It is vital to keep students engaged so that they are actively learning. There are a variety of instructional strategies faculty may use in their efforts to better engage students and enhance learning opportunities. One approach is incorporating multimedia content in course material. In describing the impact of multimedia technologies to learners, Miller (2009) writes, “Quality online multimedia can help to promote any number of pedagogical objectives, ranging from sparking student interest in subject matter to possibly encouraging intergroup respect and appreciation. However, their most critical function in terms of cognitive learning appears to lie in their capacity to serve as representational applications for key course ideas.” These representations can take a variety of forms, including visual and auditory types, which may support student comprehension and boost information retention.
With multimedia application, students can hear about new relevant course topics and concepts in online lectures (faculty presenting either in real time or recorded for later review), review assigned readings and lecture transcripts, and visually observe imagery either as drawings, photographs, videos, animation, or actual physical models. Students can also interact with new topics and ideas by conducting laboratory experiments through direct manual manipulation or through computer simulation.
Advances in computer technology have greatly expanded the ability of faculty to incorporate media elements. Below are tips on using multimedia applications that may enhance student learning opportunities:
- Consider the audience – When introducing students to a new field or discipline, they may require additional support. It may be helpful to represent new concepts in a variety of ways to meet the needs of different learning preferences. Consider orchestrating several multimedia types (audio recordings, images, video, or physical models).
- Technology should not dictate instructional design – Although advances in computer technology have greatly facilitated the application of multimedia, it should only be used when it is supportive of course content and student learning. Used inappropriately, multimedia can distract, mislead or confuse students. Course goals and instructional objectives should drive the design of course content, not simply the availability of technology.
- Use technology to support and not distract – Multimedia can greatly enhance learning, but it can also lead to distraction that decreases learning. For example, faculty who read word-for-word from the on-screen text of a slide lead to their students experiencing an excessive cognitive load, as they simultaneously ‘read’ and ‘listen’ to the same message. Similarly, incorporating images whose relationship to on-screen text or an accompanying narration remains unclear, can result in cognitive dissonance, causing students to struggle while they try to make sense of a perceived uncertainty.
- Introduce media incrementally – Due to technological advancements in computer technology, it has become relatively easy to access as well as create multimedia content. Faculty should begin by incrementally adding media, experimenting with limited additions to course content. Trying to incorporate too much too quickly can overwhelm faculty who are new to multimedia. For example, one might record an audio greeting to each week’s lesson, posting the file to an appropriate content area in their Blackboard course every Monday morning. Students can play the audio file, listening to the faculty detail what to expect in the upcoming week.
- Solicit advice from other faculty who have had success using digital multimedia content – Faculty who have had the opportunity to use and assess the value and effectiveness of multimedia material can be valuable mentors in this area. Experienced users can provide a reference point for the beginner.
- Investigate existing multimedia sources/archives with content that is in the public domain or that use Creative Commons licensing – While it has become easier for faculty (and their students) to create multimedia content, it may still be quicker to find existing materials. Through open education resource (OER) initiatives, appropriate, accurate/credible, and vetted content is widely available. While it is essential to acknowledge and adhere to the parameters of ‘Fair Use’ when using material whose copyright does not belong to faculty, one can legally use content from the public domain or that falls within Creative Commons licensing. The expansiveness and depth of this material covers many academic disciplines and levels (K-12, undergraduate, graduate, professions).
- Solicit feedback in the course evaluation to determine what multimedia components were successful – Students can greatly assist in identifying which multimedia items they perceived to be useful in enhancing the learning experience. By incrementally adding multimedia, it will become more manageable for students to give feedback.
Miller, M.V. (2009). Integrating online multimedia into college course and classroom: With application to the social sciences. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(2), 395-423.