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Incorporating Multimedia Into Online Courses

Incorporating multimedia into online courses may look like very unfamiliar territory to some instructors, but the constantly changing nature of instruction demands it. Tens of millions of students in thousands of universities worldwide now rely wholly or in part on online education to pursue their studies. The question for all but the most established instructors is not whether, but how best to teach students online. The higher education services market gets more competitive every year, and online courses should reflect a free market mentality in attracting and keeping students. Interesting online courses and materials represent one of the few ways of expanding the number of students studying online.

By no means can a single article provide information on all of the great online learning resources available. Instructional designers creating their first online courses can create an interesting and informational educational experience with basic resources.

What Not to Do

Most instructional designers would agree that simply grafting a traditional lecture course into an online format represents one of the worst approaches. Instructors who attempt this usually link recorded lectures or provide PDFs with course notes. Even students who enjoy lectures–and many do exist–will find a video a pale imitation of its face-to-face course counterpart.

Video of a lecture that incorporates recorded sound or secondary visuals may technically count as multimedia. Recording an entire class worth of lecture, however, will not prove effective. An instructor can control many possible distractions in a traditional class. He or she can ban electronic devices, for example. Nothing can prevent students from pursuing distractions at home. The instructor’s competition for attention lies in literally anything else the student could do at the time.

When creating that first class, an instructor should  explore a wide range of possible multimedia technologies

Use Visual Media Effectively

Judicious use of videos can help to make online coursework more interesting. While an hour-long lecture can challenge online student attention spans, using shorter, topic-based videos can increase effectiveness. The instructor can include videos of him or herself telling a story or incorporate clips from movies, television, or elsewhere. Instructors should not include videos of himself or herself that last more than five to seven minutes.

Still photographs or other images also bring power to a presentation, particularly when punctuated by audio. The Ken Burns technique of making stills come to life with powerful narration and sound clips represents some of the best combined uses of these media.

Instructors need to tread carefully here. Copyright laws may apply to use of images and video in online coursework. Look for sites with libraries of open use materials, such as the United States’ National Archives site.

PowerPoint, If You Dare…

PowerPoint has the potential to grab student attention or plumb the depths of boredom in stunning fashion. Instructors love the fact that it can encapsulate a lecture in blurbs of text contained in neat boxes. Those with advanced skills can embed cutesy art, different fonts, pictures, GIFs, charts, and other attention-getting devices.

Great PowerPoint presenters are not unicorns. Like California Condors, they actually do exist in the wild, but rarely get seen. Effective PowerPoint presentations, whether in-person or through e-learning programs, use text, images, and sound in a seamless, intriguing format.

The corporate world, led by Amazon, has started turning its back on PowerPoint. Critics claim that too many bad presentations deaden critical thinking while boring audiences at the same time.

Effective use of PowerPoint, then, depends on the talent of the instructor crafting the course.

Create Charts and Graphs

Except for perhaps literature, almost every imaginable course can help teach information more effectively with the wise use of charts and graphs. Visuals help to convey the impact of numbers and statistics more effectively than text or explanation. Instructors can access free online tutorials that teach how to make effective graphs. They can also use free and subscription services that help produce charts and graphs.

Like anything else in course creation, instructors need to avoid “falling in love” with chart and graph creation. Too many can overload the course and distract students from the core ideas of the material.

Encouraging Student Interaction

Instructors strain to recreate the discussion atmosphere of good face-to-face classes. This can pose a real struggle online. Traditional classrooms led by effective instructors serve as great forums for the organic emergence of discussion. Online class chat forums at their worst mimic the worst aspects of public social media. The difficulty in fostering the same level of interaction online as in face-to-face classes serves as one of the chief criticisms of e-learning.

Often, online instructors take the easy way out in facilitating class discussion. They lay out a controversial current event, ask a provocative question, then stand back and try to control the ensuing melee. This does create discussion, but often not one that stimulates productive thinking.

To get past the surface, instructors should get creative. Find a clip of video or audio. Locate or create a chart or a map that illustrates something. Look for a great piece of literature. Use multimedia tools to inspire critical thinking, then ask questions that relate to something broader than just the issue of the day. The job of college instructors often lies in getting students to search for a picture bigger than what they see. Using great material followed up by sound questions and thoughtful student interaction creates a fertile environment for true learning.

Making Great Online Courses Takes Time

Rookie online instructional designers need to realise a hard truth. No one creates a masterful online learning course their first time out. When starting out, you should keep the structure simple and do not rely too much on the models of others. Use what works, but do not try to ape a style unnatural to you.

As you get more comfortable teaching online and get feedback from thoughtful students, you can build increasingly effective materials. You will also locate and adapt multimedia resources much more effectively as you get used to the format.

Online courses do not have to bore students. They do not have to simply serve as poor imitations of the face-to-face classroom experience. Learning about and using great multimedia resources will help to bring your online class to meet its full potential.