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The integration of interactive multimedia, cooperative learning and special populations

Mark Puchalski, William Simonsen and Jeanette Cook
Glenbrook North High School
Northbrook, Illinois, USA

Increasingly the educational paradigm appears to be shifting from traditional teacher dominated instructional delivery systems to models that utilise more student centred instructional methods. We see three major components in this change: 1) Interdisciplinary curriculum, 2) Cooperative learning, 3) Interactive multimedia technologies. In response to this shift, Glenbrook North High School has designated that the goal of the TEAM Program would be the integration of the three components of this paradigm shift in order to improve its instructional delivery systems to at risk students in science, mathematics, social sciences, and language arts.

The TEAM program was originally established in 1980 to meet the needs of those students who were not successful in the traditional academic curriculum. At that time, students were selected to TEAM on the basis of reading scores that were as much as seven grade levels below local norms. The attempt was to provide these students with a nurturing academic environment that reflected the same curriculum and assignments that every other student receives at Glenbrook North High School.

As successful as this program has been, we realise that its continued success depends upon our instructional leadership responding to the changing needs of students based upon the latest findings in educational and technical research. Recently, with the support of the superintendent and the administration, the opportunity has arisen to apply recent cognitive research, new technologies, and organisational design to build upon the early success of the program.

At risk students

Students labelled as at risk are those who have not been successful in the traditional academic classroom setting. As measured by standardised testing, their achievement levels are often three to seven years behind that of their peers. Furthermore, their grade point averages are often much lower. Because of past patterns of academic failure the self confidence of these students is low, which frequently causes the students to shut down and become helpless learners. In addition to this "learned helplessness", these students usually have difficulty understanding how to most efficiently utilise their cognitive strengths in order to compensate for their weaknesses as learners and therefore require more adjustment in the learning environment than most learners.

Frequently, a high proportion of these students are learning disabled. Learning disabled students have deficits in learning which may be principally in input (receptive functions), in output (expressive functions) or in both. They may also have an integrative disability - a disruption in those psychological processes whereby meaning is acquired. To borrow an analogy from information processing: data input, the central processor or data output (or all three) could be disrupted. These students often have difficulty understanding symbol systems which may inhibit their processing of information. They are unable to strategically manage their available cognitive resources to create new knowledge by extracting information from the environment and integrating it with information already stored in memory (Kozma, 1991; Alley and Deshler, 1979; Johnson and Myklebust, 1967).

Although an oversimplification, it may be useful to view one type of learning disabled student as a "visual learner" - a student who learns primarily through the visual modality. Unfortunately for this type of student most information in a typical class is transmitted through the auditory modality - by the teacher talking, explaining, or lecturing to the class. Unless individual modifications are made in the instructional delivery system, such a student would be unable to process most of the information transmitted in the class. It is our contention that interactive multimedia technology allows the teacher to make such modifications with a minimum of disruption and distraction to the lesson. Later sections of this paper will expand on this contention.

Interdisciplinary curriculum

At Glenbrook North, in keeping with the traditional concept of the school day, time is arbitrarily divided into forty minute time blocks with most classes meeting for forty minutes to an hour. These classes are taught by individual specialists in the various departments (math ' social sciences, language arts, science, art, physical education, and foreign languages). Life, however, is not so neatly divided; we seldom work on math for forty minutes and then move on to English for another forty. As Heidi Hayes Jacobs writes, 'The adolescent begins to realise that in real life we encounter problems and situations, gather data from all of our resources, and generate solutions. The fragmented school day does not reflect this reality "(Jacobs, 1989). By using an interdisciplinary approach, we hope to give the students a more accurate reflection of reality and encourage the development of thinking and learning skills rather than just narrow subject knowledge.

The TEAM program consists of twelve teachers from the areas of math, science, social science, special education, and language arts. We serve approximately 100 students in grades 9, 10, and 11. Students in each grade are scheduled for 160 minutes of daily instruction for the TEAM program. Currently, half of the time is spent in a math/science room and the other half in a social science/language arts class. Both subject area teachers and a special education teacher participate in the class and all three teachers are present the entire period. Our plans for next year include fully integrating all four curricular areas. Additionally, one period a day is set aside for conferencing among the teachers during which time they review the day's activities and plan the future lessons. A weekly all-team meeting is held to review student progress and share ideas. The program also has the services of a technology consultant who works with the faculty to help them integrate technology into the curriculum.

Our school district has made a commitment to move our school s forward by providing many technical resources for our students to utilise. Our classes have access to a writing centre that houses thirty networked Macintosh LC computers. In addition to the basic word processing programs, the students utilise Superpaint, HyperCard and desktop publishing programs. In this room there is also a scanner, videodisc player, CD-ROM, and digitised camera. Not only is the room available for class use, but the facilities are also open for the students to use on an independent basis from 7 am to 8 pm. Each TEAM classroom is equipped with its own multimedia workstation consisting of one Macintosh LC, videotape player, Pioneer interactive videodisc player, digitised camera, and LCD projection unit. Students also have access to satellite television for both broadcast programming (eg. Discovery Channel, Cable News Network) and two way communications to students in other countries. Lastly, database access is provided to information networks and online services such as Prodigy.

