The Multimedia Experience from an Insider Perspective


http://socialmediamagic.com/blog/images/social-media-005.jpgOver the past month I've written two scripts for Harvard Business Publishing for videos to be used in distance education for business professionals.  Video is a relatively simple form of multimedia, but surprisingly effective despite its limited bells and whistles, and the process is pretty simple: you interview someone, write a script, revise it, and you're done!

I've also returned to the About.com Autism site, where new owners are upping the multimedia bang for the buck.  Our "administrative dashboard" allows us to actively sort through the most popular articles, select thumbnails of images, create blogs and newsletters -- while also interacting with a digital coach whose job is to remind us to add more links, more copy, more descriptors, or more "oomph" to our work.


At the same time, I recently developed interactive scenarios for a professional online course for employees at a major cruise line.  Should Mary say "yes" to paying for help in obtaining international permits?  A conversation with her co-worker helps to clarify her options and steer her in the right direction.  Scenario-based learning is closer to what most people think of as "multimedia" -- interactive, with choices to be made by the user -- and hopefully imitates a thought process closely enough to simulate real life.

Perhaps most extraordinary, for me, has been the experience of getting involved with the "multimedia-ization" of a high school textbook for a very large, international educational publisher.  This project includes video, audio, interactive quizzes, interactive galleries, multi-layered maps with hot spots, and more.  To make the experience more complex, our team is working with other contractors in other countries, using four different online authoring and database systems, and focusing on guidelines from four different states.

Yes, my head is spinning -- but that's the life of a freelancer.  More significantly, I am finding that work I could have done in hours is now taking days or even weeks -- because it requires a huge learning curve in the form of training on new authoring systems, communication systems, and guidelines that relate, not to writing, but to technology. It also requires image research, captioning, and meta-labeling.

Today's freelance writer is occasionally called on to simply... write.  But multimedia isn't about the prose: it's about the experience.  Not just for the end user, but for all of us!


Exploring the Many Faces of Education

What does education look like?

This month, and for several months to come, I'm exploring many of the very different possibilities through client publications, websites, and multimedia instructional curricula.  It's exciting, and I'm learning every day -- though I must say the experience can feel just a little like intellectual whiplash.  Here are some of the educational projects I'm involved with right now:

  •  Editing a museum publication about research into the impact of informal education on girls' experience of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
  • Developing new web copy describing international "expeditions" run by researchers working with Earthwatch, a non-profit that involves volunteers in real-world projects ranging from archaeological exploration of ancient Roman fortifications in northern England to underwater research into the impact of climate change on the coral reefs of Australia.
  • Creating multimedia lessons on English Language Arts for grade 9 students using the Accelerate.com guideline-based curriculum.  So far, I've reread stories by Poe and Langston Hughes, and am about to plunge into historic speeches -- all in support of highly interactive lessons that challenge students to interpret and report on all forms of written and spoken expression.
  • Writing how-to-articles for Sumac.com, a Toronto-based company that creates fundraising software for non-profits.  What's the best way to "do good while doing well?"  How can non-profits collaborate for success?  I'm researching and writing it all!
  •  Building online, interactive modules on life and study skills for an innovative new non-profit dedicated to helping students succeed.  I'm creating materials on values, self-control, and other key topics, for youngsters ranging from middle through high school.
  • Updating publicity materials for the Falmouth Education Foundation, a local grant making entity which supports teachers in our local public schools as they develop innovative new ways to teach and engage students in grades K-12.
  • Researching and writing materials for Stream Explorers, the children's magazine produced each quarter by and for coldwater conservation group Trout Unlimited.  This quarter's topic: the rivers -- and fish -- of the Shoshone River in Wyoming, near Yellowstone Lake.
The breadth of education in today's multimedia, multigenerational, multimodal world is incredible.  It's nice to nice the possibilities continue to expand!

Business Management Multimedia, Scenarios, Videos: Options for Skill Building

  • What does it take to manage an employee you dislike?
  • How do you minimize meeting length while maximizing efficiency and outcomes?
  • Why does a cash bonus motivate only half of your employees?

