Shifting the Role: Creating Cognitive Comprehension

By Nathaniel Smith, Class of 2025

I am currently a junior double majoring in history & secondary education with a minor in literature. I conducted these interviews, created this guide, and presented on this topic is because I am interested in, passionate about, and enjoy the processes of teaching and learning. Fundamentally I believe in innovating and changing higher education. Far too often leading thinkers in educational design and theory test, create, and outline ways instructional practices can improve, and these changes are rarely implemented. The concepts I outline below are also not new, but I hope that by presenting them here you will be inspired to consider adopting them for a future course.


What is the best classroom format for a student to learn? How can students learn the most in and out of the classroom? Consider this as you read the following. Zoom out and look at how you design your course and understand what you are asking students to do, think, and understand inside of the classroom vs outside of the classroom.

Shifting the Role of the Professor

There are two terms discussed in education I would like to present to you: “multimedia education” and “flipping the classroom.” The use of multimedia education is defined in the Encyclopedia of Multimedia as “combining five basic types of media into the learning environment: text, video, sound, graphics and animation, thus providing a powerful new tool for education.” Utilizing and diversifying some or all these forms of communication into a course, syllabus, and lesson plan will allow for a better learning environment and comprehension of knowledge.

Combining this with the “flipping the classroom” method which is defined by Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning as “a class structured around the idea that lecture or direct instruction is not the best use of class time. Instead, students encounter information before class, freeing class time for activities that involve higher order thinking.” If we can understand that retention, comprehension, and understanding is heightened in the classroom when students are presented and exposed to information outside and come to class prepared to discuss, participate, and question a concept in class; then the role of a professor drastically shifts.

Merging the “Flipped Classroom” with “Multimedia Teaching”

As you can see from the image below, created by Alessandra Giglio at Dalarna University in Sweden, the design of a flipped class ensures that the time students spend “learning” from the instructor is time in which they are engaging with the material instead of just consuming it and engaging outside of the classroom.

An image highlighting the differences between a traditional and a flipped classroom. It notes that in a traditional classroom: instructors prepare materials to be delivered in class; students listen to lectures and other guided instructions in class and take notes; and homework is assigned to demonstrate understanding. It also notes that in a flipped classroom: instructors record and share lectures outside of class; students watch or listen to lectures before coming to class; class time is devoted to applied learning activities and more higher order thinking tasks; and students receive support from instructors and peers as needed.

When we add the use of multimedia shown below, the tools professors can use to educate are limitless. Multimedia techniques can include:

  • Recording class lectures
  • Presenting videos in class vs lecturing
  • Utilizing podcast discussing a concept vs a scholarly article
  • Providing resources to listen to articles vs reading them
A diagram indicating how a multimedia presentation coveys information through words or pictures, which are stored as sense memory before being translated from sounds and images into verbal and picture models through working memory, until finally being integrated into long-term memory and becoming prior knowledge.

Combining multiple avenues for students to learn and consume information better supports learners that process information differently. Additionally, the greater variety in how you as an instructor convey information increases the rate of comprehension, conceptual understanding, and long-team retention of information. Multimedia techniques can be implemented both in and outside of the classroom in the classroom. This combination of access to information in different modes and utilizing class time for discussions and activates means that a professor can better understand how their students are understanding the information and creating a space where the level of understanding and speed at which students learn a concept can be exponentially higher than a traditional class.

What do students think about multimedia education?

Listen to an interview with Karissa Frederick, Class of 2024

Listen to an interview with Abigail Butterick, Class of 2023

When I was interviewing students, one major benefit they brought up about the use of “multimedia instruction” was that they could pause, comprehend, and consume the information at their own pace. A person can process information visually, or audibly and be able to actively take notes as well as summarize and question ideas differently. When a professor asks students to annotate and draw out opinions and formulate ideas from a reading; that process is sped up and strengthened when utilizing visual and audio instruction. Students mentioned that, when they simply read, they did not fully comprehend, whereas multimedia can and has the potential to create a better educational experience. Students are required to transform and synthesize ideas differently when they are offered the option to listen and visuals.

When I interviewed students, they brought up the fact that learners don’t fully consume or read all the text they are assigned. Professors are aware of this fact and just direct students to skim the 50 pages vs truly dissecting a reading. When I was conducting my interview with Karissa Frederick, a senior in SIS, we talked about this situation and she highlighted the point that when professors provide alternative modes the process of note-taking and learning changes. “With podcasts and videos I can interpret as I go verses with reading I have to sit down interpreted it, then go back and take notes” (quote can be heard at 5:45-6:00 in the interview recording above). We went on to talk about how reading, a primary mode assigned to students, doesn’t create that true consumption of knowledge. But when students come to class, they bring with them supplementary information to discuss.

