July 2010

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The animated Chinese timeline shown my previous blog post was a demonstration of a workflow using proprietary software to make a stand alone animated timeline. While viewing the timeline several times, I started examining it through the prism of the research on multimedia learning that I have been reading–particularly that of Richard Mayer.

One learning principle that I have not touched upon earlier posts is segmenting. According to Mayer: “People learn better when a multimedia message is presented in user paced segments rather than as a continuous unit. (Mayer, 2009, p. 275)” The timeline in its nature divides the information into segments.

One of the main goals of that post was to create a timeline in which the user controls the pace of the events in the animation. As it turns out, research has shown that user control of pacing has a positive impact on learning. Mayer cautions to keep navigation simple as is the case with the timeline.

Arousal Theory tells us that animations would grab users’ attention and improve learning. Others argue the animation between events on the timeline may add load to the visual processing. It could be seen as a distraction. While not conclusive, researchers found that  learners performed better learning from a series of static images than animation. On the remaining four there was no difference. Animation did not improve results in any of the studies (Mayer, Hegarty, Mayer, & Campbell, 2005). They caution that their research was restricted to college students. Further, the pacing of the animated presentation was not user controlled. It could be argued that the timeline animation shows relationships and context, but is it any better than a static timeline? Further, animations take more time, effort, and money to produce. On the other hand, I think they would be better than a series of static slides as the transitions do show relationships. We should, at least, not assume animated treatments are better.

Context or visual overload?

The modality principle suggests the timeline could be improved. As it is, the timeline has images with written text. The modality principle tells us that learners perform better with images and narration, than images with text.  This indicates the timeline would be improved with voice narration and reduced text. I was able to insert audio files in keynote and export successfully into QuickTime.

Finally the images must be examined. In most cases the images are representatives of art of the period had nothing to do with the  text. In this case, the image is merely decorative.

Decorative image

In next instance, the image could be described as representational as it illustrates the oracle bones discussed in the text.

Representational image

The coherence principle stating extraneous materials should be excluded suggests that decorative images should be excluded. Images should enhance understanding not just interest.

Overall, the animated timeline is appealing.  I have used them in instructional presentations in my classroom and, they are popular with my 10-11 year old audience. A classroom differs from a controlled experimental testing facility. The classroom is filled with distracting elements. Could it be argued that the animation directs attention to the lesson rather than what a classmate is doing, what they are daydreaming about, or what they see out the window? I plan on further exploring what research can tell us in this area. I am not sure what impact the animation truly has on learning in this case, but research points to ways in which it can be improved: adding audio narration, reducing text, and choosing images that matched the instructional message of the accompanying text. Research also affirms that adding user control to the timeline is worthwhile.

This is a fairly specialized procedure for users of Keynote and TimeLine 3D, both proprietary Mac programs. The important thing is that it results in something that could be a high quality OER. I had a couple requests for a how-to on building a timeline like the one shown below.

Bee Doc’s Timeline 3D is a Mac application that creates stunning timelines ($65 discounted to $39 for an academic version). They can be presented as dramatic three dimensional animations within the program. Better yet, it also exports these timelines into QuickTime movies and as animated Keynote slides. I have used it extensively in my social studies presentations. When a colleague was creating OER media sets for historic periods, I was inspired to try to create stand alone timelines.

(This is a large file. Give it a minute to fully load, otherwise, it will behave strangely)

Full sized version of timeline (Give it time to load)

Zipped version for download

As mentioned before, the application can export the timelines to QuickTime which would function as a stand alone resource. Unfortunately, these animations proceeded through the timeline automatically at a fixed time interval between events. They would function better if a user controlled the progress by clicking to advance (Mayer’s research shows that user controlled pacing results in better learning outcomes). With trial and error, I was able to create such a resource. (As you can see, these timelines can be displayed on the web, but they work better on computers because of their size.)

To begin the process one needs to create a timeline in Timeline 3D. When creating a new event, an event date entry form:

Enter an event name, a date or a range of dates. Images can be copy and pasted into the image box or they may be dragged and dropped. One can also enter notes about the event. Don’t bother with the link in this case because it does not carry over to exported videos (unless you also want to export a PDF–see below). Data can also be entered using  as tab delineated files. For full instructions visit the developer’s site.

