Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Multimedia Creation as a Non-Discursive Multicultural Teaching and Learning Method

Kathrine Bailey

December 8, 2008


The inclusion of multicultural lessons in the classroom often fail due to incongruous teaching practices and methodology choices and not because the learning objective was unsound. Multimedia creation as a non-discursive multicultural teaching and learning method can alter the discursive method of auto-biography that often fails as a class assignment to create awareness and discussion for all learners in a classroom or community.


Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; argument an exchange of ignorance.” -Robert Quillen

How do educators, at any level, create opportunities for students to include their culture and personal experiences as bilingual or bicultural students in the learning environment and lesson plans in an unrestrictive method that creates understanding and ongoing conversations about multicultural attitudes in a productive manner inside and outside of the classroom or community?

Multimedia creation and viewing by students and community members is a non-discursive method that will allow critical thinking about race, gender, sexuality, and other multicultural issues.

Justification for the Multimedia Model

Non-Discursive learning practices that use multimedia creation are an excellent model for effective multicultural learning strategies, specifically the use of discursive practices in non-discursive multimedia methods that replicate the natural process of storytelling inherent in many cultures (Coffey, 2007). Multimedia project creation allows a student to express themselves in multi layered conversations of visual images and audio that can be processed in discursive and non-discursive ways (Hayes & Graves, 2002).

Sleeter and Tettegah in Technology As A Tool In Multicultural Teaching define discursive and non-discursive learning through descriptions in Langer’s book, Philosophy in a New Key:

Discursive knowledge uses verbal symbolism in the form of language, which allows us to abstract ideas from concrete experience and put together abstractions in sequential forms to convey propositions. Thus discursive knowledge is logical, linear, intellectual and decontextualized. Non-discursive knowledge is a way of making sense of “the flux of sensations” that we experience through our senses (p. 93). Non-discursive symbols such as lines, colors, and rhythms, encode experience and emotion in ways that discursive language cannot.

The creation of the multimedia objects as well as the viewing of a created multimedia object lays the essential ground work for a student or community member’s examination of personal attitudes towards race and culture as well as personal cultural identity (Sleeter & Tettegah, 2002). As the student or community member examines their current attitudes and perceptions, the instructor can create a conversation that in turn helps the student or community member construct a more positive and productive attitude towards race through critical thinking practices (Lott, 2008).

According to Sleeter and Tettegah in Technology As A Tool In Multicultural Teaching (2002):

Previous studies have proved that technology can provide meaningful ways for educators and students to process information and collaborate in order to promote critical thinking and social justice through multicultural education (Applebaum & Enomoto, 1995; Chisholm, 1994, 1995; Kendall, 1999; Kollock & Smith, 1999).

When a student or community member creates a discursive narrative of their own experience with details of their personal lives and culture, often they remain unheard by their peers due to language or cultural barriers as well as because of stylistic techniques (Coffey, 2007). Personal narrative in an interview naturally drifts forward and backwards in time and location, but the pure discursive narrative written in class or as an exercise towards conversation typically has a beginning, middle and end format (Coffey, 2007). The personal narrative method is difficult to replicate in a purely discursive method and is better suited to multimedia creation as a way to retain the sense of immediacy and understanding (Hays & Groves, 2002). Furthermore, the multimedia piece when created and viewed by others will enfold Gardener’s ideas of multiple intelligences and allow a viewer to process the information as well as create meaning and insight about the creator and their situation (Sleeter & Tettegah, 2002).

Students and community members can use images, symbols, signs, and other media clips to create a layered narrative that the viewer experiences. Though the media itself is not the same as stepping into someone’s experience, it is a nearer approximation experientially than that of purely discursive methods (Hayes & Groves, 2002; Marshal, 2001; Sleeter & Tettegah, 2002; Friesen & Hug, 2008).

Sleeter and Tettegah in Technology As A Tool In Multicultural Teaching (2002) give a compelling justification for multimedia as a methodology for multicultural learning and conversations:

Imagine trying to have students grasp complex ideas about racism, sexism, or culture by simply reading a textbook. Most teachers are aware that this does not work very well because discursive textbooks generally do not engage lived experiences very richly. Now imagine using a “textbook” that blends reading, video, music, and pictures.

An interview is often engaging because the narrative is not forced to follow discursive methodology. With multimedia, the non-discursive impartation of the same information is also enhanced with symbols, images, and other audio that can contribute to a person’s experience. The multimedia piece has the ability to place the narrative into the emotional spectrum of the observer on many levels. Experience of the piece allows the viewer the ability to translate the visual and verbal information and relate it to their understanding of the same symbols, etc. For example, a student or community member when speaking about their culture or an event may add images and reference timelines on a graphical chart. The observer may take that timeline and relate it to their life and experiences to compare and contrast. The comparison may compel the student in a media conversation to create their own piece in reply to help the other student or community member understand their experience of the same event on the timeline, much like YouTube (Marshal, 2001).

