeing their interest level in technology in general.
According to Zhao (1998), it is important to design and develop technology products that meet two goals: to promote adoption and instructional change. Why is adoption so difficult? There are a number of reasons from different perspectives. Cuban (1986) says that it could be due to lack of suitable training, lack of technical and administrator support, lack of incentives, pedagogical beliefs, and resistance to change. From a teacher's perspective though, it is due to the lack of time to learn and incorporate it and lack of evidence that it would make their work more interesting and effective. If technology products could be made simpler so as to remove the phobia which some teachers have, it would have a greater impact on their teaching. Products also need to be made in a way that it would support a wide range of pedagogical beliefs. Changes in pedagogical beliefs cannot happen overnight. It is a slow process and when they start to feel comfortable in their new roles, they extend it to other areas.
Successful integration of technology into teaching hinges on the willingness of teachers to move beyond using just computers as tools to supporting new educational concepts that involve higher order thinking. Multimedia can offer teachers precisely that with a flexible interactive learning environment to enrich their educational experience both as learners and as teachers. A number of studies have proved the effectiveness of multimedia.
Research on Multimedia Interaction
The Internet and the Web have added a new dimension to teaching and learning. They not only integrate different mediums, but also their design, development and implementation. With the paradigm shift from teaching to learning, hypermedia offers an excellent way for self-paced and exploratory learning more in tune with the constructivist methodology than the behaviorist methodology. Personalized instruction, instant feedback, real world simulations, and most important of all, having fun while learning, is the hallmark of multimedia.
It has been found that the recall of content was better with hypermedia students, while the understanding and competence level of students in the traditional lecture mode was superior to hypermedia students. Since learning involves all three--namely recall, understanding and competence--a mix of the lecture and hypermedia approaches should prove beneficial (Dastbaz & Kalafatis, 2003).
What is meaningful learning? According to Mayer (1997), meaningful learning "occurs when learners select relevant information from what is presented, organize the pieces of information into a coherent mental representation, and integrate the newly constructed representation with others." Processing of what is relevant in both visual and verbal mode is selecting. This is then transformed into visual and verbal mental modes in the visual and verbal short term memory, respectively. Integration occurs when both pieces of information are held in the short term memory simultaneously. Since the short term memory has a limited holding capacity, this could lead to a high cognitive load. (Chandler & Sweller, 1991).
Various research studies have presented two very conflicting theories in the area of instructional design. The Multiple Representation (MR) theory is built on Paivio's dual-coding theory (Clark & Paivio, 1991; Paivio, 1986), according to which multiple references of information, with connections between visual and verbal processing systems, improve and strengthen the learning process. The cognitive-load theory on the other hand, suggests that disparate sources of information may generate a heavy cognitive load that is unfavorable to learning (Chandler & Sweller, 1991; Sweller, 1988, 1989; Sweller, Chandler, Tierney, & Cooper, 1990). Cognitive load could be either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic load occurs when there is a high level of interactivity between elements that cannot be learned independently. Extrinsic load occurs when the instructional design is not good enough and imposes a load that has nothing to do with the learning process. MR theory suggests that multimedia programs that concurrently present the same concepts or procedures in several forms improve the learning process, while cognitive-load theory suggests development of multimedia programs that do not over-load the learner with too much redundant concurrent information.
The human cognitive system consists of two distinct channels for representing and manipulating knowledge: a visual-pictorial channel for processing pictures and an auditory-verbal channel for processing spoken words (Baddeley, 1986, 1999; Paivio, 1986). These channels have their limits for holding and manipulating knowledge (Baddeley, 1986, 1999; Sweller, 1999). Meaningful learning occurs when learners engage in active processing within the channels, including selecting relevant words and pictures, organizing them into coherent pictorial and verbal models, and integrating them with each other and appropriate prior knowledge (Mayer, 1999, 2001). These active learning processes are more likely to occur when corresponding verbal and pictorial representations are in working memory at the same time.
In their empirical research, both Mayer and Sweller have used cognitive theory to study multimedia design considerations which would improve learning. Based on their research, the following principles would be worth considering for preparing multimedia presentations:
1. Contiguity Principle: Words and pictures should be coordinated in multimedia presentations and presented simultaneously for the learner to integrate and construct mental connections between them.
