To DVD or Not to DVD: Media and Learning in the College History Class

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A National Symposium

November 16–17, 2012

Dillard University and Xavier University of Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana

How can we bring the world to our “weary and wary students?” This was the question posed in a panel discussion at the Faculty Resource Network Annual Colloquium held in New Orleans, Louisiana, in November 2012. Technology and multi-media applications help instructors introduce global affairs and historical issues to our students. However, is the media and technology used in our face-to-face and online classes pedagogically effective for our student cohort (that is to say our “weary and wary” or less traditional students)? Exams and quizzes provide some indication as to the absorption of content, but not necessarily about how the material is conveyed. How can we assess the effectiveness of the media used in class? Which types of media work best for our students? This presentation is the result of one attempt to assess the adequacy of technology and media in the classroom.

For this study, three sections of history classes were surveyed at Farmingdale State College. SUNY Farmingdale is a comprehensive college of applied science and technology located approximately thirty miles from New York City on Long Island. Seventy-five to eighty percent of our students are local students. The majority of our students are commuter students that must work to further their education. The age distribution of the students surveyed varies. Sixty-seven percent of students were between 18–24 years of age; 21% of students were between 25–30 years of age; 5% of students were between 30–35 years of age; 5% of students were between 35–45 years old.

The first question raised by the study was what age group is traditional anymore? A substantial number of the students surveyed in this exercise were over 24 years of age, which is generally considered the cut-off age of the “traditional student.” Ten percent of students were over the age of thirty. Many of these students are nontraditional in the sense that many of them are first generation college students who must also work and are older than our more traditional students.1 Surveys indicated that over 80% of our students work a full- or part-time job. Indeed, many of our students must work to further their college careers. Fifty-one percent of students worked full-time jobs, 35% of students worked part-time jobs. Only 13% of students surveyed did not work and could attend to their studies full time.2

Previous studies indicate that our students (that is to say, students in the Farmingdale cohort) get their information about global events from the internet or the television. Many of our students, working full time while also attending school full time, simply do not have the time to study international news issues sufficiently outside of the classroom. For example, when we allowed students to research important international issues on their own, nearly 87% of students, who could choose any issue they wished, consulted their local news media. The majority of these students (61.5%) found their sources of information on the internet (19.2 % consulted The New York Times website). In another group, where students were assigned a specific topic to research, in this case science and technology issues, 87.5% of students found their information on the internet. Seventy-five percent of these students cited articles found on the The New York Times website, while 18.75% cited a scientific journal or magazine. Another 18.75% of students cited their local news sources, such as, which serves Long Island. Roughly only 12% of students consulted a printed newspaper. When left to research international issues on their own, only 3.8% of our students consulted a printed newspaper or printed media such as journals and books (Gaab, 2012).

What do all of these numbers indicate? The numbers suggest that our students do not read about world events. For our students printed media, especially books, journals and newspapers, are dead. Our students use technology for everything, and it is clearly the way to explore the issues to which we want to expose our students. And not just print news media–the “textbook” is also out of vogue with most of our nontraditional students. Eighty-six percent of students in this survey said they preferred visual media to reading books. Only 2% of students indicated they preferred books. Eight percent had no preference.

Our students are very familiar with the various forms of educational technology and media, even if some of our faculty members do not fully utilize it. Most students (80%) indicated that they have been exposed to the use of multi-media and technology in their classes. Therefore, our students expect to see the technologies they use everyday employed by their instructors (though at Farmingdale College we still have some faculty that refuse to use media technologies). Seventy percent of students had familiarity with DVDs and videos, 81% said they had used the internet or YouTube in their classes, 78% claimed their instructors had used Power Point, 35% indicated familiarity with Computer Aided Instruction, and 10% had used CDs.

Do students feel that the media used in their classes is effective, or do they believe it is a way for the instructor to get out of teaching? In response to the question, “Does the media instructors use in class help students understand the course materials?” an overwhelming majority of students responded that the media used by instructors in class is effective. Eighty-eight percent of students (88%) said YES; 2% said NO; and 10% said they were “unsure.”

