Magazine article Technology & Learning

Web Animation: Learning in Motion

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Web Animation: Learning in Motion

Article excerpt

Tools, Tips and Techniques for Integration

As a child growing up in the sixties, I was entranced by the intensely photo-realistic computer-generated animations broadcast by NASA in preparation for landing a man on the moon. Using extremely expensive equipment, these simulations and animated sequences depicted lunar modules landing, capsules docking in space, and the stages of an Apollo rocket being jettisoned off into the dark, gravity-free atmosphere. Unfortunately, at that time such high-level animation and the technological tools required to produce it were well beyond the reach of any school or individual student.

Today's students, however, have been inundated with sophisticated digital animation since birth, and the impact of animated features such as Toy Story, AntZ, and, most recently, Shrek is undeniable. These films represent a revolution in the way animation is created. Moreover, the past 20 years have seen such a proliferation in the use of animation across our culture--from software games and movies to TV shows such as The Simpsons--that the medium in general has evolved from a simple vehicle for cartoons to a respectable purveyor of instruction and even drama. The current generation of students is inherently more comfortable with and receptive to animation than any before.

Add to a new acceptance new access, as well. Animation software and the hardware required to run it have come of age. Never before have students been given the tools to produce animation as easily, cheaply, and quickly as they can right now. And the lower price point, combined with an increasingly tech-savvy educator staff, means many schools can now offer kids the same professional-level tools used to create the blockbuster features named above.

The Power of Animation

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is an animation worth? A thousand pictures? A million words? The fact is, animation is able to convey a vast amount of information in a very short period of time, and can be a powerful method of reinforcing concepts and topics first introduced to students through text, discussion, or other media. Though still in its fledgling stage, animation holds the promise of allowing visual learners and those with special needs new and powerful ways to comprehend complex phenomena.

For all learners, animation can enhance understanding by depicting real objects slowed down--as in a beam of white light passing through a prism and emerging from the other side as the separate wavelengths of the spectrum--or by depicting actions that have been sped up, such as the melting of arctic ice caps.

Self-Directed Learning

Many teachers currently incorporate video and the Web to show students animations that enhance their understanding of such concepts as the pyramids, the inside of a cell, or the journey of a meteor through the earth's atmosphere. But why not give kids a more active role in their own learning?

Animation offers new ways to present information that traditionally has been done by students using tagboard, collage, and markers. For instance, animated maps can trace the routes of Magellan, changing political boundaries, or the migration of a species. As students become active creators of their own animations, they move from passive viewers of information to involved, motivated discoverers.

Students can also create animations to demonstrate their knowledge of more complex concepts and structures. In scientific applications, this approach allows the teacher a direct window into a student's understanding. Many topics can be animated to great effect, and the process of creating the animation forces a learner to confront her preconceptions of how things work. Topics such as the phases of the moon, the solar system, volcanoes, or processes such as the movement of tectonic plates provide rich avenues for student animation.

Animation and Motivation

What can happen when students are given topics to explore and then asked to create their own animations? …

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