Chapter Seven Reading

Just when I thought I couldn’t get any further behind in my reading and blogging…

Chapter seven in Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology by Michelle D. Miller is about incorporating multimedia effectively.

Miller starts off the chapter by explaining the philosophy of Perceptual Learning Styles (aka VAK)–and then she proceeds to characterize it as one the greatest psychological myths.  Yet it endures.

Her argument against labeling learners as visual vs. auditory vs. kinestethic is that we are constantly recoding information across those different modalities–so it makes little sense to assume we are restricted by whichever method is presented by a teacher.  Miller adds that perceptual learning theory can be dangerous because it can be a convenient excuse for students that absolves them of the responsibility of taking an active approach to their learning (the idea of students being active participants in their own learning is a consistent thread woven through this book).

After describing the pitfalls of VAK, Miller moves on to Multimedia Theory, which–to me, at least–seems to be conventional wisdom; the idea that adding pictures and diagrams to textual information is superior to text alone when it comes to enhancing the learning experience.  Another best practice she advocates is including audio narration with video instead of text because the text causes students to have to shift visual attention back and forth.  She also advises that narration should be conversational to promote better retention, and that there’s a “Goldilocks just right” between verbatim narration of video and highly discrepant narration.

Some other multimedia best practices according to Miller:

  • Signaling principle: visually highlight the most important points you want students to retain so they stand out.
  • Spatial contiguity principle: place text/captions as close to graphics as possible even within diagrams or animations.
  • Temporal contiguity principle: present spoken narration and graphics as close in time as practical–both at once is better.
  • Segmenting principle: break longer presentations into shorter segments and let students control rate of advancing from one part to the next.
  • Pretraining principle: set up a module to teach major concepts and terminology to be completed beforehand
  • Modaility principle: students learn better from pictures plus audio narration than from pictures plus text–unless there are technical words or symbols or students are non-native speakers.

Miller presents another idea, which is similar to one from one of her earlier chapters–where she suggests that whatever measures instructors take to design their lessons for attention-impaired students will also benefit students that have not been diagnosed with an attention impairment.  In this chapter, Miller advocates that instructors design their course material with accessibility guidelines in mind.  She reasons that such an approach will not only cater to students with visual, hearing and other impairments, but those accessibility guidelines will help create better multimedia content for non-impaired students.  A win-win.

Like the more recent chapters, this chapter also read like a cookbook in some ways–which, again, is not a criticism by any means.  It just adds to this book’s value as a continuing reference when designing or redesigning a course.

Two more chapters to go: “Motivating Students” and “Putting It All Together”.


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