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Building a constructivist learning environment using a multimedia design project--a Malaysian experience.

Multimedia technology is permeating the educational arena and changing the way teachers teach and students learn. In this article, the focus is on the building of a constructivist learning environment in the classroom by way of the construction of a multimedia project. To accomplish this, students were required to undertake a multimedia development process (MDP), which takes them from the acquisition of media materials to the packaging of the final application.

In this constructivist mode, students decided on their own learning goals and determined how to reach the desired learning outcomes themselves. They were responsible for the development of the projects' storyboards, the concept and multimedia authoring, interface design and interactive features, and deployment and implementation methods. Through this process, students developed creativity, critical thinking and collaborative skills and became active participants in their own learning processes. Similarly, the role of the teacher changed, from being the content expert to becoming a facilitator. The students were surveyed on their responses to the multimedia project. Results showed that they were very positive toward the project, enjoyed working in groups and became active participants in their learning process, thus making multimedia a good framework for teaching and learning.

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Multimedia technology is permeating the educational arena with many colleges and universities, including those in Malaysia, moving towards using digital technology to enhance teaching and learning (Johns, 1999; Kachian & Wieser, 1999; Kamsah, Mokhtar, Ahmad, & Yaacob, 2000; Cheok, 2000; Mat, 2001). With the rapid progress of computer technology, it has become feasible and affordable to integrate multimedia technology into digital teaching and learning. The use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and multimedia is garnering tremendous support from the Government of Malaysia. As stated by the Secretary-General of the Education Ministry, who believes that:

...technology supports learning. It will enable teachers to pursue traditional goals with new fervour and success...[and that]...the use of modern technology in beefing up the delivery of learning materials in our education system must reflect the changing times. Our students must be versatile to these challenges in technology, and our teachers must be proactive to the new requirements... [There is a need to]...devise curriculum so that the culture of "learning to learn" and lifelong learning can be rapidly inculcated into the students. The learning contents must foster the skill to seek information, think critically, use the information and communicate effectively and work in a team. (Mat, 2000)

There is already a move to create multimedia courseware in many educational institutions. By incorporating technology, especially multimedia technology, into the classroom, the teacher can adopt new instructional strategies to create a stimulating teaching and learning environment. The infusion of multimedia technologies into the classroom has changed the way educators teach and students learn. In this article, the authors seek to build a Constructivist learning environment through development of a multimedia project. In this project, students will learn to make use of the knowledge presented to them in a more meaningful way using different media elements. These media elements can then be converted into digital form and modified and customised for the project. One important advantage of creating multimedia projects in the classroom environment is that when students create multimedia projects, they tend to do this in a group environment. By working in a group situation, the students will have to tap into their group skills and use a variety of activities to accomplish the project's overall objectives. In this way, collaborative learning experience can be gained by the students.

In this multimedia project, students decided on their own learning goals and determined how to reach the desired learning outcomes themselves. They were responsible for the development of the projects' storyboards, the concept and multimedia authoring, interface design and interactive features, and deployment and implementation methods. Through this process, students developed creativity, critical thinking and collaborative skills and became active participants in their own learning processes. Similarly, the role of the teacher changed, from being the content expert to becoming a facilitator and guide.

THE PRINCIPLE TENETS OF CONSTRUCTIVIST LEARNING

What is a constructivist learning environment? One definition is, "a place where learners may work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and information resources in their pursuit of learning goals and problem-solving activities" (Wilson, 1995). This learning environment, based on the constructivist learning philosophy that was evolved during the 1970s and 1980s, has its foundations in cognitive learning psychology (Jonassen, Peck, & Wilson, 1999). It is rooted mainly in the works of Dewey (1896), Piaget (1952), Bruner (1985), Vygotsky (1978), and Papert (1980; Roblyer & Edwards, 2000). The learning model is based on the concept that knowledge is constructed by an individual based on his prior experience rather than processed from information received from an external source. In this process, the student assumes the role of the producer rather than the consumer of information. The teacher becomes the guide and facilitator of learning and a member of a learning community rather than t he director of instruction. The students are given significant freedom to set their own learning goals and in how to attain these goals themselves.

Constructivist learning emphasized learning as a social and collaborative endeavour as well as problem-solving of realistic and authentic tasks. Thus, instruction focuses on assisting the learners to develop learning and thinking strategies in the subject domain, that is, learning "how to learn" rather than how much is learned. From a constructivist view, students must be provided with a rich learning environment. The computer with its capability of processing and integrating the various media elements such as text, graphics, sound, animation, and video is ideally suited to present such a rich learning environment.

