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March 9 2016- Using Multimedia to Help International Students


In my career, I encounter visual-learning students, or second-language learners, or ESL students. Some of the names vary, but the goal remains the same: how to improve my methods to better teach students new to English. I've heard other professors lament the problems, but after a few years, I have come to appreciate the energy these students bring to their work, and the natural desire they have to improve their writing.


The Task: Find quick connections to international/non-native speaking/ESL/second-language learning students, as well as those who identify as visual learners.


I teach a pretty wide variety of courses,but I have found most of my international students in my composition courses. These courses stand at the front gate of the English department, and most likely the first, or second, courses international students take in English. I used to offer as much help as possible with these students (well, all of my students) thinking I could bring them closer to the work. It had some effect. Then, I started paying a little more attention to what happened in my Technical Writing and Creative Writing coures. My international students improved more drastically over the semester. But why?


Simplicity of message, it appears.


The Approach: I find great interest in what sparks my students' imagination. Technical Writing offers many ways to bring this out, and so does creative writing. I've always found that allowing students to write about what they want, what really interests them produces far better writing. Both courses offer this freedom, and I learned fairly quickly that my students' imagination can far exceed my expectations. Whether it is a project they want to promote on campus, a cover letter they write to a prospective employer five years in the future, or a short story based on dreams they had as a child, students always find a way to amaze me with their creativity. 


This creative flow has gotten my own thoughts going, and I find innovative ways for my students to express themselves. I had my tech writing students creating Youtube videos back in the mid-2000s, before it became popular. I even can credit one Youtube sensation to my encouragement, but that's another story. I've discovered that not only letting their imagination flow but supplementing it with creative ways to express that imagination can create amazing projects in the classroom. This is why I assign multimedia projects (embedding video and audio into documents) web sites students design themselves, even creating their own graphics. I keep one constant: the audience must always remain the focus. Students really got into these assignments.


And one thing stood out. International students were right there in the mix.


Most of their shyness and reserved demeanor disappeared, especially in group projects. When I asked their thoughts, they said they felt more engaged because they felt they could contribute. They excelled in the multimedia aspects of the assignment, and their peers made them feel comfortable with the writing parts as well. They also felt they better understood the goals of writing a set of instructions, or designing a web site.  Even in creative writing, they said they understood the point of a short story, whereas they struggled to understand the goal of a research paper.


So, the lesson stood there, waiting for me to come to it. And I did, although I wish it could have happened sooner. All communication should focus on the audience, on purpose of message. One way to do this with international students, to help them see it more clearly, is to use multimedia presentations and web sites as guides, and then to allow students to emulate. Just like I have my creative writing class read Hemingway to learn brevity, I can use Instagram and Youtube and, to a point, Twitter, to get students to understand the meaning behind the words, the purpose in the act.


Our students of today will need much more than the communication skills valued in the 1990s and early 2000s. In some ways, those forms have become too compicated and outdated. Now, students need to be mulitmedia savvy, to have a grasp of web design, to know how to target audience in their writing, social or professional. When this purpose of message is explained, and combined with the incorporation of a universal language, that of either HTML or JPG or Photoshop, barriers break down and students from all backgrounds come together and create purposeful writing and projects.


Sure, this is easy in a tech writing class, where students can create a multimedia document to propose a change on campus (a new parking lot, or the renovation of the quad) or a PSA that contains supportive video within the document itself. Even in creative writing I have had students create such documents: one student created a Youtube video that told their story visually, but in a way that supplemented the plot. Another created a Kindle version of their story, complete with hyperlinks to lead readers on a wild goose chase that added to the tension of their mystery. These are some of the things I've taught students, and I've found no deviance in understanding or produced work with international students.


So, that lesson, well, it finally came to me.


Now, from what I learned in tech writing, I incorporate multimedia assignments in my composition courses. It was a little hokey at first, a little forced, because I was unsure. Then, I built my confidence by letting my students run with the assignment instead of trying to guide it too much. I've had students create research papers on stories like Eveline or The Yellow Wallpaper, using hyperlinks and graphics and even videos embedded into the document that far exceed anything I have ever received before. They don't give presentations (though that's an option sometimes) but instead the presentation is in the document. And yes, the international students stumble a little less, and I find them far more engaged. I even have them creating these documents on their PHONES! You'd be amazed what they can do if you just let them.


So, I encourage any professors to try this in their classrooms. I started by telling students they could replace an outside source with a hyperlink that connects the reader to their message, or a picture or video embedded in the document that promotes their argument. It may take a little tweaking, but it works.


And I now look forward to reading my student papers more than ever.








Welcome to my website. I am a college English (Humanities) professor and a mystery and childrens fiction writer.

No more Assistant Professor! I am now Associate Professor of English and Director of Technical and Professional Communication at New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, New York. I have received tenure as well and this marks a major milestone in my career. I don't feel like much will change but there is a sense of exhale.

Over the last year, I have worked hard trying to modify classes for online learning. I will spend the summer going over course design and finding ways to make online classes and asynchronous elements more engaging. A lot of it is trial and error but I've found involving students from the beginning effective. Polling them and seeing how a specific class is handling this new modality works wonders.


Since I started full-time at NYIT, I have published twelve articles, including several on developing video games for learning in the composition classroom. My project Perchance seeks to re-imagine ancillary literature learning tools like Cliff Notes to become a more usable (and more used) form of learning. Check out the development of Perchance: A 3D Hamlet Mystery here.


My teaching interests lie in first-year composition, in introducing students to college writing and finding creative ways to make such courses engaging, and technical writing, as I have discovered these courses attract students of all backgrounds. I didn't like boring classes when I went to school, so I attempt to prevent my students from suffering the same in my classroom.  Technology and its impact on our scoiety as well as the teaching of writing intrigues me, and I spend much of my research time devoted to exploring its uses. I have found, for instance, a direct correlation between the use of technological aids in the classroom and improved student writing, particularly for international students and second-language learners. I have written a paper on using virtual reality (VR) to help students experience and better understand sense of place in writing. It will be published in Computers and Composition later this year. You can see some of my other papers over at They range from using smartphones as writing devices to video games as literature and strategies to make writing more accessible to all students.


I find teaching writing helps students across their college careers and life. Formulating an argument or just finding a way to say what we want/think effectively improves all areas of our lives. A quick look around social media can easily illustrate how more of us could use some help here. Students know how to engage, and most merely need a better focus on how to do that more effectively.That's what I bring to the classroom: writing instruction with real-world implications that students can relate to. They work on the skills they will need in their careers while in my classroom. The days of using pen and paper are almost behind us, so I shift the emphasis to the media we all interface with daily. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of digital and social media are incorporated into my classes, and students respond positively to their use in writing instruction. Maybe I am helping improve the Twitter-verse one class at a time. That would be a good start.


I write murder mysteries and childrens fantasy books and always look to incorporate my experiences writing in these and other genres into my pedagogy. I believe an intersection lies between creative writing and composition, and try to use this tool to make my classes more interactive. There still should be a strong distinction between the two, but I've found some overlapping really helps students put words on the page. With the addition of using mobile technology to have students writing anywhere and everywhere, I've seen a tremendous increase in student productivity. One habit I have is to show students my early drafts, so they can see that writing, even a big project like a novel, does not involve some magical process or comes from only natural talent. I let them see my imperfections so they can realize theirs differ little. They grasp the writing process a little better after I do this.


If you've come looking for my book series, you can head to this page, or click the book tab above that can give you a small sample of my writing.


Please feel free to have a look around. I'll be adding new things from time to time, and hope you enjoy your stay. You can always contact me at


John Misak

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