Expanding on this point, if professors were to incorporate videos and podcasts in their syllabi and instruction, then the assigned outside work would engage and better prepare students. This shift positions the classroom as a place for student interaction and discussion instead of content consumption. Abigail, a current senior at AU; describes how she experienced this “flipped classroom model”. She explained that her professor would “draw on questions from the homework… where students were then driving the discussion making them accountable” (additional context for this quote can be heard at minutes 4:30-9:15 in her interview above). She emphasized the point that professors know students will not always be able to complete/comprehend all the outside work. However, by making the classroom a place where students engage with the material vs outside where they are exposed to it, a professor is placing their students at the center of their learning. What do I mean by this? Students are forced to hold themselves accountable if they do not come to class knowing the material when they are expected to lead the discussion. Ask yourself, what is the downside of someone not listening to a lecture; truthfully, they can find that information elsewhere. By having a course designed to engage students in the class and expose them to content outside of the class with multiple modes, students will learn at a far higher rate. Students will not be as lost, surprised, confused, disengaged, or unprepared if the classroom is a space of discussion and understanding rather than frantic notetaking and lecturing.

What do professors think about multimedia education?

Listen to an interview with Professor Matthew Hartings, Department of Chemistry

Listen to an interview with Professor Kia Middleton-Murphy, School of Education

In my research and interviews with professors, their primary concern was that utilizing reading, audio, and visual materials require a shift in teaching and a complete overhaul of the resources they provide to students. Yes, creating or finding sources for students to use outside of class can be a difficult part of implementing a flipped classroom; however, I would argue that the overall class experience becomes far more cognitively coherent.

When I was conducting my interview with my former professor Matthew Hartings of the chemistry department, he emphasized the point that at the core of teaching, whatever is covered in class needs to be repeated and accessible outside of class in multiple modes. He explained the point of reinforcement and priming of a student to be successful, while also acknowledging that not every student is going to do the outside-of-class work. One of my questions to Professor Hartings was: what do you think are the advantages or disadvantages of varying modes of teaching? He emphasized the importance of learning at your own pace but elaborated that sometimes faculty members can provide framing and structure. “If a professor is teaching from a textbook,” he said, “they are not going to put things the same way or emphasize the important things in the same manner as a professor does. There may be something that in a reading does not scan the same way, as when a professor says or writes themselves” (additional context for this quote can be heard in the above interview, from 7:50- 10:55 minutes). From this Prof. Hartings expanded on the fact that he believes there need to be sticking points in any outside resources provided to students so that they still receive and comprehend the information as their professors intends them to.

Following up on this conversation, I sat down with Professor Kia Middleton-Murphy whose field of study is special education. One of the questions I asked her was: how can educators diversify the mode in which students are exposed to information. She explained that: “what I think about first and foremost is that people learn in different ways, and so to engage only in one way means you might lose some of the people you are trying to teach… I also know that if you can engage more than one aspect the chances of a student being able to remember and apply a concept increases.” (additional context for this quote can be heard in her interview recording, from 4:05- 8:30 minutes). When I hear this, I am struck by the fact that students are far more likely to apply this information instead of just regurgitating for a test or exam. By providing information through multiple modes, professors can engage with students through more comprehensive conversation, and the level of their knowledge increases. Ultimately, diversifying the forms in which students engage with information outside of the classroom provides space for students to apply skills and techniques inside the classroom, furthering their understanding of a topic.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Ultimately, by diversifying the mode in which students can engage with information outside of the classroom, the techniques that can be applied inside of the class further their understanding of a topic. I believe that this model and ideal classroom design create the learning environment that every university should strive for, and students deserve. Incorporating diverse modes of exposure before class allows for the consumption of knowledge to develop at a student’s rate and allows the professors to challenge and engage students at a higher level, which should be the fundamental goal of education.


Asthana, A. (2008). Multimedia in Education. In: Furht, B. (eds) Encyclopedia of Multimedia. Springer, Boston, MA.

Giglio, Alessandra. (2014). A graphical definition of flipped classroom.

Hayter, Emilie. (2022). Multimedia enhanced teaching and learning: An update.

Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Flipped classrooms.