Multimedia myths

An interesting article that examined whether audio podcasting in higher education was beneficial was written by Hew (2008). In his article, “Use of audio podcast in K-12 and higher education: a review of research topics and methodologies” Hew shared his results from a review of studies on podcast use. In the literature examined, podcasts were used to provide full lectures, supplement lessons, or present student work, and were offered in face-to-face or fully online courses. However, most studies reviewed were descriptive only (not experimental), and took place in higher education and in traditional classrooms.

Hew found the following:

  • while it increased student satisfaction, there was little significant difference in student learning when using podcasts
  • student barriers when using podcasts were unfamiliarity, access, downloading, and relevance
  • preferred length of podcasts were from 5 to 20 minutes
  • students accessed podcasts mostly from their personal computers not mobile devices
  • when listening to podcasts, students did not multitask but focused on the content
  • downloading from a website versus subscribing to a feed (RSS) was preferred
  • short-term use of podcasts (during a few weeks) might increase the novelty of the product but not impact
  • the provision of podcasts affected attendance only by 10% (those how skipped class)
  • students preferred face-to-face lessons because of interaction, structure, and ability to question/discuss

Hew determined that “the prediction that podcasting could result in pervasive mobile learning that truly takes place anywhere, as argued by advocates, did not bear fruit.” (p.341)

He also had suggestions for future research on podcasting effects.:

  1. examine student created podcasts (Jonassen et al., 2008), not only those developed by instructors
  2. conduct studies over a longer period of time
  3. determine the elements or characteristics of a course that might benefit from podcasting (specific content, simulations)
  4. examine the impact of podcasting in online courses
  5. study connections between learner characteristics and using podcasts

While only one source, this article shows that multimedia needs to be critically examined. Though, the potential impact, convenience, and portability of multimedia is widely applauded, it is still questionable on how or whether it impacts learning.

For instance, I am currently teaching a blended course at a vocational college. In this course, I had students post their ideas/responses in online discussion boards and blog their reflections after class. Though of the prime age to embrace technology, the student struggled with these technological-based activities. In turn, I found I needed to guide them more and provide digital literacy lessons to help them engage with these activities. Most were unsure what to do and also felt intimidated to present ideas or permanently post the wrong answers. They also were unsure how to engage in a text-based discussion – what were they to say?

After some hesitation they became more comfortable and  involved with the activities. As well, I recently added an exercise where the students worked in partnerships, analyzed a chosen article on a relevant topic, and posted a few main ideas in the online discussion board, while in class. Their postings, in this case, were superior to those created in isolation.

The point of the article and my teaching experiences is learners may not be completely adept in using learning technologies and might require time to adjust along with guidance. Building learning environments riddled with Web2.0 technologies might not be a quick answer to improved pedagogy, as promised. Starting with smaller technological steps, while considering current research, might be best. This, I am sure, is a relief those who teach.

Yet, I wonder if contradictory ideas presented by pundits like Verganti  are valid. He states that “user-centered innovations are not sustainable” meaning if we continue to build learning environments designed by user preference we will not be innovative or improve. His claims we must look beyond what is currently fashionable, useable and in demand, and build innovations based on newer and sustainable ideas. Sustainability in the educational field would be balancing increased enrolment, reduced budgets, emerging technologies, and limited physical space.

Perhaps, pushing learning technologies, albeit through guided instruction, is a better direction for educational efforts. Thinking outside the box, while insisting on rich learning environments and experiences, might be the key to sustainable and quality education. However, guided instruction will require skilled instructional staff. This is another  potential challenge and worthy of another discussion.

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2 thoughts on “Multimedia myths

  1. What the author and many others who say podcasts/coursecasts do not enhance or help with learning, fail to look at the relationship of quality and content. Unfortunately, many faculty think they can just place a cheap digital recorder or pocket camcorder on a desk, or start up the lecture capture system, push the button, talk for a bit, push the button and publish the recording with no editing or quality control. They fail to recognize what many podcasters now advocate “Content may be king, but quality is queen”. If faculty expect students to listen to recorded lectures or podcast episodes, they need to put the same rigour into creating quality audio as they would for publishing articles or giving a presentation.

    There are lots of podcasts by educators out in the pod-o-sphere including one for “teachers” that are so poorly recorded, it only takes a few minutes before the the recording becomes painful to listen to, despite the potential of having good content.

    Another issue with the commentary is “it’s old”. In Internet years, like dog years, 2-3 years ago is a long time. Many podcasters now feel the time is right for podcasting to really take off. And with the growing appearance of smart TVs, set top boxes (Apple TV, Google TV) and Blu-ray players, all with Internet connectivity, the potential for podcasts in education is also poised to take off. But it still goes back to providing a quality podcast in the same way popular faculty usually deliver quality lectures.

  2. Bob, thanks for your comment. You bring up a very good point. While this lit review did not indicate quality was an impeding factor, I have to agree with you that it would be.

    My point of discovery (of late) is to critically look at the tools we use in learning. Podcasts could be supportive in learning or perhaps not. I found the results of the synthesis interesting and made me recall the outcome of a meta-analysis I conducted in 2004. I reviewed hundreds of studies that used control and test groups in K-12 worldwide to determine if using computers impacted learning. I was very disappointed when the outcome was: it did not. However, as an educational technologist this told me we need to be careful and thoughtful about how we use technology to support learning. And I am starting to see this message in the literature of late.

    As well, I think it is important not to disregard research of the past, especially the recent past. I don’t believe practices and humans have changed that much. EDUCAUSE has started an initiative to find evidence of the impact on learning when using technology as they feel what is present is inadequate to guide us. In reading their list of suggested lit, it was a selection of foundational work (learning theories), seminal ideas (Jonassen’s work) and current research. I think they have something there: to use past findings and build on them for current practices and thought. Thus, not throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

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