May 23, 2018

French version of ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’ now available

French version 2

The French version of ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’, L’enseignement a l’ère numerique‘, is now available from here.

I am very grateful to Contact North|Contact Nord for providing this professional translation.

There is now also a version in Vietnamese, ‘Dạy học trong kỷ nguyên số‘, translated by Lê Trung Nghĩa of the Ministry of Education in Vietnam, available through Dropbox here.

Spanish version, translated by staff in the Faculty of Engineering, Universidad de Buenos Aires, is almost complete and will be available from the BCcampus open textbook site (as will all the translations). I will provide an announcement containing the url when it is available.

A Chinese version, translated by staff at the Beijing Open University, will be available in August, 2016.

A Portuguese version, being translated by ABED, the Brazilian Association of Distance Education, will be available in time for its Annual Congress in September, 2016.

Turkish version is currently under consideration. I am awaiting more details.

Please note: under the Creative Commons license of the book, anyone is free to translate all or any part of the book, provided it is not used for commercial purposes and I am acknowledged as the author. I am sure that without this license, the book would not have become available so quickly in so many languages. However, if you do decide to translate the book, please let me know, so I can track its use and provide updates.

 

Seeking the unique pedagogical characteristics of audio

Image: More4kids.com, 2013

Image: More4kids.com, 201

This is the second post on the unique characteristics of different media, for my open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age.

As you will see, I am a great fan of recorded audio in education, and believe it is very much under-exploited medium.

© InnerFidelity, 2012

‘Sounds, such as the noise of certain machinery, or the background hum of daily life, have an associative as well as a pure meaning, which can be used to evoke images or ideas relevant to the main substance of what is being taught. There are, in other words, instances where audio is essential for efficiently mediating certain kinds of information’

Durbridge, 1984

Audio: the unappreciated medium

We have seen that oral communication has a long history, and continues today in classroom teaching and in general radio programming. In this section though I am focusing primarily on recorded audio, which I will argue is a very powerful educational medium when used well.

There has been a good deal of research on the unique pedagogical characteristics of audio. At the UK Open University course teams had to bid for media resources to supplement specially designed printed materials. Because media resources were developed initially by the BBC, and hence were limited and  expensive to produce, course teams (in conjunction with their allocated BBC producer) had to specify how radio or television would be used to support learning. In particular, the course teams were asked to identify what teaching functions television and radio would uniquely contribute to the teaching. After allocation and development of a course, samples of the programs were evaluated in terms of how well they met these functions, as well as how the students responded to the programming. In later years, the same approach was used when production moved to audio and video cassettes. This process of identifying unique roles then evaluating the programs allowed the OU, over a period of several years, to identify which roles or functions were particularly appropriate to different media (Bates, 1985). Koumi (2006), himself a former BBC/OU producer, followed up on this research and identified several more key functions for audio and video. Over a somewhat similar period, Richard Mayer, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, was conducting his own research into the use of multimedia in education (Mayer, 2009).

Although there have been continuous developments of audio technology, from audio-cassettes to Sony Walkman’s to podcasts, the educational features of audio have remained remarkably constant.

Presentational features

Although audio can be used on its own, it is often used in combination with other media, particularly text. On its own, it can present:

  • spoken language (including foreign languages) for analysis or practice
  • music, either as a performance or for analysis
  • students with a condensed argument that may:
    • reinforce points made elsewhere in the course
    • introduce new points not made elsewhere in the course
    • provide an alternative viewpoint to the perspectives in the rest of the course
    • analyse or critique materials elsewhere in the course
    • summarize or condense the main ideas or major points covered in the course
    • provide new evidence in support of or against the arguments or perspectives covered elsewhere in the course
  • interviews with leading researchers or experts
  • discussion between two or more people to provide various views on a topic
  • primary audio sources, such as bird song, children talking, eye witness accounts, or recorded performances (drama, concerts)
  • analysis of primary audio sources, by playing the source followed by analysis
  • ‘breaking news’ that emphasizes the relevance or application of concepts within the course
  • the instructor’s personal spin on a topic related to the course.

Audio however has been found to be particularly ‘potent’ when combined with text, because it enables students to use both eyes and ears in conjunction. Audio has been found to be especially useful for:

  • explaining or ‘talking through’ materials presented through text, such as mathematical equations, reproductions of paintings, graphs, statistical tables, and even physical rock samples.

This technique was later further developed by Salman Khan, but using video to combine voice-over explanation with visual presentation.

Skills development

Because of the ability of the learner to stop and start recorded audio, it has been found to be particularly useful for:

  • enabling students through repetition and practice to master certain auditory skills or techniques (e.g. language pronunciation, analysis of musical structure, mathematical computation)
  • getting students to analyse primary audio sources, such as children’s use of language, or attitudes to immigration from recordings of interviewed people
  • changing student attitudes by
    • presenting material in a novel or unfamiliar perspective
    • by presenting material in a dramatized form, enabling students to identify with someone with a different perspective

Strengths and weaknesses of audio as a teaching medium

First, some advantages:

  • it is much easier to make an audio clip or podcast than a video clip or a simulation
  • audio requires far less bandwidth than video or simulations, hence downloads quicker and can be used over relatively low bandwidths
  • it is easily combined with other media such as text, mathematical symbols, and graphics, allowing more than one sense to be used and allowing for ‘integration’.
  • some students prefer to learn by listening compared with reading;
  • audio combined with text can help develop literacy skills or support students with low levels of literacy;
  • audio provides variety and another perspective from text, a ‘break’ in learning that refreshes the learner and maintains interest
  • Nicola Durbridge, in her research at the Open University, found that audio increased distance students’ feelings of personal ‘closeness’ with the instructor compared with video or text, i.e. it is a more intimate medium.

In particular, added flexibility and learner control means that students will often learn better from preprepared audio recordings combined with accompanying textual material (such as a web site with slides) than they will from a live classroom lecture.

