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 Editor’s Note: In this era of image rich web pages, e-learning is for the most part text based, even when graphics, motion, and sound would clarify concepts and enhance learning. This action research used multimedia to solve as learning problem. Two multimedia options were compared with text only presentation.

Using Multimedia with Blackboard for Graduate Courses in Teacher Education

Muhammad K. Betz

Teaching and learning online has become a mandate for educators involved in schooling or training in post high school instructional endeavors. Ask students why they prefer online courses and the most likely answer will be that it is far and away more convenient. However, researchers claim that students often rate online courses lower than face-to-face courses thereby providing a legitimate rationale for finding ways to improve online learning efforts (Payne, 2005). This author, who has hosted almost 150 online courses from different platforms, is another researcher who is trying to improve the quality of online courses, in a general sense, by including multimediated instruction. Further, while one of the most attempted methods for improving online courses is through the incorporation of multimedia, there are researchers using multimedia merely as a novelty. In particular, Harris (2002) cautions that the use of multimedia for any format of instruction is subject to the Hawthorne effect. The Hawthorne effect derives from studies conducted at Western Electric’s Hawthorne site in the 1930’s, and its premise is that participants respond positively to novelties introduced by research (Shadish, Cook, & Campbell, 2002). The purpose of the present research effort was not to overtly introduce a novelty, i.e., multimedia content, into an online course, but instead to solve a problem, or what might better be termed, to improve an existing practice.

The current research effort is a single case study in the form of action research, a research effort created to solve a classroom problem using a systematic approach (Sapp, 1994). This type of research can be used by teachers or instructors or trainers at any level of educational endeavor to solve the problems that they face in their efforts to teach effectively so that students can learn optimally. The first step of an action research study, then, is to simply identify a problem of a reasonable scope that can be worked with. In this instance the problem was that students in online graduate courses in a M.Ed. program for teachers were having problems understanding the complexity of assignments as they were worded in course syllabi as posted in online bulletin boards. An effort involving two forms of multimedia was created to try to solve this problem.

Review of Literature

A leading researcher in the area of multimedia effects on instruction and learning has been Mayer (Mayer, 1997; Mayer, Dow, & Mayer, 2003; Mayer, Sobko, & Mautone, 2003; Mayer & Moreno, 2003). He asserts as a seminal premise in one of his earlier efforts that his research has indicated that presenting verbal explanations alone in instructional situations is less conducive to learning for some students than presenting verbal explanations in conjunction with multimedia (Mayer, 1997). Mayer proposes that the generative theory of learning best accounts for the type of learning related to multimedia use. He states:

In a generative theory of multimedia learning, the learner is viewed as a knowledge constructor who actively selects and connects pieces of visual and verbal knowledge. The basic theme of a generative theory of multimedia learning is that the design of multimedia instruction affects the degree to which learners engage in the cognitive processes required for meaningful learning within the visual and verbal information processing systems. (p. 4)

He reviewed eighteen studies in which students did better on problem solving when presented with verbal and visual formats and an additional six studies that indicated that multimedia worked best for students with low prior knowledge and high spatial ability. He concluded by noting that current uses of multimedia too often focused on, “what computers can do rather than on a research-based theory of how students learn with technology (p. 17).”

Two authors (Shapira &Youtie, 2001) reported the results of an experiment with multimedia and distance learning that had several points of resemblance with the current action research effort. An online seminar on industrial modernization was offered in 1997 that used the Internet to convey multimedia content to remote learners in conjunction with those on site. The classes were held in a multimedia classroom with audio transmission capabilities to remote sites. Guest speakers prepared slides that were posted to a course web site prior to seminar sessions, so that remote students could view the slides while concomitantly listening to speakers’ voices. The audio files were then added to the slides on the Web site after the class so that students could revisit the lecture as often as they wanted. The results of this study showed increased times for preparations of multimediated classes, a plethora of delimiting technological glitches, and high levels of recall for material both heard and read. The authors concluded that while pragmatic considerations dominated assumptions about the efficacy of the multimedia course components, multimedia benefited student learning.

Moreno and Mayer (1999) looked for cognitive principles that could guide efficacious uses of multimedia, based on the premise that multimedia has traditionally been used in relation to available technological capacities. The researchers conducted two experiments to examine the effects of two cognitive principles associated with multimedia, i.e., the contiguity principle and the modality principle. They state, “the contiguity principle…states that the effectiveness of multimedia instruction increases when words and pictures are presented contiguously in time or space” (p.358). The modality principle relates to the premise that auditory presentation results in higher recall than visual presentation. They cited experiments which evidenced superior learning when material was presented in the auditory mode.