Simon Coffey in his paper, Discursive worlds of the language learner: a narrative analysis, takes time to define current thinking about second language acquisition theory. He takes great care to re-define the language learner as a, “social actor”. Much like Stanislavsky’s Method acting, the language learner is, “striving to do things, have things, be things” (Coffey, 2007). The immediacy of the prior action statements, however, is lost in discursive practices.

Instructors can create that immediacy, according to Hayes and Groves, through multimedia. “The engagement is intellectual and conscious as well as subconscious, intuitive, emotional and bodily (Hayes &Groves, 2002)”. Hayes and Groves also relate their own use of multimedia creation as a tool in their classroom with narrative of student choices and experiences. There are many references to writing as boring and student’s own perceptions that the combination of images and words allowed them more freedom to express their ideas. Many spoke of choosing images to evoke an emotional response similar to their own. Non-discursive methodology allowed them to better approximate their own experience by inducing the same emotional state in their viewers.

Hayes and Groves take care to note that these projects were not an end to a means. Hayes and Groves state that, “The videos provided a foundation from which we could build our discussions, class activities and projects”. In their conclusion, Hayes and Groves posit that:

Students need to critically examine diversity issues and their role in perpetuating and impending social change. Because we live in an age in which electronic imagery is quickly becoming the dominant social and cultural framework, using media in the classroom can be the method for encouraging our students into these kinds of roles.

Personalization or engagement is a known methodology for increasing student learning (Hansen, 2007). Creating a typology for understanding experiential learning for science and technology teachers by Ron Hansen has another powerful support statement for the use of multimedia as a teaching and learning methodology and echoes that of Coffey’s “social actor” as a language learner. Hansen states, “To experience something, by comparison, is to ‘get involved’.”

In conclusion, the current discursive methodologies for creating conversation in the classroom about multicultural issues is failing, not the ideology of multiculturalism itself. Through non-discursive methods, the instructor can engage the student and the community by creating a conversation that works on many levels to help students experience through narrative what their classmates or community members experience themselves as well as share in return their own responses to the multimedia. A conversation that is often difficult to create becomes an exciting and engaging communication for the student and the community.

Practical Application of Methodology

In order to better create a framework for educators using the suggested multimedia methodology for engaging students in meaningful conversation and critical thinking processes about multicultural issues it is necessary to create concrete models.

Coffey in Discursive worlds of the language learner: A narrative analysis, gives the reader a stronger sense of the importance of narrative as a teaching tool. He states, “Narratives allow an individual to make sense of their own past, present, and (predicted or imagined) future.”

Coffey further explains that, “Indeed, continuity across time is a key feature of narrative.”

Coffey also explains that narrative is how we reinforce our ideas of self and community and goes further to suggest that telling and retelling these narratives in rehearsed manners becomes a sort of autobiography for the person and at large the community. Coffey goes further by saying that the bilingual or multicultural individual is by nature situated between one or more community narratives.

For the multicultural or bilingual individual, they are set in a discursive trap of linear and finite relations to the community, and the community itself does little to help them redefine their autobiography on a more non-discursive path. When one is in a box, it is very hard to find the lid, so to speak. Using multimedia for a non-discursive autobiography can effectively allow the student or community member a chance to redefine and discuss their narrative in a less formal or conscious method. By erasing the rules of narrative, the instructor can effectively allow the student or community member to release the trappings of self as defined by material or concrete cultural concepts held to a beginning, middle and end. The freedom of expression to evoke an emotional response in peers not necessarily tied completely to language can create a common ground that allows the bilingual or multicultural learner access and acceptance as part of the group or community. For those of the dominant group, it becomes a way for them to relate to their multicultural or bilingual peers in a new way that can challenge their pre-conceptions of the student with whom they may have chosen not to engage out of misunderstanding or insular practices of community.

The instructor should begin the lesson with the idea in mind that the lesson is not a means to an end, but rather an ongoing process to create critical thinking that can challenge and change perceptions (Lott, 2008).


The above typology composed by Ron Hansen is a beginning place for creating a rubric that addresses the experiential needs of the learner. When creating a rubric, the instructor should be extremely careful to provide enough direction, but not so much that the freedom of expression for the learner is lost. Define one to two goals from each of the experiential categories. Since the project is emphasizing the “social actor” of Coffey, it is important to remember that action phrases, like those of Method Acting can be helpful for the student.

For example, a goal in the rubric could be: Tell your classmates about a particular series of events out of order (maybe start at the end and go back to the beginning or start at the middle and go forward and back through time) using imagery, sound, and/or text to evoke an emotional response in a method that approximates your own cultural experience or challenges. Events might include racial confrontation, sexual discovery of self, or finding place in culture and community. Students can then post their work and discuss their responses.