There are also of course disadvantages of audio:

  • audio-based learning is difficult for people with a hearing disability
  • creating audio is extra work for an instructor
  • audio is often best used in conjunction with other media such as text or graphics thus adding complexity to the design of teaching
  • recording audio requires a minimal level of technical proficiency
  • spoken language tends to be less precise than text.

Increasingly video is now be used to combine audio over images, such as in the Khan Academy, but there are many instances, such as where students are studying from prescribed texts, where recorded audio works better than a video recording.

So let’s hear it for audio!

Feedback

I need to add some example podcasts to illustrate some of these unique characteristics. Unfortunately many of my intended examples are not publicly accessible, being behind password protected university or college firewalls (or are no longer available). Any suggestions for open access podcasts that illustrate one or more of these functions will be particularly appreciated.

Other questions for you:

1. Are there other unique characteristics of audio, or advantages or disadvantages, that I have missed and should include?

2. Do you share my enthusiasm for recorded audio? If not, why not?

3. Is this section useful for teachers and instructors?

References and further reading

Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables (out of print – try a good library)

Bates, A. (2005) Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge

Durbridge, N. (1982) Audio-cassettes in Higher Education Milton Keynes: The Open University (mimeo)

Durbridge, N. (1984) Audio-cassettes, in Bates, A. (ed.) The Role of Technology in Distance Education London/New York: Croom Hill/St Martin’s Press

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (2005) Seven things you should know about… podcasting Boulder CO: EDUCAUSE, June

Postlethwaite, S. N. (1969) The Audio-Tutorial Approach to Learning Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company

Salmon, G. and Edirisingha, P. (2008) Podcasting for Learning in Universities Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Wright, S. and Haines, R, (1981) Audio-tapes for Teaching Science Teaching at a Distance, Vol. 20 (Open University journal now out of print).

Note: Although some of the Open University publications are not available online, hard copies/pdf files should be available from: The Open University International Centre for Distance Learning, which is now part of the Open University Library.

 

 

A new way to look at the costs of digital media in education

Image: © Ehrenberg, D., AlleyWatch.com, 2013

Image: © Ehrenberg, D., AlleyWatch.com, 2013

I said it was going to be fun looking at the costs of digital media in education, but it wasn’t. When I came to write this section, I thought it would be a breeze. I wrote about this topic as recently as 2005. All I needed to do is tweak it a little to bring it up to date, I thought.

However, there has truly been a revolution in the media available for teaching and learning in the last ten years, and this revolution has completely up-ended many of the assumptions about costs previously made in this field. Most of the research on costs of educational media had been done by people (like myself) working mainly in distance education, because that was where technology was being mainly used for teaching. That has all changed now: media have gone mainstream.

What is really interesting though is how little research there has been done on the costs of new digital media in education (MOOCs are a slight exception). Nevertheless, when I dug into the topic, I came to what struck me at first as an astonishing conclusion: the costs of media don’t matter any more in media selection. Use what suits best your educational purpose, because it’s all low cost now.

Of course, that is a gross over-simplification. Like many other topics in this area, straight comparisons between different media don’t work. What you have to look at are the conditions or factors that influence costs, across all media. That’s what I’ve tried to explore in this section. Remember I’m targeting teachers and instructors, not economists or instructional designers. So here goes, and please, let me have feedback on this (see the end of this rather long post):

9.4.1 A revolution in media

Until as recently as ten years ago, cost was a major discriminator affecting the choice of technology (Hülsmann, 2000, 2003; Rumble, 2001; Bates, 2005). For instance, for educational purposes, audio (lectures, radio, audio-cassettes) was far cheaper than print, which in turn was far cheaper than most forms of computer-based learning, which in turn was far cheaper than video (television, cassettes or video-conferencing). All these media were usually seen as either added costs to regular teaching, or too expensive to use to replace face-to-face teaching, except for purely distance education on a fairly large scale.

However, there have been dramatic reductions in the cost of developing and distributing all kinds of media (except face-to-face teaching) in the last ten years, due to several factors:

  • rapid developments in consumer technologies such as smart phones that enable text, audio and video to be both created and transmitted by end users at low cost
  • compression of digital media, enabling even high bandwidth video or television to be carried over wireless, landlines and the Internet at an economic cost (at least in economically advanced countries)
  • improvements in media software, making it relatively easy for non-professional users to create and distribute all kinds of media
  • increasing amounts of media-based open educational resources, which are already developed learning materials that are free for teachers and students alike to use.

The good news then is that in general, and in principle, cost should no longer be an automatic discriminator in the choice of media. If you are happy to accept this statement at face value, than you can skip the rest of this chapter. Choose the mix of media that best meets your teaching needs, and don’t worry about which medium is likely to cost more. Indeed, a good case could be made that it would now be cheaper to replace face-to-face teaching with purely online learning, if cost was the only consideration.

In practice however costs can vary enormously both between and within media, depending once again on context and design. Since the main cost from a teacher’s perspective is their time, it is important to know what are the ‘drivers’ of cost, that is, what factors are associated with increased costs, depending on the context and the medium being used. These factors are less influenced by new technological developments, and can therefore be seen as ‘foundational’ principles when considering the costs of educational media.

Unfortunately there are many different factors that can influence the actual cost of using media in education, which makes a detailed discussion of costs very complex. As a result, I will try to identify the main cost drivers, then provide a table that provides a simplified guide to how these factors influence the costs of different media, including face-to-face teaching. This guide again should be considered as a heuristic device. So see this chapter as Media Costs 101.