In the first experiment, the goal was to distinguish between contiguity and modality effects in multimediated instruction. One hundred thirty-two university students were divided into three groups, which received various arrangements of text and graphics, to measure spatial contiguity effects. The second experiment, using a similar population of students, received text and graphics multimedia either concomitantly or non-concomitantly, to measure temporal contiguity effects. The results of these two experiments supported both the contiguity and modality principles as valid considerations for determining optimal uses of multimedia.

In an important research effort that involved the analysis of instructional scenarios that included multimedia, Mayer and Moreno (2003) discussed endemic theoretical ambiguities involved in the use of multimedia. They state:

We define multimedia learning as learning from words and pictures that are intended to foster learning. The words can be printed (e.g., on-screen text) or spoken (e.g., narration). The pictures can be static (e.g., illustrations, graphs, charts, photos, or maps) or dynamic (e.g., animation, video, or interactive illustrations). p. 43

They go on to identify the goal of multimediated instruction as meaningful learning, or learning that requires deep processing. In opposition to meaningful learning is what the authors call, cognitive load, which relates to the limits of learning from multimedia. The human mind is said to process information on two channels: “an auditory/verbal channel for processing auditory input and verbal representations and a visual/pictorial channel for processing visual input and pictorial representations” (p.44). A conflict naturally occurs in using dual channels for acquiring learning material, in that the channels can be overloaded.

These authors’ research is portrayed as an effort to achieve meaningful learning with reduced cognitive load by identifying optimal uses of multimedia that interfaces with learners two channels of sensory input in a least taxing way. Skillful manipulation of the multimedia in relation to the two channels of input to reduce cognitive load on the one hand, and to allow meaningful learning on the other, is achieved by nine techniques:

  1. Off-loading: or balancing input between the two channels;

  2. Segmenting: or placing time segments between content segments;

  3. Pretraining: or preinstructing students on content;

  4. Weeding: or removing extraneous content;

  5. Signaling: or placing coding clues into content;

  6. Aligning: or optimally placing text and graphics;

  7. Eliminating redundancy: or avoiding identical spoken and written content;

  8. Synchronizing: or presenting related graphics and narration simultaneously;

  9. Individualizing: or prescreening individual learners for required cognitive skills. (Mayer & Moreno, 2003, p. 46)

The last article in the review (Mayer, Sobko, & Mautone, 2003) builds on previous studies by adding a degree of specificity to the considerations involved in creating optimal multimedia. The premise of this study is that traditionally, multimediated learning had been characterized as a form of information delivery; however, the premise of this study is that multimediated learning can be construed as social conversation based on the theory of social agency. As the authors state, “The main thesis in social agency theory is that social cues in a multimedia message can prime the social conversation schema in learners” (p. 419). The authors hypothesized that students contracted more meaningful learning from multimedia when it induced social agency in them.

In the first of two experiments conducted to test the social agency hypothesis in relation to multimediated instruction, half of sixty-eight participants received narration in a computer-based, multimediated lesson spoken by a male, native English speaker, while the other half received the same narration from a male speaker with a Russian accent. The results of this first experiment showed that the difference in narrators did not affect retention of material from the lesson but did significantly affect transfer of learning as evidenced by problem solving transfer, in favor of the non-accented voice. In the second experiment, one voice was a male, native-English speaker, while the other was a male, machine-synthesized voice, and here, voice difference affected significant differences in learning related to retention and transfer. The researchers concluded that the social agency induced by a more familiar voice narration in the multimediated instruction improved retention and transfer of learning. The practical implications of the study were to add a voice principle to considerations of optimal uses of multimedia, based on the theory of social agency, and as a complicating factor for consideration in addition to cognitive load theory.

The Current Study

The present research effort is one that is classified as action research, in that a project was created in response to persistent student complaints in graduate level, online classes. These classes were part of the essential core of courses in a Master of Education program for subject area specialty areas at the secondary level and for two advanced certification areas: school administration and reading specialist. The courses were taught from the online platform of Blackboard and required students to complete weekly reading assignments along with five-question reading quizzes, to participate in online discussions on at least three of the five days of the work week, and to complete one or two weekly writing assignments sequentially arranged to build knowledge and skills aligned with broad learning outcomes. The two courses were Fundamentals of Curriculum Development and Advanced Teaching Strategies. The latter course in particular involved complex assignments related to learning how to create and then actually produce units of instruction that are based on curriculum standards and that require the use of complex performance tasks. The performance tasks units required creating both individual and group components, prerequisite instruction, and formative and summative assessments. Further, after students created “regular” performance task-based units of instruction, they were required to create accompanying units for enrichment and remediation purposes (Glatthorn, 2000).

