In higher education teachers often fail to exploit the instructional advantages of audiovisual materials. Teachers in some disciplines use media very heavily and we know that learning is enhanced by the use of visual aids because pictorial representations and symbols clarify verbal explanations and provide additional clues for memory. Effective teachers plan ways to engage the visual sense as an important part of the teaching process, regardless of what they teach. Visual aids are most often used to illustrate or reinforce lecture material, but they can also be used to stimulate discussion and encourage student participation.
Many of us have been the victims of teachers who used media poorly and some may feel that these materials are inappropriate for college-level instruction. As a practical matter, however, there are three factors that tend to keep us from using more instructional media: lack of awareness about their benefits, lack of knowledge about how to use them, and lack of media equipment in our classrooms.
The terms “instructional media” and “audiovisual aids” generally refer to materials that teachers use as lecture support (e.g., slides and transparencies) or as an additional learning stimulus for their students (e.g., films and videos). The term “instructional technology” traditionally includes these materials, but nowadays applies more often to computer-based media and electronic hybrids. As promising as some of these newer forms of media might be, their everyday application by faculty will only occur when classrooms are equipped with the appropriate technology. In this article, we are primarily concerned with the traditional forms of classroom media and their appropriate applications.
It is true that, in many fields, one can teach effectively with only blackboard and chalk, but instructors who do so may be missing an opportunity to be even more successful in their teaching. Blackboards have shaped our education from kindergarten through graduate school and we are loath to abandon an old friend, but as a lecture aid the blackboard has severe limitations. We spend valuable class time writing or drawing on the board, and if a lecture requires detailed diagrams, color-coding, or developmental sequences, the blackboard is inadequate to the job. The simplest audiovisual aids (slides or transparencies) can easily accomplish these tasks.
Researchers long ago settled the question of whether audiovisuals can improve learning – it is clear that they can – and current investigations focus instead on more complex questions, such as the ways media can stimulate critical thinking and help students develop a cognitive framework of the course material. The early research in media provides several good reasons for using audiovisuals in teaching:
– Pictorial examples and symbolic representations of concepts not only clarify lecture material, they provide additional cues for memory.
– Regardless of their learning styles, most students prefer mediated over non-mediated instruction because it is intrinsically more stimulating. However, there is no evidence that the attention spans of college freshman have changed in the last 25 years, and attempts by teachers to be more entertaining for entertainment’s sake are neither desirable nor effective.
– Finally, faculty who use media as lecture aids report that they save a great deal of class time because they don’t need to write as much on the blackboard. Diagrams, pictures, graphs, lists of terms, and lecture outlines can be prepared ahead of time, and (at least in survey courses) many of these materials need only be prepared once because the subject matter does not vary much from year to year.
One objective for a presentation on biological anthropology might be for students to distinguish between (and understand the implications of) the four different forms of primate locomotion. An effective visual aid (possibly a slide or transparency) would clearly illustrate primate locomotion, particularly the elements of movement that are most significant for understanding the concept. A better choice for the teacher would be a video clip that showed live examples of each type of primate locomotion. On the other hand, an overhead transparency that illustrates various forms of animal locomotion would not be as effective because it contains so much information irrelevant to the learning objective. Sometimes teachers use materials they have prepared for one course to illustrate lectures in another one. Unless the objectives are the same, this practice is usually counterproductive because students are confused by data or graphic material that is irrelevant to understanding the concept under review.
For example, the objectives for showing a documentary about the ways women are portrayed in advertising in a Sociology class might include the following:
– Identify specific socialization messages in the ads shown in the film
– Evaluate the type and quality of evidence provided in the film to support its thesis
– Relate the film’s thesis to the way other groups are treated in advertisements
Teachers of subjects that require heavy media use, such as art history, should be aware of the problem of “media fatigue.” Also, providing breaks for discussion or some other activity between viewing sessions will helps reduce media fatigue.
