Motivation and the medium

In the book “Distance Education: A Systems View”, authors Michael Moore and Greg Kearsley discuss the various ways to deliver instruction. One statement that particularly resonated with me was the idea that “Motivation is a more critical variable than the medium…” The variety of instructional tools that are present today can provide both instructors and learners ways to interact with the material in a way that is motivating to each personally, but do they really make a dent in the critical variable of a student’s own motivation to learn?

As a student, I took a distance course that was delivered via html, with gorgeous aesthetic. It was so visually appealing that it took me a few minutes to realize that the bulk of content I was hoping for was missing! I would have much preferred that the instructor put all of the material in PDF, or a recorded screencast, rather than spending such a huge amount of development time on the look and feel of each website. The html pages provided a good study guide, but there was no supplementary delivery of information that would be akin to a lecture.

Moore and Kearsley state that “In a good delivery system, such direct transmission of information would be done with print technology.” I disagree with this point because I have worked with so many faculty who make fantastic content-delivery videos on their own, using a screen recording system over a PowerPoint or a electronic whiteboard that allows them to work through example problems, tell relevant stories, and more. Their content does need to be restructured from their face-to-face experiences, but the main material delivery system is video in many of the classes I support.

Another tool affecting my own motivation is the idea of access. When I was an undergraduate, we did not have primary journal papers available to us outside of the library. Access is the biggest advantage that I can see in today’s electronic publications, especially as a distance learner. The ability to use EZProxy to access a wealth of original work from any location adds so much richness to the content of any course! Since I started in higher education 3+ years ago, these tools have already become so much better/faster/easier to use. The fantastic WPI librarians work with instructors to provide direct links to relevant papers and other resources within the library system on myWPI, making the access nearly seamless on the student’s end.

Access to resources goes beyond peer-reviewed work of course. Moore and Kearsley state that the main problem with multimedia as a content-delivery tool is that it requires “creativity and professional expertise to make good-quality programs.” Of course this is true, and the ATC’s Campus Media Service staff are kept incredibly busy creating these high-quality materials. But the ability to access material that has already been created is infinitely easier than it was in the pre-YouTube era. Blackboard 9.1 even has a YouTube-specific tool to integrate media directly into a course site. However, because it is so relatively “easy” to do (see previous TTL posts about Multimedia projects), many of our on-campus students find themselves tasked with an unfamiliar assignment: creating a video to deliver content of their own. Without a full understanding of the time and resources that are required for such an assignment, faculty sometimes put these projects on the syllabus as an afterthought or bonus. Recently, we are noticing that more and more faculty are involving the Instructional Technologists and Media Specialist when or before classes begin, so that we are able to assist students with proper planning, equipment and production throughout the term. This leads to some amazing student work!

Do these various media present a new way of motivating students, or are the packages irrelevant? Can the affect of content delivery medium on student motivation be measured?