Academic multimedia is where TEL becomes real

Plates by condesign (cc0)
Plates by condesign (cc0)

Learning technologies and technology enhanced learning are not quite the same thing. The position and semantic force of the words is different. Learning as adjective and learning as noun; technology as nominal object and technology as agent of change: learning enhanced by technology.

There is a greater degree of abstraction in TEL, somewhat more particularity in learning technology, especially when pluralised as learning technologies.

Learning technologies are things: tools, software, applications like Moodle and GradeMark or in older days Authorware.

Technology is all these things and more.

Technology is the devices on which software runs and it is the networks that connect those devices. It is the operating systems and their ecosystems: Windows, OSX, iOS, Android. It is the browsers, where last years front line was strung between Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer and Safari. And it is the files, the data, the slides, documents, audio and video.

And you begin to see the layers from hardware up through operating systems, applications and data.

Returning to academic multimedia, each of these layers is dependent on the one below, but choosing one particular element at any layer will affect what can be done with the layer above and below.

It would be nice to be software-agnostic but what you want to do and how you want to do it forces choices.

At its simplest academic multimedia might be the over familiar word processors and slide makers: MS Word and Powerpoint and their younger and sometimes whizzier cousins Google Docs and Slides or Prezi, Keynote and similar.

But multimedia implies more, beyond the decoration and navigation of text. Audio and Video are felt to be compelling new opportunities for persistent academic discourse. Eleven years ago Bruce Ingraham was putting the right questions when he asked:

What skills, both critical and presentational, will scholars and students need to master in order to conduct scholarly discourse outside the medium of print? We might even ask whether a properly valorised scholarly argument can be conducted in a medium other than print?  (Ingraham 2005, 46)

Cultural events like the BBC’s Walking with Beasts, the subject of Ingraham’s essay or the more recent phenomenon of the TED talks are to be both celebrated and deplored. On the one hand they bring a wide range of well produced and often scholarly pieces to a wide audience beyond the academy. But on the other they may provide an illusion of intellect: an interior monologue of self-congratulatory and superficial cleverness. Just put on TED while washing up and a sonorous brilliance rolls through your mind as the foam runs through your fingers.

Let me assert, here, that I do think that academic multimedia should, and might participate in a properly valorised scholarly argument. BUT we do not yet know how to do it.

This is critical. People may make properly theorised and evidenced assertions in any form. Print is, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively new technology. But print also was coincident with and in part causal of a tremendous wave of widening participation in education at all levels.

Audio and video were the preserve of a few and only recently arrived on the scene. Now we have tools that anyone might use. And use them we are invited, but we know not how.

These talks of mine are really only printed texts read out as an embellishment. I do not know how to link you to Bruce Ingraham’s work with only the sound of my words. I expect one day we will find a way.

Until then one of the multiple media in multimedia will remain the impressions of words on page or screen.


Ingraham, Bruce. 2005. ‘Ambulating with Mega-Fauna’. In Education in Cyberspace, edited by Sian Bayne and Ray Land. London: Routledge.

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