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This is one of a number of posts exploring multimedia learning. I have been reading research on this topic with an eye toward improving my presentations and other multimedia instructional material. Here are earlier posts in order of creation:

In my previous post, I  outlined Clark and Lyons’ categorization of the communication roles of graphics in their book Graphics for Learning:

This graphic activates prior knowledge for those who read the earlier blog post.

Decorative graphics are to be avoided as they don’t support learning and can actually decrease performance. The explanatory graphics help learners construct mental models. All graphics should be aligned with learning objectives.

The authors continue their discussion of graphics by examining their psychological roles in facilitating learning:

  • Support Attention
  • Activate of Build Prior Knowledge
  • Minimize Cognitive Load
  • Build Mental Models
  • Support Learning Transfer
  • Support Motivation

Support Attention

Graphics that support attention help the learner help focus on what is important. The authors draw upon parallels in text: bold, italics, colors, headings, bullets, etc. as examples of effective in directing attention. Such cues, in text or graphics, are particularly effective when the material is more complex. Their suggestions come down to two of Mayer’s principles:

  • Signaling: “People learn better when cues that highlight the organization of essential material are added.”
  • Contiguity: “Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near rather than far from each other on the page or screen.”

There are many ways to support users using signaling in graphics including placement on the page, color, contrast, and graphic elements such as circles or arrows.

This graphic signals important content in three ways: It dims extraneous content, enlarges the relevant material and uses a red circle to highlight a specific element.

Contiguity makes it easier for learners to focus on important material because it puts text close to the graphic:

The top triangle graphic applies the principle of contiguity

Call outs are another example of applying contiguity to a graphic.

This image demonstrates use of callouts that apply the contiguity principle (Credit NASA)

Finally the authors re-emphasize the importance of eliminating decorative graphics and advise caution with animations.

Activate or Build Prior Knowledge

People learn better if they can relate new content to their existing knowledge. Learning outcomes are improved when we activate prior knowledge. Those without significant prior knowledge can benefit from building background knowledge that applies to the content to be learned.

One way to activate or build prior knowledge is to provide an advanced organizer for the lesson. An advanced organizer gives the learner an overview of what they will be learning making it easier to integrate the details that follow.

The first graphic in this blog post activates prior knowledge for those who read my previous blogpost by reviewing the communication role of graphics–information that appears again in this posts and is related to the new content. A lesson that develops the ideas of a food web or trophic levels (i.e. primary and secondary consumers) would benefit learners by activating their prior knowledge about food chains.

This graphic activates knowledge about food chains before learning more complex food webs.

Comparative advanced organizers are recommended for individuals without significant prior knowledge about a topic.

This graphic of a narrowing in a pipe is used to help understand an electronic resistor.

They caution that one should implement graphics that activate appropriate prior knowledge and to avoid graphics that activate the wrong or irrelevant prior knowledge.

Minimize Cognitive Load

Cognitive load can be reduced in many cases by simply using graphics in place or in addition to text. For instance a photograph of installing RAM is probably has a lighter cognitive load than a verbal description.

Credit: Flickr user lymang

A line diagram could further reduce the cognitive load by excluding extraneous visual content. A line drawing is simpler than an actual photograph; hence, reducing cognitive load.


Build Mental Models

Graphics that help learners build mental models brings us back to the beginning of this post and to the material of my previous discussion about the communicative role of graphics. Explanatory graphics, organizational, relational, transformational, and interpretive, better support building mental models than decorative, representative, and mnemonic graphics.

Graphic organizers like that found at the beginning of this post are found to be more effective in promoting learning than text, even when the text uses signaling such as bold and italics. It has also been demonstrated to be more effective than outlines. Tables and matrices can also  serve as organizational graphics.

Charts and graphs function as relational graphics. The text discusses different kinds of charts and graphs and when each is most effective. That will be the subject of another post in the future.

One interesting point made by the text about transformational graphics. those that show changes over time or space, is that static depictions teach as well as animated ones.

Support Learning Transfer

The author discuss two kinds of transfer: near and far. Ability to preform simple tasks that are done the same way each time are termed near transfer. Those that require the learner to adapt to a unique situation each time to succeed at a task are called far transfer.

