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Multimedia literacy is a new aspect of literacy that is being recognised as technology expands the way people communicate. The concept of Literacy emerged as a measure of the ability to read and write. In modern context, the word means reading and writing at a level adequate for written communication. A more fundamental meaning is now needed to cope with the numerous media in use, perhaps meaning a level that enables one to successfully function at certain levels of a society. Multimedia is the use of several different forms of media to convey information. Several are already a part of the canon of global communication and publication: (text, audio, graphics, animation, video, and interactivity). Others, such as virtual reality, computer programming and robotics are possible candidates for future inclusion. With widespread use of computers, the basic literacy of 'reading' and 'writing' are often done via a computer, providing a foundation stone for more advanced levels of multimedia literacy.

Definition Wars[]

Critics of the concept of multimedia literacy question whether the term literacy can be extended beyond its original definition. Others question whether the 'literacy' skills and concepts in multimedia literacy are new at all, being found in the theatre, film, radio etc. for many years. The expansion of basic literacy through history and across geography provides perspective on those seeking to draw hard lines about what it is and is not.

Thousands of years ago, only a few early cultures invented and used the skills and technologies of reading and writing. Many languages today still have no written form. Of those with the invention of writing, only a small percentage of the citizens of these early cultures needed to have basic literacy. Each culture and time defines its needed technologies of thought and communication. As a consequence, educators must examine the needs and capacities of the culture in setting the elements and levels of literacy. Observing the growing importance of the World Wide Web and delineating the degrees in which its forms of communication are in use may be the best means for determining both current and future definitions of literacy.

An area that needs further research and then discussion here is the tipping point for universal literacy. What were the factors at work over the last centuries when basic literacy went from recommended, but optional, to universally required? Does the tipping point involve a percentage of the population using the technology in general or just a politically powerful part of a population? Are different factors at work today? Can those factors be mapped onto the digital age establishing a tipping point for multimedia literacy or elements of multimedia literacy?

Changing Digital Technology[]

As personal computers and their software become more powerful they have the capacity to not only record and edit text, sound, still images, motion pictures and manage interactivity individually, but synthesize all of them onto the same page, screen or viewing, creating new plateaus or forms of composition. Personal computer technology has placed multimedia creation in the hands of any computer user. As multimedia becomes a more prevalent form of communication it is argued that the literacy of 'reading' and 'writing' using multimedia be taught in schools and other education institutions.

The related study of mass media has long been part of the school program in many school systems either as a separate subject option in secondary schools or more often as a part of general literacy learning. Film Study has also been a school subject in many schools for some time using relatively expensive and complicated equipment to make film or video. The rapid development of multimedia via personal computing means that it is becoming a routine form for a widening group of people not only for just "reading" but for creating the media. The line between mass media and personally authored media is becoming much more blurred if not obliterated. Non professional authors on the web already have audiences larger than major commercial publications such as major newspapers and TV stations, whether text based blogs or multimedia podcasts.

Constructivist learning and multimedia[]

Multimedia literacy is a subset of the wider issue of the use of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in schools. While there is widespread recognition that people need to learn how to use computers effectively in order to function in modern society, there is debate about the nature of that learning. Some see it as a simple but lengthy list of technical skills while others see it as also including recognition of the power of ICT to bring about a major change in learning. Avarim and Talmi [1] identify several groups active in ICT in education, including Technocrats, who see the use of ICT as non-problematic and simply a matter of using the new tools, and Reformists, who see ICT as a major and possibly inexorable agent of change in education.

The reformist group see the rapid growth in the use of ICT in schooling occurring in conjunction with the adoption of the constructivist learning theory.(OECD)[2] This theory supports active, hands-on learning. It is related to Cognitive Apprenticeship and the work of Jerome Bruner.

Some educators see ICT as being a major driver of school reform. This reform is towards a more constructivist approach, using related terms such as: student-centred learning, Problem-based learning and experiential education. Others point to the slow pace of such reform and suggest that ICT may support reform but it is by no means inevitable that it will do so. (eLearning europa) [3]

Supporters of ICT as a powerful tool for constructivist learning point to its capacity to provide:

  • active and highly motivating engagement with students
  • powerful tools to create text, art, music, sound, models, presentations, movies etc. that produce high quality products and remove much of the tedium normally associated with such creation
  • an error-forgiving environment in which editing of a product fosters learning by trial and error
  • easy communication in text, voice, video
  • quick access to information and resources

Educators are finding, however, that while ICT can provide a technical environment for constructivist learning to occur, there needs to be high quality teaching to develop and sustain an environment that will challenge and inspire students to learn.

Multimedia Literacy in Schools[]

Teaching literacy has always been the central business of schools. School literacy teaching had tended to focus on written literacy rather than on oral literacy, which is mainly learnt outside school. Literacy has never been a fixed body of skills but has evolved with the development of technology, such as pens and paper, and the needs of society as in the Industrial Revolution. For example, handwriting was a major focus of schooling during the 19th Century as the demand for clerks grew rapidly. Then the invention of the typewriter made neat handwriting a less important business skill. However, important literacy technologies such as the newspaper, the typewriter and the telegraph took decades to spread throughout society, giving schools time to adapt. Schools today are struggling to cope with the teaching of new literacies that are often less than five years old but are widespread in society.

Today the Internet is a major medium of communication and it is increasingly rich in multimedia. Children are regular users of the Internet and educators are recognising the importance of them being 'literate' in its navigation, searching, authentication and other skills. Most school systems in the developed world are including computer literacy or similarly named programs, into the curriculum.

Film director George Lucas would approve. As he succinctly put it to Elizabeth Daley, dean of USC’s School of Cinema and Television: "In the 21st century, can you honestly tell me that it’s not as important for these students to know as much about Hitchcock as they do about Hemingway? Lucas elaborates on this idea in his conversation with Daley:“.Well . . I began to realize that the potential for multimedia to enhance the learning process was just astronomical. . . . I’m a big proponent of a new kind of grammar that goes beyond words. To tell a story now means grasping a new kind of language, which includes understanding how graphics, color, lines, music and words combine to convey meaning” (Brown 20).[4] In this coversation with Elizabeth Daley, Lucas asks: “Don’t you think that, in the coming decade, students need to be taught to read and write cinematic language, the language of the screen, the language of sound and image, just as they are now taught to read and write text? Otherwise, won’t they be as illiterate as you or I would have been if, on leaving college, we were unable to read and write an essay?”(Daley 15) [5]

Children learn much of their mass media literacy, as recipients, quite intuitively from film, television and radio. However, until recently, few have had the opportunity to experience being multimedia authors. Now, with relatively cheap digital cameras, free software and access to powerful multimedia computers, there is both the opportunity and the need, for quite young students to become authors as well as consumers in the new media.

The following sections provides information on skills that students may learn in order to be multimedia literate.


Film making has been a major technology and art form for over a century. Personal video making makes use of many but not all of the techniques of professional film making. Student movie makers need to be familiar with the basic tools and techniques of the art, including familiarity with:

  • camera shots: close up, medium, long shot, pan, fade etc in order to achieve different effects
  • story-boarding: a pictorial frame view of the story line, showing camera views, times and shot sequence which provides the Director with a simple shooting script for a video.
  • editing software replaces tedious and expensive film splicing with digital editing which is quick and forgiving of errors, and allows the insertion of audio tracks in sequence with the video track.
  • sound tracks allow music, sound effects and voice tracks to be added to an existing film (see Sound).
  • the so called Ken Burns Effect, in which the camera pans across a still image allows still images accompanied by a sound track to create quite powerful presentations.

External Links

Digital Storytelling Cookbook A detailed overview of steps in authoring digital stories.

Making a video Technology School of the Future - teacher development centre


Three track recording

Most people are very familiar with the use of sound as a powerful tool in television, radio and film, but have little experience in using it themselves. Digital recording allows the user much greater opportunity to experiment with the effect of sound features such as:

  • voice tone, pace, pitch
  • music as an influence on mood and atmosphere
  • sound effects that provide enrichment and context to a story.

External Links

  • Audacity open source audio editing software.

See also[]

  • Technological literacy
  • Transliteracy
  • Digital storytelling

External links[]

and Instruction in Education. A unimedia composition.

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