It is clear that prior experience with non-music podcasts is associated with a preference for portable media in learning. It is logical to assume that some efficacy with a particular type of media is preferable in any learning environment, not just online. The experience of taking higher education classes is stressful as students strive to convey their new understanding and knowledge in a format that the professor can judge the extent of their learning. The essence of the educational process is to deliver information in an effective way for each student to gain knowledge, and then allow a format for the student to demonstrate mastery of the skills and content learned. It is enough to master the new content, but to be faced with a new system of delivery and communication which must be learned in addition can be a daunting task. It is no surprise that a student would wish to rely on the most familiar delivery system even if it is less effective.
In the online instructional technology class in which this research was conducted, students generally had some experience with various forms of communications technology. The level of comfort in using technology can be assumed to be higher than the average students’. The other variable which must be considered is the perceived costs associated with using various technologies. The high speed connections and web cams required for video conferencing come at a price where email and blogs can be accessed effectively through dial up connections with hardware most students already have available. Another aspect is convenience. Anyone who has struggled through the addition of a reluctant piece of computer hardware can relate to the feeling of frustration as the peripheral is commissioned. Once the hours of troubleshooting are over and the piece is actuated it might be easy to appreciate the added functionality, but new media phobias are understandable.
While it might be assumed that students have an increased familiarity with the top three choices email, blog, and threaded discussion, it can be argued that they are also the most interactive providing a blend of social contact and control. While many students had familiarity with podcasting, it may have been less desirable because it lacked social presence and feedback. Voip and video conferencing have a high level of social interaction, but in exchange you sacrifice the flexibility of being able to access content at any time, a prime attractor for online learning.
The final question regarding control in organizing, grading and media choice also seems to reflect a preference for the known. Most college students have experienced classes in which the teacher practiced differentiated instruction and this choice had the highest rating. Students are familiar with choosing a project or delivery method they feel either best demonstrates their depth of understanding, or would be the most enjoyable to complete. Fewer students have experience choice in deciding how the project should be graded and evaluated and might be uncertain what that is like, preferring to work in the way they are accustomed and this choice had the lowest score, but still showed a definite preference in favor of choice.
Further research is required to construct a more complete understanding of the results of this survey. Student familiarity with podcasts was the only reference explored. Familiarity with each of the other new media should be established to calculate a correlation between them. A qualitative survey could ask questions through the use of an interview exploring not just prior experience, but the reasons students state a particular preference. A more organized method of participant recruitment must be followed and it might be advantageous to group participants by age. It might be argued that there are generational differences in attitude regarding communication. Students who regularly utilize social networking sites such as ‘MySpace’ or ‘Facebook’ may have different attitudes than students who prefer more privacy. Communication and a level of social presence is a personal choice that can be influenced by many factors. Privacy, familiarity, and cost being just a few.