Enhancing large class teaching through the use of rich-media materials

A new paper by myself and my e-learning colleague Ian Hutt has just been published by the Higher Education Research and Development Journal.  The article,  Enhancing large class teaching: a systematic comparison of rich media materials , reports on a pilot project at the University of Manchester to supplement face-to-face lectures with a set of rich media materials.  The context of the study is a very large, highly internationalised taught MSc programme in the UK with over 85% non-native English speakers. The rich media materials focused on the teaching of core concepts as well as capturing the full-lecture delivery, and comprised audio podcasts, audio narrated slides, and short video segments with supporting slides. We investigated how students used the various materials and which they preferred.  We found that students overwhelmingly found these rich media materials helpful, using them as revision guides and supplements to lecture notes rather than as a replacement for lecture attendance. Students rated most highly the full-lecture videos followed by audio narrated slides.

What we did

Previous research in this area has focused on the uses, benefits and drawbacks of individual rich media tools. This study provided a systematic comparison of a set of rich media materials which each delivered the same material in a variety of formats –audio podcasts, audio narrated slides, short video segments and full video lecture capture.  We piloted these materials on one unit of the MSc programme in semester 1, 2011/2012 to 184 students attending 12 weekly face-to-face lectures. We collected data from the students by means of a web-based questionnaire and a series of focus groups, with our aim being to seek answers to the following research questions:

  1. Which rich media materials did the students prefer and why?
  2. To what extent did the materials aid student learning?
  3. For what purposes did the students use the rich media materials?
  4. How did the additional rich media materials compare to traditional face to face lectures as a tool for learning?

What we found

Snapshot of the study findings
Snapshot of the study findings

Our conclusions and recommendations for practice

  • Most popular material was full lecture video – served as a “comfort blanket to students”
  • Given resource constraints (time to produce) narrated slides are a good second best
  • Used by students to supplement note taking in lectures and as revision aids
  • Rich media materials aided student learning, but the richness, responsiveness and relationship of the face-to -face lecture are hard to replicate using rich media
  • Anecdotally we can report that less lecture time spent on one way delivery of course content and repeated explanations of the same core concepts
  • Students strongly in favour of the rich media resources, requesting their use be extended and more concepts covered
  • Students, particularly on a large, international programme need as many resources as possible to help them optimise their learning.

Impact of the research

Since 2012 the original pilot has been extended across the majority of course units in our MSc in the Management of Projects and the MSc in Project Management Professional Development Programme and over the next twelve months will be rolled out across remainder of the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering.

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