Bells and Whistles in online courses: pros and cons

Since Spring terms have begun and I’ve been in the process of designing, redesigning and updating a number of courses, it has again made me think about the use of video and other media in online teaching. One of the great things about the software and learning platforms that we use, Blackboard, ANGEL, and others, is that they have the capacity to offer a student a very rich learning experience, that address a number of different learning modalities. We have the ability to do podcasts, insert video, use animations and incorporate all sorts of other fun teaching strategies. However exciting these may be, I have discovered a number of difficulties in implementation that frequently leave my online classrooms much more text oriented than I would prefer. Frequently I have noted that students come to me with difficulty in accessing the media as it is presented in the LMS. Perhaps they don’t have the right media viewer, there are system compatibility issues, they might be using a public computer, or they might have a poor internet connections.  Perhaps the student is in the military deployed in another country where for any number of reasons they are unable to take advantage of the features we want to add into our classrooms.

As a result, I currently do not base any assessments on online videos or podcasts. I make them optional. However, YouTube is providing much better opportunities for working with media in online courses. It is easy for just about everybody to access, easier for the student to handle than streaming video, and there is so much great stuff out there that instructors can incorporate for students to analyze, enjoy, and think about.  As an instructor, of course, if you desire, you can put up your own content there as well and direct students to the link.

I also really wanted to briefly address the use of Second Life in courses. For the past several years there has been a huge buzz about this virtual environment as a teaching resource. Of course it’s cool, and yes I think it would offer a number of possibilities, but the fact is we have a pretty robust set of computers here at my home, and Second Life frequently does not run well on those!  Again, I think it’s something that is good to keep in mind for an option, and something to look at for the future as more people have access to better and faster technology, but we need to keep in mind that the key to online education is accessibility. That means we need to make sure that the very basis of our courses can be accessed and enjoyed by everyone. Thus, we need to be creative with our assignments and engaging in our teaching style until we are sure that everyone can enjoy the addition of more complex media. The last thing we want to do is make any of our students feel as though they are not getting the full classroom experience. Does that mean that we may be a bit functionally limited, yes, I have found that to be the case, but things are changing.  This also means that as much as we want to get crazy with the bells and whistles, that simplicity is not necessarily a bad thing, and we need to consider the most easily accessible media options for students, which sometimes means going for a lower tech option.

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Online Educational Specialist