2. Coherence Principle: When giving a multimedia explanation, use few rather than many extraneous words and pictures. However, make multimedia presentations more interesting by adding adjuncts like background music or some animation to spice up the lesson, arouse interest and motivate the learner to exert more effort to understand the narrated animation.
3. Redundancy Principle: Students learn more deeply from multimedia presentations consisting of animation and narration than from animation, narration, and on-screen text.
4. Split-attention Principle: Words should be presented aurally rather than visually. On-screen text and animation can overload the visual information processing which in turn would negatively affect the learning process.
5. Personalization Effect: Students learn more deeply when words are presented in a conversational style than in an expository style.
6. Interactivity: Adding simple user interactivity can improve learning because it reduces the chances of cognitive overload and encourages learners to engage in each of the cognitive processes mentioned. At the end of each segment, learners can take all the time they need to build a visual image and coordinate it with the verbal explanation.
Where does Multiple Representations theory fit here? It is known that illustrations are frequently used in text. Peeck (1989) and Levie and Lentz (1982) have found that illustrated text is more memorable in long term than non-illustrated text. Similarly, students who listened to a narration explaining how a bicycle tire pump works while also viewing a corresponding animation did better in problem-solving transfer questions than did students who listened to the same narration without viewing any animation (Mayer & Anderson, 1991, 1992). When content matter is presented in multiple ways or modalities, it is said to enhance cognition, but at the same time it is also said to induce the redundancy effect. When does enhancement change to redundancy or vice versa? Likewise, do illustrated texts lead to split-attention effect? Though there is enough literature on these theories individually, the connection between them is still missing. What kind of representations help novice learners and what kind of representations will help experienced learners? Perhaps the two disparate theories, cognitive load theory and Multiple Representations theory could be combined to offer the best explanation for the success of MR theory itself. The MR theory would be effective as long as the representations do not lead to an increase in the cognitive load. If the learner has low prior knowledge of the learning material or if the learning material is very complex, it would add to the intrinsic load. Whether or not multiple representations help in such circumstances depends on how it is designed. This may add another degree of complexity to the overall situation.
Mayer feels that though each principle of these principles in multimedia design is subject to limitations and requires more study, there is a future in which the mutually beneficial relation between cognitive theory and educational practice continues to flourish.
Multimedia in Science Education
As Wellington (1999) puts it, there are certain pitfalls in using multimedia especially for a science learning environment. The first of these concerns how realistic the simulations are that are being portrayed. Do they give the right impressions of science and what scientists do, or do they breed any misconceptions about scientific ideas, and about the nature of science? A number of scientific experiments can be done repeatedly without involving the cost of consumables and the regular wear and tear of instruments. So, there is a big economic advantage. Is it enough? Images have the power to mislead as well as to motivate or educate. It would be worthwhile to check the effectiveness of such simulations. The second danger concerns whether the use of multimedia in science teaching is displacing important hands-on experimentation. This is a fear expressed by many researchers including Iding et al (2002). There are benefits of using multimedia in science as this is a subject for which many students tend to have a phobia. With simulated experiments they will lose their fear of conducting experiments which could fail, repeat them a number of times until they feel confident, keep them more focused and most often than not are more interesting than the real experiments since they are more organized and clean.
It would be worthwhile to see how much these advantages transfer into positive learning outcomes. For this purpose, this article has chosen some case-studies on the use of multimedia in teaching sciences that fit-in with some of Mayer's principles of preparing multimedia presentations. This would give an idea of the importance of these principles for science teaching.
Case Study #1 Using Contiguity Principle in a Science Textbook
The authors Iding, Klemm, Crosby and Speitel (2002), have developed a taxonomy of illustrations that focuses on the cognitive processes or activities such as knowledge acquisition, application and creation. They have examined the different levels of interactivity between science text and illustrations, and interactivity between different illustrations from a unit in a constructivist science text, which has considerable amount of materials in the knowledge application stage and thus gives the necessary background to students. As a model, they used a high school marine biology text, The Living Ocean, in the print form. A lot of information is in figures or tables, thus minimizing long paragraphs. Guided and open-ended learning has been used to scaffold students and to apply their understanding in real world context. Students had to interact with figures and tables as well as external media such as actual fish. According to the authors, "Integration process between text, figures, tables and procedures is necessary and may serve as scaffolding for students." They suggested that illustrations that require integration in a constructivist sense, so as to result in knowledge application or creation, are likely to result in increased "memorability." The authors feel that there were degrees of interactivity between texts and illustrations and also within illustrations. Those that make the reader go back and forth between diagrams and texts to understand may not actually facilitate learning as they increase the cognitive load. Some of the illustrations were contiguous and could have helped in knowledge acquisition and knowledge application, thereby giving students the necessary background to knowledge creation.