Computers can enhance instruction in a variety of ways, and teachers are finding novel applications for the technology every day. As an alternative to classroom instruction, computers allow students to learn material on their own, at their own pace. They can provide learning experiences that simulate real-life problems, both in and out of class. Teachers can also use computers as a presentation medium that goes beyond the traditional advantages of audiovisual aids.
Most people have little difficulty using overhead projectors with a flat-panel LCD because the technology is very simple. Transparencies can be prepared ahead of time to present more complex and polished images than are possible if drawn on the spot. Some teachers also duplicate the transparencies on handouts to insure that students get complete and accurate images. This step also insures that students don’t have to divide their attention between copying a diagram and listening to the teacher’s explanation.
Most classrooms are equipped with projection screens, and many rooms also have lockers containing projection equipment. If you intend to use audiovisuals in your classes, it is wise to request an appropriately-equipped classroom, particularly if you wish to show many films or videos. Slide projectors and overhead projectors can sometimes be obtained from your department, and the Instructional Technologies center can supply them for a few instructors. However, some teachers prefer to use their own slide projectors and a few have even purchased portable overhead projectors.
Some instructors who have had one bad experience with a faulty or broken machine have sworn off the use of media altogether. Although problems are frustrating, they can be avoided with some forethought and planning. It is essential to practice with the piece of equipment you will be using so that you will understand its foibles and know how to make simple repairs, if necessary. A professor who used an overhead projector often in his class was stymied when the bulb burned out in the middle of a lecture and he had to continue without his charts and graphs. Setting up the equipment (document cameras, dedicated computer projection systems and interactive whiteboards) and trying it out in the classroom prior to the beginning of the semester can help identify potential problems related to lighting, availability of electrical outlets, sound quality, and physical obstructions. If the problems cannot be solved, you can request a different room. Experienced teachers also test their machines before each class so that they are sure things are working properly. Often, simple problems can be corrected before class begins.
Audiovisuals can be used in many more ways than for lecture support. For example, one History professor makes transparencies of data such as changing trends of income over time or the movement from rural to urban areas, but he doesn’t lecture on the material. Instead, he asks the students to interpret the data in class and discuss its implications for the historical issues they are studying in the course. Many imaginative teachers employ media as test materials, to stimulate class discussion, to enhance student presentations, in situations requiring instant replay, and to create simulations of real-life situations.
In another use of video technology, a Physical Education instructor videotapes her students’ golf swings and requires them to analyze their own mistakes before she provides corrective advice. Since she also shows training videos in the class, students are accustomed to viewing models of appropriate movement. Action on both types of videos can be re-run as many times as necessary to study the action.
A professor of Anthropology uses many films in a course focusing on the Third World, but he assigns different viewing objectives to different groups of students for each film. One group may be asked to watch a film as members of a development agency, while another group would watch it as Third World peasants. Class discussion about the film is rich and varied because the different perspectives provide a focal point for debate.
Teachers in the social sciences may use case studies that illustrate a situation or problem for which there may be a variety of solutions (some of them mutually exclusive) or no clear solution at all. The situation is sufficiently ambiguous that a variety of interpretations are possible. The objective is for students to identify the sociological principles that apply, decide whether these theories fully explain the woman’s condition, and propose various ways the situation might play out.
The key to using film or video effectively is careful planning. Films should never be used as fillers for times when you plan to be out of town. Films should serve clearly-stated learning objectives and be carefully integrated into the rest of the course. Remember that you will be turning your class over to the medium for a significant length of time, so the film should provide something important to your students’ understanding of the material. If only a portion of a film is relevant to the course, just show that portion rather than waste time with the entire program. If a film is too long to fit into the class period, show part of it one day and part of it another day.
There are many more ways that audiovisuals can be used to enhance teaching and learning, and many of these ideas are simple extensions of traditional teaching approaches.
Megan Wilson is a teacher, life strategist, successful entrepreneur, inspirational keynote speaker and founder of https://Ebookscheaper.com. Megan champions a radical rethink of our school systems; she calls on educators to teach both intuition and logic to cultivate creativity and create bold thinkers.