Development of a multimedia textbook

Awardees: Shigehisa Kuriyama (FAS), Wayne Tan (FAS), Jennifer van der Grinten (FAS)

Summary: Awardees plan to develop a digital textbook for an existing course.

Engagement is the starting point – if you’re not paying attention, you’re not learning

Hisa Kuriyama and his colleagues set out to develop a digital textbook for an existing course. After experimenting with such programs as iBook Author and Sophie, they found that the development of a multimedia textbook that had the functionality that they sought was premature.

Kuriyama thus looked instead into a variety of multimedia platforms to develop a game for Societies of the World 22: Asia in the Making of the Modern World. He experimented with iBook Author, Keynote, and Zeega, before settling on Klynt because it offered the most flexibility in composition. Klynt, an editing and publishing application intended for creating online documentaries, can easily join together a network of multimedia elements (e.g., links to narrated photo essays, movies and articles), organized by hyperlinks into a network of related storylines. “It’s a remarkably powerful tool,” said Kuriyama. “More people should know about it.” While Kuriyama believes the tool to be one of the most powerful and flexible for multimedia composition, he does only recommend it to serious, advanced users because of the program’s complexity, high cost, and occasional browser implementation issues.

The online games created with Klynt were built around multiple-choice puzzles whose solution required the creative use of the electronic databases studied in the course. Such games could be used to flip the classroom by having students complete them prior to class, but Kuriyama found them effective as in-class challenges for students to engage with in small teams. “Engagement is the starting point,” he believes. “If you’re not paying attention, you’re not learning.” To encourage ever-deeper exploration, he tried to build games with a narrative structure and a sense of further, hidden levels. He also found that building in time limits worked well to nurture concentration and team discussion: “The answers to the puzzles weren’t necessarily hard to find–given ample leisure–but finding them before time expired required intense reviews of the databases studied in the course to devise the most efficient search strategy.” In addition in playing these games in class, some students ultimately created their own games as their final class projects.

Kuriyama hopes in the near future to develop games that allow for open-ended, as well as multiple-choice questions. While he still intends to develop a multimedia textbook, most likely again using the Klynt platform, his experimentation has also inspired him to think about a University-wide workshop on Games in Education, as well as to explore new lecturing strategies. “I think a lot about lectures of the future. How do you craft a lecture so that is intrinsically interactive, like a game? How do you design a lecture that people feel like they get need to be there–that they get something crucial out of being present, which they can’t get by simply watching a recorded talk?”

For weekly projects in his GenEd course for Spring 2016, students used the Digital Tours tool created by the Harvard Art Museums as a means to combine different media to tell a story. The three benefits: it is free, it’s relatively easy to learn, and the final composition doesn’t need an external hosting site in order to be shared. Near the end of the semester, Kuriyama began experimenting with another multimedia composition platform, Atavist. Thus far, he believes the program to achieve a good balance between ease of learning and flexible power, and the final product can also be viewed on portable devices. Kuriyama plans to make this the default compositional platform in his classes for academic year 2016-2017.