Chapter 5. Discussion

How can one describe an explanatory animation without reference to the actual topic that comprises the subject matter? Likewise, how can one look at the conceptual ideas represented in an animation without reference to the animation itself?


The preceding statement suggests that the two components of the research question (i.e., conceptual consolidation and explanatory animation creation) are best understood in terms of how they inform one another. The same could be said for the dual stimulation method as the second stimulus (i.e., explanatory animation creation task as a tool), is best understood in terms of the effect that it has on conceptual consolidation (i.e., the task of having to explain a topic as an initial stimulus). These two issues will be re-visited for my conclusion in Chapter 6.

The purpose of the following discussion in Chapter 5 is to understand how CHAT enabled me to guide the children throughout their multifaceted task during the project. There is also more to be said about the explanatory animation design guidelines that the children used. The eight children consistently applied four design guidelines that I described as the Explanatory Animation Framework (EAF). CHAT and the EAF are presented here as a metaphorical silhouette as they were not mentioned in Chapter 4 although they were always there beneath the surface. Let us begin then by examining how the CHAT model informed the current study, and conversely, how the current study might serve the evolution of CHAT research as applied to the EAF.


Reflections on the CHAT triangle

CHAT, as a theoretical framework, has its genesis in Vygotsky’s notion of mediation. Wells (2011) has suggested that CHAT is an evolving framework for conceptualising research, and that “research can contribute to CHAT theory about the relationship between learning and development, as this is enacted in contemporary educational institutions” (p. 161). As discussed in Chapter 2, the unit of analysis is important when applying CHAT, as this will help determine the criterial components of the research. The current study used project collaboration (Blunden, 2009) as the unit of analysis to capture the dynamics of the evolving artefacts as seen through my proximity and interactions with the children within mutual zones of proximal development.

The mediating artefacts (i.e., explanatory animations) demonstrated many instances of incremental refinement as longitudinal development in relation to the children’s and my co-construction of conceptual change. The storyboards in particular helped structure and sequence the children’s ideas at each stage of their creation. This is significant, as the storyboards both mediated and constrained the children’s conceptual learning. Constraint is used here is positive sense as a design choice as information had to make it into the storyboard if it was to be included in the final animation.

The dimension of time within the research equation (or more precisely change over time), facilitated the analysis of project collaboration in relation to all of the CHAT components. In this sense, the CHAT model was enacted over time, or rather re-enacted. This important notion of re-enactment, through the long-term evolution of the CHAT sessions with each of the children is iconically depicted in Figure 5.1 as an extension of Engeström’s third-generation CHAT model. Engeström’s model is incorporated six times to symbolize a chronology of re-enacted second-generation CHAT models. These were seventeen, one-hour mediated encounters with the children occurring over five months (i.e., implicitly, the footsteps in Figure 5.1 would continue up to the number seventeen).

Figure 5.1

Figure 5.1. CHAT sessions over time.

The footstep analogy is to illustrate the temporal aspect of conceptual consolidation as depicted by the evolving activity systems that were co-created by each of the students and myself as participant research. The walking analogy in Figure 5.1 implies that change can occur in the actual meetings or in between the meetings. In the current study, the primary change variable was conceptual consolidation, which was documented and contextualised as a construct of chronology. The children’s portraits also evidenced the evolving nature of conceptual consolidation, which resonated with Engeström’s (1987) view that activity systems are open systems and Vygotsky’s (1987) insight that conceptual change develops.

The division of labour became another important part of understanding the explanatory animation task, and specifically how this related to multifaceted activity. As the children’s portraits in Chapter 4 revealed, the division of labour was often shared between the children and me. Indeed, the various tasks were conceptualised through our proximity within mutual zones of proximal development. Opportunities for meaningful interactions revolved around the children’s emerging representations available on their computer screens, stimulating discussion and critique. The children’s activity was seen to segue between different roles at various times, often within the same session as they were working on multifaceted tasks. Seven distinct activities shaped my conceptual framework of the division of labour for the children’s activity, namely:

  1. Researcher

  2. Graphic artist

  3. Script writer

  4. Narrator

  5. Animator

  6. Video editor

  7. Pedagogical decision maker


Figure 5.2 illustrates these seven roles using a prism metaphor for the CHAT triangle.

Figure 5.2

Figure 5.2. The division of labour within the CHAT triangle.