The success in creating such a learning environment is dependent on three factors: (a) the role that the teacher plays, (b) the role the student plays, and (c) the use of technology in cultivating this learning environment. Traditionally, the teacher assumed the role of the source of knowledge or the only content expert in the class and taught using the directed instruction method. In this teacher-centric mode, the teacher is in control of the information and is solely responsible for how much information is to be disseminated to the students, thus rendering the learning mode passive. This traditional "chalk-and-talk" mode of teaching is still widely used in many institutions of higher learning, but, currently, there is a move toward creating a constructivist learning environment in such institutions. Now, in this perspective, the role of the teacher moves away from being the sole expert or dispenser of knowledge and information in the class to becoming a facilitator to the students and a guide to help them achieve their learning objectives.

The role of the student also evolves from being a passive learner to becoming an active participant in the learning process. In this student-centered learning mode, the students must play an active part in their learning and construct their own knowledge or meaning of what they learn, and learning builds on what learners have already constructed in other contexts. The learners determine how to reach the desired learning outcomes themselves. In other words, students are involved in learning as a process of knowledge construction and not knowledge absorption. This learning process is also knowledge-dependent, that is, the learners use current knowledge to construct new knowledge.

The third factor in this formula is the use of technology in the teaching and learning environment. Technology can be used by the teacher to represent and support his or her educational materials. And by introducing technology to the students in the form of a multimedia project, it can help stimulate their learning process and make them active participants in meeting their learning objectives. By incorporating digital media elements into the project, the students are able to learn better since they use multiple sensory modalities, which would make them more motivated to pay more attention to the information presented and better retain the information. Therefore, multimedia application design offers new insights into the learning process of the designer and forces him or her to represent information and knowledge in a new and innovative way.

BUILDING THE MULTIMEDIA PROJECT: THE MULTIMEDIA DESIGN PROCESS (MDP)

To build this constructivist learning experiment, third year students in an interactive multimedia course in the Faculty of Creative Multimedia were given the task of developing a multimedia project on a topic of their choice. The class was structured such that the students worked in a collaborative and cooperative manner, and constructed their own knowledge of their project, thus taking an active part in their own learning process. Although these students have been trained in some multimedia software, they had no prior experience in authoring an interactive multimedia application, or in managing a multimedia project in a group setting. Therefore, to be able to complete this project, they would have had to draw upon their prior knowledge in different disciplines to breakdown the application design into various component parts, synthesize any media element that represented the information, create the digital interactive application, and work as a team. As a group, these students had to tap into their group sk ills and use a variety of activities to accomplish the project's overall objectives as well as their own learning outcomes. Each group had to create and design an interactive multimedia application on a CD-ROM showcasing a topic of their choice. The students had the option of choosing their own team members and group leader, and were given the entire semester to develop their project.

The construction of the projects involved the students having to experience the multimedia design process (Figure 1), which starts from the planning stage and carries them through to the development stage and finally, the deployment stage (Neo & Neo, 2000).

As the figure illustrates, the teams first have to decide on the concept of their application. Once that is done, they develop a storyboard of their presentation, complete with media elements they want to use. After that, the teams assemble the media elements needed for the presentation. If these media are in analogue form, then the students have to convert them into digital form to be modified and stored in the computer. When all the media elements have been digitised, then the students have to author the application using the authoring tool, Macromedia Director. Here, they have to synchronise the media elements, create the navigational interface, and develop interactivity in the presentation. Then finally, the students package the interactive multimedia application into an executable file and deploy it over a CD-ROM.

On the part of the lecturer, the role evolved into becoming a facilitator to support the students learning, and to guide them through their projects. As a guide on the side, the lecturer used technology and gave interactive lectures on the fundamental concepts of the multimedia design process to give the students some background on the process of creating a multimedia application and the tools and techniques involved in such endeavours. By doing so, the lecturer not only demonstrated that multimedia was an important component in the student's learning but also used interactive multimedia technology as a means to convey information to the students and involving them in the teaching environment as well. The lecturer also met with these groups of students every week to discuss any issues that may be of concern to them and acted as a consultant to their problems. Table 1 illustrates the roles of the student and the teacher with respect to the multimedia design process.

Figure 2 is a schematic model which summarises the essential features of the multimedia constructivist learning environment.

SHOWCASE PROJECT

Figure 3 (a) and (b) showcases the interfaces of a project created by one team. This team's project was to highlight the Malaysian martial arts, known as Silat. Figure 3 (a) shows the splash screen, or intro screen, design of the application, and Figure 3 (b) shows the interface for the application's menu screen. Images of various martial arts poses were used as interactive buttons in the presentation to denote different sections in the application, such as "History," "Details," "Customs," "Teaching," and "Weapons." Each image button is interactive and will link the user to the section's individual pages. The students, working as a team, created all of these designs, from the concept of the presentation's storytelling structure to the media and interactive features used throughout the application.

