Posted by: Ellie Kutz | December 16, 2011

Multimedia at UMass Boston: Supporting Classroom Learning

Many faculty at UMass/Boston are using multimedia in their teaching. Among them is ethnomusicologist David Pruett of the Performing Arts department. To experience such teaching, imagine entering his classroom as a student.
As you enter the room for each class session in American Music, you’ll find a slide on the screen in front of you with multiple images flashing on it, related to the day’s topic while music plays in the background. On this day, where the focus is on elements of music, and specifically, aspects of tonality, you’ll find the following slide, with individual images that will be repeated as topics come up in the course of the lecture.

The PowerPoint slides introduce key concepts and ideas. Words on the screen, such a definition of tonality, are read aloud by a student volunteer, so that others both hear them and read them.

Representations of chords appear on the screen while David plays the notes on a keyboard. A slide introducing the concept of the scale offers an image of the C octave on a keyboard.



Throughout the “lecture,” students are asked to engage as a class, responding to questions and prompts about what they hear and see, and in small groups. They listen to a recording of Bessie Smith’s “Back Water Blues” and break into groups to analyze theme, form, and elements such as harmony.

Some key elements of this course design are repeated in later classes. Students come to expect the opening slide with the flashing images that foreshadow (and will be repeated for) key elements of the day’s lesson, the relevant music playing in the background, the connections between sound and image and text.


Here’s the opening slide for a class session on the history of American music in the post-war era. Later slides help students link images of key figures of this period  to important events, or other significant changes. In a section on the role of technology, the image of the first tape recorder provides a visual cue for the important notion that, while the ability to record music performance had been an important development, the ability to splice tape and thus to edit and even rearrange the sound of an individual performance, rather than just record it, had even more impact on the development of the music we listen to today.

Finally, David captures the content of all of his class sessions–all the slides with images and words that are projected from his computer screen, and all of the sounds associated with those slides, including his own voice as he introduces course content and the voices of many of his students as they contribute and respond, through the lecture-recording system, Camtasia. He then posts the links to these files on his Blackboard course site, so that students can download and review the full lecture content later.

David says:

“My goal is to integrate multi-media as a tool to enhance the classroom experience, rather than replacing it. I find that a variety of stimuli, including visual, aural, and cognitive facilitate a positive learning environment that, in turn, aids in content comprehension and retention. My students frequently comment on the efficacy of the classroom multi-media experience coupled with the detailed course website that includes streaming audio and video examples from class sessions. In addition, my students are able to benefit from the Camtasia lecture recording software that allows me to post entire lectures to the course website that the students can view on any computer anytime. The Camtasia software has proven especially beneficial to students who have English as a second language and want to review or students who are absent on any given day and want to stay current with class discussions.”

To visit these two class sessions and see how different media are being used in David’s classroom, and to see what can be made to students available through Camtasia recordings, visit his lesson on tonality  or learn a little about American music in the post-war era.

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