Academic Exchange Quarterly      Winter    2005    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  9, Issue  4

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Multimedia Integration in Online Courses


Lan Li, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, NE

James W. King, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, NE

Matthew Kutscher, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, NE


Li, is an instructor and doctoral student at the College of Education and Human Sciences (CEHS), King, Ed.D., is an associate professor at the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education & Communication, Kutscher, is a doctoral student and instructional designer at CEHS.



Rapidly developing technologies have influenced online education causing substantial changes in course design. We interviewed six online educators in a mid-western university about their course development experiences. Special attention was paid to multimedia integration.  Questions included: multimedia integration in course components, multimedia development, multimedia training, multimedia and student learning, and future multimedia trends.  Three themes emerged – a growth in multimedia integration in online classes, more focus on multimedia facilitated interaction and feedback, and the positive relationship between instructor training and multimedia integration in online courses.



Education has experienced three major historical revolutions (Ehrmann, 1999).  The first happened 2500 years ago when oral communication between teachers and students was supplemented and in some case replaced with reading and writing. A second upheaval occurred when students and teachers shared the same facilities such as libraries and laboratories, shaping today’s educational community and campus life.


The most recent revolution has been “made possible by computing, video and telecommunication” (Ehrmann, 1999). Fahmy (2004) termed this a “technology revolution” and asserted that this change enlarged learner groups and, in particular, is now having inevitable impacts on the way universities deliver services.


Looking back at the last century, there had been a profound relationship between technologies and education, especially in the field of distance education. As a matter of fact, “all communication technologies have been used at some point as vehicles to transmit instruction and support education at a distance, including letters, newspapers, film, radio, television, and most recently, computers with web-based connections” (Clark, 2003). While the impact of technology applications on distance education had been generally positive, the force was relatively small until the widespread arrival of the World Wide Web in 1995.  This “changed the distance learning landscape” (James, 2001) and made online education the centerpiece of distance education. It is probably safe to say that computers and the Internet shaped and continue to mold the way online education appears today.


Computer technology and Internet applications have unremittingly developed at an astonishingly exploding speed. In 2000 US Internet users were estimated to be over 95,000,000, 33% of the national population. In June 2005, only five years later, US Internet users climbed to over 202,000,000, 68% of the population (“Internet World Stats”, n.d.). America evolved a net generation and the Internet has become the choice communication and information source for many people. For this newly emerged wireless “net generation,” technology is everywhere.


Higher education, like any other segment in our society, is influenced by technologies and always strives for the necessary changes to use it (Fahmy, 2004). “The information revolution that is radically altering our whole world at an ever-accelerating pace touches every aspect of university life” (“University of Michigan: president’s information revolution commission report”, n.d.). This change has powerfully influenced the distance education environment. Broadband growth, course management systems, and easy to use software have infiltrated the ways online education is presented and delivered. From 1996 on, when course management systems like WebCT, e-college, and Blackboard began to emerge, many instructors started using online instruction, mostly text-based word-processed documents, Adobe Acrobat PDF files, online discussion boards, and e-mail exchanges. Today, as more multimedia presentation tools such as audio, video, animations, and games have migrated to the Web, it would be expected that instructors would be revising their text based online courses by adding the more robust multimedia tools.


In this setting, we undertook a series of preliminary interviews with faculty to gain insights into the current status of online education compared to five years ago and the changes over time in design and delivery of instruction with a particular focus on multimedia use and integration. We sought to better understand how online educators are using multimedia in their courses and to predict where online multimedia use might be headed.



To study the perceptions and experiences of educators who have been developing online teaching materials, we visited 15 online course sites offered by various departments at a large mid-western university. Each of the 15 course sites was categorized according to the degree of multimedia integration (1= text based to 5 = multimedia rich).


Six online courses representing each of these five levels of multimedia integration were purposefully sampled from the 15 reviewed course sites. Of the six, two representative courses from level four were selected because of their very complete descriptions and their capability to help us understand multimedia integration possibilities.  Course instructors of the six online courses were then interviewed.


Interviews were organized into five sections related to multimedia integration in the online course.  Questions were open ended and covered:


1. Course components ¾ multimedia (such as text, graphics, audio and video, etc) integrated in the course five years ago; multimedia integrated in the course currently; description of new multimedia application(s); advantages and disadvantages of new multimedia application(s); and the reason(s) for utilizing multimedia into course delivery.

2. Course development ¾ means by which multimedia course materials were developed (by instructors and/or external assistants); expectations about instructional designers’ roles in online course development.

3. Training ¾ attendance at any training to learn online instruction or multimedia development; future development needs.

4. Student learning ¾ instructor perception of the satisfaction level of student learning with multimedia course delivery; desirable multimedia improvements to enhance student learning.

5. Trends ¾ expectations of multimedia course components in the future; prediction of the impact of new multimedia tools on online course delivery.


The researchers conducted the interviews with instructors. Some interviews were done in-person and some were collected by telephone; Notes were made during all the interviews. A thematic approach was used to analyze data obtained from the interviews (Creswell, 2005). The interview data were coded based on the level of multimedia integration. This was done for each of the five sections.  Next, we collapsed the five sections into one and looked for similar coding among the interview data. Then we reviewed the aggregated data to see if there were commonalities or themes; that is, we looked at all the interview data to identify similar comments, common applications, and results from multimedia integration between the six courses. The aggregated data revealed three overarching multimedia themes.



