The CASPA Model: An Emerging Approach to Integrating Multimodal Assignments

Michael Blum (mxblum@wm.edu), College of William & Mary, United States of America

Abstract: The digital landscape for teaching and learning increasingly supports the inclusion of multimedia-based instructional strategies. In higher education, a culminating class project or final assignment often requires students to synthesize, analyze, and create content using a variety of communication modalities. Such projects, when closely aligned with course content and desired learning outcomes, allows for relevant and authentic assessment that leverages digital communication strategies. This paper presents an emerging practical model, CASPA, to promote curriculum-based integration of multimodal projects for assessment in higher education courses. Additionally, we report on initial implementation results and recommendations for practice and further research.

1. The CASPA Model

The model has five components; consume, analyze, scaffold, produce, and assess. The following sections address each component of the model and explain the instructional design processes in each.

2. C: Consume

The CASPA model starts by having students consume an exemplar of the mode of communication they will later be asked to produce. To be specific, have students consume podcasts that are similar in length and format to the podcasts the instructor anticipates having them create. In the consume phase, students should be asked to talk about the basic message or story and react to it. Start with whole class or small group discussions on evaluative questions.  Using both positive and negative models in the Consume stage is useful, since the former is aspirational and the latter is easier to critique and sets an achievable bar for the students’ own productions. By having students consume and evaluate on a personal level, the instructor sets the stage for the next phase, the analyze phase, where students will begin looking critically at the medium.

3. A: Analyze

Once students have consumed and can intelligently communicate the message of the mode and media being consumed, they should be encouraged to analyze the medium. If the instructor is uncomfortable analyzing a medium they may not be expert in, we suggest using this opportunity to discuss the basic concepts of narrative, storytelling, and argument, and how those concepts all depend on the chosen mode of communication. In analyzing the story, one might ask how effective the story is; what arguments, explicit or implicit, are evident; or what aspects of the story are most powerful. In this way, instructors can start developing a rubric, with or without input from their students, from which to analyze and critique a narrative based more on the success of the message than on the expertise of the medium. Certainly, where poor use of the medium is a barrier to understanding or appreciating the message, that should also be taken into account (i.e., sound quality of a video), but unless the students are being asked to develop professional products, the medium can often take a backseat to the message. As instructors consider this analysis phase of multimodal assessments, other possible questions could include:

  • How does this mode of communication affect the message?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of this form of communication?
  • What might be the strengths and weaknesses of another form of communication?

Once the students have a basic understanding of the medium, and they have had the opportunity to analyze narratives created in those media and decide on their own criteria for judging success and failure, they will have a better idea of what makes for a compelling, well-argued, well-researched piece and where such narratives fall short. This is where the right mix of successful and unsuccessful exemplars in the Consume phase pays off. Students can often learn more from failed storytelling than from successful storytelling.

4. S: Scaffold

The creation of a multimodal product should be completed in phases with the appropriate learning support, or scaffolds, necessary for success in each phase. In scaffolding multimodal assignments, production-based assignments are used to build skills and/or help students communicate in multiple modes. An assignment on podcasting might be built upon teaching good interview skills and, therefore, the first assignment may be to create a series of interview questions and test them out with a partner. The second assignment might be capturing sounds using audio capture, etc. Another type of scaffolding that is worth considering here asks the students to tell a story in various ways at various points in the semester. For example, first, as an elevator pitch, then as a storyboard, then as a PowerPoint, etc. In this case, the final project might be a mashup of all these different media and an analysis of the effectiveness of each in communicating the central thesis. Instructors should consider the multiple pathways available to help students arrive at their final goal. Walking through a scaffolded project will lead to a much less intimidating production phase for students as well as a more transparent assessment process for instructors. Once the pieces have been laid out and assessed in the scaffolding phase, it’s time to assemble those pieces in the production phase.

5. P: Produce

In the production phase of the assignment, there are two basic scenarios with a multitude of variations. In the first scenario, students assemble the discrete pieces of the scaffolding assignments into a final product. Again, a podcast where students have been assessed and received feedback on the various pieces, such as interview questions, music choices, and narrative, is a good example of an assignment that is assembled in this way. In the second scenario, individual assignments are used to help students tell the same story in a variety of ways and then to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each mode. In this sort of assignment, the production phase may look like a curated analysis of the different individual mini-assignments, along with a description of how each mode communicates in different ways.The final product should reflect the recursive phases of analysis and instructor feedback in such a way that students are submitting a polished final creation rather than a simple redraft. From here, students and instructors proceed to the final stage of the CASPA model and benefit from the constructive feedback of others.

6. A: Assess

Once students are sensitive to the affordances and constraints of the vehicle and how that vehicle affects communication, the production of the assignment is then only the penultimate step in the learning process. An assessment of the assignment, including an assessment of the effectiveness of the vehicle in conveying the story, is highly encouraged as the final step of the CASPA model. For example, students may create a video, not because it is novel, but because the video modality informs the content produced and the story told. Multimodal assignments allow for reflection and assessment of that interaction between vehicle and content. It allows the student to ask why. Why a video over a website? Why a podcast over a PowerPoint presentation? What is gained and what is lost when choosing a vehicle? This line of inquiry might be valued as an area of analysis with a simple multimedia project, but it is paramount in a multimodal project. In this final stage of the assignment, the students return to an analytical mode, critiquing their own work and the work of their peers, ideally using rubrics they have developed or used in the analysis phase. This assessment phase allows students to see the process of consumption and production as an integral whole and an iterative process. Here is where the distinction between multimedia and multimodal really matters. In the assessment phase of the assignment, for the assignment to be truly multimodal, instructors should guide students to identify how the mode of communication alters, enhances, or hinders the telling of the story. Peer review and feedback on the effectiveness of the story will inform this process and empower students to refine their work for future use or retelling.

Various mini-assessments can, and should, come at various stages in the process (e.g., after each scaffolded assignment or before students submit their final projects). However, a more formal final assessment can be a powerful culminating activity, driving home the importance of self-reflection as part of an ongoing process of self awareness and improvement. Guided questions here may also be helpful. Instructors could select a few key questions, such as:

  • What could be removed from the final product and why?
  • What should be added and why?
  • Is there anything that is in the wrong place within the narrative? Where should it go?

The tenets of the CASPA model support instructors and students alike in the important academic processes of analyzing, synthesizing, and conveying compelling arguments. The following section illustrates these processes in an application scenario derived from real experiences at William and Mary.


Appendix A

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