March 9, 2010

Using Free Multimedia in the Classroom

by Heather Falconer

In the last decade, the term “multimedia” has become a buzz-word in teaching circles. For some, it’s come to be an umbrella for the incorporation of everything and anything electronic into the classroom; for others, synonymous with expensive equipment and additional training.  We hope, though, that the majority of educators have come to see multimedia in the barest sense of the word – the integration of sound, text, graphics, animations, and video, in any combination – and its potential uses in the classroom.

Recent research suggests that while matching teaching style to particular learning styles may not have significant effects, matching the teaching style (and multimedia form) to the content can help learners of all kinds. Some topics naturally lend themselves to specific multimedia forms – a lecture on animal cell structure, for example, could be supplemented with an interactive animation (see image).  Audio recordings of interviews with researchers – or better yet, live interviews via programs like Skype – could help better engage students with understanding the process of scientific discovery.

For many educators, the abundance of new media formats has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because they offer exciting new opportunities for teaching; a curse because it’s hard to keep track of all of them and some are quite costly.  The important thing to remember is that it’s not always necessary to run out and get the latest gadgets or software for the classroom in order to teach effectively with multimedia. There are plenty of free, useful materials at the disposal. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Visionlearning, for free, interactive animations, simulations and graphics in the science disciplines.
  • Lab Out Loud, for interviews with scientists and media presenters like Bill Nye.  
  • On the Cutting Edge, for teaching resources in the geosciences. 
  • The ChemCollective, for online laboratory activities. 
  • PhET at the University of Boulder, for free simulations in physics. 

Tell us about your favorite multimedia resources. What do you find most helpful in the classroom?

Heather Falconer

Written by

Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.