What types of media do students prefer? Our students prefer media that explains the course material, or covers it in a different way. Students prefer the media that explains the material to them (and not necessarily material they have to work through to get answers). Students indicated that they preferred media that show movies (70%), demonstrate and explain course material (89%), show maps and graphs (67%), share student research (67%), or “as a guide” or to “provide examples of work” (8%).

These results suggest that students prefer the types of media that explain the answers to them and not necessarily media that compels them to figure out the answers for themselves. The most popular types of media identified by our students included computer-guided instruction (43%), Power Point (29%), DVDs (21%), videos (16%), “movies” (8%), You Tube (18%), or “all media” (8%).

For our students, immersed in the current technological culture, most information is presented via technology on computers, tablets, smart phones and the iPAD. Relying only on assigned readings to convey course material is no longer sufficient. Also, since most of our students must work in order to complete their college careers, many of them no longer have time to read the books and readings assigned.

Hollywood and social media have also taken their toll on traditional forms of learning and communication. Since the online class consists mostly of technology, what would make the online class experience more effective? Students said that movies (33%) and “live chat” (16%) would significantly enhance the learning experience. However, students we surveyed seemed to view Facebook and Twitter as forms of entertainment and not necessarily as educational tools.

None of this technology or media can replace the motivated, effective classroom teacher. Many students still prefer the in-class and in-person, lecture-discussion format delivered by a dynamic engaged instructor. Technology will not replace the professor! However, effective use of carefully selected media can aid instructors to introduce our students to important international events, and important course content, that they might not absorb through traditional, written material. The surveys clearly demonstrate that our students don’t like to read. The bulk of our students (80% or more) work full or part time jobs and do not have the time to properly read through course material effectively. Therefore, the most effective way to “bring the world to our weary/wary students” is through effective use of audio-visual material and technology to supplement traditional forms of instruction.

Our students, in many cases overworked and nontraditional in the conventional sense, are, and consider themselves to be, visual learners. Therefore, if “to DVD or not DVD” is the question, the answer is clearly to DVD. The instructor must wade through the multitude of different media to determine which type of visual media is most effective for their students. Clearly, use of technology and media in the classroom is essential in the contemporary history course. The use of strategically employed forms of media, used to supplement class discussions and assigned readings, introduces students to global issues, different parts of the world, and historical events that conventional readings and lectures cannot do as effectively. The use of technology and media provides a more rewarding experience in the college history class. Our study demonstrated that technology and media are important tools that can be strategically employed to bring the world and international events to our “weary and wary students.”

1The term “nontraditional student” has a much wider definition than presented here. For example, one college study identifies the non-traditional student as usually over 24, with life circumstances different from the typical traditional student. These circumstances include students who are parents, married, divorced, or single caring for elderly parents, veterans, those entering college for the first time, not right after high school graduation full-time, part-time or seasonal employees and distance learners. Farmingdale State College caters to many of these groups of students and many of these types of students were included in our surveys. See the discussion at Austin Peay University,

2These numbers seem to be in line with the national average, with SUNY Farmingdale’s numbers coming in a little higher. One study, from 2012, indicates that the majority of high school graduates go on to some sort of college, but only 35.1% of those in class work full time or are seeking a job. Meanwhile, nearly four out of five part-time college students (79.7%) had jobs or were looking. The numbers, cited from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, can be found at the Orange County Register Online (Milbourn, 2012).


Austin Peay University. (n.d.). What is a Nontraditional Student? Retrieved from

Charbonneau, L. (2012, November 21) Students prefer good lectures over the latest technology in class. University Affairs. Retrieved from

Gaab, J. (2012) Engaging Students in the Community and the World: Does the Rest of the World Really Matter to Our Students? Network: A Journal of Faculty Development Retrieved from

Milbourn, M. A. (2012, April 21). Most full-time college students don’t work. Orange County Register.

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