Multimedia assignments: A doable skill, a usable skill

This post is republished from Into Practice, a biweekly communication of Harvard’s Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning

Multimedia assignments: A doable skill, a usable skill

Shigehisa (Hisa) Kuriyama, Reischauer Institute Professor of Cultural History and Chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, prefers brief video assignments – where students create a visual presentation with audio narrative – to regular written response papers. “I think the ability to express oneself with media is one of the most usable skills.”

The benefits: Students exhibit a sense of ownership, interest, and investment in their media projects – even sharing them with family and friends – unlike written assignments. They improve their multimedia skills, and more critically, students learn to prepare for and present to an audience.

The challenges: Having experimented with a wide range of software, Kuriyama most frequently recommends Camtasia, compatible across Mac and PC operating systems, but acknowledges it would be easier if there were a better cross-platform solution.

Takeaways and best practices

  • Short and comparable is best. Kuriyama limits submissions to two minutes, and often stipulates a common opening statement or a set of images that each student video must include. “That way they’re all playing with the same set of rules, playing the same game. It’s interesting for students to see what their classmates produce with the same constraints.”
  • Maintain some flexibility. Kuriyama offers the option to submit audio-only podcasts (and recommends Audacity) in lieu of video, and encourages students to collaborate and experiment with the technology together. He is currently exploring other web-based alternatives such asDigital Tours at the Harvard Art Museums.
  • Grade on content, not multimedia mastery. “My course is not a course about filmmaking.” While he may award a bonus point to particularly effective use of technology, Kuriyama assures students that they are graded on their narrative, not fancy video effects.

Bottom line: Some students are initially uneasy about their ability to compose multimedia narratives, but Kuriyama believes that the frequency of assignments allows them to develop their skills over the course of the semester, while learning from the work of classmates. The medium lends itself to sharing, which tends to increase students’ interest and effort.