Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Digital Multimedia & Distance Education: Can They Effectively Be Combined?

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Digital Multimedia & Distance Education: Can They Effectively Be Combined?

Article excerpt

Two of the most dynamic instructional technologies available to today's educators are multimedia-based learning and distance education. I worked with a system that not only has attempted to marry these two approaches, but also incorporates the two most popular forms of distance education: online learning and videoconferencing. One software package that has combined all of these different technologies is LearnLinc. LearnLinc's capabilities include desktop videoconferencing, online chat, a digital whiteboard feature, polling software, Web access, screen captures and an ability to transmit any commercial computer application across a network, including multimedia-enhanced lessons developed with an authoring tool (Lister et al. 1999). Kent State University adopted LearnLinc to drive its distributive learning program, an effort to offer course-work synchronously at multiple sites across its seven-campus system.

I was one of the first instructors to use this system, teaching a beginning microcomputer course to 28 undergraduates located at four different sites, three of them at a distance. At the end of the course I developed a survey for students to complete anonymously. Students provided feedback on their experiences, indicating what they felt were the strengths and weaknesses of this dynamic, complex learning system.

Digital Multimedia Lessons

What is the potential of what some have termed "distributive learning"? The system is computer-based, so it can deliver instruction that takes advantage of the computer's considerable capabilities. Instruction can be systematically planned in advance and developed carefully, following principles of good instructional design. The lessons can then be used repeatedly by students in subsequent classes and revised on an ongoing basis. They can also be made highly interactive so students receive feedback as to how they are doing. When they are struggling, the computer can provide remediation. It can also branch to other parts of the unit if the material is either too difficult or too easy for the student, adjusting the material to their level of expertise. Students can move at their own pace through the unit, so instruction can, in this fashion, be highly individualized.

These computerized lessons can include a variety of multimedia resources: pictures, sounds and video materials. The visual material can help clarify key points, video can bring real experiences into the classroom, and animation can help demonstrate how processes work. Audio can also be very helpful, especially for topics such as music and language instruction. The lessons developed for my course with the Toolbook authoring language were well received by the students. Particularly successful were some sequences for teaching Web-based computer skills that made effective use of screen captures from the Web. These screens were then marked with highlighting to indicate critical menu selections, displays, transformations, etc. Procedures could effectively be demonstrated on these simulated Web screens, showing students exactly what menu choices would appear and which commands they needed to select.

However, there were some problems with the system. First, only a small percentage of my particular course curriculum really seemed appropriate for this type of programmed instruction. Much of the class time was devoted to completing exercises using various computer applications or discussions about how to effectively use technology in the classroom. Then there was the considerable time, trouble and expense associated with preparing programmed material for the class (Muldner 1997). The assistance of a programmer was required to help develop these materials using Toolbook, or Authorware, which complicated the course preparation process for me.

Another problem associated with the development of the interactive, multimedia lessons was that copyright was a major concern of those directing this distributive learning project. …

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