9.4.1 Cost categories

The main cost categories to be considered in using educational media and technologies, and especially blended or online learning, are as follows:

9.4.1.2 Development

These are the costs needed to pull together or create learning materials using particular media or technologies. There are several sub-categories of development costs:

  • production costs: making a video or building a course section in a learning management system. Included in these costs will be the time of specialist staff, such as web designers or audio-visual specialists, as well as any costs in web design or video production
  • your time as an instructor: the work you have to do as part of developing or producing materials.  This will include planning/course design as well as development. Your time is money, and probably the largest single cost in using educational technologies, but more importantly, if you are developing learning materials you are not doing other things, such as research or interacting with students, so there is a real cost, even if it is not expressed in dollar terms.
  • copyright clearance if you are using third party materials such as photos or video clips. Again, this is more likely to be thought of as time rather than money
  • probably the cost of an instructional designer in terms of their time

Development costs are usually fixed or ‘once only’ and are independent of the number of students. Once media are developed, they are usually scalable, in that once produced, they can be used by any number of learners without increased development costs. Using open educational resources can help reduce greatly media development costs.

9.4.1.3 Delivery

This includes the cost of the educational activities needed during offering the course and would include instructional time spent interacting with students, instructional time spent on marking assignments, and would include the time of other staff supporting delivery, such as teaching assistants, adjuncts for additional sections and instructional designers and technical support staff.

Because of the cost of human factors such as instructional time and technical support needed in media-based teaching, delivery costs tend to increase as student numbers increase, and also have to be repeated each time the course is on offer, i.e. they are recurrent. However, increasingly with Internet-based delivery, there is usually a zero direct technology cost in delivery.

9.4.1.4 Maintenance costs

Once materials for a course are created, they need to be maintained. Urls go dead, set readings may go out of print or expire, and more importantly new developments in the subject area may need to be accommodated. Thus once a course is offered, there are ongoing maintenance costs.

Instructional designers and/or media professionals can manage some of the maintenance, but nevertheless teachers or instructors will need to be involved with decisions about content replacement or updating. Maintenance is not usually a major time consumer for a single course, but if an instructor is involved in the design and production of several online courses, maintenance time can build to a significant amount.

Maintenance costs are usually independent of the number of students, but are dependent on the number of courses an instructor is responsible for, and are recurrent each year.

9.4.1.5 Overheads

These include infrastructure or overhead costs, such as the cost of licensing a learning management system, lecture capture technology and servers for video steaming. These are real costs but not ones that can be allocated to a single course but will be shared across a number of courses. Overheads are usually considered to be institutional costs and, although important, probably will not influence a teacher’s decision about which media to use, provided these services are already in place and the institution does not directly charge for such services.

9.4.2 Cost drivers

The primary factors that drive cost are

  • the development/production of materials,
  • the delivery of materials,
  • number of students/scalability
  • the experience of an instructor working with the medium
  • whether the instructor develops materials alone (self-development) or works with professionals

Production of technology-based materials such as a video program, or a Web site, is a fixed cost, in that it is not influenced by how many students take the course. However, production costs can vary depending on the design of the course. Engle (2014) showed that depending on the method of video production, the development costs for a MOOC could vary by a factor of six (the most expensive production method – full studio production – being six times that of an instructor self-recording on a laptop).

Nevertheless, once produced, the cost is independent of the number of students. Thus the more expensive the course to develop, the greater the need to increase student numbers to reduce the average cost per student. (Or put another way, the greater the number of students, the more reason to ensure that high quality production is used, whatever the medium). In the case of MOOCs (which tend to be almost twice as expensive to develop as an online course for credit using a learning management system – University of Ottawa, 2013) the number of learners is so great that the average cost per student is very small. Thus there are opportunities for economies of scale from the development of digital material, provided that student course enrolments can be increased (which may not always be the case). This can be described as the potential for the scalability of a medium.

Similarly, there are costs in teaching the course once the course is developed. These tend to be variable costs, in that they increase as class size increases. If student-teacher interaction, through online discussion forums and assignment marking, is to be kept to a manageable level, then the teacher-student ratio needs to be kept relatively low (for instance, between 1:25 to 1:40, depending on the subject area and the level of the course). The more students, the more time a teacher will need to spend on delivery, or additional contract instructors will need to be hired. Either way, increased student numbers generally will lead to increased costs. xMOOCs are an exception. Their main value proposition is that they do not provide direct learner support, so have zero delivery costs. However, this is probably the reason why such a small proportion of participants successfully complete MOOCs.

There may be benefits then for a teacher or for an institution in spending more money up front for interactive learning materials if this leads to less demand for teacher-student interaction. For instance, a mathematics course might be able to use automated testing and feedback and simulations and diagrams, and pre-designed answers to frequently asked questions, with less or even no time spent on individual assignment marking or communication with the teacher. In this case it may be possible to manage teacher-student ratios as high as 1:200 or more, without significant loss of quality.

Also, experience in using or working with a particular medium or delivery method is important. The first time an instructor uses a particular medium such as podcasting, it takes much longer than subsequent productions or offerings. Some media or technologies though need much more effort to learn to use than others. Thus a related cost driver is whether the instructor works alone (self-development) or works with media professionals. Self-developing materials will usually take longer for an instructor than working with professionals.

There are advantages in teachers and instructors working with media professionals when developing digital media. Media professionals will ensure the development of a quality product, and above all can save teachers or instructors considerable time, for instance through the choice of appropriate software, editing, and storage and streaming of digital materials. Instructional designers can help in suggesting appropriate applications of different media for different learning outcomes. Thus as with all educational design, a team approach is likely to be more effective, and working with other professionals will help control the time teachers and instructors spend on media development.

Lastly, design decisions are critical. Costs are driven by design decisions within a medium. For instance cost drivers are different between lectures and seminars (or lab classes) in face-to-face teaching. Similarly, video can be used just to record talking heads, as in lecture capture, or can be used to exploit the affordances of the medium (see Section 9. 5), such as demonstrating processes or location shooting. Computing has a wide and increasing range of possible designs, including online collaborative learning (OCL), computer-based learning, animations, simulations or virtual worlds. Social media are another group of media that also need to be considered.

