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e-Help Seminars - Johannes Ahrenfelt
e-help Seminar 30
Using Adobe Flash in the classroom: is it just ‘flash’ or can it be useful?
Toulouse 8-10 June 2006

My seminar is divided into four key sections:

What is Flash?
Why should it be used by teachers and how could we use it?
Why should it, and how can it be used by pupils?
What are the problems with Flash?

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 as learning 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 example, the 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:

Drag 2
Drag 3

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 their own.

Why and how can it be used by pupils?

Click here and watch Video 1

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.
* Motivation
- 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 now register their interest from the site. Hopefully this might encourage more teachers to use Adobe Flash.

Johannes Ahrenfelt

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