February 25th, 2010

Teaching with Technology: A More Meaningful Learning Experience Starts with Two Simple Questions

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We are bombarded with information about online course supplements and the newest interactive multimedia components, all touted as the best approach to engage today’s learners in the online environment. Dedicated practitioners puzzle over how, when, and where to incorporate multimedia within their online courses and further agonize over the potential effects of choosing not to do so.

In this article, we propose that the real multimedia dilemma lies not in how, when, or where multimedia should be incorporated into online courses, but the crux of the matter lies determining why and what. A paradigm shift to focus on the intentional and meaningful inclusion of multimedia should be considered, particularly given the thrust and pressure for faculty to include multimedia innovations throughout their courses.

Multimedia provides a plethora of tools to supplement online text, including graphics, audio, music, video, animation, and/or simulation. Given so many choices, the questions return to why and what—Why am I including multimedia in my online course? And what type of multimedia should I include to create a meaningful learning experience?

Theoretically, multimedia that is content relevant and pedagogically intentional facilitates student learning through maximization of cognitive learning strategies. If our goal is to enhance student learning, we should carefully select multimedia supplements that target difficult course concepts to make learning more meaningful, reduce demands on working memory, and encode concepts via dual avenues. Fortunately, many textbook publishers produce a range of multimedia supplements geared exclusively toward these ends, supplements that can be selectively integrated into the course structure.

There is another critical reason for considering the dedicated inclusion of multimedia within your online classroom—student engagement. Student engagement rests upon “students’ willingness, need, desire, and compulsion to participate in, and be successful in, the learning process” (Bomia, Beluzo, Demeester, Elander, Johnson & Sheldon, 1997, p. 294). Therefore, students with high engagement show increased interest and enthusiasm for the course, which, in turn, impacts retention, learning, and satisfaction. Research at the collegiate level reveals five components essential for student engagement: academic challenge, active/collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching education experiences, and a supportive learning environment (Kenny, Kenny & Dumont, 1995).

Multimedia content allows instructors to address these components by facilitating active learning, personalizing student-faculty connections, and enriching learning experiences. Going beyond simple consideration of commercially produced multimedia, online instructors may benefit from the creation and inclusion of instructor-generated multimedia supplements.

The personalization principle (Clark & Mayer, 2002) highlights that conversational tone and/or a personalized learning agent enhances learning due to the activation of social conventions to listen and respond meaningfully. Thus, multimedia featuring the course instructor discussing concepts, has the potential to simultaneously enhance both learning and student engagement.

While commercially produced multimedia is an ideal option to target student learning, online instructors should also consider creating their own multimedia supplements to help personalize the online classroom and enhance student engagement. Whether as simple as a short webcam video or brief audio clip or as complex as an interactive, Flash-based tutorial with narrated PowerPoint, software exists to help even the most technologically challenged online instructor create personalized multimedia components with relative ease.

Because incorporating multimedia can quickly demonstrate that our courses address the expectations of “next generation” learning/learners, we are tempted to jump to questions of how, when, and where, instead of first asking ourselves questions of why and what. When we let technical questions pre-empt pedagogical ones, we are left with dazzling multimedia applications that lack a grounding in course learning outcomes.

Questions of why and what compel us to enter pedagogical discussions of multimedia, to consider how multimedia inclusion can clarify difficult course concepts; reduce demands on and expectations for rote memory; and promote deep, meaningful, and lasting learning by helping learners encode concepts via multiple avenues. Moreover, these pedagogical discussions provoke us to evaluate the extent to which targeted use of multimedia can motivate students’ enthusiastic participation in our courses. These questions of why are a necessary first step in determining what, if any, multimedia to include in your online courses and, following, how that integration can be facilitated successfully.

References
Bomia, L., Beluzo, L., Demeester, D., Elander, K., Johnson, M. & Sheldon, B. (1997).
The impact of teaching strategies on intrinsic motivation. Champaign, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.

Clark, R.C. & Mayer, R.E. (2002). E-Learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kenny, G., Kenny, D. & Dumont, R. (1995). Mission and place: Strengthening learning and community through campus design. Oryx/Greenwood.

Amber Dailey is the director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Park University. B. Jean Mandernach is an associate professor of psychology at Park University. Emily Donnelli is an assistant professor of English and assistant director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Park University.

Funding for research related to the development of this article was provided by an Oregon State University Distance Education Research and Development Grant.

Excerpted from The Multimedia Dilemma: Questioning Beyond the What to the Why, Online Classroom, December, 2008.