Figure 9.4 attempts to capture the complexity of cost factors, focusing mainly on the perspective of a teacher or instructor making decisions. Again, this should be seen as a heuristic device, a way of thinking about the issue. Other factors could be added (such as social media, or maintenance of materials). I have given my own personal ratings for each cell, based on my experience. I have taken conventional teaching as a medium or ‘average’ cost, then ranked cells as to whether there is a higher or lower cost factor for the particular medium. Other readers may well rate the cells differently.

Figure 9. Drivers of cost for educational media

Figure 9.4 Drivers of cost for educational media

Thus although in particular the time it takes to develop and deliver learning using different technologies is likely to influence an instructor’s decision about what technology to use, it is not a simple equation. For instance, developing a good quality online course using a mix of video and text materials may take much more of the instructor’s time to prepare than if the course was offered through classroom teaching. However, the online course may take less time in delivery over several years, because students may be spending more time on task online, and less time in direct interaction with the instructor. Once again, we see that design is a critical factor in how costs are assessed.

In short, from an instructor perspective, time is the critical cost factor. Technologies that take a lot of time to use are less likely to be used than those that are easy to use and thus save time. But once again design decisions can greatly affect how much time teachers or instructors need to spend on any medium, and the ability of teachers and students to create their own educational media is becoming an increasingly important factor.

9.4.3 Issues for consideration

In recent years, university faculty have generally gravitated more to lecture capture for online course delivery, particularly in institutions where online or distance learning is relatively new, because it is ‘simpler’ to do than redesign and create mainly text based materials in learning management systems. Lecture capture also more closely resembles the traditional classroom method. Pedagogically though (depending on the subject area) it may be less effective than an online course using collaborative learning and online discussion forums, as we shall see in Section 9.5. Also, from an institutional perspective lecture capture has a much higher technology cost than a learning management system.

Also, students themselves can now use their own devices to create multimedia materials for project work or for assessment purposes in the form of e-portfolios. Media allow instructors, if they wish, to move a lot of the hard work in teaching and learning from themselves to the students. Media allow students to spend more time on task, and low cost, consumer media such as mobile phones or tablets enable students themselves to create media artefacts, enabling them to demonstrate their learning in concrete ways. This does not mean that instructor ‘presence’ is no longer needed when students are studying online, but it does enable a shift in where and how a teacher or instructor can spend their time in supporting learning.

9.4.4 Questions for consideration

You may be better answering these questions when you have read Section 9.5 on the affordances of media. However, I think you will find it interesting to answer these questions before reading Section 9.5, then compare your answers after you have read Section 9.5

  1. Are concerns about the possible cost/demands on your time influencing your decisions on what media to use? If so in what ways? Has this section on costs changed your mind?
  2. How much time do you spend preparing lectures? Could that time be better spent preparing learning materials, then using the time saved from delivering lectures on interaction with students (online and/or face-to-face)?
  3. What kind of help can you get in your institution from instructional designers and media professionals for media design and development? What media decisions will the answer to this question suggest to you? For instance, if you are in a k-12 school with little or no chance for professional support, what kind of media and design decisions are you likely to make?
  4. To what extent have you explored open educational resources in your subject area? Type in the name of your course or topic + OER into Google  and see what comes up. How would the availability of such free media influence the design of your teaching?
  5. If you were filling in the cells for Figure 9.4, what differences would there be with my entries? Why?
  6. In Figure 9.4, add the following media: e-portfolios (in computing) and add another section under computing: social media. Add blogs, wikis and cMOOCs. How would you fill in the cells for each of these for development, delivery, etc.? Are there other media you would also add?
  7. Do you agree with the statement: It would now be cheaper to replace face-to-face teaching with purely online learning, if cost was the only consideration? What are the implications for your teaching if this is really true? What considerations would still justify face-to-face teaching?

Feedback

Please! In particular:

  1. Are there more recent publications on the costs of different media (as distinct from online or blended learning in general) that I have missed and should include?
  2. How do you react to Figure 9.4? Is it a helpful way to think of the different conditions or factors that influence costs? If not, what approach would you take to this topic?
  3. How useful are the questions for consideration above (9.4.4) from an instructor’s perspective? Can you suggest better ones?
  4. Do you agree with the following statements:
    1. cost should no longer be an automatic discriminator in the choice of mediaChoose the mix of media that best meets your teaching needs, and don’t worry about which medium is likely to cost more.
    2. It would now be cheaper to replace face-to-face teaching with purely online learning, if cost was the only consideration. 
    3. university faculty have generally gravitated more to lecture capture for online course delivery, particularly in institutions where online or distance learning is relatively new, because it is ‘simpler’ to do than redesign and create mainly text based materials in learning management systems.
    4. Media allow students to spend more time on task, and low cost, consumer media such as mobile phones or tablets enable students themselves to create media artefacts, enabling them to demonstrate their learning in concrete ways. This does not mean that instructor ‘presence’ is no longer needed when students are studying online, but it does enable a shift in where and how a teacher or instructor can spend their time in supporting learning.
  5. Does this approach to the costs of digital media work for you? If not, what would you suggest?

Up next

The pedagogical affordances of different media:

  • text
  • audio
  • video
  • computing
  • social media
  • face-to-face teaching

References

Bates, A. (2005) Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge

Engle, W. (2104)UBC MOOC Pilot: Design and Delivery Vancouver BC: University of British Columbia

Hülsmann, T. (2000) The Costs of Open Learning: A Handbook Oldenburg: Bibliotheks- und Informationssytem der Universität Oldenburg

Hülsmann, T. (2003) Costs without camouflage: a cost analysis of Oldenburg University’s  two graduate certificate programs offered  as part of the online Master of Distance Education (MDE): a case study, in Bernath, U. and Rubin, E., (eds.) Reflections on Teaching in an Online Program: A Case Study Oldenburg, Germany: Bibliothecks-und Informationssystem der Carl von Ossietsky Universität Oldenburg

Rumble, G. (2001) The Cost and Costing of Networked Learning Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, Volume 5, Issue 2

University of Ottawa (2013)Report of the e-Learning Working Group Ottawa ON: The University of Ottawa

Are rich media better than single media in online learning?