The limitation of this research is that its effect on students had not been researched. Though the text had been researched in detail and has implications for further research its value to students is yet to be proven. However, it raises certain questions such as how the integration of texts and illustrations and integration between various illustrations can be achieved in computer-based multimedia format, without leading to cognitive load.
Case Study #2 Using Contiguity and Coherence Principle
This study deals with ways to use technology effectively and to measure changes in students' proficiency in science as a result of using technology, rather than dwelling on the efficacy of technology (Dimitrov, McGee, & Howard, 2002). The authors have measured changes in students' science proficiency, using the Linear Logistic Models for Change (LLMC), in the summative evaluation of Astronomy Village: Investigating the Solar System, developed at Wheeling Jesuit University's Center for Educational Technologies. The final version of Astronomy Village was released in February 2001. It is an inquiry-based design that supports middle school students in learning fundamental concepts in life, earth, and physical science. The purpose of this study was to compare alternative uses of technology for teaching the same interdisciplinary content. Therefore, comparison focused on access to image analysis activities versus no access to image analysis activities. The program has a virtual mentor who guides the students through the various phases of scientific inquiry. Students are transported to a virtual village, to investigate one of the two Core Research Projects: Mission to Pluto or Search for Life. The presence of a virtual guide and the animations shown in the program come under Mayer's coherence principle. The simultaneous presentation of the virtual guide in audio format, text and animation shows Mayer's contiguity principle.
There were three groups of students. Group A did one of the Core Research Projects; Group B did the other Core Research Project. Group C, the alternative treatment group, being the comparison group, studied the same content, but was denied access to image analysis activities. This group had all the background materials in terms of lecture, library articles and hands-on activities. These materials were provided to them through a website specifically designed for the alternative treatment group. The focus for this group was on content-related activities only without any problem solving activities and they covered both Core Research Projects in a 4-week period. This was possible because they were learning at a superficial level as is done in the traditional classes. On the other hand, Groups A and B were engaged in both content-related activities as well as the inquiry-oriented image analysis activities and hence could cover only one of the topics as they went to a higher depth due to image analysis. They studied the content and problem-solving from one Core Research Project. In the case of the Search for Life Project, students had to understand the core requirements for life on Earth, do research on it by reading library articles, listening to lectures and conducting hand-on activities. They then proceed to Focused Investigation on narrow topics like investigating whether icy volcanoes could exist on Pluto by examining the surfaces of other icy bodies in the solar system. This was also done in a 4-week period.
All students were assessed based on their thinking and problem-solving skills, and on their ability to transfer these skills to newer contexts--the ability to transfer learning being a critical aspect of education. An example of transfer skills would be having students investigate critical processes and features on a variety of planets and moons and transfer their understanding to hypothetical planets and moons. The content understanding and problem solving scales were administered to all students as a pretest and posttest.
The strength of the software lay in the use of image analysis to answer important research questions. The authors concluded that materials developed for this project could be used effectively to promote interdisciplinary understanding and problem solving in planetary science within a short period of time. It was found that the knowledge students developed in Search for Life were transferred to solve Mission to Pluto problems. The use of image analysis could have helped in this regard. The design considerations making use of contiguity principle and coherence principle seem to be helpful in this case study.
Case Study # 3 Proving Split-Attention Principle
Comprehension of chemistry involves certain unique challenges. It involves the abstract nature of the subject at the microscopic level when dealing with atoms and molecules, at the macroscopic level when dealing with real world situations and at the symbolic level when dealing with formulas and equations. It is difficult to show their inter-relationship without teaching aids.
A study conducted by Rodrigues, Smith, and Ainley (2001) investigated students' preferences for and interests in using animation and videos found in chemistry CD-ROMS. It investigates whether animations of the microscopic interpretation of the macroscopic event helped or hindered students' understanding of the event. The topics chosen were familiar ones such as boiling water, melting ice cubes, and stirring sugar in water.
Students selected any of the topics, all of which were in four presentation formats: video, video with text, animation and animation with text. They were allowed to pick one of these after examining how each of these works. In other words, the choice was left entirely to the students.
