Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Designing Multimodal Educational Resources to Affect Learner’s Reactions

  Louise Schofield (2013 cohort)   www.nottingham.ac.uk/~psxlms


With over 7 million user accounts held on Coursera and 10 million on the Khan Academy [1], the need to design effective digital materials that provide a good quality of education is becoming much more prevalent and widely researched [2 – 4]. The MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) is a phrase frequently encountered when discussing e-learning, redefining online educational practices and how people can access education. Videos are the most common form for presenting educational material in these online platforms [5], and the styles adopted varies widely from provider. To what extent do these differing styles impact upon student engagement and ultimately learning retention? As a distance learner is the inclusion of the teacher in an online presentation a welcome addition, increasing the social presence and possibly benefiting learning [6]? Or could it be a distraction from where attention would be better placed?

Research Questions

  1. How do students and teachers define student engagement, and how can this be measured when students are watching an online educational video?

  2. What are the different formats a teacher can be present in an online video presentations and how does this impact upon student engagement, frustration and learning retention?

  3. How might a teacher, who is present in an online presentation, guide the student’s attention to elements on screen?


A mixed methods approach is being adopted, collecting both quantitative and qualitative data, with use of both secondary and primary sources of information. Secondary sources revealed through the literature review should help to structure the research and set a context that can be built upon through collection of primary data using the following methodologies. Interviews will be a reoccurring theme throughout the PhD to collect rich qualitative data in order to provide foundations for which the laboratory studies can be built upon. The laboratory studies will be used to measure the following with a number of experimental conditions for pacing and teacher presence:

  • Attention, using eye trackers.

  • Frustration and engagement, using a Microsoft Kinect and machine learning algorithms.

  • Learning retention, through an immediate and delayed completion of a questionnaire.

The PhD has been split into four phases for the research studies.

Phase One (September 2014 – March 2015)

A review of some of the existing literature surrounding MOOCs, online learning, teacher presence, eye tracking, student engagement, and frustration. This led onto an exploration of the types of styles used for online video presentations, to see if this was contingent on the presenter, platform or subject matter. Seventeen varieties of how a teacher can be present in an online educational video were identified and a continuum created to scale the highest presence leading up to no presence. The ways in which a teacher can make themselves present in a presentation was also uncovered. Exploratory research is currently ongoing to make the continuum as expansive as possible, whilst understanding the necessities surrounding the adoption for a particular style.

Ethics was submitted and granted at the School of Computer Science for semi-structured interviews. These were then conducted with designers, teachers and students who create or watch online video presentations. The continuum was used as a discussion point with the participants to understand their preferences for creation and viewing. Results from this study have been analysed. From this the context for the laboratory studies was formed, in particular the issue of subject matter, length of presentation and teacher variables.

Phase Two (June 2015 – January 2016)

An ethics application was made to the School of Education to cover the pilot and future laboratory studies. The next stage is to conduct a pilot study, this allows for the procedure to be tested, as well as the subject matter and the technology. Results will allow for any adjustments needed to be made before the full study is run.

The target participant sample is students over the age of 18. The experiments will test out different presence conditions to determine if the inclusion of a teacher in the presentation affects learning retention and engagement.

Phase Three (January 2016 - July 2016)

A crowdsourcing study will be conducted to gain a large representative view of preference with regards to teacher presence style. This study will allow participants to watch a presentation in four different styles and rate the one they prefer.

Phase Four (From July 2016)

The results from these studies will be analysed and form the basis for the final laboratory study, in which it is envisioned that the student will be given the choice of pacing and teacher presence that is preferable to their needs. The same participant sample, methods and experimental design set-up will be used for consistency.

Proposed Contribution

This research aims to provide an understanding of the impact that different styles (with regards to teacher presence) of online educational presentations have on a student’s engagement with the subject, and subsequently their learning retention. It aims to understand how their shift in attention affects their learning experience.

Furthermore, the framework created for understanding continual engagement and frustration in education with facial analysis will be produced, contributing to the machine learning field.


  1. Leow, C. (2014). Has the Internet taken over your life yet? Astro Awani. Retrieved from http://english.astroawani.com/news/show/has-the-internet-taken-over-your-life-yet-37040
  2. Mishra, S. (2002). A design framework for online learning environments. British Journal of Educational Technology, 33(4), pp.493–496. doi:10.1111/1467-8535.00285
  3. Sims, R., Dobbs, G., & Hand, T. (2002). Enhancing Quality in Online Learning: Scaffolding Planning and Design Through Proactive Evaluation. Distance Education, 23(2), pp.135–148. doi:10.1080/0158791022000009169
  4. Stephenson, J. E. (2000). Teaching & Learning Online: Pedagogies for New Technologies. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED456817
  5. Diwanji, P., Simon, B.P., Marki, M., Korkut, K. and Dornberger, R. (2014) 'Success Factors of Online Learning Video', 2014 International Conference on Interactive Mobile Communication Technologies and Learning , 8(1), pp. 125-132.
  6. Aragon, S.R. (2003) Creating Social Presence in Online Environment,. pp. 57 - 68.

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/G037574/1) and by the RCUK’s Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute (RCUK Grant No. EP/G065802/1).