Armando Hasudungan's Bacteria (Structure) YouTube video

Armando Hasudungan’s Bacteria (Structure) YouTube video

First of all, a happy New Year to everyone from almost the last place on earth to come into 2015. This is a discussion of the last characteristic or dimension of media and technology that influence teaching and learning for my open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age. It is also an important characteristic, more easy to define than the previous one (interactivity).

The historical development of media richness

In Section 8.2, ‘A short history of educational technology’, the development of different media in education was outlined, beginning with oral teaching and learning, moving on to written or textual communication, then to video, and finally computing. Each of these means of communication have usually been accompanied by an increase in the richness of the medium, in terms of how many senses and interpretative abilities are needed to process information. Another way of defining the richness of media is by the symbol systems employed to communicate through the medium. Thus textual material from an early stage incorporated graphics and drawings as well as words. Television or video incorporates audio as well as still and moving images. Computing now can incorporate text, audio, video, animations, simulations, computing, and networking, all through the Internet.

The continuum of media richness

Figure 8.  The continuum of media richness

Figure 8. The continuum of media richness

Once again then there is a continuum in terms of media richness, as illustrated in Figure 8. above. Also once again, design of a particular medium can influence where on the continuum it would be placed. For instance in Figure 8.1, different forms of teaching using video are represented in blue. Ted Talks are usually mainly talking heads, a televised lecture, as are often xMOOCs (but not all). The Khan Academy uses dynamic graphics as well as voice over commentary, and Armando Hasudungan’s You Tube video on the structure of bacteria uses hand drawings as well as voice over commentary. Educational TV broadcasts are likely to use an even wider range of video techniques.

However, although the richness of video can be increased or decreased by the way it is used, video is always going to be richer in media terms than radio or textbooks. Radio is never going to be a rich medium in terms of its symbols systems, and even talking head video is richer symbolically than radio. Again, there is no normative or evaluative judgment here. Radio can be ‘rich’ in the sense of fully exploiting the characteristics or symbol systems of the medium. A well produced radio program is more likely to be educationally effective than a badly produced video. But in terms of representation of knowledge, the possibilities of radio in terms of media richness will always be less than the possibilities of video.

The educational value of media richness

But how rich should media be for teaching and learning? From a teaching perspective, rich media have advantages over a single medium of communication, because rich media enable the teacher to do more. For example, many activities that previously required learners to be present at a particular time and place to observe processes or procedures such as demonstrating mathematical reasoning, experiments, medical procedures, or stripping a carburetor, can now be recorded and made available to learners to view at any time. Sometimes, phenomena that are too expensive or too difficult to show in a classroom can be shown through animation, simulations, video recordings or virtual reality. Furthermore, each learner can get the same view as all the other learners, and can view the process many times until they have mastery. Good preparation before recording can ensure that the processes are demonstrated correctly and clearly. The combination of voice over video enables learning through multiple senses. Even simple combinations, such as the use of audio over a sequence of still frames in a text, have been found more effective than learning through a single medium of communication (see for instance, Durbridge, 1984). The Khan Academy videos have exploited very effectively the power of audio combined with dynamic graphics. Computing adds another element of richness, in the ability to network learners or to respond to learner input.

From a learner’s perspective, though, some caution is needed with rich media. Two particularly important concepts are cognitive overload and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Cognitive overload results when students are presented with too much information at too complex a level or too quickly for them to properly absorb it (Sweller, 1988). Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what can be done with help. Rich media may contain a great deal of information compressed into a very short time period and its value will depend to a large extent on the learner’s level of preparation for interpreting it. For instance, a documentary video may be valuable for demonstrating the complexity of human behaviour or complex industrial systems, but learners may need either preparation in terms of what to look for, or to identify concepts or principles that may be illustrated within the documentary. On the other hand, interpretation of rich media is a skill that can be explicitly taught through demonstration and examples (Bates and Gallagher, 1977). Although YouTube videos are limited in length to around eight minutes mainly for technical reasons, they are also more easily absorbed than a continuous video of 50 minutes. Thus again design is important for helping learners to make full educational use of rich media.

Simple or rich media?

It is a natural tendency when choosing media for teaching to opt for the ‘richest’ or most powerful medium. Why would I use a podcast rather than a video? There are in fact several reasons:

  • cost and ease of use: it may just be quicker and simpler to use a podcast, especially if it can achieve the same learning objective
  • there may be too many distractions in a rich medium for students to grasp the essential point of the teaching. For instance, video recording a busy intersection to look at traffic flow may include all kinds of distractions for the viewer from the actual observation of traffic patterns. A simple diagram or an animation that focuses only on the phenomenon to be observed might be better
  • the rich medium may be inappropriate for the learning task. For instance, if students are to follow and critique a particular argument or chain of reasoning, text may work better than a video of a lecturer talking about the chain of reasoning.

In general, it is usually a useful guideline always to look for the simplest medium first then only opt for a more complex or richer medium if the simple medium can’t deliver the learning goals as adequately. However, consideration needs to be given to media richness as a criterion when making choices about media or technology.

This is the last of the characteristics of media and technology that can influence decisions about teaching and learning. The next section will provide an overview and summary.

References

Bates, A. and Gallagher, M. (1977) Improving the Effectiveness of Open University Television Case-Studies and Documentaries Milton Keynes: The Open University (I.E.T. Papers on Broadcasting, No. 77)

Durbridge, N. (1984) Audio cassettes, in Bates, A. (ed.) The Role of Technology in Distance Education London: Routledge (re-published in 2014)

Sweller, J. (1988) Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning, Cognitive Science, Vol. 12,

Vygotsky, L.S. (1987). Thinking and speech. In R.W. Rieber & A.S. Carton (eds.), The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky, Volume 1: Problems of general psychology. New York: Plenum Press. (Original work published 1934.)

