A growing number of online universities offer multimedia learning components such as chat rooms, collaborative projects, and web conferencing. These multimedia components can help online students effectively master the subject matter. But, multimedia learning also has a downside: inexperienced students can easily become distracted with the platform instead of the subject. It's easy to waste time chatting on course message boards or tuning out a podcast lecture.
Here's how to make the most of the multimedia learning opportunities offered online:
As the face-to-face discussion alternative, chat rooms can be a useful place to hear different viewpoints, share your knowledge, and receive clarification for questions.
The Multimedia Challenge: If students from your online class are particularly social, it can be easy to carry on unnecessary and off-topic discussions when you should be completing assignments.
The Solution: Log-in to course chat rooms only when there is a mandatory meeting or when you have a specific, educational reason to be there (no, chatting about last night's sitcom is not considered educational). If the temptation is too great, try to register for classes that have a closed chat room when formal discussions are not in progress.
New web applications make it easy for multiple students to work together on an online project such as an essay or a visual.
The Multimedia Challenge: Collaborating on a group project over the internet can be more difficult than working together in-person. Group members are more likely to squabble over minor details and demand their own way.
The Solution: Try to keep the number of group members to a minimum. Spend your first group meeting dividing tasks and setting some ground rules. If you find someone you feel comfortable working with, try to be in the same group as often as possible.
Email accounts make it easy for your peers and professors to contact you, even if you're not online.
The Multimedia Challenge: Email is one of the biggest time wasters. As you develop a rapport with your classmates, expect your inbox to be filled with messages unrelated to your studies
The Solution: Set up two email accounts - one for academic use and one for personal use. That way, you won't have to sort through personal emails when you're trying to study.
Message boards allow students to create thought-out responses to discussion questions. As the discussion threads are generally saved, message boards become a resource when studying for exams and writing papers.
The Multimedia Challenge: When message board posts are mandatory they often become stale restatements of previous posts.
The Solution: If you are required to post, take the time to think before you write. The beauty of message boards is that, unlike chat rooms, an immediate response is not necessary. Browse through previous posts to make sure that you are adding something unique to the discussion. Hopefully others will follow.
Podcast lectures let you listen to your professor at any time and any location. You don't have to worry about missing an important detail because you can listen to podcasts as many times as you want.
The Multimedia Challenge: Because students know that they can have a "second chance" to listen, it is tempting to tune out and miss the information presented in podcasts.
The Solution: Consider podcasts formal lectures and act likewise. Before pressing "play," grab a pen and pencil. Even though you can listen again, you probably won't want to. So, take detailed notes throughout the entire podcast.
Watching a video lecture makes it possible to see and hear your professor, as though you were attending a lecture in real life. Unlike podcasts, video lectures allow students to view demonstrations and pick up on visual cues.
The Multimedia Challenge: Video lectures don't offer students the opportunity to ask questions. Because there is no way to raise a virtual hand, questions are often forgotten or ignored.
The Solution: Don't let your questions go unanswered. In addition to taking notes, write down any questions you think of while watching a video lecture. Keep these questions on hand to ask your professor during a chat session or via email.
Web conferencing allows students to talk with their professor in real time. Web conferences vary, but often students are able to see their professor (or conference presenter) on the screen and chat using headsets.
The Multimedia Challenge: In this real time format, students often get nervous and forget what they have to say. Dealing with a new technology can be disorienting, even for typically outgoing participants.
The Solution: Preparation is key to being a successful participant. Check out the conference program ahead of time to make sure you are comfortable. Log-in a few minutes early, just in case you encounter any problems. Always keep a previously prepared notebook with possible questions and comments in front of you. Taking a few extra steps will ease technology fears and put you ahead of the game.