Using Multimedia as a Communication Tool

By Zahn, Susan Brown; Zahn, Christopher J. et al. | International Journal of Instructional Media, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Using Multimedia as a Communication Tool

Zahn, Susan Brown, Zahn, Christopher J., Rajkumar, T. M., Duricy, Dan, International Journal of Instructional Media


Communication technology exhibits ever increasing capabilities and corresponding increases in complexity. Students need to learn how to evaluate and develop applications for the new technology. This article describes a team-taught, interdisciplinary multimedia development course created to address such technology issues. A rationale for the course is provided along with an overview of the topics covered and the development projects assigned in the course. Based on our belief that high-quality multimedia applications are the result of team-based development, the class reflects a collaborative learning model. Undergraduate students from two academic disciplines, Management Information Systems and Communication, shared their expertise in computing, electronic media production, and communication theory and practice to produce multimedia. KEYWORDS: communication multimedia development, authoring, editing, collaborative learning.


This article describes a multimedia development course designed to help students maximize the effectiveness of their use of communication technology in relevant contexts such as the workplace or distance education. This course is intended to be a team-taught, interdisciplinary course. The basic rationale behind this course is that effective communication is clear, simple, and direct. When used properly, today's computer technology is consonant with this dictum, and its engaging nature also enhances communication. Schramm and Porter (1982, p. 12) observed that communication technology enables us to "duplicate information and to extend almost indefinitely a person's ability to share it." With the seemingly endless increases in technological sophistication, we are able do more and do it more spectacularly. However, we can lose sight of the goal of effective communication when technology is used merely for its own sake.

This is nowhere more apparent than in multimedia development. Good multimedia makes use of varied media to convey clear, comprehendable messages. Poor multimedia exhibits the basic or fundamental characteristic of multimedia (use of multiple media), but fails to convey a coherent message. Most often, form is emphasized at the expense of function. Unfortunately, a quick trip out to the World Wide Web provides many examples of poor use of multimedia.

In order to address these issues, we designed a multimedia development course. We felt that effective multimedia development, by its very nature, necessitated a collaborative approach. Effective multimedia requires considerable resources and is labor-intensive; it also requires a variety of skills and expertise. This makes a collaborative learning environment the ideal model for this kind of course. Our decision to employ a collaborative approach was also influenced by the recognition that the preparation of students for careers in a world of new communication technologies must address several important trends in the business world and in education.

These trends include an increasing emphasis on team-orientation; skill in various modes of communication (stressing the link between interpersonal skills and new communication technology skills) (Paris, et al., 1992); and the constant relearning of skills (continuous improvement) (Cognition and Technology Group, 1991; D'Ignazio, 1990; Forbes & Ryba, 1994). One outcome of these trends is that students beginning careers in the information age must be able to effectively use multimedia. They must also be able to assess the quality, appropriateness, and effectiveness of multimedia applications (Laribee, 1992; Rajkumar, 1992; Yaverbaum, 1993; Brown Zahn, Rajkumar, & Zahn, 1996).

The development of high quality multimedia applications usually results from partnerships among specialists (Minor, 1992). Effective use of multimedia applications as a communication tool requires competencies in addition to those of computer expertise or literacy. …

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