In the TEAM program, we attempt to take a central topic and show its relevance in the various disciplines. For example, a recent project grew from the central idea of what comprises a civilisation. The unit was introduced by a showing of the movie Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome, which is a film about rebuilding society after a nuclear war. An inter-curricular discussion ensued on the various components of a civilisation. The students selected ideas that ultimately represented each curricular area. Various discussions and projects evolved from this introductory concept and the students began to realise how all subject areas contribute to ideas of a civilisation. This curriculum integration was exemplified in an Egyptian tomb project whose impetus was the social science examination of Egyptian culture but then required the students to use information from all of the curricular areas to create their personal tombs. The students used their math skills to create a proportionally correct tomb structure, science knowledge to examine the mummification process, art ability with tomb decorations, language arts skills with writing personal essays and songs to be included in their tombs.

Cooperative learning

For many reasons, cooperative learning appears to be the ideal instructional technique to develop our at risk students' interpersonal, information accessing, problem solving and thinking skills. Additionally, the cooperative learning approach increases the students' awareness of accountability to themselves as individuals as well as to others.

In any classroom, the teacher can structure the lesson competitively so that students work against each other to achieve a goal that only a few may obtain (ie. an 'A' grade). In this view, school is predominantly a competitive enterprise. In such an environment, at risk students frequently believe that they do not have a chance to compete and therefore often shut down and become helpless learners. A second alternative is to structure lessons individually so that students work by themselves to accomplish goals unrelated to those of other students. Under this model, students often perceive that the achievement of their learning goals is unrelated to what other students do (Johnson and Johnson, 1987). Students seek an outcome that is personally beneficial and ignore as irrelevant the goal achievements of other students. Once again we see the traditional school framework as being an inaccurate depiction of what will be required of the students after high school. Most work (eg. this paper) is done through collaborating with others and working toward a joint goal. The third option is to structure lessons cooperatively so that students work together to accomplish shared goals. Students are assigned to small groups and instructed to learn the assigned material and make sure that other members of the group also learn the assigned material. In this situation, there is positive interdependence among students' goal attainments; students perceive that they can reach their learning goals if and only if other students in their learning group also reach their goals (Deutsch, 1962; Johnson and Johnson, 1987).

According to Johnson, Johnson, and Holubec (1988) there are five basic elements of cooperative learning; we believe these will facilitate student learning in an interdisciplinary and technically oriented classroom setting. These basic elements include:

  1. Positive Interdependence is achieved through establishing mutual goals, joint rewards, shared materials and information, and assigned roles. For example, each student becomes an expert in a particular aspect in technology (eg. word processor or laser disc); he then must teach the other members in the group to use the technology. That student, however, will be the expert in the group - the resource for others to turn to. Each group member has a specialty area so that all roles are equally important to the group's success.

  2. Face to Face Interaction requires the students to interact and exchange information within their learning groups. These exchanges are primarily verbal in which students are engaged in oral summarising, giving and receiving explanations, and elaborating by relating new information to what has previously been learned.

  3. Individual Accountability requires that every individual be successful in order for the group to be successful. A randomly selected member of the group will often be responsible for the answer of the entire group.

  4. Interpersonal and Small Group Skills that are so often needed in our global society are central to the success of any project. Skills taught in cooperative learning include effective communication, leadership, trust, decision making, and conflict management.

  5. Group Processing requires the students to maintain effective working relationships to ensure the completion of the group project and activities.

Interactive multimedia

The term multimedia has over the years taken on new meaning. Where it once referred to the use of a number of types of media, motion picture film, slides, overheads, video and audio tape in the classroom setting, today's multimedia is based on the integration of different media to teach a piece of information. Robert McCarthy (1989) defines multimedia as "...nothing less than the integration of text, audio, graphics, still images and moving pictures into a single computer controlled multimedia product." McCarthy goes on to say that there is "low tech multimedia," which is described by Fred D'Ignazio (1989), of Multi-Media Classrooms, Inc. Here the computer is not the controller but is one more piece of the media. D'Ignazio describes a situation where a student might use a video camera to shoot footage of an environmental problem and using an audio tape and computer graphics prepare a report.

The use of multimedia, either computer controlled or with D'Ignazio's "scavenged multimedia!' is especially appropriate for the TEAM students. In the traditional classroom setting with text and lectured based information supplemented with small amounts of electronic teaching, the TEAM students are at a distinct disadvantage. Because poor readers tend to utilise pictures to aid them as much as possible in comprehending the text, They use the pictures to help decode the words (Kozma, 1991). Kozma feels that authors must take advantage of the text and pictures to facilitate learning. The use of video will make it easier to learn the same information. The poor reading students will utilise audio signals along with the stream of visual information to assimilate the information more effectively. Kozma reports that the combination of audio and visual signals result in a greater depth of understanding than either alone.