These seven distinct yet complementary roles are described in more detail below in relation to how they evidenced examples of conceptual change:

Researcher: The role of researcher was a composite role that encapsulated the multifaceted nature of the explanatory animation creation task and the co-construction of meaning. The research task for both the children and me was present throughout the whole project as we sought to understand, articulate and represent the subject matter of each animation. The development of ZPD and the social construction of meaning formed an integral part of the storyboarding and animation process.

Graphic artist: The children used auto shapes to build their graphic imagery, but this task usually required the selection of a suitable visual metaphor. The metaphor served two roles: to identify the relevant variables that are key to the concept and to show the conceptual relationships between these variables, graphically. Without a suitable metaphor, most of the children didn’t know where to start. Bertin (1983) would have described the children’s imagery as information graphics as their function was specifically to depict “the relationships established among component or elements” (p. 415). The children clearly enjoyed the graphic construction part of their animation task the most. The graphic imagery was also the most direct window into the children’s mental models.

Scriptwriter: The voice-over script was the key to the explanation of each topic. I considered this to be the most important part of the animation task as it defined the content and duration of the finished animation artefact. The children didn’t share my esteem for this component and so I often had to remind the children to update their voice-over scripts throughout the project.

Narrator: The voice-over scripts served as a culmination of the children’s thinking. Yet, there was no conceptual change evidenced amongst the children in the recording of the voice-over scripts, as the narrations were simply readings of these scripts.

Animator: There is some overlap associated with the role of the animator as the development of animated sequences presupposes the creation of the initial graphics as graphic artists. For the children in the current study, they saw themselves as animators throughout the project but strictly speaking, the animator role pertained to the “Insert/Duplicate slide” process within PowerPoint. As evidenced through Neil’s portrait for his work on “Satellites”, the “Insert/Duplicate slide” process should not commence until the various key frames are completed as any errors or omissions will require the animator to create each scene again.

Video editor: Much of the video editing work was completed by myself, due to time constraints. This gave the children the opportunity to function as executive producers when they delegated video editing tasks to me such as the rate of various movement sequences, transitions and so on.

Pedagogical decision maker: Pedagogical decision making was also evident throughout the project across all of these seven tasks. The decision making task was usually done by the children but there were also instances where I made such decisions during the final video editing stage when the children were not physically present for further discussion. Such instances were carefully documented in the children’s portraits.

As illustrated here, all seven roles were evident throughout the project. It should also be noted how the transitions between these various roles occurred. There were numerous examples (such as Neil’s “Satellites” portrait), where I instructed children to focus on their voice-over script and not to spend time creating movement until the key frames were completed. Other tasks, such as video editing, involved delegation from children such as Sunny and Ryan to me, with instructions for how I should complete these tasks outside of the Storyboard sessions.

Perhaps the most important (and most common) example of pedagogical decision making, was the way the children were constantly required to determine and critique what was essential for inclusion in their representations. The digital storyboard environment allowed the children to trial such decisions as their work took the form of experimental designs. According to Gemino and Wand (2004), when working with experimental designs, “some of these variables will be manipulated while others might serve as controls” (p. 250). It was the identification of relevant variables and exclusion of peripheral variables (i.e., control variables that were constant or extraneous) that constrained the children’s conceptual and practical activity.

The following discussion about the animation genre, concluding with my proposal for a new definition of animation, is provided here as a segue into the Explanatory Animation Framework as a mediating tool, co-constructed over time.


Animation as variant graphics

Although animation is usually defined as a succession of moving images, there is some ambiguity when looking for a universal definition of animation. The ePotential survey for Victorian school teachers defined animation as “The optical illusion of motion created by the consecutive display of images of static elements” ( Likewise, Burns and Parker (2003) have emphasised movement as the key attribute of animation with their term “kineikonic mode” (p. 59). Burns and Parker made the word kineikonic by combining the Greek words for move and image to define a genre that is distinct from the many tangents of the cinematic tradition. Gibson (1979) made a similar distinction but preferred the terms progressive picture for film and video and arrested picture for photography, as he believed that the term motion picture implies that motion has been added to a still picture. Hubscher-Younger and Narayanan (2008) have also emphasised movement within animations by defining animations as “dynamic representations” (p. 237) in contrast to static representation such as still images. All of these definitions imply that images must move rather than simply vary.