RESULTS

The projects were assessed on several criteria including originality, technical skills, presentation, design and packaging, teamwork, and depth of content. On the whole, the students in the class responded very well to the course structure and were able to have a positive attitude toward this constructivist learning environment. A survey using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree) was administered to the students to assess their responses to the construction of the project and the constructivist dynamics. Table 2 illustrates the means for some of the questions and the corresponding percentage responses.

Creating a constructivist learning environment in this course helped foster several salient student-centric learning traits. Being challenged by the project was the most significant factor in the students' positive attitude toward the assignment, with 91% of the respondents scoring 4 and 5 (Agree and Strongly Agree) on the Likert scale, with the ability to be creative thinkers a close second, with a mean of 4.15 and a response level of 91%. The next highest factors surveyed were the ability to use media and being critical thinkers in the project design process, resulting in mean scores of 4.11 and 3.98, and response levels of 91% and 83%, respectively. Motivation was also a key factor for these students, with a mean score of 3.98 and a response level of 78%. In terms of working as a team, many groups confirmed that they were able to learn more from their teammates and able to achieve their group goals, yielding mean scores of 3.91 and 3.83, and response levels of 78% and 76%, respectively. These results clea rly reinforce the notion that creating a constructivist learning environment through project construction yields positive responses and increased attention to the assignment from the students.

STUDENTS' RESPONSES

Based on interviews and surveys taken, students reported: (a) a deeper understanding of their project's topic, (b) of multimedia development, (c) increased creative and critical thinking skills, (d) higher motivation towards the project and the class, and (e) increased leadership and teamwork skills for resolving problems.

Some of the general comments included:

We learned more about the topic as well as the software. We also developed a positive group attitude;

We learned more about multimedia, developing a CD-ROM, software, navigation and interactivity;

We got to know each other better since we spent a lot of time together;

We learned more about our topic. Fun to know everyone on the team and had fun shooting video, never done it before.

This is very encouraging as it is indicative that multimedia projects and the infusion of constructivism into the classroom has a positive and productive effect on a student's learning process.

Students also commented on the challenges that they faced when trying to collaboratively develop the application. Some of their comments included:

We all had different ideas, and we had to discuss which was better. Eventually we came to a compromise which everyone agreed on;

We argued among ourselves because we could not do everything we all wanted;

We had a lot of misunderstandings which we solved by lots of discussion and advice. We worked together through discussions;

Most of the team members were not professional, and needed leadership from the group leader;

We had problems coordinating team members.

Computer and laboratory facilities were also an issue for students, who commented that equipment was difficult to acquire, especially for digitising video, and that the labs should have more multimedia equipment to accommodate their growing numbers. However, on the whole, these students stated that they would not change the project but would try to enhance it, if they had to do the project again, either through better time management or earlier concept planning.

CHALLENGES AND LIMITATIONS

In designing constructivist learning environments in the classroom to enhance the teaching and learning process is a challenging task for many educators. However, with multimedia technologies permeating the educational arena with such fervour, this challenge must be overcome although there might be some limitations. Hence, to be able to do this seamlessly, three requirements must be fulfilled. The first is to make hardware available to the educators and the students. In other words, multimedia personal computers (MPCs) must be made readily available in the laboratories. The second is that sufficient software must be provided for multimedia application creation by the students. The third requirement is to bridge the gap between technology and education, and empower the teachers with the skills to use the technology productively, to manage the classrooms efficiently and to guide students effectively.

In terms of the first two requirements, in Malaysia today, it is being addressed and implemented, with many of the higher learning institutions purchasing computers and multimedia authoring software for their computer laboratories and equipping the teachers with computers and software in their offices. However, with regards to the third requirement, therein lies the biggest challenge. As educators, there must be some training provided or acquired for teachers to be able to equip themselves with the proper skills for interactive multimedia creations. With the authoring tools in the market being user-friendly and manufactured specifically for nonprogranuners, educators need only be trained to be able to use these tools effectively for creating learning environments which are stimulating and media-rich.

CONCLUSION

From this study, the authors have gained some insights into integrating multimedia technology into the teaching and learning process.

1. Multimedia is gaining ground as a way for students to represent the knowledge that they acquire in class and to construct their own interpretation of the information acquired.

2. By using multimedia and a multimedia project in the teaching and learning environment, students are able to develop critical skills that would make them more efficient and productive workers in the 21st century, cognizant of problem-solving skills, and in possession of lifelong learning attitudes.

3. Student-created multimedia projects are beneficial for learning because they often involve substantial work, open-ended assignments, themebased activities, and knowledge and experiences that the students draw from a wide variety of sources.

4. Multimedia-oriented projects provide a way for students to increase their ability to function as self-directed learners, to learn to think effectively, and to practise problem-solving and decision-making.

5. Students learn to work in groups to solve a realistic and authentic problem, thus gaining collaborative learning experience.