Over to you

1. Do you agree that: ‘it is a useful guideline always to look for the simplest medium first‘.

2. How important do you think the richness of medium is when making decisions about the use of media and technology?

3. Do you agree with the placement of different media on this continuum. If not, why not?

4. Any other comments on media richness?

Next

The next section will try to pull together the chapter on Understanding Technology in Education into some sort of overview or conclusion, with a special emphasis on how to use these characteristics of media in decision-making. The next chapter will be on the pedagogical affordances of different media, which will be more concrete and less theoretical than the current chapter.

Moving beyond technology in designing online learning

Don't just sit there - DO something! Image: © www.earth911.com

Don’t just sit there – DO something!
Image: © www.earth911.com

This next post in my chapter on ‘Understanding Technology in Education’ for my book, Teaching in a Digital Age‘ is a long one, but it’s a topic I don’t want to chop up too much. This is probably going to be fairly controversial as I have a very idiosyncratic approach to the topic of media and technology in education. So let’s see how you react to this section:

Defining media and technology

Philosophers and scientists have argued about the nature of media and technologies over a very long period. The distinction is challenging because in everyday language use, we tend to use these two terms interchangeably. For instance, television is often referred to as both a medium and a technology. Is the Internet a medium or a technology? And does it matter?

I will argue that there are differences, and it does matter to distinguish between media and technology, especially if we are looking for guidelines on when and how to use media or technologies. There is a danger in looking too much at the raw technology, and not enough at the personal, social and cultural contexts in which we use technology, particularly in education. We shall also see that media and technology represent different ways altogether of thinking about the choice and use of technology in teaching and learning.

Technology

There are many definitions of technology (see Wikipedia for a good discussion of this). Essentially definitions of technology range from the basic notion of tools, to systems which employ or exploit technologies. Thus ‘technology refers to tools and machines that may be used to solve real-world problems’ is a simple definition; ‘the current state of humanity’s knowledge of how to combine resources to produce desired products, to solve problems, fulfill needs, or satisfy wants’ is a more complex and grandiose definition (and has a smugness about it that I think is undeserved – technology often does the opposite of satisfy wants, for instance.).

In terms of educational technology I think we have to consider a broad definition of technology. The technology of the Internet involves more than just a collection of tools, but a system that combines computers, telecommunications, software and rules and procedures or protocols. However, I baulk at the very broad definition of the ‘current state of humanity’s knowledge’.  Once a definition begins to encompass many different aspects of life it becomes unwieldy and ambiguous.

I tend to think of technology in education as things or tools used to support teaching and learning. Thus computers, software programs such as a learning management system, or a transmission or communications network, are all technologies. A printed book is a technology. Technology often includes a combination of tools with particular technical links that enable them to work as a technology system, such as the telephone network or the Internet.

However, for me, technologies or even technological systems do not of themselves communicate or create meaning. They just sit there until commanded to do something or until they are activated or until a person starts to interact with the technology. At this point, we start to move into media.

Don't just sit there - SAY something! Image: © www.earth911.com

Don’t just sit there – SAY something!
Image: © www.earth911.com

Media

Media (plural of medium) is another word that has many definitions and I will argue that it has two distinct meanings relevant for teaching and learning, both of which are different from definitions of technology.

The word ‘medium’ comes from the Latin, meaning in the middle (a median) and also that which intermediates or interprets. Media require an active act of creation of content and/or communication, and someone who receives and understands the communication, as well as the technologies that carry the medium.

Media linked to senses and ‘meaning’.

We use our senses, such as sound and sight, to interpret media. In this sense, we can consider text, graphics, audio and video as media ‘channels’, in that they intermediate ideas and images that convey meaning. Every interaction we have with media, in this sense, is an interpretation of reality, and again usually involves some form of human intervention, such as writing (for text), drawing or design for graphics, talking, scripting or recording for audio and video. Note that there are two types of intervention in media: by the ‘creator’ who constructs information, and by the ‘receiver’, who must also interpret it.

Computing can also be considered a medium in this context. I use the term computing, not computers, since although computing uses computers, computing involves some kind of intervention, construction and interpretation. Computing as a medium would include animations, online social networking, using a search engine, or designing and using simulations. Thus Google uses a search engine as its primary technology, but I classify Google as a medium, since it needs content and content providers, and an end user who defines the parameters of the search, in addition to the technology of computer algorithms to assist the search. Thus the creation, communication and interpretation of meaning are added features that turn a technology into a medium.

Thus in terms of representing knowledge we can think of the following media for educational purposes:

  • Text
  • Graphics
  • Audio
  • Video
  • Computing

Within each of these media, there are sub-systems, such as

  • text: textbooks, novels, poems
  • graphics: diagrams, photographs, drawings, posters, graffiti
  • audio: sounds, speech
  • video: television programs, YouTube clips, ‘talking heads’
  • computing: animation, simulations, online discussion forums, virtual worlds.

Furthermore, within these sub-systems there are ways of influencing communication through the use of unique symbol systems, such as story lines and use of characters in novels, composition in photography, voice modulation to create effects in audio, cutting and editing in film and television, and the design of user interfaces or web pages in computing. The study of the relationship between these different symbol systems and the interpretation of meaning is a whole field of study in itself, called semiotics.

From an educational perspective, it is important to understand that media are not neutral or ‘objective’ in how they convey knowledge. They can be designed or used in such a way as to influence (for good or bad) the interpretation of meaning and hence our understanding. Some knowledge therefore of how media work is essential for teaching in a digital age. In particular we need to know how best to design and apply media (rather than technology) to facilitate learning.

Media as organisations

The second meaning of media is broader and refers to the industries or significant areas of human activity that are organized around particular technologies, for instance film and movies, television, publishing, and the Internet. Within these different media are particular ways of representing, organizing and communicating knowledge.

Thus for instance within television there are different formats, such as news, documentaries, game shows, action programs, while in publishing there are novels, newspapers, comics,  biographies, etc. Sometimes the formats overlap but even then there are symbol systems within a medium that distinguish it from other media. For instance in movies there are cuts, fades, close-ups, and other techniques that are markedly different from those in other media. All these features of media bring with them their own conventions and assist or change the way meaning is extracted or interpreted.