Near transfer would apply to simple and routine tasks such as launching a word processor and saving the file. In this case realistic representative graphics are important. In the case of software, a screen capture would serve well. The graphic below depicting changing copyright settings on a Flickr pages is a representative  graphic It also reduces cognitive load by signaling while still providing context which is also valuable in near term transfer.

This graphic illustrates how to find open licensed material using Google's search. In the advance search click Date, usage rights,…

Far transfer success requires building mental models which are best created by explanatory graphics. These graphics can facilitate understanding by making abstract ideas more concrete such as a number line.

They can show a process with a transformational graphic:

Transformational graphic (Credit )

Far transfer is also supported by giving a number of examples in different contexts applying the same skill. Someone wanting to demonstrate the design concept of contrast could provide examples of contrast in color, size, typography, etc.

Support motivation

Motivation varies with learners. Clark and Lyons counsel avoiding graphics that use emotional interest to motivate. They recommend adding cognitive interest by using familiar and easy to understand materials. Graphics that depict relevance is also important. No matter what one’s personal interest materials that are coherent, familiar, and easy to grasp are motivating to all learners.


Again, having learned more about how graphics can better support learning, I have a more critical eye regarding graphics in presentations. As a side product, I have also learned more about learning research in general.

Part of the problem becomes how to create some of these graphics. The explanatory graphics are complex and do not often lend themselves to simple photographs. Clearly, to create quality learning graphics requires the proper tools and techniques. I plan to explore this area in the near future.

It is time to re-examine my presentations and improve them with more effective use of graphics. More importantly, I am increasing my focus on how all all elements–graphics, text, audio, video, etc. support learning objectives. Clark and Lyons go further in exploring effective ways to plan for the use of graphics in learning.

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A few months ago, I decided to deliver math lessons to my fifth grade digitally. It was the last subject area that I brought into this form. I was reluctant because typesetting needed for math was confusing and frustrating. Beyond that, I was quite pleased with how I conducted math lessons, and my results have been positive.

There is a lot of direct instruction in my math lessons. I make no apology for this. My school and community expect it. The demands of state curriculum and standardized testing demand we cover a lot of material. However, I have long approached math differently from many others. Rather than worksheets or exercises from the book, students in my class have done their work and respond using 9×12 dry erase boards. I have been presenting mini lessons on the chalkboard and putting up problems one by one for students to do. If they grasp it, I continue to new material. If they have not, I reteach and practice more.

While still largely direct instruction, I have found this approach significantly different in that it is social. Instead of students receiving direct instruction, guided, and independent practice, there is constant interaction with rapid shifts in lessons because of the feedback given by the students. I have been better able to scaffold my lessons by starting with simpler work, checking for understanding, then moving on to more complex as appropriate.

OpenOffice Impress is a capable open source presentation application available on all platforms. Windows users may have PowerPoint. I use Keynote along with a multimedia projector and project onto a screen or my chalkboard.

Unfortunately, iWork applications, unlike those in Microsoft Office, do not have an integrated equation editor. I made a brief attempt to get LaTeXiT to work on my computer, but I just did not have the time to fiddle with it and learn the markup language. I ended up buying MathType (also available in Windows) because it integrates with iWork. It was pricey and has an interface that leaves much to be desired, but it does the job. For the amount of time saved, it has been worth it. Bottom line is that you need an equation editor to digitize math instruction. If you use MS Office, you have a tool set sufficient for intermediate mathematics. I found the Open Office tools too limited (unless you learn LaTeX). Grapher, which comes with Mac OSX, has about the same features as Open Office’s Formula. Outside of MS Office, you need third-party party software. If you are willing to learn LaTeX, there are many free options. If you run a Mac, I recommend the MacTeX distribution. It takes care of all the dependent software in one easy installation. Now LaTeXiT and related software run on my computer.

Presentation software packages include capable graphics and charting tools. Learning accompanying spreadsheet software extends the range. Nonetheless, you will need to create graphics beyond the on board tools. Windows users may have MS Visio. ConceptDraw is a premium choice on Mac or Windows. I use OmniGraffle, a less expensive Mac alternative. Dia, an open source diagram tool, is available for Linux and Windows.