6. Creating a Constructivist learning environment in this course helped foster several salient student-centric learning traits. Many of the students found the projects to be very stimulating and motivating, they were able to learn a lot more from their teammates and were able to be critical and creative thinkers in the process.

7. This project provided an opportunity for students to learn to reflect on their learning to make sense of the world and create understanding. By reflecting on their projects, the students were able to generally assess their strength and weakness as individuals and as a group, and give themselves the experience to manage themselves better next time.
Table 1

Roles of student and teacher in the multimedia design process

Activity Role of students

1. Planning Students organise themselves into
 teams, select group leader and
 brainstorm on project topic and
 create a treatment of project,
 including objectives and target
 audience. Also plans research
 strategy and division of labour.
2. Media Students create process flow of
 Representation application and storyboards of the
 interfaces complete with media
 representation.
3. Digitisation Students convert analogue materials
 into digital form and store them in
 the PC. Have to make decisions on
 hardware and software to be used
 in the process.
4. Authoring Students integrate and synchronise
 digital media into final application,
 Groups decide and design user
 interface and interactive features
 using an authoring tool and other
 helper applications.
5. Deployment Students package final presentation
 as a self-running application.
6. CD-ROM Students bum application on CD-ROM,
 Delivery create and design CD jewel case and
 jacket design

Activity Role of teacher

1. Planning Teacher consults
 groups on concept,
 feasibility of project
 and research plans.



2. Media
 Representation Teacher facilitates
 group discussions and
 design issues.
3. Digitisation




4. Authoring Teacher consults on
 technical aspects on
 the authoring tool and
 any group concerns at
 this stage.

5. Deployment

6. CD-ROM
 Delivery
Table 2

Means and percentage responses of the project construction (N=46)

Results Mean
 score

1. Students found the project challenging 4.17
2. Students were able to be creative thinkers 4.15
3. Use of media was more effective in presenting concept 4.11
4. Students were able to think critically about their topic 3.98
5. Students were very motivated doing the project 3.98
6. Students were able to
 learn more from each other as a team 3.91
7. The group was able to achieve its goals 3.83

Results Response
 level

1. Students found the project challenging 91%
2. Students were able to be creative thinkers 91%
3. Use of media was more effective in presenting concept 91%
4. Students were able to think critically about their topic 83%
5. Students were very motivated doing the project 76%
6. Students were able to
 learn more from each other as a team 78%
7. The group was able to achieve its goals 76%


References

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Dewey, J. (1896). The reflex arc concept of psychology. Psychology Review, 3, 357-370.

Johns, J.F. (1999). Web-based practice environments to teach mechanical skills. Interactive Multimedia Electronic Journal of Computer-Enhanced Learning (IMEJ), J(1). Retrieved from the World Wide Web May 8, 2002, from: http://imej.wfu.edu/articles/1999/1/01/index.asp

Jonassen, D.H., Peck, K.L., & Wilson, B.G. (1999). Learning with technology: A Constructivist Perspective. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/ Prentice Hall.

Kachian, C., & Wieser, P. (1999). You can almost feel the music: Redesigning a course for new media delivery. Interactive Multimedia Electronic Journal of Computer-Enhanced Learning (IMEJ), 1(1). Retrieved from the World Wide Web May 8, 2002, from: http://imej.wfu.edu/articles/1999/1/11 /index.asp

Kamsah, M, Mokhtar, S., Ahmad, R, & Yaacob, M. (2000). Developing the concept of e-university for Malaysian public universities. E-learning 2000: Malaysian International Conference & Exhibition on Electronic Learning 2000, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Retrieved from the World Wide Web May 8, 2002, from: http://www.e-learning2000.com.my

Mat, J. (2000). Technology in the Malaysian education system. E-learning 2000: Malaysian International Conference & Exhibition on Electronic Learning 2000, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Retrieved from the World Wide Web May 8, 2002, from: http://www.e-learning2000.com.my

Mat, J. (2001). Challenges in developing local content e-education. E-learning 2001: Malaysian International Conference & Exhibition on Electronic Learning 2001, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Retrieved from the World Wide Web May 8, 2002, from: http://www.elearning2000.com.my/workingpapers.htm

Neo, M., & Neo, T.K. (2000). Integrating multimedia technology into education to enhance digital teaching and learning in the classroom. Proceedings of the International Conference in Education and ICT in the New Millennium, Selangor: Universiti Putra Malaysia (pp. 366-376).

Roblyer, M.D., & Edwards, J. (2000). Integrating educational technology into teaching (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice-Hall.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Books.

Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York: International Universities Press.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wilson, B.G. (1995). Metaphors for instruction: Why we task about learning environments. Educational Technology, 35(5), 25-30.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE)
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Author:T.K., Ken Neo
Publication:Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:Jun 22, 2002
Words:4011
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