Once the Timeline is completed, it needs to be exported into Keynote: Select File–> Export 3D–> Keynote Slideshow. Select the size and toggle Media Type to Quicktime Movies. Motion blur should be set to None to reduce processing time and to reduce file size.

Upon completion, Keynote will be launched with your animated slideshow. Put a prompt to Click to Advance on the first slide then select File –> Export.

Select QuickTime and toggle Playback uses to Manual Advance. Select the desired Format (You can select Custom and reduce the frame rate to about 15 fps to make the file smaller). You don’t need Audio or Transparency, so leave them unchecked.

PDF Timelines with active links

As mentioned earlier, the links in Timeline 3D do not work in the animations. They do however work when exported as static PDF files. Link to a web resource or a file on the local computer (absolute path only–relative path would make this even better). Click on an event and a file or website will launch.

The animated timeline with working links would be even better. One could pair it with a PDF. Experiments with adding the links in Keynote indicate is possible, but difficult to format. One might be able to further change the video to a less proprietary format, but I found that an additional conversion resulted in significant loss of quality. Perhaps someone better versed in video could let me know what might work.

The last step is licensing your creation with a Creative Commons license  to make it an open educational resource.

There will be another post soon critiquing this timeline using Mayer’s multimedia research.

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If you have a Flickr account, one of the easiest ways to to contribute open educational resources (OERs) is to Creative Commons license your images. Once you have done so, your photographs will appear on Flickr’s Creative Commons search page according to the license that you have designated. This is quick and simple to do.

The first thing you need to do is to navigate to the page of one of your images.

Under Additional Information click the edit link next to All Rights reserved. The following will appear on the next page:

Just select the desired license and click save.

You can also set a default Creative Commons for all you new uploads by clicking a link on the same page:

Once you click on that page you are given the same Creative Commons license option. This will only apply to new uploads. The default licesne page also gives you the option to change the license on all the Flicker images you have already uploaded in one batch.

Creating OERs from you Flickr images is quick and easy. If every educator licensed their Flickr images under Creative Commons, it would greatly increase the number of resources available to  other educators and all learners.


You can also change the licensing of a set of images. Select a set, then click Batch Edit–>Change Licensing as shown below:

Select your licensing preference and click Change License.

Which License?

Here is a concise description of many of the options. Creative Commons has a license wizard that will guide you through the process of deciding which license to use. This post gives my reasoning in selecting CC-BY Attribution.

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In general, teachers love freebies and actively seek them out. These free things range from blogs to web apps to lesson plans. I’d like to challenge teachers to go beyond just consuming freebies to producing them as well. Teachers create great resources all the time in the course of their practice. We could go a step further by turning some of our creations into freely accessible open educational resources (OER).

The Wikipedia defines Open educational resources as “learning materials that are freely available for use, remixing, and redistribution” In other terms these resources are made available to the world at large so that they can be used, altered or combined with other materials. In addition, it may be distributed to others in the original or remixed state. OER has been compared to open source software in the computer world. Contributing OERs extends the benefit of your work beyond the classroom and benefits both teachers and learners though out the world.


Many OERs are licensed through Creative Commons. Creative Commons licenses are explicit statements of how you allow others to use your work. This licensing make it easier for others to know your intentions and facilitate the reuse of anything you plan to share. I have discussed Creative Commons and considerations for choosing a license other blog posts. If you want to designate a creation as an OER, Creative Commons is a good path.

Another licensing consideration is that anything you contribute should be your own creation or derived from materials that you have a license to use and redistribute. One must be careful because there are many resources you may have the license to use in the classroom that you cannot distribute. For example, I may be allowed to use video clips from a subscription service in classroom presentations, but I couldn’t redistribute that presentation with the embedded content. A good source of such materials would be other OERs.

Potential contributions

There are many things that can be shared as OERs. Chances are that you have already developed things that could become resources. You can also pitch by working on existing OERs. Here are some ways you could contribute:

  • Lesson plans
  • Presentations—instructional or profesional development
  • Photographs
  • Illustrations and diagrams
  • Videos
  • Screencasts
  • Improve a Wikipedia page
  • Add material to Wikibooks
  • Write a definition in the Kids’Open Dictionary
  • Multimedia Interactives
  • Games
  • Worksheets, puzzles, quizzes, etc.

Making it available

The next step is making a resource available over the Internet. If you have a website, you may be able to upload the file to a server. There are also public folders on free and pay online storage sites such as Flickr and Dropbox. Another option is to upload your resource to a repository. This has several advantages. Not only is this free and easy, it makes the material readily accessible.