Possibly, a more inclusive term for educational purposes is variant graphics (Jacobs, 2007) where various images are viewed in succession. The word graphics is more closely associated with animation than picture or image because films are also moving images. The reason for using the word variant (i.e., changing) rather than moving is to create a definition that can also include slide shows. In a slide show, there can be movement within a frame or a complete change from one frame to another. Variant covers both scenarios. Variant graphics retains the functionality of all of these other definitions without limitation or contradiction.

An explanatory animation is an educational animation that contains an explanation, either as narration or written text. A pedagogical example of the variant graphics definition for an explanatory animation is when key frames (i.e., frames within an animation where the image changes), are chronologically far apart. The absence of movement in such instances can actually enhance the explanatory power of the animation as the attention of the viewer can be refocused elsewhere on other elements such as the narration, or by drawing attention to a part of a static image through the use of arts elements such as colour or indexes such as arrows.

Throughout the study, completed explanatory animation is always used to differentiate the storyboards from the final animation artefacts. This might appear to be self-evident but my variant-graphics discussion asserts that the storyboards are, in fact, animations.


EAF as a mediating tool, co-constructed over time

The Explanatory Animation Framework (EAF) consisted of four design guidelines that I developed to guide and focus the children’s progress throughout the study. The EAF was concise enough for the children to follow and was also the result of my own experiences in creating explanatory animations (Jacobs, 2007), which had taught me that this process is both iterative and reflexive because the design would often evolve during the creation process rather than being predetermined.

Extant animation design guidelines such as Lowe (2001) were not directly applicable to the children in this study. This was because the development of the children’s storyboards centred on understanding the relationships between the relevant variables as the pinnacle of conceptual understanding, rather than a pre-requisite to it. Such a position is in contrast to Lowe’s (2001) guidelines that have implicit stage-gates that would become roadblocks for children who have yet to understand their topics. For example, Lowe’s second guideline, “Select the graphic entities, relationships and properties” (2001, p. 6) requires a deep and consolidated understanding of the subject matter. Mayer’s guidelines (2001) had some utility but they were increasing in number each time they were published (2005, 2009). I found that I was able to summarise and condense Mayer’s main points through more general principles such as keeping the content matter and representational choices simple.

Within the CHAT model the EAF constituted the rules that the children followed throughout the current study, yet these rules were fluid and co-constructed. Rules were analogous in many ways to the act of playing a game, as it is important to understand the rules for a game if one is to play autonomously. As the practitioner- researcher, I needed to explain the rules of the EAF as we went so that the rules were contextualised and personalised for each student. These rules are succinctly illustrated in Figure 5.3.

Figure 5.3

Figure 5.3. EAF rules within the CHAT triangle.

These rules were used deliberately in an attempt to keep the children focussed on the conceptual and pedagogical issues of their task. The rules within the EAF are best described as praxis because these guidelines are both practical and theoretical, established and yet open to ongoing refinement. As such, the EAF forms part of my methodology but this framework is presented here as general guidelines that could be applied to explanatory animation creation in other contexts. The four rules that comprise the EAF are summarised in Table 5.1.


Table 5.1

Explanatory Animation Framework




Keep the duration as short as possible (generally less than 2 minutes but preferably around 1 minute).


Synchronise video (i.e., imagery) to the audio track as the narration will determine the actual duration of the animation


a. Avoid distractions

b. Maintain balance

c. Minimise variables


Keep the scope and sequence simple

The practical nature of this framework is reinforced through the fact that verbs begin each rule to describe a process that requires a series of actions and decisions. The EAF will now be expounded with additional details pertaining to both the method and rationale for creating explanatory animations in the current study.


EAF - Duration

The duration guidelines for explanatory animation creation were primarily for the benefit of the viewer in recognition of the limitations of cognitive capacity (Simon, 1974). Cognitive capacity is often referenced to limits on human memory proposed by Miller (1956) and Baddeley’s (1999) working memory theory but it is also a consideration of cognitive load theory (Chandler & Sweller, 1991; Sweller, 1999). Kirschner, Sweller and Clark (2006) have argued that the inquiry approach is confined by the limits of working memory:

The onus should surely be on those who support inquiry-based instruction to explain how such a procedure circumvents the well-known limits of working memory when dealing with novel information (p. 77).

