21st Century Show-and-Tell

Communicating beyond text in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Ryan Eash

CREDIT TechSmith.pngIncorporating technology into the classroom can set the foundation for greater student and instructor success, especially in online or blended learning environments. However, technology should not play the leading role in education. As an instructor, you should not use technology just for the sake of using it. It should be implemented only when the technology will provide clear benefits for both instructors and students.

So, let’s discuss: what types of technology should be used in higher education? To help improve students’ comprehension of a topic or concept, visual communication is key. Visuals have been found to improve learning by up to 400 percent. Fortunately, there are a variety of available tech tools that enable instructors to communicate quickly and visually with students.

New educational technology tools enable more visual learning, resulting in better communication, engagement and transparency between instructors and students.

In general terms, visual communication is the use of images, photos, videos, animation, text, voice narration, and music to clearly convey a message, story or information. For higher education, specifically, we can describe visual communication as “show and tell for the 21st century.” Students today want greater flexibility to choose when, where and how they learn. As a result, more and more higher education institutions now offer online courses or some type of blended learning environment where course instruction is conducted virtually. Visuals still provide communication and engagement, especially in the absence of a physical classroom setting. In some cases, this is the next best thing to being in the same room.

One key benefit of using technology to create visuals is saving time. Visual communication helps reduce the number of back and forth emails with questions and clarifications between students and instructors. Responding visually also allows you to be as clear as possible when answering questions or when presenting new information. As the instructor, you can reduce explanation time by replacing or adding to a textual description with a visual, such as a video. In fact, one of the easiest ways to ensure that learners store information in their long-term memory is to pair concepts with meaningful images. Research has found that this tactic increases recall better than when courses deliver information through aural or textual form.

The hope is that a student’s question can be answered in one attempt when a visual is included as part of the explanation. In fact, 40 percent of learners respond better to visual information than text alone. Therefore, visuals tend to be more well received than simple text, especially in cases where the response entails multiple layers of explanation. With visuals, especially video, students have the ability to review and reference the information on demand. Additionally, it’s inevitable that instructors will receive the same question from multiple students. Instead of recreating the same response, instructors can easily reply with the same annotated screenshot or explanation video. Visuals save explanation time – and inbox space.

The use of visual communication can also prevent learner confusion from the start. As the instructor, you are the subject matter expert and can probably pinpoint those “trouble spots” for students. Each semester you anticipate where the course content becomes tricky or what concepts are typically more difficult for students to grasp. In instances like this, using visuals enables you to answer students’ questions before they even have to ask them. You can plan ahead and prepare a video or infographic to share with students when they reach those difficult topics or concepts throughout the course. Create demos to show students examples or to walk through specific assignments. Visuals can serve as a guide for students who many not even know what questions to ask and set them up on the initial path to success in the course.

There are some challenges to incorporating these tools and technologies. Some instructors do not have a support staff to provide instructions on how to effectively use these tools. Others may not have the time to learn how to properly implement visuals into their courses. And with anything new, there is a learning curve that goes along with it. While some barriers do exist, it is not impossible to incorporate new technology into classrooms. Visual communication tools, like Camtasia and Snagit, are made for the everyday user and can easily be implemented in all learning environments.

Again, technology should not be used just for the sake of using it. Rather, using technology to enable better visual communication in the classroom is one example of technology benefitting both instructors and students. New educational technology tools enable more visual learning, resulting in better communication, engagement and transparency between instructors and students.

Ryan Eash is the Learning and Development Specialist for TechSmith, the go-to company for visual communication. He’s responsible for designing, implementing, and maintaining training curriculum to help educators be successful utilizing image and video creation tools. He is also currently an adjunct faculty member at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, NC. Prior to joining TechSmith in 2007, Ryan taught for 10 years in elementary grades through higher education. He received his bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Indiana University, and his master’s degree in instructional technology and design from East Carolina University.

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