The Benefits of Student Hypermedia Authoring

By Jamie Myers

Paper presented at the Korean Association of Multimedia Assisted Language Learning

Seoul, Korea

October 3, 2002


When students author hypermedia texts, they transform literacy pedagogy and practice. First, their levels of motivation increase as they are able to bring multiple forms of communication together in a single computer environment. Second, their knowledge levels increase through the extensive decision making required to connect all the media texts into one hypermedia project. Third, the experience of juxtaposing different representations about a topic or issue supports a critical literacy practice. Together, these benefits lead to greater levels of agency, consciousness, and participation in the social construction of identity, relationships, and community values. This paper will seek to illustrate these pedagogical benefits by drawing from several studies in which first and second language learners authored hypermedia texts. Some consideration will be given to the technological issues involved in supporting student hypermedia authoring.

Motivation through the hypermedia computer tools

Literacy used to be defined as the writing and reading of printed texts. School was built around these printed books, assigning chapters to be read, notes to be taken, papers to be written, and tests to be passed. If history were to have given us two great inventions in the same century-- the printing press and the television tube -- is there really any doubt about what form of representation would have captured our minds.

And of course, before print literacy became the dominant value, art and music provided tools to represent life and to construct a common experience.

Print is really quite amazing. Here we have a code of white space and black marks that inscribes our spoken word and carries it across time, space, and people. We convert the code to its spoken correspondences and immediately enter into the negotiation of meaning about another's life experiences.

The printed words are two layers away from first hand experience, yet they offer a challenge to the writer to capture the essence of first hand experience, and an opportunity to the reader to fill in the details of the image by drawing from his or her own experience. Yet, even though print offers the reader a great range in the exercise of the imagination, students are often resistant to reading assignments and often find some books very difficult to visualize or understand.

Video on the other hand is quite mesmerizing. We see and hear simultaneously what must be taken as reality. It may lack some three dimensionality, but that too has been overcome in the hologram. We feel that we are having an immediate experience of reality, instead of the pretend experience we feel when bringing printed words to life in our mind's imagination. The image is compelling. We love to hold a camera and capture the essence of our experience because, later, when we share the images, a thousand words will be spoken by one small picture.

Images produce a differing effect from words in that the meaning of the video seems self-evident; whereas, words always must be interpreted. However, which words make up the thousand demand imagination and negotiation as much as print. While all texts as media must be interpreted, the experience of video does for most students have a far greater appeal than a printed text. It is this appeal of image and sound that has so motivated the authors of hypermedia in the many projects I have supported over the last decade. Students as young as 13 and as old as 53 have expressed excitement while creating hypermedia projects for playback over the world wide web.

High levels of motivation have been noted in both first and second language learners, because the images and sounds of a video can communicate with global viewers regardless of their ability to speak the same language as the author. In fact, many of the second language authors of hypermedia videos believe that the videos can better express the ideas they wish to communicate because of language barriers that can frustrate their linguistic explanations of experiences and ideas.

Most of the video authoring has been done using a software program called Adobe Premiere. Premiere is an excellent cross-platform program that will use most any computer inputs for converting audio, video, or camera images into digital formats for video production. It often comes packaged with a digitizing board that can be added to a computer.

Computer video authoring in the past often required the connection of a VCR with analog or S-video cables to the computer for capturing and exporting video images into the Premiere software. The newest computers and versions of the software provide for the latest DV technologies in which the images and sounds are carried simultaneously across the firewire cable that connects the newest video cameras to the computer. Apple's iMovie video creation software made the earliest and most complete use of this connection technology. All you need to do is connect your camera and Macintosh computer with a firewire cable and you can instantly run your camera from the keyboard.

With the growth of the world wide web and the improvement of video creation software, most any tool will provide several menu driven options for finalizing an edited movie and exporting it in the correct format for playback on a web site. Because video editing work is memory intensive, the projects are compressed for web playback to most often play in a window that is 320 by 240 pixels with approximately 15 frames per second. Some of the compression processes, such as Sorrenson 3, can shrink a video project from 964.4 MB to 10.4 MB.

Constructing Knowledge through Hypermedia

While the motivation for authoring video springs forth from the computer tools easily available, a fundamental question must focus on the benefits of the authoring for students' learning and thinking.

