Date of Award

Spring 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


STEM Education & Professional Studies

Committee Director

Ginger S. Watson

Committee Member

Stefanie A. Drew

Committee Member

Mary C. Enderson


Animated handwriting in multimedia video lessons, such as those popularized by the Khan Academy, has reimagined the classic teaching technique of writing on a chalkboard while lecturing for online delivery. This digital chalk talk effect mimics classroom lectures where words are written letter by letter on a chalkboard as they are spoken. Low-cost applications, tablets, and document cameras allow instructors at all levels to easily create their own animated handwritten videos. As adoption increases, it is important to understand the effects of this strategy.

This study employed a true experimental, between-subjects, posttest design that compared multimedia lessons with different text display formats on outcomes of motivation, mental effort, and learning. Undergraduate student volunteers (n = 234) from a large U.S., West Coast, regional, four-year public university were randomly assigned to one of three treatments: Animated handwritten, animated typewritten, or static typewritten. Each group watched a different version of a five-segment, twelve-minute multimedia lesson about cryptography. Lessons differed only in the visual text display format and contained identical narration and content.

Results indicated that multimedia with animated handwritten text produced strong social cues motivating learners. Participants who viewed the animated handwriting reported significantly greater social agency attitudes toward the learning experience than with static typewritten text. They perceived the narrator’s voice as more dynamic with animated handwriting when compared to static, even though the voice was identical. They also reported more attention to the lesson and materials with animated handwriting than either animated typewritten or static typewritten. These motivational gains are accomplished without introducing extraneous cognitive load or negatively impacting learning outcomes.

Significant findings from this research demonstrated that animated handwritten text is more than just a signaling strategy. The combination of text being hand-drawn and appearing as if a real person is writing it in real time adds a powerful social cue. Results of this study demonstrate that using animated handwriting in multimedia video lessons is an effective way to increase motivation through social cues that can be accomplished without requiring expansive technical knowledge, expensive equipment or extensive time investments.


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