Do Multimedia Lesson Structure and Learning Styles Influence Undergraduate Writing Performance?

Article excerpt

The study investigated the effects of learning styles and multimedia structure on undergraduate writing performance in a prewriting skills lesson. The participants (n = 42) were enrolled in an introductory composition course at a university in the South. The multimedia lesson on brainstorming and outlining had two structures: fully prescribed (PS) and random (RS). Learning styles were determined by Kolb's Learning Styles Inventory. Questionnaires on demographics, students' writing and computer skills, and their attitudes toward each were administered. Results showed no significant difference in writing performance between the RS and PS treatment groups. No statistically significant differences in writing performance among the learning styles were found. Most students had home computers and stated that they used prewriting strategies. The majority of students expressed that they enjoyed this multimedia lesson regardless of treatment and stated that they enjoyed writing. Also noted, but not surprisingly, was that those students who stated that they wrote on a daily basis had better written compositions than did those who did not, regardless of treatment.

Introduction

Most of the recent research investigating the effects of multimedia on student writing has converged on the computer's capability to process text (Hartley, 1993). And, to date, within this body of research, most investigations have centered on the use of word processors to transpose text or on the use of style checker applications such as Editor's Assistant (Dale, 1990). Although other new programs have been developed in this vein, the development and use of multimedia- or computer- applications has not kept pace with emerging cognitive theories about composition as goal-directed and problem-solving (Flowers & Hayes, 1981, 1977, Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1986).

Writing Compositions

Most modern composition theory seeks to understand the qualitative disparity between the novice writer and the expert writer and to discover ways to decrease this difference. Research over the past decade using think-aloud protocols and case studies has shown that expert writers are capable of sustaining higher "cognitive loads" by being able to make numerous and simultaneous rhetorical decisions during the composing process. However, the novice writer frequently has difficulty attending to even one rhetorical decision at a time. Most modern composition theory encourages the use of some version of prewriting activities such as planning, translating, and reviewing. Often to aid the students with these prewriting activities, heuristics are incorporated into the instruction. These strategic exercises ask students to envision solving specific communication problems (Flower & Hayes, 1981).

To aid the novice student in the composing process, many writing teachers incorporate a series of heuristics into the instruction. Heuristics provide guidelines for the student to assimilate rhetorical issues such as focus, development, organization, style, grammar, and mechanics. Heuristic strategies often include prewriting and invention activities including brainstorming, freewriting, drafting, and outlining which, many theorists maintain, imitate the cognitive activities of the expert writer (Flower & Hayes, 1981). To date, little research using multimedia as a delivery system for these heuristics can be found in the literature. Therefore, these researchers speculated whether teaching such heuristics via a multimedia environment would be successful. However, due to the various cognitive loads that each type of structure may require in terms of the amount of control the individual has over the lesson, the researchers posited whether the type of structure within a multimedia environment would affect writing performance.

Multimedia Environments

Multimedia is a method of information organization that includes the use of text, graphics, sounds, and video in any combination that inherently facilitates learner control (Becker & Dwyer, 1994; Jonassen, 1986; Tsai, 1988-89). …