03 May 2009

Effectively Using Multimedia Tools

Students at the Village Academy High School in Pomona, California harnessed technology to get their message out to the country. The students, and teacher, made sure that their voices were heard by using a multimedia presentation effectively, incorporating it into their school curriculum. And President Obama responded, directly addressing the students during a speech and visiting with the class when he was in California in March.

The students’ video is entitled “Is Anybody Listening?” and is posted on YouTube. It all started in Michael Steinman’s English class, where they were reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and discussing the American dream. Steinman asked the students about the American dream, expecting to hear about material possessions. Instead, he heard his students talk about the economic difficulties their families were facing, about how they felt that the American dream was slipping away from them. He asked them to write essays, anonymously. Steinman read about the students not having basic necessities, enough to eat or a stable place to live. He decided to ask the students if they wanted their voices heard, if they wanted to get this message out, something that no one was talking about: the economic downturn’s impact on teenagers.

The students responded with a resounding yes. They sit in front of a blue backdrop, directly facing the video camera, talking about their life experiences and the hardships that they and their parents are facing. The video is compelling and emotional. The simple fact of hearing, in their own voices, and seeing, with no stylist’s intervention, teenagers speak so frankly about the increasing economic difficulties makes it all the more stirring.

Teenagers can look at the video and realize that this is not happening to someone else, it is happening to people who look like themselves. Adults can see this as a plea for help, for people to acknowledge that these events are happening, that the American dream is not a reality for many in our society, and that society must do something about it. Librarians can become inspired by this simple, but astonishingly effective use of technology in the classroom.

“Is Anybody Listening” is the perfect example of multimedia learning. It is not using a multimedia tool just because it is available, it is using a tool because it is the best medium for the message. Generally, we like to think that learning (and listening) is all about the message and not the medium. But, would this message have been as effective if the students had simply written letters to leaders? Would anyone have paid attention? I don’t think so.

I think that the medium does matter. It matters, not in the sense of trying out the next big thing, not in the sense of being flashy, but in the sense that we are constantly bombarded with information. Though often unfortunate, it does take novelty to grab the attention of most people. It takes novelty to engage teens in learning. One great, and increasingly easy, way to exploit this requirement is to utilize multimedia tools. Teenagers instinctively understand this fact. Librarians and other educators must take a good look at Steinman’s lesson and learn how to match the message to the appropriate medium.

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