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Purple arrow (1137 bytes)BEYOND MULTIMEDIA
Paradigm One: Upside-Down TV

REFERENCE: D'Ignazio, F. (1993-4). Beyond Multimedia: Upside-Down TV. The Computing Teacher, 21(4), 54-55. This article is printed here with permission by the author.

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What Is Multimedia?

"Multimedia" means the digital (i.e., computer) transformation and control of multiple media, including voice, music, sound effects, printed text, still images, video, and animation. Multimedia is the marriage of computers and television. It is the fusion of information and communication. Its effect will be chiefly economic as whole industries collide and converge, producing a single electronic mega-information industry of the future.

But "multimedia" can be a misleading buzzword.

We should be skeptical of the term "multimedia" and think of it as a rough approximation, a way of taking a blurry snapshot of a swiftly moving locomotive. The subject is not the snapshot, nor is it the locomotive. It is the process of change itself as we rush from a static print-based representation of knowledge to fluid, electronic representations of knowledge.

We should think of learning in the future as a "sensory collage" designed to reach us on all our learning modalities. Are we a kinesthetic learner? A visual learner? A linguistic learner? No matter which way we learn, multimedia will reach us as "windows of learning" -- i.e., in the form of sounds, images, charts, maps, narrative descriptions, movies, vignettes, snapshots, sketches, etc., constantly refreshed with new electronic data generated from original sources at home and around the globe, then piped into our homes, offices, media centers, and classrooms along electronic highways.

The marvel is that these new windows of learning will be opened to us on a commonplace desktop computer. Simply by clicking a mouse, talking into a computer microphone, or touching a screen, we will open windows that offer us unparalleled opportunities to engage our students as active participants in classroom learning.

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Beyond Multimedia

The key is to focus our sights beyond multimedia. Let's try to think beyond multimedia to simple steps we can take to begin using information in new formats in today's classrooms with today's students.

Forget MULTI-media. Think MONO-media.

The very term "multimedia" sounds intimidating. Somehow we are led to believe that in order to be "Multimedia Correct" we need to present information using ALL media simultaneously -- not just text but sound, graphics, animation, and movies, too! We are told that classrooms of the future will resemble Hollywood studios equipped with video cameras, switchboards, mixers, CD players, computers, TV's, laserdisc players, digitizers, microphones, fiber optics, and hundreds of cables, buttons, and blinking lights.

This is silly. Multimedia doesn't mean the simultaneous appication of all media in all situations. This is BLIND media, a kind of "nuking" our kids with media. Rather we should think about the APPROPRIATE use of media in the classroom, since this is what it is really all about. One day soon we will be able to choose the appropriate media to convey any subject in our curriculum. It will be simple, easy, and cheap to call up sounds, images, movies, text, etc. Then it's up to us to decide WHICH medium is appropriate to help meet our learning objectives. Maybe it means a single medium. Or maybe two or three media used judiciously and harmoniously to support each other.

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Media to Think With

Why should we use media at all? Because media can become a tool for the active construction of knowledge.

The key is to slow things down. Any time we "blitz" students with too much sensory input and don't allow time for reflection, discussion, analysis, and digestion of information, we are using media inappropriately and turning the classroom into a training ground for brain-numb couch potatoes.

How can we slow things down? We can do this by managing media judiciously. We can train our students to use media in small, meaningful bites, rather than as a smorgasbord of "all you can eat."
In the classroom this translates into using one medium at a time. For example, we can wheel in a videodisc player and let students deliver oral narrations of their writing while they display images or play short musical or spoken clips to illustrate their work.

Or we can use a CD-ROM encyclopedia to project charts, maps, or photographs to illuminate concepts that seem abstract when expressed only as words.

Or we can use a video camera to record concrete events, people, places, and effects, in order to make learning less remote, fuzzy, and unreal.

The key is to use media in SHORT SPURTS then switch immediately to periods of classroom discussion, writing, critique, etc. We want to use media to stimulate thinking not overwhelm it. You can accomplish this by presenting a few sound bites or video bites, then reserving plenty of time for students to think about what they have seen and heard. They need time to write down their thoughts. They need time to discuss their interpretations, their observations and conclusions. Give them time to modify and rework their thinking into a personally meaningful pattern.

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KISS: Keep It Simple to be Successful

Remember, before you get panicky about managing a multimedia classroom of the future, scale things down. Keep it simple. Dole your media out sparingly. Provide lots of thinking time, writing time, and discussion time. Remember: A little media goes a long way.

In summary, multimedia is mostly what we make it. It will soon be so easy, so cheap, and so quick to use media of any sort that we will be able to pick and choose among any combination of media that we like. It is up to us to transform MULTI-media into "appropriate media" and "common sense media."

Next month we'll look at how to use media as "Lego Blocks" for language and math construction, authoring, and investigation in our article, "Beyond Multimedia: The Student as Sherlock Holmes."

Earlier versions of the "Beyond Multimedia" articles appeared in the University of Central Florida's Connections magazine.


Other articles on the NCIP Web site by Fred D'Ignazio:
The Student as Sherlock Holmes and Paper Training Sparky the Dog

Fred D'Ignazio, Multi-Media Classrooms, Inc., 1773 Walnut Heights Drive, East Lansing, MI  48823-2945 Email:   Multi-Media Classrooms Web site,


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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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