The complexity of the written assignments required to build the knowledge and skill prerequisites needed to construct performance task-based units became a problem for students who had difficulty understanding assignments’ complexities and subtleties, based on the text directions posted in Blackboard. As a result of expressed students’ concerns, an action research project was instigated to alleviate the problem. The solution for the problem derived from multimedia research discussed above that targeted meaningful learning as the predicted outcome of multimedia instruction. In this instance, however, the intended use of multimedia was to convey more thorough directions to students related to complex writing assignments. The augmented capacity, at least theoretically, of multimedia to foster meaningful processing of information, was the justification for the project.

In consultation with the university’s Center for Instructional Technology, a decision was made to create multimediated Microsoft PowerPoint™ presentations and presentations with video using Microsoft Producer™. Each week’s writing assignments would be advanced to students using PowerPoint slides. Then, a makeshift video studio was created so that, with the aid of a Sony digital camcorder, video clips of the instructor explaining the details of assignments were combined with the slides, using Producer for half of the assignments. The result was that students were able to read the assignments on PowerPoint slides for each week of the course and during half of the weeks could also hear and see the instructor describe the assignments to them in enriching and supplemental detail.

The course consisted of eight weekly modules, and four of these were constructed to include video-based, supplemental descriptions of weekly writing assignments. At the end of the course, students were administered an online survey related to their perceptions of the value of the multimediated descriptions of assignments. The questions about the multimediated aspects of the course were embedded with other questions about the conduct and content of the course in a traditional end-of-course survey to avoid any Hawthorne effect interference with the result. One section of the course survey required students to answer six questions about their uses and perceptions of accompanying PowerPoint and Producer presentations

Results of Study and Conclusion

The purpose of an action research study is to seek ways to solve problems in the practice of education, and as stated above, the protocol of formal research studies is not required, in that the information is usually pertinent only to the given situation. The basis for this particular research was an identified problem relating to students’ understanding of text only directions to complex writing assignments in an 8-week, online graduate course on the Advanced Teaching Strategies. Two treatment options were devised to remedy the problem, the use of PowerPoint presentations to elucidate the meaning of assignments directions and the use of PowerPoint presentations integrated with video segments of the instructor explaining the nuances of meaning and details of the writing assignments.

To determine whether or not the treatments had the intended effect, six related questions were embedded in an end-of-course survey. The results of that survey are included in Table 1.

Table 1. Student Survey





I viewed the PPTs without videos.




I recommend PPTs to improve learning from writing assignments.




I viewed the PPTs with videos.




I recommend PPTs with videos to improve learning from writing assignments.




I recommend using more PPTs without videos.




I recommend using more PPT with videos.




The responses from the student survey indicated that students clearly perceived the addition of PowerPoint presentations both without and with videos as enhancements to learning from written assignments. Further, for this particular population of students, there was a slight preference for PowerPoints without videos over PowerPoints with videos, which could be due to the increased technological requirements of including videos. As an action research study, the devised treatments were considered as successful interventions to improve the comprehension of and learning from writing assignments in this graduate level, online course. As a result of this effort, the inclusion of PowerPoints, both without and with videos, to improve student learning in this instructor’s online courses will be designated as a best practice. Further research is needed to differentiate the effects of including or omitting videos in PowerPoints on student learning.


Glatthorn, A. (1999). Performance standards & authentic teaching. Eye on Education.

Harris, C. (2002). Is multimedia-based instruction Hawthorne revisited? Is difference the difference? Education, 122(4), 839-843.

Mayer, R. (1997). Multimedia learning: Are we asking the right questions? Educational Psychologist, 32, 1-19.

Mayer, R., Dow, G., & Mayer, S. (2003). Multimedia learning in interactive self-explaining environment: What works in the design of agent-based micorworlds? Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(4), 806-813.

Mayer, R., Sobko, K., & Mautone, P. (2003). Social cues in multimedia learning: Role of speaker’s voice. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(2), 419-425.

Mayer, R., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. (1999). Cognitive principles of multimedia learning: The role of modality and contiguity. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(2), 358-368.

Payne, R. (2004). Multimedia helps online courses simulate face-to-face interactivity. Online Classroom, May, pp. 5, 7.

Sapp, M. (1994). Practicum guide for the problem-solving experience. Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Nova Southeastern University.

Shaddish, W., Cook, T., & Campbell, D. (2002). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for generalized causal inference. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 623.

Shapira, P., & Youtie, J. (2001). Teaching with internet and multimedia technologies: Insights from an online seminar on industrial modernization. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 21, 71-83.

About the Author

Muhammad Betz

Muhammad Betz Ph.D.

Muhammad K. Betz has taught almost 150 courses online in many different platforms. He has been a high school English teacher and football coach, a corporate trainer, and is now a Professor and departmental Chair in Teacher Education.

His degrees in field are: B.S., Ball State University; M. Ed. and Ph.D., University of Texas-Austin.

His specialty areas include Instructional Technology, Curriculum and Instruction, and Teacher Education.
Email: mbetz@sosu.edu



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