Sound can also be recorded and uploaded, but downloading sound files will take time, and play them back, your learners will need a multimedia computer and the appropriate software in a virtual classroom. Such software is usually smooth and cheap (or free) to obtain. Remember that in many public libraries sound is disabled so as not to disturb other users, though headphones may be made available. Can you be sure that all your students will be able to hear the sound? For specific courses sound files may be invaluable, even essential – courses on music or modern foreign languages spring to mind but as with graphics let educational necessity be the criterion for including them.
Video and animations can also be included, and the same caution that applies when deciding whether or not to use sound must also ask, only more so. The video takes even longer than sound to download.
I apologize if I appear to be over-cautious about the incorporation of multimedia elements. Internet delivery opens up tremendous possibilities for exciting and interactive course materials that could not easily be incorporated into either distance or face-to-face education. Of course, you should use them if they enhance the curriculum. But educational validity should be the only test for inclusion.
The opportunity to build in links to other sources of information on the Web is one of the most valuable gains that an online course has over both traditional distance and face-to-face courses. At the fingertips (literally) of your learners is an ever open and gigantic library that you can help them explore. As in a face-to-face class, much of the learning consists of students reading either required or optional texts or undertaking independent research. The next chapter will point you in some useful directions and help you make the judgments about the sites to which your course can usually link and the independent research tasks that you might propose for your learners.
Research. Expect your learners to do some exploration themselves. A vital study skill that online learners must possess is the ability to locate relevant Web sites and make judgments about how valuable those sites will be to their learning. As a starting point, you could ask learners to find useful sites and e-mail the Web addresses to you. As their skills develop, ask them to summarize the contents of a website or expect them to review and compare sites.
Here are some examples of research activities that a learner might undertake:
* A nursing course. Compile an annotated list of Web sites about basic chemistry that would be useful to a trainee nurse.
* A business course. Locate two Web sites on organizational behavior and compare the usefulness of each to your particular business.
* A journalism course. Choose a topical issue about a country other than your own, locate three online newspapers and produce a summary of their approach to this news story.