Academic journal article Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Middle School Students as Multimedia Designers: A Project-Based Learning Approach

Academic journal article Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Middle School Students as Multimedia Designers: A Project-Based Learning Approach

Article excerpt

Engaging students as multimedia designers extends multimedia authoring by placing students in a designer's position. Instead of merely learning the technical skills and creating a project, the designers need to consider such issues as the needs of the audience, the distribution of work in a group, the management of time and resources, and the deadline. They need to implement steps such as planning, designing, evaluation, and discussion. The authenticity and complexity of the design tasks provide students a learning environment where they can develop cognitive skills and skills of high value to the work place. This study investigated the effect of being multimedia designers on middle school students' learning of design knowledge, their cognitive strategy use, and their motivation toward learning. The findings showed that such an environment could facilitate the development of cognitive skills for the middle school students and actively engage them in learning. Students significantly increased their understanding of the importance of the cognitive skills involved in a design task from pre to posttreatment. They have internalized the design knowledge to some extent. However, sustaining these middle school students' motivation toward learning while they are engaging in a series of "boring" activities (e.g., planning, testing) for an extensive period of time presents a challenge and calls for creative teaching techniques.


Promoting higher order thinking has been an issue of critical importance to educators. Research shows that appropriate uses of technology such as using computers as cognitive tools to extend human minds can have potentials to enhance students' thinking skills (Jonassen, 1994). An example of such technology use is to engage learners as multimedia designers. Engaging learners-as-multimedia-designers uses a project-based learning approach, an innovative instructional strategy which shifts learning focus from "teacher telling" to student-centered "learning by doing" (Thomas, 2000). Preliminary research on the topic shows some encouraging results for motivating students and enhancing students' cognitive skills (Lehrer, Erickson, & Connell, 1994; Liu & Rutledge, 1997; Spoehr, 1993).

Project-Based Learning (PBL): Its Theoretical Underpinnings and Benefits

Project work has a long tradition in education. Kilpatrick (1918) has advocated "project method" and Dewey (1900) has promoted learning from experience. Typically project-based learning has five characteristics: (a) centrality, (b) a driving question, (c) authenticity, (d) constructive investigation, and (e) student autonomy (Thomas, 2000). In PBL, the project usually serves as the central teaching strategy to drive students to learn and encounter what they need to learn. The practice of project-based learning usually starts with a driving question, compelling students to learn about the central concepts and principles of a topic. This driving question usually corresponds closely with what happens in real-life and requires students to play authentic roles and perform meaningful tasks. To solve this question, students are engaged in such cognitive processes as problem solving, decision-making, designing, and reflective thinking. These processes help students transform information and construct their own knowle dge and interpretation. Throughout the process, students are encouraged to take charge of their learning and become autonomous for their decisions. When they accomplish their project, students are often endowed with a great sense of achievement.

Project-based learning derives its theoretical underpinnings from constructivist epistemological belief, which emphasizes providing a rich context for knowledge construction (Driscoll, 1994). The richer and more complex the context is, the more opportunities learners are afforded in building their knowledge. …

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