In education we could think of classroom teaching as a medium. Technology or tools are used (e.g. chalk and blackboards, or Powerpoint and a projector) but the key component is the intervention of the teacher and the interaction with the learners in real time and in a fixed time and place. We can also then think of online teaching as a different medium, with computers, the Internet (in the sense of the communication network) and a learning management system as core technologies, but it is the interaction between teachers, learners and online resources within the unique context of the Internet that are the essential component of online learning.

Media of course depend on technology, but technology is only one element of media. Thus we can think of the Internet as merely a technological system, or as a medium that contains unique formats and symbol systems that help convey meaning and knowledge. These formats, symbol systems and unique characteristics (e.g. the 140 character limit in Twitter) are deliberately created and need to be interpreted by both creators and end users. Furthermore, at least with the Internet, people can be at the same time both creators and interpreters of knowledge.

Over time, media have become more complex, with newer media (e.g. television) incorporating some of the components of earlier media (e.g. audio) as well as adding another medium (video). Digital media and the Internet increasingly are incorporating and integrating all previous media, such as text, audio, and video, and adding new media components, such as animation, simulation, and interactivity. When digital media incorporate many of these components they become ‘rich media’. Thus one major advantage of the Internet is that it encompasses all the representational media of text, graphics, audio, video and computing.

Lastly, there is a strong organizational context to media. Industries are often organized around specific media, and hence media use and interpretation is influenced by strong cultural or organizational values. For instance, Schramm (1974) found that broadcasters often have a different set of professional criteria and ways of assessing ‘quality’ in an educational broadcast from those of educators (which made my job of evaluating the programs the BBC made for the Open University very interesting). Today, this professional ‘divide’ can be seen between the differences between computer scientists and educators in terms of values and beliefs with regard to the use of technology for teaching. At its crudest, it comes down to issues of control: who is in charge of using technology for teaching? Who makes the decisions about the design of a MOOC or the use of an animation?

The affordances of media

Graphs can represent, in a different way, the same concepts as written descriptions or formulae. Understanding the same thing in different ways generally leads to deeper understanding.  Image: © Open University 2013

Different media have different educational effects or affordances. If you just transfer the same teaching to a different medium, you fail to exploit the unique characteristics of that medium. Put more positively, you can do different and often better teaching by adapting it to the medium. That way students will learn more deeply and effectively. To illustrate this, let’s look at an example from early on in my career as a researcher in educational media.

In 1969, I was appointed as a research officer at the Open University in the United Kingdom. At this point the university had just received its royal charter. I was the 20th member of staff appointed. My job was simple: to research into the pilot programs being offered by the National Extension College, which was delivering low cost non-credit distance education programs in partnership with the BBC. (So you think MOOCs are new? The NEC was offering them over 40 years ago). The NEC was ‘modelling’ the kind of integrated multimedia courses, consisting of a mix of print and broadcast radio and TV, that were to be offered by the Open University when it started.

We sent out questionnairesby mail on a weekly basis to students taking the NEC courses. The questionnaire contained both pre-coded responses, and the opportunity for open-ended comments, and asked students for their responses to the print and broadcast components of the courses. We were looking for what worked and what didn’t work in designing multimedia distance education courses.

When I started analyzing the questionnaires, I was struck particularly by the ‘open-ended’ comments in response to the television and radio broadcasts. Responses to the printed components tended to be ‘cool’: rational, calm, critical, constructive. The responses to the broadcasts were the opposite: ‘hot’, emotional, strongly supportive or strongly critical or even hostile, and rarely critically constructive. Something was going on here.

Since the OU was going to spend 20% of its annual budget on the broadcasts from the BBC, I persuaded the university to appoint me as a lecturer to research into the effectiveness of the television and radio programs, which I did for a period of nearly 20 years.

The initial discovery that different media affected students differently came very quickly, but it took longer to discover in what ways media are different, and even longer why, but here are some of the discoveries I and my colleagues in the Audio-Visual Media Research Group at the OU made (Bates, 1985):

  • the BBC producers (all of whom had a degree in the subject area in which they were making programs) thought about knowledge differently from the academics with whom they were working. In particular, they tended to think more visually and more concretely about the subject matter. Thus they tended to make programs that showed concrete examples of concepts or principles in the texts, applications of principles, or how academic concepts worked in real life. Academic learning is about abstraction and higher order levels of thinking. However, abstract concepts are better understood if they can be related to concrete or empirical experiences, from which, indeed, abstract concepts are often drawn. The television programs enabled learners to move backwards and forwards between the abstract and the concrete. Where this was well designed, it really helped a large number of students – but not all.
  • students responded very differently to the TV programs in particular. Some loved them, some hated them, and few were indifferent. The ones that hated them wanted the programs to be didactic and repeat or reinforce what was in the printed texts. Interestingly though the TV-haters tended to get lower grades or even fail in the final course exam. The ones that loved the TV programs tended to get higher grades. They were able to see how the programs illustrated the principles in the texts, and the programs ‘stretched’ these students to think more widely or critically about the topics in the course. The exception was math, where borderline students found the TV programs most helpful
  • the BBC producers rarely used talking heads or TV lectures. With radio and later audio-cassettes, some producers and academics integrated the audio with texts, for instance in mathematics, using a radio program and later audio-cassettes to talk the students through equations or formulae in the printed text (similar to Khan Academy lectures on TV)
  • using television and radio to develop higher level learning is a skill that can be taught. In the initial foundation (first year) social science course (D100), many of the programs were made in a typical BBC documentary style. Although the programs were accompanied by extensive broadcast notes that attempted to link the broadcasts to the academic texts, many students struggled with these programs. When the course was remade five years later a distinguished academic (Stuart Hall) was used as an ‘anchor’ for all the programs. The first few programs were somewhat like lectures, but in each program Stuart Hall introduced more and more visual clips and helped students analyze each clip. By the end of the course the programs were almost entirely in the documentary format. Students rated the remade programs much higher and used examples from the TV programs much more in their assignments and exams for the remade course.

