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Designing a Multimedia Learning Environment that Engages Children Through Narrative

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Research to Practice: STRAND 2- Engineering Across the Curriculum: Integration with the Arts, Social Studies, Science, and the Common Core

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.475.1 - 26.475.19



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Paper Authors


Glenn W Ellis Smith College

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Glenn Ellis is a Professor of Engineering at Smith College who teaches courses in engineering science and methods for teaching science and engineering. He received a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Civil Engineering and Operations Research from Princeton University. The winner of numerous teaching and research awards, Dr. Ellis received the 2007 U.S. Professor of the Year Award for Baccalaureate Colleges from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. His research focuses on creating K-16 learning environments that support the growth of learners’ imaginations and their capacity for engaging in collaborative knowledge work.

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Al Rudnitsky Smith College

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Al Rudnitsky teaches Introduction to the Learning Sciences; Thinking, Knowing and the Design of Learning Environments, How Do We Know What Students are Learning?, and instructional methods in elementary and middle school mathematics and science. He has authored books on curriculum design and teaching children about scientific inquiry. Current research interests focus on creating environments for “good talk” in elementary and middle school classrooms, and also on advancing the use of knowledge building pedagogy in higher education. His most recent article (2013) is entitled “Tasks and Talk: The Relationship Between Teachers’ Goals and Student Discourse,” in Social Studies Research and Practice.

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Beth McGinnis-Cavanaugh Springfield Technical Community College

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Beth McGinnis-Cavanaugh, M.S. Civil Engineering, University of Massachusetts Amherst, is professor of physics and civil engineering technology at Springfield Technical Community College. She focuses on developing meaningful educational strategies to recruit and retain a diverse student body in engineering and designs innovative learning environments at all levels of the engineering pipeline. With expertise in the design of PD and learning communities, Beth leads a collaboration with educators as co-PI on an NSF K12 engineering education project. She is the 2014 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education Massachusetts Professor of the Year.

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Isabel Huff Springfield Technical Community College

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After participating in the instructional design of Through My Window during her four years as an undergraduate, Huff is now its outreach coordinator. She graduated summa cum laude from Smith College with a double major in Economics and Spanish in Spring 2014 and now works on the Springfield Technical Community College side of the Through My Window National Science Foundation grant.

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Sonia K Ellis Smith College

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Sonia K. Ellis holds a B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.S in chemical engineering from Princeton University. She is a fiction writer and instructional designer. On the Through My Window project, she is the author of Talk to Me, with a second young-adult novel in progress, and a designer and editor of the online learning adventures.

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Designing  a  Multimedia  Learning  Environment  that  Engages   Children  Through  Narrative    The publication of How People Learn has placed great emphasis on the central role ofdeep understanding in determining whether knowledge is usable, transferable, can beemployed to advance one’s knowledge, and can be used in the creation of newknowledge. Following a literature review, this paper will present how two of thepioneering educational approaches discussed in How People Learn can be implementedinto an instructional design of an engineering education website for middle schoollearners. The first approach is Imaginative Education (IE), which uses narrativesspecifically designed to engage learners’ imaginations; to help them develop thecognitive tools necessary for progressing to higher levels of understanding; and to helpthem structure what they learn in meaningful ways. The second is knowledge building(KB), which emphasizes collaborative online discourse to support deep learning,innovation, and the development of 21st-century skills (such as teamwork,  information  literacy,  life-­‐long  learning/metacognition,  etc.).  Included in the paper will be an overview of the current online learning environment wehave developed. This will include an illustrated young adult novel and audiobook inwhich fictional characters learn about engineering concepts while solving a mystery. Itwill also include an overview of three learning adventures, with an emphasis on theadventure titled “Rio’s Brain.” Rio’s Brain is an interactive, multimedia engineeringlearning adventure in which users learn about artificial intelligence as they help thecharacters from the book. Key elements of the adventure are graphic novel segments, anonline journal and the ability for users to share the ideas electronically with other users.The learning adventure ties into the novel and uses cognitive tools to engage students incollaboration and collaborative knowledge building in a virtual workspace.The paper will present data collected by an external assessment consultant that has beenused to inform the development of the website and will show the efficacy of theinstructional approach. This data will include information collected on both educator andstudent responses.              

Ellis, G. W., & Rudnitsky, A., & McGinnis-Cavanaugh, B., & Huff, I., & Ellis, S. K. (2015, June), Designing a Multimedia Learning Environment that Engages Children Through Narrative Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23813

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