Grading might contain points for content related to complexity of the issue addressed in conjunction to the depth and quality of expression. Technical grades for flow of narrative and use of technology can also be part of the grading rubric. Discussion participation and the ability of the media object itself to communicate to students is also an assessment source.

The instructor should investigate the technology level of their school and explore the technology in advance as well as receive training or professional development for their technology choices. Training will allow the instructor to train the students as well as create documentation for the student on how to use the technology effectively. Exploration should not be focused on just the technical elements, but should be conducted to find concrete examples of similar projects for students to observe and model from to achieve success. These models are spring boards for their own creative ideas and helpful for learners who are less creative to still meet the learning objective successfully.

The instructor should be willing to teach technology alongside the lesson objective. Remember that technology education in and of itself is a practice in multicultural education. Those without technology experience will soon be graduating into a work force that will require competency in basic multimedia and computer applications. As an instructor you will be effectively raising your student’s ability to close the digital divide as well as become critical thinkers (Marshal, 2001; Sleeter & Tettegah, 2002). The instructor should always keep in mind that a student or community member’s socio economic class and digital citizenship are also a part of their cultural identity and must be fostered for successful multicultural conversations (Marshal, 2001; Sleeter & Tettegah, 2002) .

Final Conclusion

In final conclusion, multicultural lessons are not failing in classrooms because the learning objective is unsound, rather they are failing because the methodology for achieving the learning objective is based on traditional discursive practices that do not engage the learner. Through non-discursive narrative creation with multimedia, students and community members can challenge their own personal autobiographies as well as relate to their peers in a more meaningful way that engenders critical thinking. Through critical thinking students and community members can challenge their own attitudes and perceptions of multicultural issues as well as create an ongoing discussion or conversation. The creation of willing and open conversation is the beginning place for success for any multicultural learning objective. Multimedia creation is a non-discursive method that can engender those important conversations.

As a final thought, “Talk to people about themselves and they will listen for hours (Benjamin Disraeli).”


Appelbaum, P. & Enomoto, E. (1995). Computer mediated communication for a multicultural experience. EducationalTechnology, 35(6) p. 49-58.

Chisholm, I. M. (1994). Culture and technology: Implications for multicultural education. Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education, 3, (2) p2 13-22 8.

Chisholm, I.M. (1995). Equity & diversity in classroom computer use: A case study. Journal of Computing in Childhood Education, 6 (1) p. 59-80.

Coffey, Simon (2007). Discursive worlds of the language learner: A narrative analysis. Revista Complutense de Educacion, 18(2), 145-160. Retrieved December 4, 2008 from Education Full Text database.
Friesen, Norm (2008). Discursive psychology and Web 2.0 technology. Retrieved December 10, 2008 from http://learningspaces.org/n/node/17
Friesen, Norm and Theo Hug (2008). The mediatic turn: Exploring concepts in media pedagogy. Retrieved November 10, 2008 from http://learningspaces.org/n/node/17

Hansen, Ron (2007). Creating a typology for understanding experiential learning for science and technology teachers. 10th Conference of the International Organization for Science and Technology Education. Foz do Iguacu, Brazil. Retrieved December 10, 2008 from http://www.modelab.ufes.br/xioste/papers/xioste_paper062.pdf

Hammer, R. & Kellner, D. (2000). Multimedia pedagogy and multicultural education for the new millennium. Religious Education 95 Issue 4, p475, 15p.

Hayes, M. T., et. al. (2002), The medium is the experience: Uses of media in multicultural Education. Multicultural Education, 10(2), 15-18. Retrieved November 14, 2008, from
Education Full Text database.
Kendall, L. (1998). Meaning and identity in cyberspace: The performance of gender, class and race online. Symbolic Interaction, 21(2) p. 129-153.

Kollock & Smith, 1999). Communities in cyperspace. In P. Kollock and M. Smith (Eds), Communities in cyperspace. New York: Routledge.

Kymlicka, Will (1995) Multicultural citizenship: A liberal theory of minority rights. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Langer, S. K. (1976). Philosophy in a new key: A study in the symbolism of reason, rite, and art, 3 rd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lott, Vikki (2008). Critical thinking about race: A proactive paradigm for building bridges. SACS Conference Presentation. San Antonio, TX
Marshall, P., & ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education, W. (2001, December 1). Multicultural education and technology: Perfect pair or odd couple? ERIC Digest. . (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED460129) Retrieved November 10, 2008, from ERIC database.

Sleeter, Christine and Sharon Tettegah (2002), The Medium is the experience: Uses of media in multicultural education. Multicultural Education, 10(2), 3-9. Retrieved November 14, 2008, from Education Full Text database.

1 comment:

marion said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.