In this quantitative study, students were asked multiple choice questions after finishing a topic and before proceeding to the next topic. They were then given a brief one-page survey that sought their reasons for selecting particular presentations and their perception of the usefulness of these presentations for able students and students with learning disabilities.
Students showed preference for both animation and video presentations with accompanied text explanations rather than without text. Animations or video clips with text explanations were selected 73% of the time. The use of text explanations increased between the first and second topic, but declined from the second to the third. The number of students using animations declined between the first and second topic. The text accompaniments were perceived to be useful in the understanding of subject matter. Video was perceived to be easier to understand than animation. It is interesting to note that only 4 of the 22 students cited that the actual video footage employed in the video presentations was an aid to understanding. The authors feel that text could have been a distraction as some students missed important frames of animation while reading the text and therefore animations could have been more difficult to comprehend corroborating with Sweller's split attention principle. Animations were "holistic and required viewing throughout the segment" while videos were day to day affairs such as boiling water or an ice cube melting. So, they were not actually viewing the video but rather reading the text.
Students had a choice to replay animations at any stage, which they did not use. Navigation methods also showed that students did not make use of the various choices available to them. This could be due to cognitive over-load. Though decision making was delegated to students, they were unable to utilize it to their advantage, which showed that scaffolding is required.
Case Study #4 Using Interactivity Principle
Teachers' adoption of technology should transfer to students' acceptance of it too. Discovering Science is a Level 1 science course produced by the Open University. It is an inter-disciplinary course, covering a wide range of topics in biology, chemistry, earth science and physics, incorporating interactive multimedia activities to help develop skills. In this study conducted by Lawless and Stuart (2001), students were provided with 27 interactive multimedia activities incorporating a rich mixture of video, audio, photographs, graphics, text and questions in an interactive way that is controlled by the student user. The multimedia activities had a wide range of styles that included virtual field trips and virtual experiments, simulations of complex mathematical models, and videos of 3D objects and molecules. Some were exploratory resource-based activities, whereas others had a more linear structure. Students completed an activity, and then resumed studying the book. Thus the learning materials were integrated with a variety of media. This study aimed at investigating how distance-learning students study these multimedia materials as characterized by their learning style or their age, and whether there are any barriers to their effective use.
These multimedia activities were created in a way that allowed students the same flexibility of choice as they have with a book: the facility to skim through; to readily access any point in the material; and to decide whether to answer a question. Many students spent time exploring every screen, every picture, and every video clip provided in an activity in case they missed something important. This shows that they needed more scaffolding than was given.
Evaluation of the multimedia was done through questionnaires and interviews. The questionnaires contained basic questions that had clear positive or negative responses, followed by wider questions to amplify the positive or negative responses. Students were asked about their general reactions to learning from the specific activities covered by the questionnaire, and were also asked to compare learning from the multimedia activities with learning from the other course materials. 74% of students made positive comments, 8% made negative comments and 18% made both positive and negative or ambivalent comments.
The most common positive comments were about the interactivity of the activities (13%), that studying multimedia activities was enjoyable/fun (12%), about the benefits of the visual presentation (11%), that the CD-ROM material was easier to learn/understand/use (8%), that it was helpful/useful (7%) and interesting (6%), and about the relief that multimedia activities provided from studying other materials (8%). The most frequent negative comments related to the time required (3%), the problems caused by the need for access to the computer at the appropriate time (2%), and navigation problems (2%). The few negative comments obtained also gave an insight into students' learning styles. Those students who preferred to reproduce knowledge rather than transfer knowledge were the ones who preferred the print to multimedia. All those interviewed were positive about their experience of working through the multimedia activities, and they were particularly keen about the interactive nature of the activities.
The students' strongly favorable attitudes to multimedia activities seem to dispel reservations about the acceptability and the effectiveness for multimedia learning for science. Students rated the activities interesting, enjoyable, and helpful for learning and remembering, and they particularly valued the interactive nature of the learning experience and the visual nature of the presentation. They seemed to understand and comprehend subject matter better.
Case Study #5 Using Multiple Representation Theory
This case study deals with the effectiveness of schema training in illustration types and text-illustration relations for learning from a college physiology text (Iding, 2000). Illustrations do have an aesthetic appeal, but does it help students to learn better? Iding finds this to be consistent with the dual coding theory as illustrations use the visual-spatial channel while the text would use the verbal channel.
