Employing Multimodal Strategies in Online Teaching

Categories: Online Learning, Research Skills, Teaching, Tools and Resources

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In August 2020 we are focusing on Teaching and Learning Research. We will explore classroom and online instruction in research methods, as well as research foundations and experiences in other curricular courses. Dr. Linda Bloomberg serves as Mentor in Residence this month. The whole series can be found through this link.


Online education can take a wide variety of shapes and forms, including technology platforms (learning management systems, social media platforms), media modality (text, imagery, videos, audios, etc.), instructional approaches (direct instruction, inquiry-based, flipped classroom etc.), student arrangement (individual, small groups, larger groups), and temporal arrangements (asynchronous and synchronous tools). The challenge is how to craft the experience for your diverse students, thereby engaging them in authentic learning experiences within this often unfamiliar, virtual environment. The following top 10 tips dig deeper into the use and application of asynchronous and synchronous tools.

This article is the third of a series of six sets of tips for teaching and learning online written by Linda Dale Bloomberg, a professor of education at Northcentral University and MethodSpace’s mentor-in-residence for August 2020. Click here to see the full series and here to learn more about Bloomberg.

1 Engagement is Front and Center
Research supports a clear link between instructor engagement, learner engagement, learning, and persistence. Offer multiple ways for your students to engage in the course, and commit to ensuring a learning experience that promotes deep learning. As an instructor you have a responsibility to recognize which tools and formats (document and media) support accessibility and which do not. Be aware of using content and materials thoughtfully and inclusively, including both synchronous and asynchronous activities.  Keep open channels of communication at all times. If you are able, consider posting a video check-in for students at the same time every day.

2 Facilitate Ongoing Interaction
Thoughtful facilitation methods and combinations of methods facilitate interaction, and build student engagement and persistence. This includes creating opportunities for frequent interactions between instructors and students, students and course content, and among students. Collaborative learning is a way for students to work together on assignments or tasks, build knowledge collectively, think critically, and support each other. Frequent interaction combats isolation, increases the sense of connectedness and ongoing engagement, and builds a sense of community.

3 The Multimedia Principle
Working in the online educational environment provides access to a variety of tools and resources. Based on the multimedia principle, the role of an online instructor can and should extend beyond verbal and written communication to include audio and video modes of communication and teaching, which is vital to engage learners and ensure their academic development. The technology that is currently available allows you to increasingly diversify your instructional strategies by creating alternative ways of communicating information, thereby broadening engagement opportunities, and expanding the ways in which learners can understand the content, and express and present their learning.

4 Asynchronous Tools: What are These?
In the online environment, students are learning the same material at different locations and time zones. Asynchronous tools include communication and teaching methods that do not occur in real-time, such as discussion boards, Prezi or PowerPoint presentations, YouTube, Screencast-o-Matic video, and podcasts. Social media options can also be used to creatively and meaningfully to deliver learning educational content, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Kahoot, and Padlet. The announcement/chat tool in the LMS enables ongoing communication, forming an essential first point of contact, and a touchstone for students every time they log into the classroom.

5 Asynchronous Tools: How and When to Use?
Use discussion boards and the announcement tool wisely and often so that student feel your presence. Effectively incorporate audio and visual materials by rethinking face-to-face teaching materials and transforming these into content that makes best use of the online medium. Rather than simply transcribing and posting face-to-face lectures, amplify the learning experience with images to make abstract concepts easier to understand and remember. Often publishers will post figures from your textbook in the online instructor manual. To ensure that video materials are accessible, include captions, allowing learners to read the text together with viewing the images.

6 Advantages and Disadvantages of Asynchronous Teaching
Asynchronous collaboration tools account for time-zones and students’ work and family commitments by allowing them to access, listen to, or view lessons at the time, pace, and place of their choosing. This can potentially lead to greater engagement since students will have more time to explore the course material. This also creates an accessible archive of past materials. One disadvantage is that students may feel dissatisfied without the social interaction between their peers and instructors. Additionally, course material also may be misunderstood or misconstrued without real-time interaction and without the opportunity to ask questions and receive explanations “in the moment”.

7 Synchronous Tools: What are These?
Incorporating synchronous techniques creates interaction and fosters connectedness and community. Synchronous tools include real-time communication methods such as instant messaging, group chats, video or web-conferencing, and phone communication. Applications like Google Hangouts, VSee, Zoom, Skype, and GoToMeeting allow instructors to participate in and monitor synchronous chat sessions, instant messaging, providing video and audio interactions with a single student, a select group of students, or the entire online class. Some video and web-conferencing tools offer combinations of communication mechanisms affording learners opportunities to simultaneously text, chat, share material, and video conference. 

