Better Learning With Sites and Sound

New research suggests that students who create and edit documents using Web-based collaboration tools include more complex visual media in their assignments — and come away with a better understanding in the process. Another ongoing experiment finds, with statistical significance, that instructors can be more effective in grading students’ work if they record their comments directly into documents as audio.

Students in four graduate courses at West Virginia University worked on and submitted group projects in two different ways, alternating for each assignment: using Microsoft Word to save, track changes, add comments and send files back and forth as e-mail attachments; and sharing files and editing them online using Buzzword (a Flash-based suite of online productivity tools from Adobe). According to the study, the students “were more likely to use graphics, charts, links, etc. in Buzzword because of the ease of inclusion” than in Word, possibly as a function of the interface’s comparative ease of use.

Perhaps more significantly, the study found that they were “more likely to explain more complex concepts using a combination of text and non-text based materials. The majority of participants … expressed the view that it was easier to express themselves at a higher cognitive level when they could present material using multiple media sources.” They also had higher levels of satisfaction. According to the study’s leader, “the multiple forms of sensory input” such as charts, links and graphics not only make the information more understandable to the reader “but apparently … students are learning more from that process as well.”

In theory, then, collaborations using Web-based editing tools can potentially boost understanding, at least visually.

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