We make use of both computer controlled multimedia and the "low tech" multimedia in the TEAM program. Laser disc programs controlled by HyperCard stacks integrate moving pictures and still pictures with computer graphics to teach a variety of concepts. Students may use these as either individuals or in small groups. We have found these types of programs to be especially useful for teacher inquiry. Using satellite downlinks and telecommunications through landline modems we are able to utilise the Discovery Channel programming and CNN Video Link to build a library of video tapes and lessons to cover a variety of topics.

Practical applications

To test out our ideas about integrating an interdisciplinary curriculum, cooperative learning and interactive multimedia, we chose a freshman TEAM class as our focus group. The students in this class were a natural choice for us since they were already involved in an interdisciplinary curriculum and had been targeted as at risk students who were not successful in traditional classrooms. Reading levels (measured through the Gates Test) of the students ranged from second grade to twelfth grade. In a traditional class, such a wide range of abilities would be problematic because regardless of the material used, it would be too difficult for some students and not challenging enough for others. In our program, however, such a range in abilities proved to be beneficial in the cooperative learning setting. We divided our class of twenty five students into five groups of five. Each group was then thoroughly taught a specific piece of technology. We spent one week with the students immersed in the technology for eighty minutes a day. Fortunately, we were also able to pair an adult familiar with the technology of each group. We were able to have three teachers and two technical support staff members available for the entire class time all week; so, the group that was responsible for learning the videotape recorder had a teacher assigned to help specifically that group each day. The specific groups included interactive videodisc, CD-ROM, scanner, microphone, and still video. After the one week of instruction, all students in the group were expected to be experts on their specific pieces of technology. We then brought the class back together as a unit and redivided the class into five new groups by taking one specialist from each technology group. For example. each new group contained one person who had gone through the videodisc training, one from CD-ROM, one with scanner, another with the microphone and one with the still video. We were also careful to distribute the students so that one group was not loaded with high level students and another with low level students. Through establishing the groups as we did, we hoped to set up successful cooperative learning situations that allowed students to capitalise on their strengths and realise positive interdependence. Since technology was to be an integral part of our program, this activity allowed us to train each student to use as much of the media as possible.

It would be difficult to systematically describe all of the uses of multimedia technology in the TEAM classroom. Perhaps the most effective presentation would be to use a typical week in the TEAM program to illustrate the many uses of technology. We do, of course, utilise the standard audiovisual media such as film strips, films, and videos. However, we also try to incorporate the very latest in technology. At least once each week, a current events unit is presented. Of course the content will be varied, depending upon what's happening in the world at the time. A special CNN video program is beamed to our satellite dish at 4 am each day. This is supplemented by print material which is supplied by a datalink. This provides the basis for our current events unit. Follow up activities include using the datalink to obtain additional or background information. Students will often follow a breaking story for several days using the CNN hook up. Another satellite transmission that is often used is "Project Discovery". The Discovery Channel broadcasts a one hour program each day. The focus of the program varies from natural science to social science to arts and literature to current events. Each morning the show is taped for later use in the classroom when appropriate. The video images are available for student use for their individual projects. Any written work is done on networked word processors. This allows the teachers immediate access to student work for corrections, improvements or comments. Earlier we discussed a "Tomb Project" that each of the students completed. All class projects are done in a similar manner.

As a final TEAM project, we assigned them to conduct research projects that they would present in a multimedia report. Through consultation with us, each group decided on a different subject to investigate. The only parameters we set up for subject selection were that the students must draw information from a variety source types and disciplines. This project was a new experience for the students in many ways. First, prior to this assignment, any research that they did was done individually - each person had a different topic and generated his own report without regard to what anyone else was doing. Second, this project involved new ways of accessing information. Traditionally, the students' research was limited to printed materials - primarily encyclopedias. Now, however, they were expected to get information from a variety of sources including everything from personal interviews to laser disc segments. Third, the students were faced with a new challenge of how to present their research. Rather than a standard written report that incorporated primarily words and maybe a few pictures, the students were expected to utilise every technological dimension learned in the original groups. Thus, each group had an "expert" from the original technology training group who was there to facilitate research in that domain as well as its incorporation into the product.

In conclusion, we would like to point out that this paper reflects an ongoing project which is far from completed. The TEAM Program is currently incorporating the research referenced in this paper into its instructional delivery system. As our next step, we anticipate a research based project in which student performance in the TEAM Program is compared with that of their peers who are taught by more traditional methods. Additionally, we are engaged in a School Change Proposal with the Illinois State Office of Education by which we hope to involve Glenbrook North as a whole in revising its instructional delivery system.

We are committed to improving our schools by incorporating the best from current research, technology, interdisciplinary curriculum, and cooperative learning. We anticipate that the future will be even more exciting than the present.


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Authors: Mark Puchalski, PhD, William Simonsen and Jeanette Cook are teachers at Glenbrook North High School, Northbrook, Illinois, USA.

Please cite as: Puchalski, M., Simonsen, W. and Cook, J. (1992). The integration of interactive multimedia, cooperative learning and special populations. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 111-116. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/puchalski.html

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