8 Synchronous Tools: How and When to Use?
Use of synchronous tools requires you to coordinate with students and set times and dates to meet. Consider scheduling multiple video or web-conferencing opportunities on different dates and at different times. Another consideration is to offer multiple synchronous options at different times, thereby allowing for greater access and participation. To enhance engagement, open a regular synchronous session using Adobe Connect or a chat function where students can talk with you. Provide regular office hours so students can contact you for in-person meetings via multiple synchronous tools so that your presence and availability is ongoing.

9 Advantages and Disadvantages of Synchronous Teaching
Fostering dialogue is essential to online learning. Immediate personal engagement increases enthusiasm for learning because it occurs in “real-time”, can lessen feelings of isolation, and create greater feelings of community. More responsive exchanges between students and instructors may also prevent miscommunication or misunderstanding. Despite these benefits, active learning activities are challenging to implement when students are “going to class” at different times and are not located in proximity to one another. A further challenge is the requirement to coordinate availability so that everybody has equal access, because many students face technical difficulties.

+ Employ Multimodal Combinations
Plan how to best engage students and make their learning meaningful by making use of a combination of tools. You may choose to design a learning activity that begins with asynchronous posting on a group discussion topic and culminates with a synchronous chat session. You can even creatively combine Zoom and PowerPoint: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psPpv1rWyTI. Remain flexible and keep an open mind so you do not overlook the ways that different technologies can enhance or limit students’ interactivity. Be aware of the ways you like to communicate and present information since you may tend to over-use those techniques. Thoughtful facilitation methods and combinations of options will ensure inclusivity, leading to greater engagement and persistence. 


Posts from Dr. Bloomberg in the series Teach & Learn Research

Headlines will appear in blue as they are published.

Transitioning to Teaching Online
Although the recent widespread transition to online teaching is unfamiliar for many, some of the key skills and techniques can be learned and mastered to meet the current and urgent challenge.

Being an Effective Online Instructor
Your students want to see you and connect with you as a human being.Effective online instructors have a direct and important role in influencing the student experience, making sure to facilitate resilience and perseverance.

Employing Multimodal Strategies in Online Teaching

Identifying and Supporting Struggling Students in Online Courses
Without set hours and routines, online learners may feel isolated and unmotivated to meet course requirements.

Making Online Learning Accessible
Many instructors may move traditional classes into the digital format without any redesign, failing to take into consideration students with disabilities or the unique opportunities available to implement inclusive teaching strategies.

Setting Yourself Up For Success In Your Online Class
In many ways, learning online, this “new normal”, reverses traditional teacher/student roles, and places different demands on you as a student. Suddenly, you are responsible for planning, organizing, and directing your own learning.


About Linda Dale Bloomberg

Dr. Linda Dale Bloomberg, author of the Top 10 Teaching Tip series, has served for the past seven years as professor and associate director of faculty support and development and full professor of education at Northcentral University, a fully online university. In this capacity she coaches and evaluates online faculty, develops curriculum for graduate research courses, and serves as dissertation chair and subject matter expert for online doctoral candidates. She also serves in an advisory and leadership capacity for the university’s community engagement platform and was a founding member of university’s diversity committee.   Recently she was invited to serve on the Future Talent Council, Global Advisory Board for Faculty and Staff Development. Bloomberg is the author of numerous publications in the fields of distance education, including:

  • Bloomberg, L. D. & Grantham, G. (2018).Teaching in Graduate Distance Education: Perspectives on Evaluating Faculty Engagement Strategies, International Journal Online Graduate Education, 1(2), 1-24. http://ijoge.org/index.php/IJOGE/article/view/18
  • Bloomberg, L. D. (2020). Developing a learning community through an online university’s community engagement platform: An analysis of the experiences of students and faculty. International Journal of Online Graduate Education. 3(1), 1-24http://ijoge.org/index.php/IJOGE/article/view/40
  • Bloomberg, L. D. (2020). Coaching Faculty to Teach Online: A Single Qualitative Case Study at an Online University. International Journal of Online Graduate Education 3(2), 1-23. http://ijoge.org/index.php/IJOGE/article/view/45

She is also the author of The Art [and Science] of Teaching Online: Engaging and Empowering Online Learners (forthcoming, Teachers College Press). In this book she distills almost two decades of experience in teaching in a multitude of online contexts including coaching instructors to teach online. She has also been researching best practices for online instruction since 2003 when she began her doctoral dissertation, studying the development and facilitation of online learning communities. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bloomberg is even more committed to producing material that can be swiftly shared so it is immediately useful and usable in multiple online educational contexts. As institutions rapidly move all their courses online there is a high probability of trial and error and active experimentation. But there is also a lot you can do to thoughtfully and intentionally set yourself and your students up for success. The Top 10 Teaching Tips series is intended for this purpose.

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