While exploring math resources, I was shocked to find Mathematica for $49 in a special offer for K-12 and community college educators. Mathematica is an advanced mathematics and scientific programming environment. I use Mathematica, but I just scratch the surface. I have done some basic formulas and graphing; however, I usually used it with the huge library of Mathematica demonstrations. They can be downloaded freely and played using the software or a free player. Using Mathematica allows me to hack or modify the demonstrations to customize them to my needs. It is also a capable math typesetting application.

Committing lessons to slides, I have focused on the structure and sequence of my lesson in more detail than I had. Laying out the minute details slide by slide makes it clear if anything is missing. Having the lesson laid out as such also has kept the structure and sequence within a lesson tighter. I reflect upon my work more closely.

I have also learned a lot about math. Searching for materials, I have discovered different approaches to teaching a given concept. I have seen many educators’ lessons on YouTube. They have given me deeper understanding and innovative ideas about both mathematics and pedagogy. Beyond that, the Internet provides access to diverse cultures that sometimes use methods different from those prevalent here.

Students are more focused. Delivery of lessons is faster and more efficient. While I interact with the projected material upon the chalkboard, time spent writing is significantly diminished. I work easily with grids, graphics, and multimedia. We have more time for extension, exploration, and review.

The downside has been the substantial time investment. It takes time to become efficient with the applications and develop a work flow. Time is lost in trial and error. Creating problem sets is tedious. Now and then time constraints have forced me to compromise quality or take shortcuts such as copying unaltered problem sets from textbooks.

As the year draws to an end, I now have half a year of math instruction presentations created. I have implemented many shortcuts and efficiencies, so completing the rest will be easier. I think that my teaching has improved dramatically as a result of this work.The next step is to share these lessons with others which brings up another set of issues to be addressed in another blog post.

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You may have noticed the new symbols on my sidebar. That’s because I finally woke up and decided to start thinking about copyright issues for my blog and other content that I put on the Internet. I was moved by the NYSCATE conference to consider Creative Commons Licensing.

Creative Commons licenses allows creators  to share content that they have created, while retaining some rights to the material. Steve Hargadon posted this great YouTube video on his K12opensource site by JustinG4000 which provides a great overview.

Having heard about it at the conference and seeing this video moved me to visit the Creative Commons site. The site makes it very easy to create a license for your content. Just click on the License Your Work on the upper right hand side of the homepage.


The up comes a page with a few questions and buttons to help you customize the license.


You can also fill out optional fields, making attribution to your site a function of copying and pasting as snippet of code. You can fill in whatever is relevant.


Click Select a license and you are delivered to page that allows you to select the appearance of the Creative Commons icon/link and gives you a snippet of code to past into the appropriate place on your site.


As you can see, the Creative Commons site makes it quick and easy to license your work.

Licensure choices

Creative Commons licenses starts with the premise that you allow others to copy your work as long as they attribute it to you (You can choose their Public Domain license if you do not care about attribution). The first choice presented is whether or not you allow commercial use of your work. I was almost certainly selecting No until Jim Klein responded to my Tweet asking about CC licensing. He cautioned that not allowing commercial use may prevent paid presenters from using your ideas (of course they could always ask permission). For my blog, I decided that I would allow commercial use on the remote chance that somebody would actually use my ideas. For my test prep materials, on the other hand, I barred commercial use.

The next choice is to decide whether or not you will allow others to modify your work. As outlined in the video above, you have three choices:

  • Yes–allow others to change as they please.
  • Yes–”Share alike” as long as they grant the same license to those who might use the derivation of your work.
  • No–modifications are not allowed

I chose “Share Alike.” I feel that if anybody want to use my material and modify it, they should allow others to do the same.

Copyright, creative commons, and pedagogy

Now that students are becoming content creators on the Internet whether or not in association with schools, they need to consider copyright and its implications. The options  presented with the Creative Commons license variations provides a great venue for discussing the implications of copyright in general.

Furthermore, considering the copyright of their own materials will make discussion of intellectual ownership in general more relevant to students than the standard plagiarism lectures. It becomes a real issue and will almost certainly give students a new perspective on the issues involved.

Creative Commons licensing makes sense, particularly for content creators on the Internet. Web 2.0 makes the issue of copyright very important to a widening number of people. Creative Commons also highlights issues in the realm of copyright that make it a great vehicle for discussion of intellectual property in schools.

