Teaching Effectively with Multimedia

by Jessica Zimmer

Students respond to information differently. Thus, it is often to our advantage as teachers to use many different formats and modes to teach the subject matter of a lesson. This is why teachers normally use some combination of lecture, text and hands-on laboratory for conveying information. With the advent of the Internet and the multiple formats that can be communicated over the World Wide Web, we now have several new and exciting ways to present information. The Web allows the incorporation of animation, moving pictures, and sound into lessons, which extends our abilities to present materials that encourage student interaction with the subject matter. Pictures and animations help bring to life scientific principles, and multimedia allows students to take a more active role in learning: they can watch experiments in action, see microorganisms up close, and use a mouse or keyboard to navigate images, simulations and interactive material. One of the advantages of using multimedia is to convey information quickly and effectively to all students – and keep them interested in learning (Savage and Vogel, 1996).

School-purchased multimedia such as videos and CDs work well, but these can be limited by school budgets. Another drawback of these tools is that given the hectic schedule teachers are often forced to keep, it can be a significant strain on our time to review multimedia materials and seamlessly incorporate them into a lesson plans. Finally, juggling a VCR and TV for video, a CD-ROM player, computer, projector, and textbook can be technically, as well as financially, challenging. Ideally, what teachers needs is a single system that blends text, images, simulations, video, audio and other multimedia material into a single, coherent environment that is available from school or home.

One of the goals of Visionlearning is to provide just such a resource. Visionlearning provides clearly written, concise online multimedia modules that focus on core scientific principles in biology, chemistry, earth sciences, and physics. Our modules make it possible for you to reach out to students and allow them to view engaging presentations repeatedly. Our modules provide core, text-based lessons written to conform to the National Science Education Standards. These modules also offer original photographs, scientific illustrations, Flash animations, educational videos, audio recordings, interactive quizzes, and ask-a-question areas through a series of external hyperlinks on the right and bottom menu bars.

Photographs and scientific illustrations appear embedded within our learning modules. Photographs of scientists on the right menu of our modules link to biographies to provide historical context to the lesson. Within the text of the lessons, center-aligned, hyperlinked text loads interactive animations or short movies that help convey the core topic discussed in the lesson. For example, our Scientific Method module contains an interactive experiment in which students are virtually transported to Pisa, Italy where they can simultaneously drop different sized objects off of the Leaning Tower. For more examples of our interactive animations, visit our sample animations page. Many of our illustrations and animations are reproduced in an overheads area of the Resources section (bottom menu) of our modules to provide teachers an easy way to show these materials to a class without having to search through a module.

Near the top of the right menu, all Visionlearning modules contain an Experiment! section. This section contains links to educational videos and online interactive experiments that help augment the subject of the lesson. For example, our Cell module contains a link to a virtual tour of an animal cell. Our right-menu Classics section contains links to journal articles, audio recordings and videos of scientists that have made key contributions to the field. In addition, interactive quizzes are contained in the bottom left Resources section to provide students a way to self-assess their learning.

As a teacher, you can use Visionlearning’s multimedia materials on and off the Internet. Using the Internet, you can project a computer screen to your class, slowly scrolling through text and clicking on graphics and animations within a lesson. Alternatively, you can work offline with an overhead projector. Our overhead pages (available in the bottom left Resources section) are formatted to be printed on transparencies for classroom use.

image © The Nobel Foundation

Multimedia presentations keep students alert and focused. It would benefit your students immensely if they could hear a researcher’s opinions, and read their original work. For example, Visionlearning’s Atomic Theory I module “Atomic Theory: The Early Days,” has links to J.J. Thompson, a renowned physicist, speaking about his work in the early 1900s. In addition, we provide links to a biography of Thompson and a history of his work, and information about how Thompson went on to mentor other atomic scientists, including Ernest Rutherford.

You might also want to use animations that allow the students to visualize the structure of atoms in your class. As an example, our Atomic Theory II module “Atomic Theory II: Ions, Isotopes and Electron Shells,” contains an animation called “Bohr’s Atom,” which simulates the inner workings of a hydrogen atom from the perspective of Niels Bohr’s work on electron orbitals. In the animation, electrons can be manually ‘excited’ to higher energy shells by introducing energy to the atom, and then can be seen to ‘fall’ back to the ground state, giving off energy as bursts of light in the process. Students can actually see and experiment with the process of electron excitation, greatly adding to the understanding of this interaction in a system. Links within the lesson itself also allow students to read news stories about how electron energy bursts are created and utilized by NASA spacecraft. Seeing the physical processes that underlie the rules of atomic behavior helps people remember what caused that behavior: the interaction between the electrons, neutrons and protons within an atom.

Presentations such as these that incorporate sound and graphics allow all students, especially those with learning difficulties, to better understand concepts even before reading the text of a lesson. Since it is difficult to create an entire separate curriculum that incorporates images and sounds in addition to text as is often recommended for learning disabled students (Piotrowski and Reason 2000), Visionlearning helps teachers to incorporate sounds, graphics and videos into an existing presentation without a large time investment. Students can repeatedly view the modules at home, which reinforces the information presented in class (Dimitriadi, 2001). Researchers working with dyslexic students recommend paraphrasing information, substituting oral and visual presentations for written assignments, and advance access to reading assignments as strategies to compensate for this disability (Jacob et. al., 1998). Visionlearning provides the materials that can help all students.

Another benefit of Visionlearning’s modules is that they create a multimedia classroom for you without you having to purchase many different tools, specialized carts, and information on how to coordinate these different systems. In the past, the main impediment to using multimedia was organizing it. Schools lacked the many devices needed to play or project slides, videos, hyperlinks and animations in a coordinated fashion (Mikett and Ludford, 1995; Baker and Blue, 1999; Olsen, 1999). Visionlearning leverages the significant advantages of the Web as a learning tool to group information in multimedia format into one place. Each module in our library contains pictures, animations, and links on a single Website.

Computer-based multimedia also helps students to develop technical and research skills that they cannot get from reading a textbook. Since the links and images in our modules are on a computer, students learn how to work with a keyboard, mouse, and to access online information. The modules begin to show students how to use information sources on the Internet by providing links to news archives, journals, and databases outside of your institution’s library. Using Visionlearning, students can easily find Web pages of information and library collections that Visionlearning editors describe in the lesson links. When students can see what is going on, they can understand the important points in the lesson and “jump off” so they can discover more about the topic themselves (Mikett and Ludford, 1995).

Visionlearning’s modules can also train teachers. Our site gives you access to a shared network of images and links to show you what you can do with online learning. Our links connect to museums and news sites, government and university databases, academic and technical journals, and online textbooks. We review different multimedia resources before selecting them for a module, so you can be sure that you are linking to high-quality sites. We also provide up-to-date, objective information on controversial topics, such as new scientific theories, science and technology, and the history of science.

At Visionlearning, we want to help you not only transform your curriculum, but to help your students to see things more clearly. You and they can use the Visionlearning lesson, and the Internet, to learn more about science “anytime, anywhere” a skill with benefits that extend beyond the classroom (Dyrli, 2000).


Technology in itself does not improve education. ... However, if there is a well-conceived educational process taking place in schools that can embrace technology to enhance that process, then technology may offer a huge advantage.

-Henry Olds
2000