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Research Guides

Develop Multimodal Assignments: a Faculty Guide

Resources and guidance to assist faculty in assigning and assessing multimodal/multimedia projects.

Considerations of Format

"The medium," Marshall McLuhan famously said, "is the message."  Help your students to decide what format best conveys the information they wish to share.  Some things they should consider:

What is the nature of the message?

Are they trying to convey straight factual information?  Are they distilling complex information so that it can be easily digested?  Do they have information that could easily be understood as a still or moving image?  Are they trying to evoke an emotion or provoke a reaction?

Here are a couple of guides that might serve as resources for your students when it comes to selecting a medium for presenting their research:

What is the nature of the audience?

Students need to consider their readers/viewers and tailor their messages appropriately.  Are they writing for other students or academics?  For the general public?  For people with in-depth knowledge of the topic or none at all?  For people who agree with them, for those who disagree with them, or for those who are uncertain where they stand? Identifying the audience affects not only the language that is chosen, but the tone and structure of the presentation.  

Here are some resources to help students to understand audience:

Degree of mediation

One thing students need to consider is whether they are anticipating that they will be "mediating" the information they are presenting--in other words, will they physically be there making a presentation in front of the audience, or is this multimodal project standing on its own because the audience will be absorbing it on their own time?  Both approaches have an impact on format choice.  If it is the former, that may speak more strongly for using presentation software (e.g. PowerPoint, Prezi, slides, etc.).  Further, it has ramifications for the structure of their presentation: they have to prepare both the slides and their own words and ensure that they all work together.

Enhanced Web Documents: Pros and Cons

Advantages of Enhanced Web Documents

  • Adaptation of their textual report that is already written
  • Hyperlinking to existing content elsewhere is simple once that material is found
  • Quality of the experience depends on the research done into external content
  • Associative trails are clear
  • Uses simple technologies already available in blogging and other platforms

Disadvantages of Enhanced Web Documents

  • Does not serve to challenge students to learn how to create their messages in an entirely new medium
  • Ease of linking might promote uncritical use of external content sources

Presentation Software: Pros and Cons

Advantages of Presentation Software

  • Often already familiar to students from use in earlier education (especially PowerPoint)
  • Often comes bundled on many computers
  • If done as a "live" presentation, permits a different kind of audience interaction
  • Can be recorded as an asynchronous/unmediated presentation
  • Permits the use of text and graphics of all kinds
  • Forces a distillation of ideas
  • Prezi software in particular is dynamic and interactive

Disadvantages of Presentation Software

  • Some new software (e.g. Prezi) can be difficult to learn, or at least to learn to use to its full advantage
  • Might require a presenter to be on site
  • Makes complexity more challenging to convey
  • Easy to fall back on templates

Documentary Video: Pros and Cons

Advantages of Documentary Video

  • Incorporates still and moving images, sound and music
  • Good for presenting complex information in a short amount of time: action, story, humor, processes
  • Structures and tropes of video are familiar to most students as consumers
  • Good for evoking emotion and a sense of place
  • Wide availability of some kinds of public domain and openly-licensed video content

Disadvantages of Documentary Video

  • Software and equipment can be complex and time-consuming to learn
  • Equipment may be unavailable
  • Shooting schedule may be hard to keep
  • Challenging to do comparable grading between video projects
  • Specific video footage from archives may be unavailable or unusable

Podcast/Audio: Pros and Cons

Advantages of Podcasts/Audio

  • Structures and tropes of brief radio stories (e.g. NPR) is familiar to many students
  • Sound is particularly evocative of emotion
  • Many sources of sound effects to enhance the production
  • Recording devices are easily available on laptops and smartphones
  • Can be effective for easy-to-follow, relatively simple arguments and presentations of information

Disadvantages of Podcasts/Audio

  • Editing software can be somewhat time-consuming to learn
  • Can entail significant production timeframe
  • Can be hard to create complex, information-dense presentations
  • Quality recording can sometimes be challenging and/or require the use of unfamiliar equipment

Blogging: Pros and Cons

Advantages of Blogging

  • Many easy, free (or inexpensive), and attractive blogging platforms exist
  • Most blogging platforms make editing and posting very simple
  • Can engage in dialog via comments
  • RSS feeds and trackbacks
  • Most blogging platforms permit a wide range of still and moving media
  • Other advantages of "enhanced web documents" above accrue to blogs as well (since many of those are created on blogging platforms)
  • Acts as an archive of one's thoughts
  • Network creation

Disadvantages and Challenges of Blogging

  • Regular updating is required or the blog becomes stale
  • Technical issues can be a challenge, especially when trying to modify the back-end of a blog
  • Links can send people away from the blog

Tumblr: Pros and Cons

Advantages of Tumblr

  • A particularly quick and easy-to-use blogging platform
  • Promotes brief posts
  • Vast community
  • Focused especially on the visual
  • Offers many design themes

Disadvantages of Tumblr

  • Design themes are fairly inflexible
  • Risk of Tumblr servers going down
  • Promotes brief posts (both a pro and a con)

Twitter: Pros and Cons

Advantages of Twitter:

  • Forces a brevity and distillation of complexity into small pieces
  • Enhances two-way communication
  • Vast reach
  • Permits the creation of and participation in networks of like-minded people
  • Organization through hashtags and other practices

Disadvantages of Twitter:

  • Challenging to present complex ideas
  • Hard to stand out against other tweets, or tweets can be buried
  • Limited multimedia/visual capabilities
  • Entire audience may not be on Twitter