Because of the inquiry-based nature of the study, where children could choose their own topics, it was hoped that the limits of working (short-term) memory would be circumvented. The children were not receivers of information but authors of their own animations - their own knowledge construction. As these children were reflecting on and representing their ideas by creating images and writing voice-over scripts, the demands on their working memories were not excessive. In other words, the children had ample opportunities to represent their work via various multimodal options so the demands on working memory were deliberately mitigated.

Whenever I presented a child with new ideas or vocabulary (e.g., scientific concepts, animation procedures), these words were written on a separate dumping ground slide within their PowerPoint file to further avoid placing excessive demands on working memory. The tangibility of the children’s ideas developed outside of their short-term memories as these ideas were deliberately and carefully documented within their storyboards.

Although this duration guideline recommends brevity, children in the current study were never encouraged to condense an animation beyond what should be included as relevant to the topic, as that would also place excessive demands on the cognitive load of the viewer. Instead, the participants were encouraged to refine their topics knowing that other tangents could become the subject of another animation at some other time, beyond the scope of the current study.


EAF - Synchronicity

The eight participants worked on their imagery and voice-over text concurrently and then synchronised these elements in their final animation. Accurate synchronisation has been a requirement for multimedia best practice for many years (Vaille, 1998). Mayer refers to this as the temporal contiguity principle (Mayer, 2001; 2009). Viewers expect imagery and audio to be in sync so failure to ensure good synchronisation is an unwanted distraction (Vaille, 1998).

Voice recording was a component of all of the Storyboard animations, as the children were required to explain their topics. There are three basic methods of synchronising audio and video:

  1. Pre-synced (synchronising video to audio)

  2. Post-synced (synchronising audio to video)

  3. Interactive (synchronising either way rather than committing to pre-synced or post-synced)

In the current study, we pre-synched as the voice-over script was recorded first and then the imagery was made to fit (i.e., sync) with it. Pre-syncing emphasised the voice- over script. This created a linear presentation and forced the author to devise the most appropriate sequence of information. Pre-syncing also ensured that the voice-over script was read with a relaxed, even delivery style rather than having to hurry through the voice-over script to keep up with the imagery.

Pre-syncing also served the purpose of prioritising the voice-over scripts as the heart of the explanations. In some instances, the voice-over scripts were amended during the recording process, as some phrases didn’t sound as smooth as we had envisioned when they were transmediated from text to speech.


EAF - Focus

The following three focus guidelines are nuanced variations on the same idea of maintaining clarity. These three variations are necessary because they address the structure, genre and content of an explanatory animation.


a) Avoid distractions

This may appear to be a common-sense and obvious guideline, yet animation can become a novelty for a new author, so they need to be reminded that any unnecessary movement is detrimental to the viewer’s ability to focus on the learning content (Rieber, 1996). Mayer (2001; 2009) refers to this as the coherence principle.


b) Maintain balance

A useful analogy for balance is a complex machine that is functioning properly such as a car. It is only when a car breaks down that attention is drawn to the faulty component (Callon, 1992; Latour, 1992). Hence, a well-conceived animation should also be viewed as a cohesive whole. Films provide a closer analogy for balance as a good film does not distract the viewer to focus on the process of film making by using excessive scene transitions or camera panning, zooming and so on. The relevance of these analogies for the current study is that the basic principles of visual literacy (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006) were important for me to understand as the researcher. Yet such principles were beyond the immediate scope of this project in terms of the extent to which these issues might be communicated to the children. As such, the word focus was sufficient to guide the children with regard to technical issues, such as distractions and balance.


c) Minimise variables

Identifying relevant variables is a basic pedagogical consideration for effective teaching. In the current study, minimising variables was not a technical consideration but a specific issue pertaining to the content knowledge of each of the children. A musical example of a minimising variable is illustrating the difference between the rhythmic feels of straight and swing by keeping all of the other variables constant (such as instrumentation, tempo, key signature and notes) and only changing the rhythm so that the rhythmic variable is the only point of difference. This emphasis on reducing variables in the children's animations could also be likened to schematic diagrams where only essential information is provided.

Another aspect of minimising variables involves the careful use of analogies and metaphors to explain topics – an aspect that will be discussed in greater detail in the next chapter. When a metaphor is used, it needs to be explained. Unless there is an explanation, the irrelevant parts of the metaphor might be inferred as being part of the comparison (Mason, 1994). This would result in the introduction of additional variables and this would actually detract from the animation.