These are some of the questions that short, pithy videos and interactive scenarios can answer -- on an as-needed basis, through a variety of techniques that target different learning styles.  While one manager may learn best through a short lecture-style presentation, another may find it easier to grasp a concept when it's presented in anedotal style, and a third may need to actually interact with information in order to internalize it.

That's why the demand for online managerial training tools has grown so quickly: it's easy to take the same basic content, reversion it for multiple learning styles, and make it available as a library of resources.  As a manager encounters an issue, she can tap into a password-encrypted site, select the topic desired, choose the presentation style, and receive instant, actionable input that makes sense to her based on her learning style.

There are a wide range of multimedia tools used to present management concepts.  While not every tool is appropriate to every topic, it's always possible to create video presentations, text publications, and interactive elements to suit individual needs.  With enough time and the right tools, it's even possible to create interactive, scenario-based, "choose your own adventure" style modules that allow managers to practice coaching, conflict resolution, meeting management, problem-solving, and other critical skills.

Building on my experience with virtual and distance education, I've worked with several recent clients on business-related teaching tools.  Just a few projects include --
  • 100 three-minute video scripts on topics ranging from SWOT analysis to conflict resolution
  • "Smart Stories" for business managers which relate business skills such as meeting management to real-world examples of business managers who have successfully achieved specific goals
  • Articulate-based interactive lectures and assessments focused on topics such as marketing theory and fundamentals of branding
How do your managers learn best?


21st Century Learning for a Purpose

Image created by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills
If you aren't involved with education in any way, you may never have heard the term "21st century skills." These are skills which the US Government (and many others) believe will be critical for success in an increasingly interconnected and technological world.

Google the term, and you'll quickly learn that the United States Department of Education, along with countless partners in the US and around the world, are working hard to prepare "teachers for a 21st century classroom that not only incorporates, but demands, more focus on critical thinking, STEM, foreign language, collaborative problem-solving, and technology literacy."

Of course, these are all terrific skills to learn, though many (such as critical thinking, foreign languages, and collaborative problem solving) were already centuries old when they were espoused by folks like Socrates.  And other skills listed in the graphic above -- life and career skills, for example -- are pretty much essential in order to survive in a modern society, so they're not really new either.

In fact, it's only the technology that's new.  And what's -- at least in theory -- cutting edge is the idea that students should not only know how to access information online but should also know how to participate in the creation of online content.  In an ideal world, of course, students would be using their newfound thinking and reasoning skills to create that online content, which would then generate intelligent conversation and collaboration.

But here's the rub: we seem to be conflating the technical ability to make a video and put it on YouTube with the intellectual ability to have an idea, think it through, develop an artistic vision to present that idea to others, develop a structure in which to present the idea, draft a creative presentation, edit it, and THEN present it to the world.  In other words, we're rarely combining the thinking process with the technical ability to present content.

As a result, YouTube and other online venues are fast filling up with thousands upon thousands of "21st Century" presentations containing nothing more than whatever happened to be said or done when a student turned on a camera.  Similarly, SlideShare is full of two-image PowerPoints with nothing to say...  Flickr is loaded with photoshopped images created to please the "digital technology" teacher's aesthetic.

In short, for the most part, our kids are learning to make "stuff" and post it online.

Every now and then, though, a project comes along that actually pulls together critical thinking, collaboration, technology, and engagement in a way that has real significance both to the learners and to the larger world.  In the process of doing some research for a client, I came upon a few such projects.  All are project-based, technology-rich, and focused on real world problems -- either in the area of service learning or civics. 

Perhaps most signficantly, not all such projects are actually school based: most are run by non-profits or corporations.  Microsoft, for example, offers a World Citizenship award for a technological innovation designed to make a positive difference in the world.  Museums, civics organizations, and even non-governmental organizations are jumping in, with a focus on real engagement, action, and outcomes.

As I delve more deeply into projects related to 21st century skills, I'll be writing occasional blogs on what I've learned.  Here and there, I'm finding the real deal...  when I do, I'll share it!