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Teaching with Multimedia: Value of Interactive Media to Informing Learner Support

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lois M Warner
October 26, 2018


Distance education evolved from letter writing early in the 18th Century to radio broadcasts late in the 19th Century, and, eventually, to the sophisticated learning management systems (LMSs) on hand via the internet today. Earlier methods used in distance learning lacked benefits to students of sustained interaction with their instructors and peers, leaving learners’ knowledge assessment dependent on grading written assignments alone. Contemporary LMSs provide instructors with other opportunities to closely monitor learning and to identify students who need additional support. They engage students through self-paced use of multimedia (e.g. e-text, hyperlinks, podcast and video), and in discussion forums. Through ongoing course activities, instructors can identify and help weaker students, and keep stronger students motivated. The purpose of this article is to highlight the value of LMSs to informing learner support.

LMSs and Informing Learner Support

Many schools and departments of public administration in the U.S. offer online courses, and the demand continues to increase, given the convenience presented to participants. A lot of the scholarship about online courses covers a wide array of subjects, focusing on developing delivery techniques for the relatively new internet-based teaching environment, and on rationalizing incorporating electronic multimedia as teaching tools. The effectiveness of discussion forums, is a popular area of enquiry, as a major online learning activity.

There are at least three dozen LMSs currently being used in online education, and it is useful to note many contain mechanisms for tracking additional knowledge building processes. For example, instructors can observe students’ interaction with the course materials taking note of the frequency and timeliness in accessing course content. When the instructor notes that a student, who received a low grade delayed opening the assignment until the day before it was due, they can send reminders to promote better approaches.

Pearl Jacobs, in her study on engaging students in online courses, emphasizes that feedback is an essential part of assessment processes. If mistakes are treated as learning opportunities, feedback allows students to recognize what they need to do to perform well. Jacobs also agrees that feedback about their progress gives students hope and positive expectations for themselves. LMSs facilitate feedback to students about all aspects of their participation and performance, by emails, announcements, comments in discussions and to students individually, via text or voice.

Some LMSs provide summaries of the level of difficulty experienced by students in responding to exam questions, advising instructors when questions need to be revised for clarity. This increases fairness in grading and engages students more by building confidence in assessment processes. These mechanisms help to guide instructors’ intervention, so as to avoid failures while fostering students’ greater satisfaction with online courses.

Directions in the Study of Online Education

Analytics have been used in sports and medicine to accomplish precision for some time. More recently, learning analytics entered the field of education and building on large amounts of data collected through LMSs, instructors can analyze students’ behavior in online activities, create learner profiles and develop models to predict learning outcomes. For example, they can identify and measure indicators associated with both failure and success. Florence Martin and Abdou Ndoye, in their paper entitled “Using learning analytics to assess student learning in online courses,” hold that the online learning environment provides more opportunities for student-centered approaches to learning and assessment.

According to Martin and Ndoye, online assessments may focus on comprehension, discussion, reflection and project-based assignments, facilitating qualitative and quantitative analysis, as well as social network analysis. Qualitative data measures may include, for example, students’ use of concepts and theories in their posts, multiple perspectives, key phrases and common patterns. Quantitative data measures may include scores, time spent and frequency of access, while social network analysis data may include frequency and length of posts and themes covered during student to faculty and student to student interactions in discussions. Indeed, such finite assessment cannot be made in regular face-to-face learning environments.

In addition to providing data measures for student-learning in the online setting, LMSs provide mechanisms for comparing and evaluating the effectiveness of the different types of multimedia that constitute an integral part of online course content and delivery. Although learning analytics has not yet attracted a lot of attention by scholars of public administration education, the successful use of analytics in other fields is certainly encouraging for public administration educators. Much can be derived from analyses of LMSs that are the same or similar to those being used in public administration courses.

Concluding Remarks

Worthy of note are studies on learning analytics and educational data mining being done by Ryan Baker of the University of Pennsylvania. Another resource is the Gordon Commission, which focuses on advancing technology to improve educational measurement and student achievement. Among the journals that focus on learning analytics are the Journal of Interactive Online Learning. A list of peer reviewed journals for online teaching and learning is available from a website hosted by Utah State University. These provide insight into the current discourse and identify opportunities for publishing on this topic.

Author: Lois Warner is an Assistant Teaching Professor at the School for Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She is also the Teaching Resources Coordinator and is Chair-Elect for ASPA-SPAE’s Section on Public Administration Education.

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