A few thoughts about using multimedia in the classroom

It's important to remember that the instructor's role in a classroom is increasingly changing from "sage-on-the-stage" to a "manager of interactions" to develop learning. As such, we need to keep in mind that multimedia equipment can either enhance that role... or it can distract from the role, depending on whether the instructor has adequate technical support.

Here's the bottom line. Many glitzy school and university multimedia projects are built with one-time money. But... unless administrators also provide support staff to help the instructors use the equipment day-to-day, there will be little benefit to the learning process. Let's face it, some installations will have 40 or 50 knobs and switches that all have to be in the right position, and software that has to be invoked with a precise routine, for things to work!

As one multimedia supervisor said to me recently, "We're all so used to seeing TV productions on the Discovery Channel, or the History Channel, or PBS, that are very tightly edited, with multiple film clips, subtle background sounds and even music. We've come to expect that level of production anytime we see multimedia used. Unfortunately, only maybe 10% of our instructors can bring off that level of perfection in a classroom. And, they'll spend 40 hours preparing for a 1 hour class."

For the remaining 90% to benefit from all the fancy equipment, they must have support from people who know which buttons to push, which software to invoke, and which camera angles and lighting to use.

So a word to the wise administrator. If you want the usefulness of your multimedia installations to extend beyond the publicity angle, plan on the continuing costs of having skillful full-time technical people on your staff to support your instructors in the day-to-day operation of the equipment.

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