Most online courses rely heavily on text-based communication, but given the vast array of audio and video tools now available to instructors and students alike, it’s never been easier to enhance the media richness of the online classroom. However, just like with home improvement, you have to select the right tool for the job.
“The more complex the task, the more rich the media necessary to communicate,” said Jill Schiefelbein, an online instructor at Arizona State University.
For example, if you want to remind students that their paper is due by 11:59 pm on Tuesday, then that’s very straightforward and can be done with plain text. However, if you need to explain a difficult concept to your class, you may want to consider adding some graphics, or even audio and video elements to the instruction.
In the recent online video seminar Five Ways to Improve Interaction in Your Online Courses, Schiefelbein demonstrated how she uses different media to communicate with her students; improving learner engagement and satisfaction.
- Text and Images: This is the first level of the media richness continuum, and it’s one that most everyone has mastered. But beyond plain text, simple formatting enhancements with bullets, bold, color, hyperlinks, and images can improve readability and increase understanding.
- Audio: Adding audio instructions or commentary helps you meet the needs of auditory learners, and often adds interest to the content. Schiefelbein said she often creates an audio recording of housekeeping tasks, such as deadline reminders, as well as to review what was covered the previous session. She also uses the Wimba Voice Board to create an audio-based discussion board which students use to discuss topics and reply to posts.
- Audio Visual: Adding audio narration to PowerPoint slides helps keep students engaged and allows instructors to inject a bit of their personality into the course, said Schiefelbein.
- Video: Although not everyone is comfortable capturing a video of themselves, video helps make concepts more perceptible and is a powerful way to communicate. Schiefelbein provided an example of how she uses video to demonstrate for students what she’s looking for in the mediated speech assignment she’s giving them.
- Synchronous Communication: Giving students opportunities for real-time interaction adds a final layer of depth and clarity to communication and is an effective way to build community in the online classroom. Although not every student can attend a live session, most synchronous tools have an archiving function, which allows students to catch up on what they missed.
During the seminar, Schiefelbein also provided suggestions for getting shy students to embrace audio and video assignments, as well as how to acclimate adult learners who may not be as adept with technology tools as traditional-aged college students.