Why are these findings significant?

At the time (and for many years afterwards) researchers such as Richard Clark (1983) argued that ‘proper’, scientific research showed no significant difference between the use of different media. In particular, there were no differences between classroom teaching and other media such as television or radio or satellite. Even today, we are getting similar findings regarding online learning (e.g. Means et al., 2010).

However, this is because  the research methodology that is used by researchers for such comparative studies requires the two conditions being compared to be the same, except for the medium being used (called matched comparisons, or sometimes quasi-experimental studies). Typically, for the comparison to be scientifically rigorous, if you gave lectures in class, then you had to compare lectures on television. If you used another television format, such as a documentary, you were not comparing like with like. Since the classroom was used as the base, for comparison,  you had to strip out all the affordances of television – what it could do better than a lecture – in order to compare it.  Indeed Clark argued that when differences in learning were found between the two conditions, the differences were a result of using a different pedagogy in the non-classroom medium.

The critical point is that different media can be used to assist learners to learn in different ways and achieve different outcomes. In a sense, researchers such as Clark were right: the teaching methods matter, but different media can more easily support different ways of teaching than others. In our example, a documentary TV program aims at developing the skills of analysis and the application or recognition of theoretical constructs, whereas a classroom lecture is more focused on getting students to understand and correctly recall the theoretical constructs. Thus requiring the television program to be judged by the same assessment methods as for the classroom lecture unfairly measures the potential value of the TV program. In this example, it may be better to use both methods: didactic teaching to teach understanding, then a documentary approach to apply that understanding. (Note that a television program could do both, but the classroom lecture could not.)

Perhaps even more important is the idea that many media are better than one. This allows learners with different preferences for learning to be accommodated, and to allow subject matter to be taught in different ways through different media, thus leading to deeper understanding or a wider range of skills in using content. On the other hand, this increases costs.

How do these findings apply to online learning?

Online learning can incorporate a range of different media: text, graphics, audio, video, animation, simulations. We need to understand better the affordances of each medium within the Internet, and use them differently but in an integrated way so as to develop deeper knowledge, and a wider range of learning outcomes and skills. The use of different media also allows for more individualization and personalization of the learning, better suiting learners with different learning styles and needs. Most of all, we should stop trying merely to move classroom teaching to other media such as MOOCs, and start designing online learning so its full potential can be exploited.

Implications for education

If we are interested in selecting appropriate technologies for teaching and learning, we should not just look at the technical features of a technology, nor even the wider technology system in which it is located, nor even the educational beliefs we bring as a classroom teacher.  We also need to examine the unique features of different media, in terms of their formats, symbols systems, and cultural values. These unique features are increasingly referred to as the affordances of media or technology.

The concept of media is much ‘softer’ and ‘richer’ than that of ‘technology’, more open to interpretation and harder to define, but it is a useful concept, in that it can also incorporate the inclusion of face-to-face communication as a medium, and in that it recognises the fact that technology on its own does not lead to the transfer of meaning.

Over time, as new technologies are developed, and are incorporated into media systems, old formats and approaches are carried over from older to newer media. For instance early movies followed quite closely the format and structure of the music hall and theatre, and took several decades to establish their own unique characteristics.

This of course is what we do with technology in education. We try either to incorporate new technology into old formats, as with clickers and lecture capture, or we try to create the classroom in virtual space, as we do with learning management systems. What we are still developing but not yet clearly recognizing are formats, symbols systems and organizational structures that exploit the unique characteristics of the Internet as a medium. It is difficult to see these unique characteristics clearly at this point in time. However, e-portfolios, mobile learning, open educational resources such as animations or simulations, and self-managed learning in large, online social groups are all examples of ways in which we are gradually developing the unique ‘affordances’ of the Internet.

Given the need to create and interpret meaning when using media, trying to use computers to replace or substitute for humans in the education process is likely to be a major mistake, at least until computers have much greater facility to recognize, understand and apply semantics, value systems, and organizational factors, which are all important factors in ‘reading’ different media. But at the same time it is equally a mistake to rely only on the symbol systems, cultural values and organizational structures of classroom teaching as the means of judging the effectiveness or appropriateness of the Internet as an educational medium.

On the other hand, picking horses for courses – the right medium for the job – or adapting teaching to exploit fully the affordances of different media, requires a much better understanding of the strengths and limitations of different media for teaching purposes. However, given the widely different contextual factors influencing learning, the task of media and technology selection becomes infinitely complex. This is why it has proved impossible to develop simple algorithms or decision trees for effective decision making in this area. Nevertheless, there are some guidelines that can be used for identifying the best use of different media within an Internet-dependent society. To develop such guidelines we need to explore in particular the unique educational affordances of text, audio, video and computing, which is the next task of this chapter.

Over to you

I should have given you enough meat to chew on in this excerpt. So let me have your comments. In particular:

1. Do you find the distinction between media and technology helpful? If so, how would you classify the following (either medium or technology):

  • newspaper
  • printing press
  • television program
  • Netflix
  • classroom
  • MOOC
  • discussion forum

2. Do you think that knowledge becomes something different when represented by different media? For instance, does an animation of a mathematical function represent something different from a written or printed equation of the same function? Which is the most ‘mathematical’: the formula or the animation?

3. What in your view makes the Internet unique from a teaching perspective, or is it just old wine in new bottles?

4. Text has publishers and newspaper corporations, audio has radio stations, and video has both television companies and YouTube. Is there a comparable organization for the Internet or is it not really a medium in the sense of publishing, radio or television?

5. Is it possible to define the affordances of a particular medium or technology? Won’t the affordances depend on the context in which the medium is used? If so, does this make the concept of affordances meaningless in education, given the various contexts in which media and technology could be used?