Courses raise focus on multimedia

Many courses now have an increased focus on multimedia, with group projects replacing traditional papers and finals.

Rather than writing papers or preparing for in-class exams as finals loom, many students are working on multimedia projects, from personal documentaries to political attack ads, as part of their final course assignments.

Jones Media Center media learning technologist Susan Simon said she has worked with 14 classes on media projects this winter, an increase from previous terms. The courses include the government, German studies, geography and environmental studies departments. Many introductory writing classes have also introduced a multimedia component.

In her 13 years at the College, Simon has seen the number of media projects increase significantly. She met with many faculty members this term to discuss how to integrate short films, blogs and web sites into their curriculums while meeting course objectives.

Media assignments allow students to go beyond the textbook and engage more meaningfully with their classmates, Arabic professor Mostafa Ouajjani said.

“I think if students are somehow liberated from the mechanical drills they have in the book, and they find themselves in a situation where they are asked to produce, to be creative, that’s where real learning is taking place,” he said.

In 2010, the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric received a $200,000 grant from the Davis Educational Foundation to research developments in composition and literacy, and part of the grant is devoted to funding multimodal assignments.

Students first participate in formal training sessions to learn about the technology they will use. Later, as they develop their assignments, they receive assistance from Jones staff and RWIT tutors.

The software involved in each project depends on the type of course and the professor’s objectives. This term students can be found in Jones working with iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes, GarageBand and iSkysoft, among others.

While some students struggle the first time they encounter a new computer program of hardware, putting a project together boosts these students’ confidence in their ability to work with technology, Simon said.

For other students, media assignments show off untapped skills in classes that typically rely only on writing assignments.

Multimodal projects especially benefit students with visual and auditory learning styles, Simon said.

“A kid who has never spoken in class, the wallflower, will create something absolutely amazing that’s when I get psyched,” she said.

Ouajjani assigns video projects to his first and second year courses, and urges students to use material they learned earlier in the term.

“To have students do something fun with their Arabic, to learn rather unconsciously and to think beyond the textbook rules, is something that’s going to help them a lot to learn, practice and produce,” he said.

Simon has received positive feedback from professors, who praise the projects’ alternate approach to learning.

“When you work on paper, you just hand it in,” Simon said. “The only relationship exists between the professor and the student. With media projects, you are working in a group, and you present your piece to a wider audience. Students retain the information better this way.”

Though working on multimedia assignments is time-consuming, Sarah Zmarrou ’16 enjoys spending time in Jones.

“My project partner and I have a lot of fun,” Zmarrou said. “Video projects are very time consuming for someone like me I have very little editing skills but it’s all very rewarding.”

Due to the large number of students working on projects this term, Jones is often full, and students sometimes experience long waits for multimedia stations.

Staff writer Zan Song contributed reporting to this article.

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