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Multimedia in Online Teaching: Alternatives to Synchronous Sessions

While online instruction has been part of the higher education landscape for years, at no time in history has the demand been greater than now. The worldwide pandemic’s challenges to public health and safety necessitated a radical shift to remote instructional delivery for many institutions during the spring semester, and the need for online learning options has continued through the summer and into planning for the fall semester.

The two primary modes of online delivery are synchronous (i.e. the instructor and all enrolled students interact online simultaneously) and asynchronous (i.e. instruction and interaction does not take place in real time). Major factors driving an instructor’s decision to select a mode of delivery and appropriate technologies that optimize instruction include instructional objectives, course design, and strategies that promote instructor presence and student engagement.

While a chief benefit of synchronous delivery is the immediacy of interaction between faculty and students in web conferencing sessions, there are also challenges. Although instructors are able to share content, audio, and video, synchronous sessions require students to be “present” at a particular time, albeit in a digital rather than a physical location. Moreover, students are expected to be equipped with the appropriate technology: desktop/laptop/mobile device, webcam, microphone, and access to adequate bandwidth. Time zone considerations may be an additional concern. An inability for students to meet these requirements may impact their level of participation in learning activities and completion of assignments.

Instructors can address these pedagogical and technological challenges by considering asynchronous alternatives. Instructors can create their own multimedia content or seek out and vet appropriate sources of content and share that content creatively and asynchronously with students.

There are a number of reasons why instructors might create multimedia content to be delivered asynchronously. Instructors could record a video of themselves welcoming students to a course, introducing themselves, or providing weekly updates of what will be discussed for the current week. These videos can provide directions on getting started in the course, reveal course expectations, and establish instructor “presence.”

welcome screen of online course design academy welcome video

At NIU, Kaltura is a recommended tool for video creation because it is a comprehensive, robust, campus-wide video platform; it is integrated with Blackboard; and it is available to all faculty, staff, and students. Users can upload, publish, share, and edit videos, as well as create screen recordings, in-video quizzes, and other kinds of interactive learning experiences.

Instructors can record media directly using Kaltura’s “Express Capture” or upload their own video files using the “Media Upload” feature. Kaltura encodes and converts media so it is optimized for streaming and able to play on most devices. In addition, Kaltura provides automatic closed captioning, which enhances accessibility.

Instructors who wish to record lectures on their computer have a number of options available. Instructors can record a lecture from within a Blackboard Collaborate virtual session by narrating while sharing PowerPoint slides, images, PDF files, or applications opened on their screen using the Share Application feature. The Collaborate recording can be downloaded from Blackboard, uploaded to Kaltura, and then shared within the course.

Kaltura also has its own lecture recording application: “Kaltura Capture.” Instructors can record with two camera inputs at once, two screens, or a camera and a screen. The screen can be shared with any opened application, such as PowerPoint or a website.

Instructors using PowerPoint slide presentations can record audio directly onto slides or insert a separate audio file recorded with an audio editing program (e.g. Audacity) into each slide. The resulting slide presentation can then be saved as an MP4 video file and uploaded to Kaltura. Housing videos in Kaltura allows you to share them in any Blackboard course without taking up the limited data available.

screenshot of VoiceThread assignmentAnother intriguing option is VoiceThread, which replaces text-only discussions with interactive lectures and supports Universal Design for Instruction principles. VoiceThread is an online platform that allows instructors to put digital media such as images, video, and documents at the center of an asynchronous conversation. While the recorded lectures are narrated and self-running, student viewers can pause the lecture and post a comment or question in text, audio, or video format. Faculty are notified and can leave responses to comments that are viewable by all students. VoiceThread can also be used in graded assignments for student-created content. Depending on instructional objectives, assignments can be view by the instructor alone or shared with all class members. NIU instructors and students already have a VoiceThread account, and this tool is integrated with Blackboard.

Alternatively, Flipgrid is an asynchronous social learning tool that provides a meeting place for faculty and student discussions. The instructor records a video message and asks students to record themselves responding to a topic. The topic could be an ice breaker activity such as students introducing themselves to classmates, a mini-presentation, or reflections on what they screenshot of flipgrid discussion threadlearned during the past week. A useful Flipgrid feature is the ability for students to add video comments responding to classmates just as they would in a threaded discussion board activity. Videos have the potential to engage viewers to a greater degree than written responses because the human brain can process visuals much quicker than it can text.

Screencasting is another useful technology to create content by recording anything on a computer screen with audio and webcam video. Instructors can create informative and engaging screen-based demonstrations that can be saved as a video file. Kaltura has screencasting capabilities within “Kaltura Capture,” as mentioned previously. Other screencasting options include Screencastify and Screencast-o-matic, both of which are free with limitations but also have upgrade options.

While instructors can create their own multimedia content, they may also supplement with outside material that either complements their own work or provides an alternative perspective. This involves locating, vetting, and sharing appropriate content from existing repositories with their students. It is of the utmost importance to determine content accuracy and discipline-specific appropriateness, both in scope and grade level for a particular course.

Examples of these repositories include Open Educational Resources (OER) for images, audio and video content. OER repositories include Merlot, OER Commons, Creative Commons Flickr, LibGuides at NIU, YouTube EDU, and LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com), which is available through your NIU account.

Synchronous sessions are useful for promoting opportunities for interaction in real time. However, given the challenges detailed here, it may be beneficial to consider asynchronous alternatives to supplement instruction and provide flexibility. Instructors should reflect on their objectives, course design, and strategies for promoting instructor presence and student engagement as a way to better inform decisions on pedagogical and technology adoption that optimize online course delivery.

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