Intro to Media

There are two major uses of media that we will explore in this course: media developed by the instructor as an aid to learning, and media developed by students as a tool for learning or as an expression of that learning. This piece sets out some introductory points on instructor-developed media.

There are three intersecting elements of endeavour in the use of media in learning: technical production, aesthetic quality, and pedagogical utility.


The technical production problems get a larger view in this course because without this capability it doesn’t matter that your media is both beautiful and insightful for learning, your students will never see it.

In this course we address the technical issues of producing media using hardware such as digital cameras, microphones, video cameras, and computer programs such as graphics software, screen capture software, audio and video editing software. The emphasis will not be on specific applications as there is no way to predict what software you will have access to in your educational career. Instead important principles in the creation of digital media will be emphasized along with opportunities to create media using commonly available hardware and free or open-source software.


We are used to seeing professionally created media that has a high level of aesthetic appeal. One of the impediments to creating your own media can be the fear that your media won’t look good enough. An important judgement to develop in creating educational media is to determine where aesthetics are important, to what degree this is an issue, and where aesthetics are clearly secondary. This judgement shifts depending on how long the piece of media will be used (ie. just for one section of a class, or continuously for ten years) and the resources provided. Most of you will not have the support of media professionals so ‘publication’ or ‘broadcast’ ready media is not realistic.

Instructor developed media should be measured along an axis that starts with media that is so ugly as to be distracting at one end, and media that cannot be aesthetically improved without substantial additional effort on the other end. The latter is often referred to as the 90/10 rule. Achieving the final 10% in aesthetic quality can take just as much time and effort as the rest of the project has taken to that point. Obviously instructors should improve and approach that ‘90%’ but avoid dedicating further effort.


Media can be produced that looks reasonably attractive and it can be distributed online, but if it doesn’t make a positive impact on learning, then there is no return on the time and resources invested. Educators have limited time and multiple possible strategies for teaching and enhancing learning, so if media isn’t going to be effective, time and resources would be better directed to something like more personal interaction.

There are traditions of media use that are common to the various learning and teaching contexts that we find ourselves in. A math teacher will have developed a practice for illustrating a lesson in geometry, perhaps formally acquired or just assimilated as a student. Media is also implicated in well-intentioned myths or unsupported pedagogical assumptions. A picture is not necessarily worth a thousand words – surely this must depend on the picture and the specific thousand words proposed as an alternative. Similarly a widely published graph claiming that we remember 50% of what we see and hear etc. has been debunked as a fabrication.

There is also a growing body of research into what media design elements produce a positive effect on learning. Research now presents guidelines that can be applied in various media types and across disciplines and age groups.

Effective media in your teaching context is going to be built using your own judgement of pedagogical appropriateness, informed by relevant research.


Dividing the problem of developing educational media into these three domains is perhaps an over-simplification but I hope it provides a way for us to think about the various problems we will explore over the coming semester. This model of approaching the problems we will encounter can also help to make each of them smaller in scale and point to strategies for overcoming those that thwart each of us in our own teaching practice.

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