I have witnessed authors who became so enthralled with the power of the tools that they quickly amassed a series of images and music without much reflective thought or critical examination of the ideas offered through the video. They were just so captivated that they didn't step back from each image and ask, "What ideas might be sent by this image?" and "What problems do the ideas in my project create for others?" Often it is hard to determine the focusing idea of the project.

However, in the vast majority of cases, authors carefully consider the selection of content and the organization of that content into their hypermedia production.

By far the greatest difficulty for students in authoring hypermedia video is deciding when to be done with a video project. Authors sort through countless images searching for just the right ones to covey their ideas. They also spend hours adjusting the length of images to better correspond with the soundtrack of words or music. In these cases, authors examine the potential meanings of their video in relation to knowledge domains being constructed through the video authoring activity. Even if a student chooses to author a video based on extensive personal experience, the organization of the image and sound in the linear timeline of a video requires the development of underlying knowledge structures as a basis for video making decisions.

The construction of knowledge as a consequence of hypermedia authoring is realized in two main variations. First, the students may be creating a hypermedia project about a topic or idea for which they do not have much prior knowledge. As the develop the project, they engage in extensive research about the topic and locate many different media texts that provide a first hand experience of the topic, and that describe the relevant issues of the topic in a more analytic fashion. The learners must interconnect these various texts to construct a knowledge base of idea patterns that make sense of all these different texts, and can be then used to turn around and tell an organized story about the sense of these images and sounds and words.

Again, in the process, the author learns far more about the topic than the viewer of the hypermedia will interpret, because so much more depth of understanding was invested in each editing decision, many of which will be missed by even the most attentive viewer. That is why, in most instances, the hypermedia product itself is unimportant because the central learning benefit came in the making of the product, not the viewing of it.

The second variation of learning through hypermedia authoring is represented when the author is working from personal experience rather than researching a new topic, idea or theme. The knowledge produced in these contexts might be called self-awareness or reflective thinking. Many authors take some personally significant idea or experience as the basis for their hypermedia production. During the authoring of their story, they often reflect on their own representations, and make adjustments to tell a story that is most true to their experience. But, often the images and sounds create doubt about the truth of their experience, particularly when they view them.

The creation of the hypermedia project on the computer actually creates a distance between experience and its representation that helps the author reflect upon the possible meanings of that experience in new ways when viewing it on the computer, often with one or two other peers working in small groups.

A sense of audience provides a significant boost to reflective thinking for hypermedia authors. The computer and the world wide web give an instant audience to every hypermedia author, as their projects are quickly published on the web.

Supporting critical literacy through hypermedia authoring

More fundamental to issues of learning and knowledge, are the ability of hypermedia to foster critical thinking. I offer as a definition of critical literacy and critical thinking as an ability to identify how the context shapes or frames the particular meaning of a text, image, or sound. As part of this context, a critical thinker can identify beliefs or values that must be held within this context for the text to have a particular meaning. Based on this critical analysis, the hypermedia author can juxtapose texts, images, and sounds, in such a way as to make obvious the underlying values and beliefs that frame meanings.

Such juxtapositions often have the effect of disrupting the typical meanings for images or music whether the juxtaposition involves the simultaneous or sequential experience of two texts. The ultimate goal of hypermedia authoring is the creation of such a critical literacy practice in which authors realize that they can critique the meanings for texts by juxtapositioning texts to generate multiple or contradictory meanings.

Not all students quickly grasp their power to shift the meaning of one image by carefully selecting a corresponding sound or sequential image that has meaning within a contrary ideology. Each text then raises questions about the other's systems of belief, that must then be resolved through further gathering and examining of experience. This aspect of hypermedia authoring is essential because it helps to counteract the power of the video image to be taken as first hand reality.

Asking students to carefully consider the juxtapositions in their hypermedia projects encourages them to raise questions about each representation and how all language acts frame our own possible identities, relationships, and values.

Hypermedia authoring offers tools for creating cultures of critical democracy. But, to realize such a goal, students' projects and products, learning and knowledge, cannot be directed towards the reproduction of commercialized images that homogenize culture on a global scale. Instead, students must use the images, sounds, and words of the world to deconstruct within their own hypermedia creations, the dialectical connections between ideologies, texts, and our preceptions of reality.