EAF - Simplicity

Einstein is widely quoted as saying, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” If a topic is too complicated for a full explanation, it is better to use a partial rather than simplistic explanation. A partial explanation can be extended with additional information but a simplistic explanation must be replaced to obtain further learning. A simplistic explanation is therefore unsuitable as a permanent structure for conceptual development. Simplicity is beneficial for both the level of detail in the subject matter and the choice of representations used to depict the key elements. This issue is also informed by research into perception (Marr, 1982) where the necessity for representing spatial relations raised the issue of how much can safely be left implicit.

Applying Bonini’s paradox (1) to the current study would also suggest that simplicity would render the animations more effectively than excessive detail. Ockham’s razor (2) is also relevant but Floridi (2011) has taken the quest for parsimony even further by formulating the “principle of economy” (p. 301) as one of the six principles of constructionism. Floridi described Ockham’s razor as a post-production revision tool, but the principle of economy is also relevant as a “pre-design planning norm. This is because revision requires the designer to be fully aware of the initial assumptions before he undertakes the investigation process and it binds the construction of any explanatory model to the conceptual resources available” (ibid). The principle of economy seeks to achieve an intrinsic alignment between explanatory models and their component parts. This alignment might exist seamlessly within the structure of the explanatory model or become explicit through reflexive enhancements such as a director’s commentary.

The four animation design guidelines presented in the EAF were used as decision- making tools to keep the children focused on the explanatory purpose of their work. They were presented as praxis because the theory behind each rule had immediate and practical implications for the animation artefacts. The EAF tool helped shape each animation into its final form. As my theoretical interest was also in the numerous decisions that the children made throughout the design process, I also incorporated the use of directors’ commentaries to help capture these decisions.


Directors’ commentaries as a genre of research data

Commentaries of any sort are reflexive and thus provide insights into the author's reasoning but a review of the literature would suggest that the use of directors’ commentaries, as a genre of research data, is unique to the current study. As Bateman (2008) has suggested, there is no doubt an “entire range of semiotic modes waiting to be discovered” (p. 277) and each of them might “support particular kinds of meaning-making potential” (ibid). The directors’ commentaries not only occasioned student reflections, but they encouraged children to construct conceptual artefacts. As the children were recording reflections on a weekly basis, it was the directors’ commentaries that required them to reflect on the project as a whole, and thus, their entire conceptual journey.

Directors’ commentaries can be both demonstrative and/or generative. An example of this was shown in Ingrid’s (“Stringed instruments”) portrait when she erroneously claimed to understand the use of the square root symbol in the frequency formula for stringed instruments. The discussion that was generated by Ingrid’s initial comment in her director’s commentary about the formula being “easy to understand” afforded further clarification and, ultimately, deeper conceptual consolidation.

Some further technical comment about directors’ commentaries might be useful here as an introduction to this genre. My initial assumption that the duration of a director’s commentary would be identical to that of the original video came from the existing practice found on some commercial movies released on DVD. In such cases, the video content is the same as that in the original film and an alternative audio track is enabled to replace the original audio track. As the current study didn’t use the DVD medium, I was not restricted to this format issue (3) and I was therefore free to include an entirely new video file.

After the 2010 Storyboard pilot study, I concluded that the duration of the final director’s commentary should be appropriate for the content, regardless of the duration of the original video footage. The following guidelines might prove useful to other researchers for future studies:



This chapter discussed the explanatory animation creation task in terms of the division of labour and then explicated four animation design guidelines as articulated in the EAF. CHAT provided a sufficiently dynamic model for understanding the complexities of both the explanatory animation creation task and evolving animation artefacts.

Chapter 6 will conclude this thesis by bringing together the findings about the children’s learning as evidenced throughout their explanatory animation creation task. These findings will then be used to suggest that the learning affordances of the explanatory animation creation animation task might be fruitful for subsequent researchers who wish to investigate conceptual change in action.



(1) Bonini’s paradox involves!the idea that the explanatory power of a model is enhanced through the omission of certain elements.

(2) Ockham’s razor suggests that amongst competing hypotheses, the simplest one should be chosen, as it requires the fewest assumptions.

(3) The format issue is that a DVD has limited space. The existing practice for including directors’ commentaries on commercial DVDs involves substituting only the audio track as the video track is unchanged, and therefore, is only included once instead of twice on the disc thus saving space.


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