Two independent groups, a control group and an instructional (treatment) group, were part of this three-day between-subjects research. There were thirty-three subjects in each group. On the first day, a 13-page instructional workbook was given to the instructional group which had examples of four types of diagrams: identification, comparison, sequential and combination. The workbook also had a presentation of two types of text-illustration relationships: repeat (illustrations repeat what the text says) and elaborate (illustrations provide new information not in the text). These were followed by three exercises which consisted of text passages with accompanying illustrations. Note-taking format was also presented for each exercise. Subjects had to identify the type of diagram and text-illustration using the format given.
The control group, on the other hand, was given a 12-page introductory ecology text passage to read. The second day, both groups were given a 6-page passage titled "The Ears and Hearing" on the anatomy of the human ear and physiology of hearing. The passage was from a college-level introductory physiology textbook, Human Physiology by Stuart Ira Fox (1990). Each subject also received a packet of three pages for note-taking. The control group was asked to take notes only if they wished to do so. The instructional group was asked to take notes in the format they learnt the previous day.
Assessments were done on the third day. Subjects were initially given a pretest on the first day to assess their previous knowledge on the human ear and a brief background questionnaire. On the third day, subjects were assessed on the two illustration-text relationships, diagram labeling and application. The text-illustrations were multiple-choice questions and the application questions were of the short-answer type.
Both groups performed better on text-and-diagram multiple-choice items (M = 8.68) than on text-only multiple choice items (M = 7.80). This suggests that the illustrated material was better retained than the non-illustrated material. The study revealed no main effects between groups on the two types of text-illustration relationships and no interaction between grouping and performance either. However, there were no significant differences between the two groups either on diagram-labeling or application test performance.
This study proves that in the print form, students perform better on text-and-diagram multiple-choice items than on text-only items in response to a physiology passage. This is helpful as it can be replicated effectively in a number of science texts especially in areas where visualization processes are required. This finding is also consistent with prior research indicating that illustrated text is better retained than non-illustrated text (Peeck, 1989; Levie & Lentz, 1982). It also proves the dual coding theory that illustrations with text and image help in better performance than text alone.
When an international organization like United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) tries to incorporate multimedia in its training programs (Badran, 1995), it adds to multimedia's luster. The use of multimedia is advantageous, but only if it is interactive and allows its users to control it. In other words, the user has to be an active participant rather than a passive observer. It helps more when the topic is interdisciplinary as it saves time and allows for a more real world experience. It also allows for easy integration into the curriculum and instruction standards, especially when most of Mayer's principles are followed.
Multimedia development for science learning is still in its developmental stage. Though some of the case studies presented here are specific to a particular branch of science, it can be generalized to science as a whole. Today, a number of multimedia creations are available for use in classrooms, but their efficacy is still in doubt. This could be due to various reasons like non-availability, high cost, bad design, not user-friendly, too complicated, and lack of guidance. Certain areas need more attention than have been given if multimedia has to really succeed. Some of them are:
* Need for software in all areas that are user-friendly. Technology has to meet with teachers and not the other way round.
* Mentoring teachers to remove their bias against technology.
* Need to help teachers get involved in learning and creating better, learner-friendly multimedia projects.
* Help teachers take into account curricular context and classroom dynamics for integrating multimedia into teaching.
* Multimedia projects should take into consideration cognitive load.
* When decision making is left to students, they require guided scaffolding.
Though a number of research studies have helped in solving a number of issues related to multimedia, this literature review has implications beyond the efficacy of multimedia projects and would like to stress on points that will further improve and sustain the ongoing interest in these projects. Some of them can be listed as follows:
* Is the interest shown in multimedia due to its novelty? What will happen when this novelty wears off?
* Do too many options lead to an increase or a decrease in cognitive overload?
* Scaffolding is necessary for a multimedia environment, but to what extent?
* What effect on cognition does the replacement of hands-on activities, like dissection, with computer simulated activities have?
* What is the connection between multiple representations and cognitive load?
* Do illustrated texts give rise to split-attention effect?
More research is needed to know the effectiveness of multimedia in sciences for long term retention, comprehension and utility. Answers to the above questions will certainly provide more insight on this and help teachers to better guide students in their learning process.
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|Publication:||Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2005|
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