Curriki is a simple to use repository that allows OER uploads one you are registered (an automatic process). Curriki carries a CC Attributions license. Once registered click on Publish Content –> Add a Resource. This brings you into a wizard that guides you through the process of uploading and creating an OER:

Curriki is by no means the only option. The Internet Archive also allows registered users to upload and share files, although it not specifically educationally oriented.

Those with Flickr account, free or otherwise, have the option of designating uploaded images as CC licensed and has a CC specific search. Slideshare lets you permit downloads and designate specific CC licenses. Again, there are many options beyond these.

The challenge: Publish one OER per week

Everyone benefits from open educational resources. Summer is a time where most educators have the opportunity to shift gears. Take a little time from Twitter or any other diversion and make a real difference. Contribute one open educational resource per week for the rest of the summer. It won’t take much effort. If everyone shares a little, we will all reap great rewards! What goes around comes around.

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Richard Mayer is one of the leading researchers on the impact of multimedia on learning. However, in his two books, Multimedia Learning and e-Learning (coauthored by Ruth Colvin Clark), slideware is not often mentioned. Multimedia Learning he simply mentions PowerPoint presentations as an example of multimedia. Since I have ben exploring his research as a means of improving my instruction delivered with slideware, I am interested to see what he says about it. In order to find this out, I had to go beyond his books and explore his papers and interviews.

In 2004, Mayer was interviewed by Cliff Atkinson, PowerPoint consultant and author of Beyond Bullet Points. Atkinson asks Mayer directly if his research applies to PowerPoint (and I assume other slideware). Mayer replies,”Research on multimedia learning is highly relevant to the design of PowerPoint presentations.” He continues by listing several key concepts from his book Multimedia Learning that are particularly relevant to slideware:

  • Multimedia Principle: “People learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.”
  • Modality Principle: “People learn more deeply from pictures and spoken words than from pictures and printed words.”

These two principles tell us that slideware using spoken words and images can be an effective instructional approach. At very least, it is superior to straight lecture. Multimedia theory proposes that using auditory and visual channels is superior to just one or the other.

Mayer also deemed the following as particularly relevant:

  • Coherence Principle: “People learn better when extraneous material is excluded rather than included.” In other words, any material that does not support the desired learning outcome should be avoided.  Processing extraneous diverts capacity to process to irrelevant material.
    In the slide above from a Powerpoint template, the tangram shapes and the rabbit contribute nothing to the message and according to the coherence principle should be eliminated.
  • Signaling Principle: “People learn better when cues that highlight the organization of essential material are added.” Highlight that which is most import. If extraneous information cannot be eliminated use signaling cues to denote that which is most important.

    Dimming the background and circling the tangram elements is an example of signaling. It focuses attention on the desired material (which in this case is not desired). Another example of signaling would be physically pointing to the tangram elements.

  • Contiguity Principle: (Spacial Contiguity) “Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the page or screen.” (Temporal Contiguity) “Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.”
    The diagram of the triangle on the top reflects spatial contiguity. which according to the contiguity principle better supports learning than the triangle below it.

  • Personalization Principle: ”People learn better from multimedia presentations when words are in conversational style rather than formal style.” Use informal conversational style of speaking or writing when presenting.

Mayer regards slideware as he does any other medium. When asked about criticism of Powerpoint , he replies:

I am not sure what is meant by the assertion that “PowerPoint is rarely a good method.” If this statement means that PowerPoint is often misused, I wholeheartedly agree. However, I do not think it makes sense to refer to PowerPoint as a method. Instead, based on the distinction I made in a previous answer, PowerPoint is a medium that can be used effectively — that is, with effective design methods — or ineffectively, that is with ineffective design methods. We would not necessarily say that books are rarely a good method, because books can be designed using effective or ineffective methods. In my opinion, the same principle applies to PowerPoint. (Cognitive Load of Powerpoint, 2004)

Here are a number of online resources that Mayer has authored or coauthored in this area:

I will continue to investigate the work of Mayer and others with several more posts exploring many of the principles outlined above, as well as others. I also plan to examine research that challenges some of his ideas as they apply the the classroom and instructional presentations. I find that reflecting upon this research helps fine tune presentations well beyond what I gain from business oriented books on making better presentations.

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