Multimedia Matters

How do you engage students and encourage critical thinking in the classroom and beyond? Previous research shows a link between high levels of engagement and improved learning outcomes, as well as positive college experiences in general. The proliferation of social media tools and inexpensive video technologies makes it easier than ever for students to create multimedia projects, and media literacy can be used as a springboard for students to explore a variety of topics in deep and challenging ways. A recent study examined how to integrate multimedia assignments in an introductory college course, and focused on engaging students, promoting media literacy, and advancing critical thinking. The assignment itself had some parameters, but in general afforded students considerable creative license, and allowed them to choose their own topics, groups, and final presentation style.

The analysis centered on the 81 participants’ final projects, evaluations, and reflections on the multimedia assignment. The author identified two key themes from the analysis: increased critical thinking and challenges to successful completion. Several final projects showed high creativity by integrating science or social science research with current policy issues and class discussions. The students’ reflections generally focused the challenges they faced, including technical issues, assignment concerns, and group dynamics. The final products reflected varying levels of commitment to quality and professionalism—higher levels of which contributed to better products. Students succeeded when they strived for a strong product, regardless of their prior knowledge of the topic. The most successful products coalesced from a strong research foundation, which contributed to deeper understanding of the issues surrounding a topic. The assignment also fostered relationships between students, the instructor, and student mentors by providing opportunities for meetings over the course of the semester.

The assignment also shifted the instructor’s role in student learning—in and out of the classroom. Rather than grading work in isolation, the instructor expanded office hours and dedicated more time towards meeting with students about their work. The group meetings allowed for greater collaboration between student and instructor towards the common goal of better learning outcomes.

The study is limited—both in sampling and scope—but provides rich descriptions of students engaging with coursework, as well as the process of integrating research and collaboration via multimedia assignments in an undergraduate course. The context provided in the literature review serves as a useful resource for educators interested in promoting media literacy, creativity, and critical thinking skills in the classroom.

Artello, K. (2014). What They Learned: Using Multimedia to Engage Undergraduates in Research. Innovative Higher Education, 39(2), 169-179.