Main Body

The Pedagogical Wrapper

Three basic elements of the pedagogical wrapper

Rich media alone does not cause learning.

In a self-directed learning environment, it is risky to assume that online students will, without guidance, accurately interpret the purpose, value, or meaning of the resources they are assigned to read or watch for an instructional purpose. Online learners need to know what they are engaged with, what to look for as they are engaged, and how a resource relates in some way to an instructional activity or assessment.

The triangular “pedagogical wrapper” concept was developed to meet online learners’ need for coherence, relevance, and certainty as they operate as self-directed students in asynchronous online instruction.

Before engagement:  Provide background information that conveys relevance and credibility to the resource in terms of the instructional goal.

Ideally, the learner should be maximizing their attention on what matters about the resource – not on trying to determine what the resource is, where it came from, what it is about, and why it is relevant. Learners also benefit from knowing that the resource comes from an authoritative publisher or author since they will be referring to it later as part of their writing, reflection, or discussion participation.

Second, by providing provenance to the resource, the learner is able to explore it further to discover a new organization, prominent author, media resource, or event that could be added to their personal learning network.

During engagement:  Provide tasks for learners to do while focused on the activity or resource such as themes, trends, or events to look for.

Learners are constantly constructing meaning from the flow of information that they receive (as they receive it) based on their unique prior knowledge and backgrounds (Wittrock, 1974). The challenge for instructors is to guide the focus of learners’ attention to help facilitate their knowledge construction towards the desired instructional goal (Wittrock, 1992).

Without guidance about what to look for, learners may focus on an aspect of the resource or activity that is secondary or superfluous to its intended use. It is best to assume that the purpose for learners’ engagement will not be self-evident to them without instructor guidance.

While we do not wish to limit what learners should be looking for at the expense of other details, offering thematic guidance will make the best use of the time learners commit to engagement.

After engagement:  Provide an opportunity for interactive discussion or reflection that draws upon learners’ observations and experiences.  The key component to building coherence in the activity as a whole is to ask a variant of the following statement as part of the discussion or assignment prompt: “How did the readings and media influence your position?”

The goal in this technique is to produce the conditions for learners that will capture their emergent experiences and draw from them in a situation where those experiences can produce evidence of learning.

Example: Below is a screen grab from John Medina’s Brain Rules website where he has published narrated interactive multimedia about features and functionalities of the human brain. This multimedia uses animated images, text labeling, and audio narration to illustrate how the brain functions as a survival organ.

medina's brain rules

There are plenty of videos on YouTube that could be used to illustrate how the brain works. However, this one happens to be one of the better examples because its content is designed to be visually analogous to the way the brain works in the real world.

Before engagement: Below is an example of a written introduction that would precede students being engaged with the Brain Rules multimedia object.

Below is the first installment in John Medina’s “Brain Rules” series called “Survival”.

Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School”. The “Brain Rules” book series can be followed on Twitter @BrainRulesBook.

From the learner’s perspective, this preface suggests “This video came from John Medina who is an authoritative person on brain science. This is the ‘Survival’ episode of what is a larger program about the brain, and it appears to be a credible and reliable resource. I can follow this author on social media.”

During engagement: Next, we must find a way to reduce the possibility that learners will “lean back” passively while watching this presentation. We give them something to look for thematically by including the following instructions. The passage below is a continuation of the preface:

Medina claims that the human brain evolved as a way to improve our chances for survival. Note the various theories he uses to support this claim and how he explains why humans are capable of abstract thought. In this week’s discussion we will explore a case study that draws upon these theories.

In this example, learners are directed to focus upon a certain theme of the presentation (among several other possible themes or areas of interest). The theme is placed in the instructional context of how it will be relevant to the weekly discussion forum and directed to note their observations.

After engagement: In an online discussion forum prompt, learners are directed to draw upon their engagement:

This week, you reviewed readings related to [ subject matter ] and Medina’s “Brain Rules” video pertaining to the evolution of the brain as a tool for survival.

As we review the first three years of a child’s growth, which factors in the brain’s growth contribute to language development? Discuss how the theories presented in Medina’s “Survival” episode could be used to explain the importance of these factors.

The outcome of the discussion should produce evidence of the subject matter applied towards a given context and assessed according to whether they have accurately applied certain theories to explain phenomena. The instructor may also wish to assess their ability to employ techniques related to reflective thinking as described below, in brief. Reflective Thinking is explained in depth in a later chapter.

How does Bloom’s Taxonomy fit into this approach?

In the Bloom’s Taxonomy illustration below, there are Action Verbs associated with each level of thinking skills. The verbiage used in a discussion or assignment prompt can be adapted according to the level of thinking the assignment is intended to operate on, i.e. introductory, intermediate, advanced.

blooms digital taxonomy

Example: Using the Brain Rules example above, the engagement with the multimedia resource could be leveraged in the following forms of prompt design, each operating on a different order of thinking.

Creating:  “Produce a screencast that explains                 based on …”

Evaluating:  “Evaluate this case study analysis based on the principles found in…”

Analyzing:  “How do Medina’s “Brain Rules” theories compare to…”

Applying:  “How would you use Medina’s “Brain Rules” theories to explain…”

Understanding:  “What are some examples of the use of                  theories used in Medina’s “Brain Rules” presentation…”

Remembering:  “Which theories are used in Medina’s “Brain Rules” presentation …”

How does reflective thinking fit into this approach?

Engagement with rich media can be designed to support a Reflective Thinking assessment strategy. Instructors can select which level of Reflective Thinking would be appropriate for the level of instruction designed in the course.

Levels of Reflection:  Hatton and Smith (1995, p.40) describe four levels of reflection, each increasing in the degree of self-interrogation and contextual analysis of a learning experience. Titles and descriptions below are adapted.

  • Level I – Descriptive Writing:  A description of events that occurred presented as a report but without evidence of a perspective. No attempt to provide reasons or justifications for events.
  • Level II – Descriptive Reflection:  A description of events that occurred presented as a report with some evidence of a perspective, but only at a surface level of inquiry to explain the reasons or justifications for events.
  • Level III – Dialogic Reflection:  A demonstration of “stepping back” from the events and actions in the learning process leading to an interrogative discourse with oneself. The author explores the experiences, events, and actions using qualitative judgement and possible alternatives for explaining outcomes; identifies connections, cause/effect, and patterns in its rationales and critiques.
  • Level IV – Critical Reflection: Includes all the elements of Dialogic Reflection but also takes into account the larger/global social, scholarly, and professional context in which events occur; considers perspectives other than one’s own.

Example: Let’s say a video is presented to learners at the beginning of a course where, as novices, they identify as many interpersonal communication factors as they can and then propose an alternative strategy for managing a given situation.

video of interpersonal interaction

At the end of the course, learners can be directed to revisit the same rich media resource and respond to a prompt along the lines of:

“Now that you have completed the course, re-watch the video, look at your original comments and reflect on how you would approach this situation differently now.”

Students can then be assessed according to the degree of critical thinking that has been applied in their reflection, holistically.


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Teaching With Rich Media by Steve Covello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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