Theme One: Multimedia Integration

To promote meaningful learning, online instructors are starting to incorporate multimedia products to present subject matter to students.  Products used include PowerPoint slideshows, Flash multimedia animations, or streaming video. All the instructors interviewed stated that, compared with their course presentations five years ago, they now have more multimedia materials included, such as pictures, PowerPoint slides, audio and video, either as downloadable QuickTime movies in a course site or on a CD mailed to students.


Compared with five years ago, both faculty and students have access to more advanced computer hardware and software, allowing for the integration of various multimedia components. This also reflects the growth of Broadband applications to even remote learners.  One instructor indicated, “The technology has improved to the point that few students now have difficulty accessing the materials that I have created for the class. Formerly, there were students who struggled with configuring their computer properly.” All faculty recognized and agreed with the growth in technology sophistication.


All interviewed instructors predicted that more integration of multimedia would be a future development for online courses. Compared to five years ago, today’s online courses are somewhat more media rich; this is because of the development of easy to use programs like PowerPoint.  In addition, technology itself has improved to the point that few students now have trouble with their computers or accessing class multimedia materials. In 2005, advanced technologies, increasing online capacity and personal experiences with online classes would make technology-savvy students out of most learners. However, one instructor did state her concern regarding limited faculty time to design and develop high quality multimedia materials.  All instructors were concerned about the fast changing media such as expanded broadband applications that created new learning demands from students.


Theme Two: Interaction and Feedback with Multimedia Tools

In addition to multimedia integration, a second theme surfacing from interview data was the substantial increase of student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction because of multimedia use. All the instructors interviewed use web-based discussion boards to enhance instructor-student and student-student interaction. Three instructors also indicated that they were striving to improve the level of feedback through multimedia tools like discussion boards, chat rooms, or e-mailed video feedback.


One of the six instructors used the online chat tool provided in the course management system to promote instructor feedback in the final exam review session. Another instructor noted the feature of attaching and retrieving examples of feedback across student work. One teacher used PowerPoint with audio to prepare students for tests and to provide group feedback.  Another instructor is starting to make small “movies” of herself in her office to welcome students to class, to provide introductions to the instructional units, and to offer group and individual feedback on selected course activities and exercises. From our interview sample, it appears that multimedia integration in online courses is growing in instructor applications for feedback and interaction.



The importance of interaction and feedback in education has been widely studied and well documented in the literature (Chickering & Gamson, 1987, 1991). Research suggests that interaction and feedback are strong in promoting student perceptions of quality learning, fostering student development and encouraging student engagement (e.g. King & Doerfert, 1996; Topper, 2005).  Due to the geographic separation of instructor and students in online education, web-based interaction and feedback are particularly critical.


Theme Three: Instructor’s Role in Course Development and Training

We found that all six instructors interviewed stated they got help and assistance from diverse sources such as instructional designers housed in their department or through the university, or the use of graduate students in some cases.  However, the degree of support varied. Interestingly, our analysis indicated that instructors of media robust courses tended to have a large individual involvement in their courses’ multimedia development. For example, the instructor of the most media robust course did most of the multimedia development and integration by himself, receiving some assistance for developing a web-based sign-up sheet. On the opposite end, the instructor whose course was mainly a text-based site was involved the least in course multimedia development.  Most of the multimedia work for this instructor was made and integrated by instructional designers provided by his college. 


Multimedia training emerged as another issue. Five of six instructors interviewed attended training sessions, workshops or relevant conferences about the use of multimedia in online instruction. Topics ranged from practical skills such as how to use course management systems, working with multimedia products like PowerPoint, Acrobat, or Dreamweaver, to theoretical approaches such as design principles of online instruction. When we ranked the level of course multimedia integration and the level of instructor training participation, it appeared that there was a positive relationship between these two factors; that is, the higher level of multimedia integration in online courses was associated with more multimedia training for instructors.



Our preliminary data suggest a continuum in online course design and development.


o  The most multimedia robust course site (evaluated on the degree of multimedia integrated and the level of interaction supported by multimedia technologies) is associated with more instructor involvement/participation in multimedia development/integration. The large portion of instructor involvement seems to be associated with more staff development and training.


o  The least multimedia robust course site (evaluated on the degree of multimedia integrated and the level of interaction supported by multimedia technologies) is associated with comparably less instructor involvement/participation in multimedia development/integration. In these cases, instructional designers did most of the multimedia development. The smaller portion of instructor involvement seems to be associated with less staff development and less training.


This study suggests that instructor training plays a very essential role in multimedia integration. Training appears to correlate positively with instructor involvement of multimedia development. At the same time, the latter has a reciprocal relationship with the degree of multimedia integration. This interpretation suggests and reinforces the importance of training, which provides educators the opportunities to understand design principles of online teaching and master the skills of using multimedia technologies. However, since the sample size of this study is small (only six online instructors were interviewed), we suggest that further research with a bigger sample size is warranted.


From this study, it appears that multimedia integration is gradually but steadily taking place in online courses, especially where faculty have been involved in training. This trend is inevitable as an outcome of the impact of today’s rapidly developing technologies. Fascinating technologies are building higher education a generation of technology-savvy students. As a result, more multimedia rich online education environments are needed to fulfill student needs.



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