Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Old school way to teach new media

The first lesson in a brand new multimedia presentation course our department is offering was a success, using a very old school form of media. Soon, we'll be getting into blogging, video, social media and all of the other tools and techniques endemic to a course such as this. But for the first exercise on Day One, the students used what was probably the first medium they ever used in a classroom back in pre-school or kindergarten: wax crayons.

I can't claim the lesson was wholly original, as I got the idea from a syllabus from another teacher's multimedia writing course and modified it somewhat. But it was an interesting -- not to mention playful -- way to get some points across.

The lesson started with a discussion of Marshall McLuhan, and his notion that "the medium is the message" (along with his famous cameo with Woody Allen from Annie Hall). The students then wrote answers -- in crayon, on plain paper -- to a question about multimedia presentation.

After that, they were asked to reflect on the impact of the medium on the message: how writing in crayon colored (pun intended) what they produced. And that's when it got interesting.

Several students noted -- correctly, of course -- that a message written in crayon would not be perceived as serious. Others mentioned the practical, logistical limitations of the medium: that they wrote slower, and larger, and therefore used fewer words. One said something I hadn't anticipated -- that the inability to erase affected the final output. Another really good point, especially in the context of being used to writing with word processors that allow immediate deletion of any errors.

Nearly all of them wrote in multiple colors, even though no instruction was given to do so. I pointed out that it would be almost as easy to create a word-processed document in multiple colors with the font-color button -- but people seldom do. This became just another way to illustrate that the medium of crayons affected the presentation of the message.

Overall, a successful first class, and hopefully a good omen for the rest of the course.

Image used under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License, originally posted at

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