Monday, October 19, 2009

Week 4 - Media for Education, 10/14

This week was devoted to the presentation of custom digital artifacts designed to summarize innovative media or projects addressing a social problem. The range of causes was equal parts inspiring and overwhelming, clearly demonstrating the vast space of vulnerable, underprivileged, and marginalized members of the global community. Topics included cultural unity among distributed Mexican migrants, preserving Native Hawaiian culture, literacy in rural India, Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, protection of East African street children, preserving vanishing cultures, supporting rural African farmers, empowering rural American children, collegial pedagogy, combating ADD, bullying prevention, addressing childhood depression, empowerment of the elderly, and disease prevention. The range of media used to convey each message was similarly diverse, and provided a compelling venue for comparing the educational efficacy of various technologies. The following is my assessment of each of the five classes of media employed in these projects:

Dynamic Visual Display
Description: 6 of 16 presentations consisted of movies, which present information along multiple sensory modalities at a pre-defined pace. Effectively, the viewer is placed into the position of observer in relation to a story teller.
Positive Attributes: When carefully constructed, the results can be quite engaging and evocative. The combination of visualization (particularly motion pictures) with appropriate music and/or voice overlay is considerably effective. The display of textual information, when constrained in terms of quantity, can have a similarly positive impact. The presentation is also constant over time (although the interpretation is in constant flux).
Detractions:The simultaneous presentation along multiple sensory modalities may be a confounding factor (e.g. written text accompanied by musical lyrics). Additionally, the temptation to employ complicated visual effects may result in an impressive display, but it may also distract from the desired message. Finally, the question of passivity is critical. The viewer of a movie has little choice but to process the linear sequence of information as presented. Opportunities to explore tangential questions or even interact with the artifact in a constructive manner are limited.

Interactive Web Page
Description: 5 of 16 presentations consisted of web-based artifacts, which offer interactivity and flexibility, particularly in the ability to present multimedia content.
Positive Attributes: In contrast with movies, web pages allow the user to determine the course of exploration within the content of the site design, as well as in outside domains connected by hypertext. Furthermore, variable and indefinite time is allowed for subjects to explore site elements.
Detractions:Web pages demand that users possess a sufficient level of intrinsic motivation to explore the presented content. Additionally, although web pages may be embellished with audio, video, and visual artifacts, the associative (rather than linear) nature of the content may diminish the emotional impact on the participant-observer.

Power Point Presentation
Description: 3 of 16 artifacts came in the form of power point presentations, which may be characterized as a hybrid between movie and interactive web artifacts. These naturally integrate informative text, inspiring images, video, and sound, albeit in a linear presentation. Critically, the presentation is designed to be mediated by a presenter.
Positive Attributes: The advantages of this form of presentation are similar to those of a web page, in terms of the multimedia content. Furthermore, the presenter may actively engage the audience and interactively determine the pace of presentation.
Detractions: Power Point may suffer from the same detractions as movie presentations, while not offering the same emotional engagement. The experience may also be inhibited by a poor presenter or the labor of traversing the slides on one's own.

Audio Stream
Description: 1 of the 16 artifacts consisted of an audio stream, which can also be classified as a linear presentation of information, albeit streamlined to one sensory modality.
Positive Attributes: This media format can be extremely engaging, not leastwise because the observer is invited to actively imagine visual content to complement the audio information.
Detractions: Many observers struggle to retain information presented solely through the spoken word. Furthermore, creative audio effects, while potentially entertaining, may serve to distract from the message.

Static Visual Display
Description: 1 of 16 of the artifacts was a static visual poster. Like web-based media, this format allows the user to freely traverse the visual and textual space of the presentation material.
Positive Attributes: Static visual displays may provide many of the same benefits as an interactive web page, including freedom of traversal, and effective interaction of visual and textual information. Also, a comprehensive understanding may be expedited by the entirety of the information being made present within the visual field.
Detractions: The format and size are limited in terms of sensory modality and quantity of information.

Clearly, the preference of one medium over another is predicated on defining the desired amount of user control / interaction, linear versus associative information display, and quantity and quality of sensory modalities to evoke the desired effect. To wit, these considerations ultimately informed the final format of my artifact, an interactive web page expressing the social problem of vanishing cultures. The initial step in creating the artifact was to apply the ABCD instructional design strategy (see Week 3). I determined that the Audience could be any interested party, with special consideration for uninformed, albeit generally well-intended, members of dominant Western societies. The Conditions of the learning environment were, accordingly, a prevalent dominant culture, readily accessible internet access, and sufficient leisure time to explore a site. The Behavior I wished to elicit was increased awareness of the importance of diverse cultures, the unfortunate reality that many are vanishing, and the available avenues for countering the problem. Furthermore, I wished to encourage further user exploration into vanishing cultures and potential solutions. With respect to Degree, as a result of interacting with the artifact, I intended for 100% of participant observers to demonstrate a positive increase in awareness and understanding of the issues, while at least 25% would embark on further exploration, and as many as 5% would seek involvement in a related initiative.

A web-based application seemed most appropriate to achieve these design goals. For one, the internet is widely accessible in developed regions, and the assumption that many members of developed societies are well-intentioned suggests that they will possess sufficient intrinsic motivation to explore the site. The site also allows observers to traverse paths of interest at any pace, while allowing for immediate exploration beyond the site via embedded links. Furthermore, the web interface allows for the presentation of visual images that evoke emotion (e.g. the cultural images and the inverted world map), poignant text, and simple visual effects (e.g. the "disappearing" title). Finally, the format is incredibly extensible, allowing for continual updates, which is critical for the scope of this particular artifact. Ideally, the site would allow participants to add their "pins" to the map, thereby raising awareness about cultures and projects of special interest to them.

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