Using Multimedia to Support Instruction

Many students take the textbooks they are assigned at the beginning of a semester and attempt to memorize every chapter word-for-word with the mistaken assumption that this is how to “learn science.” To this already onerous task, students add memorizing lecture notes presented in class. Memorizing an ever-increasing amount of material then turns into a monumental undertaking. For some students this can seem impossible. With such attempts to memorize vast quantities of information, simple concepts become difficult to decipher and understand especially when students encounter more complex, multi-step processes later in the course. However, the use of multimedia tools helps students work with information in different ways to build understanding.

At Virtual High School, we often use images and animations to support student learning of science concepts and to illustrate examples. In most cases, this works well; however, with complex concepts, images still limit our ability to help students focus on the most important ideas and to fully address student misconceptions. We have found through student feedback that they find concept videos useful in developing a better understanding of written text and images. By including a video in the course content, we present a complex concept in a visually engaging way without additional text. For example, in senior chemistry, students commonly struggle with the concept of isomers – chemical compounds with the same molecular formula but different spatial arrangements of their atoms. It is easy enough for students to identify a compound by its molecular formula, but doing so does not give the whole picture of that particular compound or all of the compounds that share that same formula.

Studying isomers requires that students make connections between what they understand about basic chemical structures and how minor changes to that structure can result in the formation of completely new and different chemical compounds. Videos give students the chance to pause and replay portions of the videos to check the information presented (e.g. count molecules) and confirm their understanding. Videos also more fully engage visual and auditory learners, and allow students to learn at their own pace. Take a look at our first video in a series on isomers where we outline the similarities and differences in structural isomers.

One thought on “Using Multimedia to Support Instruction”

  1. There is a fundamental difference in some educational disciplines that can put up substantial roadblocks to a student’s “understanding” of the material. I feel that this is best defined as The Process vs. The Data. I, personally, had a terrible time with History, I remember John Cabot discovered North America before Columbus. But that is merely a speck of sand on the beachfront of History, for most every other question on this topic: THANK YOU GOOGLE! I had the same issues with Biology and also in Chemistry, at least until I learned the process of unit analysis.
    The issue with these particular disciplines is that they are so DATA HEAVY. An atomic historical event (atomic = smallest unit of data) consists of at least 5 pieces of data: (1) Who, (2) What, (3) Where, (4) When, (5) Why/How.

    1. John Cabot
    2. Discovered North America
    3. Widely accepted to be Cape Bonavista, Nova Scotia
    4. 1497
    5. Was seeking a Northwest Passage to China commissioned by King Henry VII

    That is a lot of information for an atomic piece of history. A fundamental historical event (for instance the Declaration of Independence) could be comprised of many historical events (it sure was!), which in turn could be comprised of more historical events or atomic pieces. To try to identify and prove a process in History, is virtually a futile effort. It is too data heavy, too subjective, too bloody.

    Math and Physics I found to be much easier in comparison and I excelled. The main reason being that I did not have to try and cram my mind to the saturation point with specific data, I gradually massaged the processes I was taught into my understanding by repeating them in many variations.

    In Math, you aren’t taught the answer to every variation of every problem- that would be more futile than trying to memorize history, mainly because history is finite whereas numbers are infinite. Instead you learn the process, separated from data:

    You first learned how to count (1), then in elementary school you learned the process of basic arithmetic(2) by using the previously learned counting process [What is 1+1? That is the number after 1= 1-> 2! What is 2 – 1? That is the number before 2! 2-> 1!].

    Later on you learned how to perform more advanced arithmetic: multiplications and divisions (3) by using the previously learned basic arithmetic [What is 2 x 3? Well that is 2 + 2 + 2 = 6! What is 8 / 4? Well that is 2 because 8 – 4 – 4 = 0!]

    With each layer of the process understood and mastered, you’re able to extrapolate that knowledge into the next layer (exponents and logarithms, derivatives and integrals, …). Inversely, when being taught that next layer you can always interpolate to your previously proven understanding in the lower layer. I remember looking at a complicated math formula in my youth with symbols I had never seen (like the summation symbol Sigma: ∑ ) and thinking that this type of math was Einsteinesque and forever out of my league or understanding. Oh how wrong I was, that was an extrapolation I could not fathom because I had not learned the subsequent layers of processes leading up to that one.

    Using rich media to exemplify the targeted process hidden amongst a data heavy topic is the ideal way to teach. A brain is much like a computer hard drive with a finite capacity, if you can highlight the process to the learner sooner then the specific data becomes superfluous to understanding. This is the reason that a rich info-graphic conveys so much more useful/usable information than a multi-paged scientific report. Videos can speed up thousands/millions/billions of years to mere seconds (, or slow down a ray of light to move as slow as a snail (, they can even exaggerate to the point of humor yet still possess simultaneous educational benefits (

    It is rich media pieces, like this isomers video, which seem to truly demonstrate Hekademia’s values: reaching every learner and cultivating a culture of understanding, not just a high score on a card.

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