e-help Seminar 30 Using Adobe Flash in the classroom: is it just ‘flash’ or can it be useful?
Toulouse 8-10 June 2006
What is Flash?
It is difficult to define Adobe Flash. Doing a quick search for a
definition provides us with a myriad of explanations, from very
simplistic: ‘a technology that allows for animation or moving
graphics on a website.’ Gravitate
Design, to Adobe’s own:
‘…[the] industry's most advanced authoring environment for
creating interactive websites [and] digital experiences… design and
author interactive content rich with video, graphics, and animation for
truly unique, engaging websites, presentations or mobile content’ Adobe.com.
In the past Flash was often used in the development of e-Learning by
Flash experts well-established in the world of hard coding. The learning
curve has always been steep and the use of Flash by the average person
has been rare. But this has changed recently as the development of
e-Learning in Flash has been made a little easier, more insightful and,
most importantly, more accessible to teachers. This is partly due to
Macromedia’s new features, for example templates and components such
interactions. However, the biggest progress made thus far in
encouraging educators to use the software has been due to the insistence
by many training institutions to focus on ICT and individual teachers
continuing to develop on their own. There are now also numerous sites
devoted to spreading the usage of Flash (see part four for a brief list
of some of these sites).
In the context of education, one could suggest that Flash is an open
canvas where teachers create the content. This means producing
interactive, engaging and pedagogical resources for their pupils. In the
past, Flash-produced resources used to be primarily for delivering
content for the Internet, but the practice has developed significantly
since then, something which will be examined in further detail in part
two. Unlike other e-learning development tools, Flash does offer its
users the opportunity to create online content. This presents major
benefits for several reasons. Firstly, as it uses a plug-in it can run
on most platforms and can therefore be used by everyone. Secondly, as
bandwidth is still an issue particularly if you want to include audio or
video, flash files are small compared to other authoring tools, even if
you include video files, which makes it a perfect tool for creating
activities for the web.
Why should it be used by teachers and how could we use it?
‘…students want an education that serves their needs. For many
that means an education that is convenient, accessible and most
importantly, relevant.’ (Macromedia Whitepaper 2004)
Children have different expectations about the role of technology in
their lives and if teachers do not eventually meet these expectations
then it could become difficult to ensure that learning is maintained for
every pupil. The world has come along way since Commodore
64 with it basic graphics and pupils are now using hand held game
consoles. Games for Commodore 64 could take up to 30 minutes to load and
if we then failed the first level, then we had to endure another 30
minutes of waiting. We also had hand-held computer games, or at least in
the late 1980s, with smash-hits such as Donkey
Kong Jr, but these were simple and uninspiring. Thus, graphics were
poor, game content weak and the interactive element limited. Children
are now used to game characters with Artificial Intelligence, astounding
graphics, professionally conducted music and game content which changes
each time they play the game. If they already have certain expectations
about, for example, interactivity and graphic quality then should not
learning be pushed into that direction?
Many educational companies and sites have jumped on the bandwagon and
are creating online tasks that attempt to meet these new needs. For
BBC have various interactive activities available for pupils to
access. Although many sites have potential, a lot of them lack one
fundamental element, namely, ensuring that learning takes place. Would
an activity such as this Drag
and Drop task aid learning? Doubtful. If we are to use Flash well
then we also need to think carefully about how we structure tasks.
Creating fun games can serve a purpose but the likelihood of pupils
remembering valuable information or extending their skills based on
these kind of games are slim. Remembering how many opponents they
punched, for example, is something they remember more easily. Tasks such
as the Drag
and Drop exercise above can aid learning and encourage pupils to
work independently as long as these activities are created by teachers
or other educators who understands how Flash can be used effectively.
Take a look at the following two links below for examples of how to use
Flash to encourage thinking and learning using a Drag & Drop task:
Instead of having items ‘snap into place’ when they are
dragged and dropped, why not ensure that pupils have to think rather
than randomly dropping until they are correct? Drag 2 encourages pupils
to think about the question, consider what factors to add to each of the
draggable icons and then evaluate each factor and where it needs to be
placed. Their choices can then be discussed as a class or printed off
and glued into their books. This activity can be used in various ways
and easily adapted once created. Drag
3 is slightly more advanced as it requires pupils to use key points
added by the teacher, evaluate these and, if needed, replace them with
Flash gives pupils great opportunities to extend their skills. I
recently finished an Enterprise Project where a group of pupils produced
a CD-ROM with interactive activities which they created for local
primary schools. This project highlighted the potential for developing
children’s skills and how quickly they progressed whilst working with
the software. Some of these included:
* Problem solving (Click
here and watch Video 2)
- involving discussion, analysis of what is being explored and how to
express the information effectively.
* Planning and Organisation
- Flash is a complicated instrument which starts with a ‘blank
stage’ and requires the pupils to think clearly about what they want
to achieve. The pupils also have to consider the intricacies of the
software itself whilst thinking about for example purpose and audience.
* Showing understanding
- pupils can use the software to explain e.g. change - how Law and Order
changed from 1450 – 1900.
- with Flash, students set themselves challenges to accomplish. This
approach produces high levels of motivation as the challenges have been
created by them and are generally suited to their ability.
* Independent learning
- placing the pupil in charge of the project and only use the teacher as
facilitator encourages children to work independently and creates a
positive learning environment where they take the lead.
* Reflection and evaluation
- the evaluation of the result is generally led by the pupils themselves
or their peers. At the start of each session, pupils were asked to place
their newly created files in a shared folder. A few of the files were
then viewed on the IWB and the class commented on the work, for example,
its usability, layout, and questions were asked about how it was created
and how they would change it to suit a different audience.
* Communication and teamwork (Click
here and watch Video 3)
- encourages the children to work collaboratively on a project where a
number of smaller jobs are given out to individual team members. These
tasks could include e.g. creating a layout, script to control movement,
assessment opportunities to check understanding and project managing.
When all smaller tasks have been completed they are added to the main
project file. This process is demanding and challenges the team to work
through a detailed plan before commencing and encourages them to set
long, medium and short-term targets to support the team’s performance.
What are the problems with Adobe Flash?
Adobe Flash is complex, challenging, expensive and time consuming to
learn. Nevertheless, Flash is the future, or at least the beginning of a
new wave of tools for creating educational activities and online
experiences. We once had to learn Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, and
later digital video editing, IWB software and some even took the step to
learn Dreamweaver and other more complex programmes. Many argue that
Flash is too time consuming, yet we spend hours reading literature on
pedagogy and how to use ICT effectively in the classroom. If teachers
had the opportunity to learn just what they need from Flash to create
resources for their own pupils then more would be interested in learning
the software. This way it would become manageable and purposeful, saving
teachers the need to learn hard coding and every aspect of Flash.
If we are to target pupils from where they learn and meet their
expectations, then Flash is a good starting point. In the age of
Interactive Whiteboards, Flash has opened up new opportunities to engage
and challenge pupils. There are now many companies and individuals who
specialise in creating content for the IWB for all subjects and some
offer ways into Flash - some better than others. Numerous sites give
tutorials on how to use Flash but are limited as they focus on teaching
‘How to use Flash’ rather than ‘How teachers can use flash’. I
am currently developing a site aptly named Flasheducation.net
where I aim to give teachers the opportunity to learn how to use
Flash to create content for their classes without having to learn the
finer points of the whole software. Each tutorial will take between
30-60 minutes to complete and will give teachers the opportunity to
create specific activities which they can easily adapt. Interested can
their interest from the site. Hopefully this might encourage more
teachers to use Adobe Flash.