The WOW Factor

There are multitudes of candidates for this particular prompt. As an avid Internet surfer and former secondary Earth Science instructor I have seen a number of wonderfully crafted multimedia projects that address all three aspects of Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning: dual channel (visual/auditory), limited capacity and active processing (Laureate Education, Inc. [Laureate], n.d.).

One of my very favorite multimedia/animated tutorials dealt with a typically difficult aspect of learning for ninth graders – correct utilization and measurement reading with a triple beam balance in metric and with specificity. Although students are very enthusiastic at the prospect of hands-on learning, they are somewhat less enthused with the more “boring” aspect of the instruction, i.e., how to properly calibrate, measure, and read a triple beam balance. This tutorial was amazing when I discovered four years ago, and, apparently, according to the criteria described in our resources (Locatis, 2008; Mayer, 2008), is still pretty darn amazing!
Triple Beam Balance website http://www.ohaus.com/input/tutorials/tbb/tbbentry.swf

The website opens with a simplistic primary screen presenting the user with a pictorial representation of a triple beam balance and four textual options for continuing: “set-up and care [tutorial],” “use tutorial [tutorial],” “practice weighing” [activity] and “balance theory” [information]. Positioning the mouse over a selection produces an elaborated description of the content to be encountered from selecting that option. For instance, “use tutorial” reveals: “a complete step by step tutorial on zeroing, use of weight poises and proper reading of the balance scales” and “practice weighing” reveals: “test your skills in reading the scales of a triple beam balance” (http://www.ohaus.com/input/tutorials/tbb/tbbentry.swf).

Each of the options incorporates the tenets of good multimedia design in terms of dual channel encoding, limited capacity, and active processing as described by Mayer (Laureate, n.d.). Specifically, each screen provides a pictorial representation of an enlarged triple beam balance, textual instructions with different colors for varying levels of importance and/or categorization, animation and sound effects, appealing to visual and auditory senses. Each selection also attends to the limited capacity issue by truncating information provided as the user proceeds step by step through either the tutorial or the practical activity; thusly not overwhelming the learner’s working memory. Lastly, the active processing issue is addressed through color and font indicators, button selection requirements for progression, pictorial representations, video animation, and actual problem solving activities.

Major learning theories, as described in our supplemental resources (Locatis, 2001) are clearly incorporated within the design. Behavioral theories evidenced by reinforcement, feedback, sequencing, and utilization of small steps of instruction at a time. For instance an example of reinforcement and feedback: the user inputs an answer for the practice questions, a sound indicates if the answer is correct or incorrect. If the answer is correct the words, “right on the mark, excellent” is displayed. If the answer is incorrect, the correct answer is displayed and an explanation provided. An example of sequencing: the user is guided through a series of steps (steps 1-3) for zeroing a scale, calibrating a scale, and then demonstration of reading a measurement on a scale (steps 1-4). The website design is simplified and easy to follow, even for a novice. One aspect of behavioral theory not in evidence was the requirement for mastery. Another aspect utilized by multimedia designers, adaptive programing, was also not in evidence. The programming is fairly straightforward and basic. There are no complex algorithms adjusting “size of step and difficulty of information presented based on previous performance” (Locatis, 2001, p. 12).

Cognitive theories are also evidenced throughout the design as great thought clearly went into the organization of the content for the various screens. For example, numerous information visualization strategies were demonstrated consistently across screens:
1. Upper left corner: instructions in a large blue font, within a blue outlined text box
2. Bottom left corner: yellow tab for returning to the home screen
3. Bottom right corner: “next” or “back” arrow tab
4. Bottom center: white “close window” tab
5. Center: enlarged pictorial of the triple beam balance
6. Consistent terminology: “next” “back” “close” “return” “action”

Constructive aspects of cognitive theory are also evidenced in the interactivity aspect of the program wherein it requires user response to move forward, whether it is simply to select the next screen, input some information, or select an action button. Additionally, the practice problem solving provides opportunity for the user to apply their new knowledge in a practical, but fun way.

Although the website was primarily designed by OHaus for customer support, it has made great strides in aiding students on many secondary campuses. It has not, however, included any interpersonal interactions or options for cooperative learning inherent to the program. In my class I did not have multiple computers. Therefore, I addressed the lack of computer issue and lack of interpersonal interaction by modifying the instruction. My classes viewed the tutorial via an overhead projector through my laptop. Then, the students split into small groups. We went through about 15 different practice examples, with the students helping each other. Once the students indicated they felt fairly confident in their abilities to calibrate and read a triple beam balance, the groups were given a physical opportunity to compare what they learned on video to the physical features of a triple beam balance physically in front of them. The groups were also given some additional physical objects to practice weighing and reading measurements.

The “wow” factor that made this memorable was the sheer number of students who told me they had never understood how to read a triple beam balance until that tutorial. So many students told me that they finally “got it.” Additionally, it was great to see the students so enthused by the scientific experience. They truly enjoyed it. Of course, another wow factor is that I still remembered how to find that website. When I looked it up again I noticed a great many more teachers had linked themselves to that tutorial for utilization in their classes as well.

No matter why OHaus had that program designed, it is very valuable, effective, and fun. It may not have all the bells and whistles, but it has what is most important, sound instruction enhanced by quality multimedia.

Lynn Munoz

References

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Multimedia Learning Theory [Video]. Retrieved from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com

Locatis, C. (2001). Instructional design theory and the development of multimedia programs. National Library of Medicine, 1-27. Retrieved from http://www.lhncbc.nlm.nih.gov/lhc/docs/published/2001/pub2001048.pdf

Mayer, R. E. (2008, November). Applying the science of learning: Evidence-based principles for the design of multimedia instruction. Applying the science of learning: Evidence-based principles for the design of multimedia instruction. American Psychologist, 63(8), 760-769. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.63.8.760

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