IT Connect
Your connection to information technology at the UW

Mike Eisenberg: Multi-Modal Interaction


Dr. Michael Eisenberg
Information School
University of Washington, Seattle Campus

Professor and former Dean of the UW Information School, Mike Eisenberg lectures on information science, information literacy, and technology development. Eisenberg is a big fan of smart technology use in the classroom. He employs multiple technology tools including Facebook, WebQ, chat, CollectIt, Gradebook, Vimeo and others to encourage participation and increase retention.

Eisenberg is well known for developing and conducting workshops on the Big6 process, which describes “what people go through when they seek or apply information to solve a problem or make a decision.”

A typical outline of the Big6 process follows these stages:

1. Task Definition
1.1 Define the information problem
1.2 Identify information needed

2. Information Seeking Strategies
2.1 Determine all possible sources
2.2 Select the best sources

3. Location and Access
3.1 Locate sources (intellectually and physically)
3.2 Find information within sources

4. Use of Information
4.1 Engage (e.g., read, hear, view, touch)
4.2 Extract relevant information

5. Synthesis
5.1 Organize from multiple sources
5.2 Present the information

6. Evaluation
6.1 Judge the product (effectiveness)
6.2 Judge the process (efficiency)

Subtitled “Information & Technology Skills for Student Achievement,” the Big6 reflects Eisenberg’s pedagogical philosophy of finding methods of moving from information to knowledge to action.

Problem: Data -> Information -> Knowledge

Turning data into information and translating that information into knowledge is the end result of students deeply engaging with ideas and making them their own. With multiple modes for capturing information in Eisenberg’s courses, it could be easy for students to be overwhelmed. Eisenberg turns this potential chaos into a learning opportunity.

By encouraging them to become adept at managing information, he helps them to develop skills they’ll need later in the professional world. To demonstrate the knowledge that students have acquired, Eisenberg assigns them to create multimedia products including videos, which have proven to be an effective way for students to demonstrate their learning. According to Eisenberg, “The five-minute video is this decade’s essay.”

Solution: Multi-Modal Interaction with Content

Eisenberg assigns group projects for students to create multimedia presentations. They can use whatever tools they want (Eisenberg purposefully leaves this open) and then upload the result onto a video-sharing site like Vimeo or Youtube. For example: What is HCI?

Overall, these presentations reinforce class content because they force students to interact with the information in new ways. In Eisenberg’s words, “Technology allows us multi-modal interaction with content.

The only problem Eisenberg has encountered in these assignments involves occasional (and usually unintentional) intellectual property violations – especially when it comes to integrating copyrighted music in the videos.

Eisenberg also integrates communication tools both in and outside the classroom to increase class participation. Using a “backchannel” chat, students can raise questions or discuss the lecture content with other students during class. A volunteer student facilitator is periodically called on to update Eisenberg and the class on any important questions or discussions in the backchannel. This allows him to respond to the pedagogical need of the moment. Outside of class, Eisenberg sets up a Facebook class group (“because that’s where the students are”) to work like a threaded discussion and bulletin board (Facebook “Wall”). Students can post thoughts on class content on the Discussion board as well as relevant videos, pictures and links via the Wall. Eisenberg has found that using these tools has increased class participation from 20% to over 80%.

Lessons Learned

Eisenberg has some general advice for those interested in integrating technology in their course design.

  • Experiment with tools. Figure out what you want to do first, then find the technology
  • Learn how to setup a class Website (students expect it)
  • Engage more – create leadership opportunities
  • Ask for help – Use resources like the CTL and UW Libraries
  • Learn basic PowerPoint principles such as limiting text on a slide and not reading slides word for word
  • Break up content into 20-30min blocks to accommodate student attention span
  • Explore classroom management techniques that take into account a room full of digital devices
  • Have milestones for assignments so students spread out their work and effort

Eisenberg admits that there is a downside to integrating technology into teaching: “The more online stuff you do, the more time it takes. The factory model of teaching was more efficient: come in once a week, do my thing, leave. Students don’t expect to hear from me. With more connectivity, they expect more interaction. I have to check chats, etc.” However, the positive effects of technology use on learning in terms of class participation and student knowledge retention outweigh the added cost of extra engagement.

Put the tools to work for you

Learn more about the tools and resources featured in this profile: