Over the summer I have been a running project looking at how students use a variety of “rich-media”, such as key-concept videos and tutorial solution videos. This sort of material is being used more and more widely in education – for example here at Manchester University lectures are available as podcasts and I use my YouTube channel in teaching – yet there is surprisingly little known about how students use rich-media or what formats and styles are most beneficial educationally. In the project we (me, Ranim Dahli, Fiona Saunders and Andy Gibson) examined how students on first year technical courses used media-rich material. This is the biggest study to date of such usage and also one of the first where the class were all young enough to have used rich-media throughout their earlier education. The full findings of the project will be available shortly in a journal paper and also presented internally and externally to the University, however, the summarised results and conclusions are:
The data collected are interesting and wide-ranging, with some being stark. For example the graph below shows usage of pod-casts and key-concept videos again time, guess the date of the exam!
Others are more subtle but still interesting. For example the following two figures show respectively the audience retention against time for key-concept videos and tutorial-solution videos. Clearly students use these types of video very differently – the spikiness of the tutorial-solution videos show students jump to specific locations in the video for the precise information they need, by contrast the smooth curves in the key-concept video data shows generally students start the beginning and watch until (near the) end.
- All types of rich-media are valued by students as they allow for learning at any time and in any place. They also allow repeated viewing of presentations of difficult material – something traditional lectures do not allow. This aspect is also useful for students with certain disabilities.
- Reduction in attendance at lectures is often cited as reason for avoiding producing media-rich material, particularly lecture podcasts. The effects on lecture attendance are however small (and two-way). Further, concern about lecture attendance is only relevant if lectures are seen as *the* central way of teaching – by adopting a blended learning philosophy and accepting that students will use whichever communication channel is most useful to them, concerns about lecture attendance disappear.
- Media-rich material is best produced to be as short and information-dense as possible. Five minutes is a sensible upper-bound for a key-concept video because beyond this time it is difficult for viewers to keep focussed. This is very much in contrast to traditional lectures and something academics should bear in mind when producing material, with much existing material on, for example, YouTube, being too long to be effective.