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Collection: Multimedia

Purple arrow (1137 bytes)The Multimedia Essay or Designing is Thinking

REFERENCE: Polin, L. (1991) The Multimedia Essay or Designing is Thinking. The Writing Notebook, 8 (4) 27-29.

Description of classroom practice:

CONTEXT: The author describes the youth who transforms from a "reluctant" student to an involved and enthusiastic participant in an interactive multimedia project. This high school English literature teacher asked her students to work in groups of three or four to create an interactive multimedia presentation of Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. They were free to make their own meaning and purpose for the task.

PRACTICE: The students divided up the task by researching aspects that were personally interesting in their exploration of two ideas: parallels in today's society and exploration of the times of the story. One student, usually reluctant and slouched in the back of the room, volunteered to "get some art." The next week "Tom" arrived in class with a stack of art books up to chin and exuberantly relayed his discoveries of Depression era artwork. He went on to compose his own depression-style artwork and to connect his efforts with those of the group. Through his interest in art, he was able to become involved in literature and to experience it as "an expressive art form in another medium."


The author notes that she frequently has seen this process whereby "reluctant" learners get "hooked by the power of their own production of knowledge" through composing interactive multimedia essays. She defines interactive multimedia as a hybrid concept combining hypertext and multimedia. The important elements involve multiple linkages among a variety of media and their interactivity (e.g., the deliberate inclusion of choices for the "reader"). She concurs with other research findings that "designing is thinking," and that "when knowledge is connected to purpose, it transforms from static information to active application of understanding." (p. 28) She points out how composition in multimedia shares many characteristics with more traditional writing forms. She lists the following "Nine Official Guidelines for HyperCard Stack Design" (Apple Computer Inc., 1989):

  1. Decide who your users are.
  2. Decide what the subject is and what it is not.
  3. Decide how to present the subject matter to your users.
  4. Make your stack easy to navigate.
  5. Introduce people to your stack.
  6. Integrate text, graphic design, and audio design.
  7. Plan on changing our stack several times.
  8. Test early, test often, and listen to your reviewers.
  9. When you're finished, check the stack one last time.

The author explains her preference for open interactive hypertext environments with multimedia tools versus closed "canned" products as a way to encourage users to actively construct representations of their own understandings. She describes MediaText as a simple yet elegant tool that provides a transitional experience for writers to explore multimedia expression of ideas.

Linda G. Polin, Professor of Education, Pepperdine University, Graduate School of Education and Psychology, 400 Corporate Pointe, Culver City, CA 90230-7627. Email:


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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

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