9. Being resourceful
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Multisensory communication using audiovisuals and media resources
As suggested before, international students in particular may find it hard to pay attention to lectures and tutorials if we rely exclusively on written and spoken words. Multisensory variety can support students focus and follow the content of complex subjects (see for example Fullekrug et al., 2007). We can use a combination of traditional and non-traditional audiovisual and media including boards, flipchart, visualiser, OHP, slides, slideshows, photos, video clips (and increasingly video streaming), three-dimensional objects, web resources, interactive websites, and voice recordings from radio interviews. Being restricted to one resource only (e.g. slideshows), particularly in low lighting conditions can make it very hard to pay attention (see Cham, 1999 for a humorous illustration of this).
Colander (2004) discusses the need to balance the content and form of a presentation, and highlights the importance of being an expert who cares for the subject to convey its importance to students. Showing enthusiasm for one’s subject is very important to motivate students to learn, particularly in an international student context.
Enriching the main messages of lectures and tutorials with multisensory resources that stimulate various senses helps students pay attention, and recall the information when revising. Enriching the content does not have to be complex or reliant on sophisticated equipment.
For example, when explaining ranking bundles of goods from most to least desirable, in addition to the mathematical notation, say U(A) > U(B), we can use symbols to indicate the most preferred and the least preferred (we can insert symbols in slideshows; or we can draw them on the board). Use examples that we can be sure all students know about (say a bicycle and a car, rather than, say, a cricket ball and a rugby ball, which many students may never have heard of). We can enrich our words by showing a cartoon or a photograph (free from web sources or we can use our own), or three-dimensional models (miniature of a car or bicycle). The point is that only speaking the example does not have the impact of showing the example.
If there are current issues relating to our lecture, we can bring newspapers and refer to them, or use a visualiser to show the newspaper in some detail.
When we are choosing resources, we need to check the quality of the sound and image as background noise, image distortions and strong accents can be barriers for international students to understand the message. Can we choose films that have the possibility of subtitles? Lengthy clips, radio or films may actually demotivate rather than motivate international students.
We have to account for the time it takes to show and/or the time to set up the resources. It can take a minute to set up (if the video is internet based in which case we need internet access) or 2 minutes if it is VHS or DVD. These times are approximate, but we refer to them to make the point that we have to be realistic and account for them in our session plan.
If we cannot access the resources, it is best not to show great disappointment or complain about technology! We can reiterate what the resource is about, why it is so interesting, and suggest students access it in their own time, inviting them to share their thoughts by email, VLE or in the following session.
Resources are likely to be influenced by the cultural traditions of their authors, and may be interpreted differently from what we anticipate: some international students may have culturally-related reservations regarding our choice or miss the point completely. We can let the students know that we welcome their views and are prepared to consider alternative resources.
Sources of topical media include radio, TV and internet news magazine programmes. Mainstream UK news is likely to be influenced by UK perspectives. That is not a problem per se, but it is important to be aware of it. As suggested by Sloman and Mitchell (2002) if our institution has a ERA (Educational Recording Agency) Licence we can record and copy programmes and assemble extracts for free.
We should not exclude from our lectures talking without using any supporting resources, particularly later in the course when most students are likely to understand our ways of expression. Using our pace, our voice and our body language to support our words can be very effective to motivate international students.