10 reasons to use multimedia in science teaching

From an interview with Warren Moseley, principal advisor for the Redox Reactions series. Warren is a co-author of Heinemann’s Chemistry 2, and former member of the VCAA Chemistry Standing Committee.


Keeping it real
Much of electrochemistry is abstract: students can’t see substances accepting and donating electrons.

But by showing particles and events on an atomic scale, multimedia can give students a real sense of the abstract things going on – and allow them to relate them to the things they see happening in a prac or a demonstration.

What’s inside this thing?
Students use a variety of cells and batteries every day, but they’re very much ‘black-box’ devices. It’s important to investigate what’s inside these devices. But pulling cells apart is messy, and not without hazards from the corrosive and sometimes toxic materials they contain.

Graphics and animation are ‘simulators’, giving students a safe and informative look at what’s inside cells and batteries.

A window onto the real world
If you can visit an aluminium smelter – perfect. But if not, multimedia is far and away the next best option. Not only does seeing the process in action help students to understanding the process: it shows them the massive scale of such operations, and will broaden their thinking about how the real world works.

Textbooks vs animation
Textbook images are not good at showing complex structures, or processes that involve change, or a number of steps. Animation can do it much better by highlighting key features, or describing changes as students see them happen; with the result that – hopefully – students will be able to say ‘yes – I get that’.

The historical perspective
Space is often at a premium in a textbook. With a DVD, there’s much more opportunity to include historical film and photos. This brings to life an important idea for students: that science and technology are evolutionary processes – where we are today is built on hundreds of years of scientific research – it didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. In this series, the images help students to understand that electrochemistry grew out of nineteenth century discoveries.

Student learning styles
Research in recent decades has shown that students have different learning styles. While a teacher might be quite comfortable with presenting the course in a particular way, it won’t necessarily be ideal for all students.  By using video we are particularly helping the visual learners – students who can understand things better through images, diagrams, animations and seeing things actually happening.

It’s not going to be wasted on students who can easily grasp abstract ideas – because it certainly enhances their understanding. But for students who struggle with a theoretical approach, it can be critical – engaging them and providing them with things to peg their understanding on.

This approach is built on what we understand about good teaching practice: to address as many modes of learning as we possibly can.

Students are media-savvy
Like it or not, today’s students are ‘multimedia’ by nature. Those of us in our forties, fifties and sixties, grew up with textbooks: they were the standard teaching aid.  Today’s students have grown up with video, TV, and now increasingly interact with the world through the internet. If we insist on presenting them exclusively with book-based content, they’re going to be turned off.  Yes, the most capable students will still learn, but average and certainly weaker students will struggle.

Use of teacher’s time
Teachers can, in theory, source a lot of the kind of visual material in this series themselves. But is this the best use of a teacher’s time?  And just finding resources is not enough. You then have to think about how and when to use it.

The cost of this 9-part series represents about 10 hours of a teacher’s time. How long would it take an individual teacher to bring together an equivalent collection of resources?  Teachers are usually time-poor, so wouldn’t the time be better spent preparing what we want to take place in the classroom?

Using digital media in the classroom
Multimedia today offers a lot more flexibility than traditional educational films and videos.

Formats like Clickview and Video Commander allow any DVD section or chapter to be easily shown on demand – no messy spooling and searching for the right place on the tape.  You can pause the program at any point, to discuss something. You can repeat the section. You can go to the menu and choose another section, or go to other content packaged with the DVD.

Digital media beyond the classroom
Digital formats like Clickview make it easy for students to use multimedia where and when it suits – in the library, or on their notebook or smartphone, while travelling or at home.  They can view a topic they missed when it was covered in class. They can review selected topics. They can use it to revise material before a test or exam. At any stage, they can also work through the customised student question sheets that come with the DVDs.

So multimedia in the form of a DVD can be used in many ways – it offers students a powerful learning opportunity that we can’t afford to ignore.