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Social bookmarking tools allow users to store and share bookmarks on the Internet so that they are accessible from any computer connected to the net. There are a number of popular free commercial social bookmarking sites including, Furl, Digg, Stumbleupon, and others. Of course, my emphasis has been upon open source alternatives to these sites so that students are not exposed to inappropriate content, advertising, and analysis of browsing habits. Of the tools that I have covered extensively on this site, Pligg, Elgg, and Posh have social bookmarking capabilities.

Potential Uses for Social Bookmarking in Education

Students and educators can benefit from the use of social bookmarking. Teachers could create a bookmark category for an individual class. Rather than passing out paper with links, students would be referred to the bookmarks residing on the bookmarking site for easy access by clicking links. Taking this concept yet further, a teacher could allow students to submit bookmarks for sites that they find useful and pertinent to the class.

Collaborative groups could share an account, or create a unique tag so that all members could have access to what the others have bookmarked.

Individuals conducting research could simply use social bookmarking to keep track of useful sites. This will allow the individual to access his bookmarks regardless of location or what computer he is using.

Bookmarking with Pligg

Pligg is a free and open source application designed to function similarly to the commercial social bookmarking service DIgg. Unlike many other options, social bookmarking is central to Pligg’s functionality. It is fully functional social bookmarking software with means of submitting bookmarks with descriptions and tags. It also provides ratings in which, depending on the template, users can rate a bookmark Digg-style with a thumbs up or thumbs down, or with a star rating system.

Here’s a step by step look at how bookmarks are submitted in Pligg. Navigating to the site, once users log in they are given the option of submitting a new “story.”

Once  the user clicks the tab, they will see a page similar to the one below.

From this point, the user needs to pste the url into the field. Note the guidelines to submitting quality bookmarks.You may alter these messages and indeed add more by going into the the admin interface, selecting Modigy Language and change these fields:

An educator who is grading students’ bookmarks might alter this to provide clear criteria by which they will be evaluated. The next step prompts the user to describe, tag, and categorize the bookmark.

Once this is completed, it enters the administrator’s queue to be approved. Once it appears and depending upon how Pligg is configured, the bookmark can be rated. It also can be commented upon, however admins may want to remove that option as the comments cannot be moderated.

Bookmarking with Elgg

Unlike Pligg, Elgg is not specifically a bookmarking application. Rather it is a social networking platform that can include bookmarking if the extension is installed and enabled. In Elgg, there is a different set of options. You can view your own bookmark collection, those of friends and site bookmarks.

Unlike Pligg, bookmark urls cannot be copied and pasted into a field, rather they are handled via a “bookmarklet.” The bookmarklet icon is dragged to the browser’s link bar.

Once you click the bookmarklet, it grabs the Page title and url and sends you to the Elgg site to complete the bookmarking process.

The bookmark can be described, tagged, and sent to any friends’ bookmark inbox. You can also set the access to public, private, or to logged in users.

Once the bookmark is submitted, other users can comment upon the bookmark.

Bookmarking in Posh

While Posh has bookmarks, their functionality is quite limited.

Click on add a bookmark, and you are give a field for the title, the url, and tags.

Evaluating Student Bookmarks

Teachers may require bookmarks as part of a student’s participation in class. One simple way of doing this would require students to submit a certain number of sites. While this is a reasonable requirement, a good evaluation would consider the quality of the bookmark and the resource it references.The bookmark could be rated in part by the quality of the description according to clear criteria (which can be explicitely stated in the software with Pligg). These might include:

  • Evaluation of site’s authority
  • Good summary of the site’s content
  • Valid and rich use of tags
  • Appropriate categorization
  • Ratings and comments from peers


Social Bookmarking has clear value in education. While self hosted solutions lack the potential for world-wide collaboration that the big commercial sites have, they certainly allow for collaboration with a group, class, or school. The open source options will protect privacy and avoid inappropriate content, and they are more likely to pass muster with afdministration and community.

Of these tools, Pligg stands out as the best because of it’s rich feature set devoted to social bookmarking. Elgg, on the other hand has privacy settings and sharing functions that Pligg lacks and comes as part of a broader social networking platform. Both are suitable for use in the K12 setting. Posh, while useful, is rather limited; thus, a convenience, yet a less valuable social bookmarking tool.

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