Classroom lectures go mobile with podcasting

A slacker student’s dream is becoming a reality at several universities across the country.

At Purdue, American and Duke universities, professors are using iPods to record and broadcast their lectures. Though podcasting is intended as a review tool and a way to prepare students for class discussions rather than as a replacement for lectures, some Yale professors said they fear that the technology could encourage students to be less attentive in class.

Director of Academic Media and Technology Charles Powell said Yale tested the feasibility of this technology by recording the University’s Constitution Day celebration symposium on Sept. 20 and making it available as a podcast — a broadcast through Apple’s iTunes that can be downloaded onto an iPod. He said the administration is still investigating the potential of translating this technology into classrooms.

The programs that have already been implemented at other universities are still in their preliminary stages. Patrick Jackson, a professor of international relations at American University, said he decided to begin using iPods to record and archive his lectures last year. These recordings were then made available to students as podcasts.

“Prerecording lectures [led to] using classroom space for discussion,” Jackson said.

Jackson said other professors at American have begun using the same method, though it has yet to be adopted throughout the university.

Purdue and Duke universities have established more formal programs than that of American. At Duke, the problem of access was solved this year by giving iPods to all incoming freshmen. Purdue has also distributed iPods to some students.

Powell said that before a program is implemented at Yale, administrators would have to determine whether students and faculty would make use of the service.

“If we make it, will they really come?” Powell asked.

Some language courses already broadcast audio content on Yale’s Classes Server. Kelly Yamashita ’09 said the available recordings have been a helpful supplement to traditional lectures.

But William Mao ’06 said that while the podcasting service would be useful for understanding professors who speak quickly in class, it is also an incentive for students to skip class.

Still, international students whose native language is not English said podcasting may facilitate their learning.

“For lectures, sometimes I miss some points,” said Antonios Charokopos ’09, a native of Greece.

Charokopos said it is especially hard for a nonnative English speaker to follow a lecture when professors lower their voices, but he said he does not think podcasting will necessarily make learning easier. He said that while reviewing entire lectures could take hours, it would likely only clarify a few points.

“This could be very helpful for a foreign student, but with my schedule, I couldn’t do it,” Charokopos said.

Instead, Charokopos said it would be more helpful to read the textbook and do the assigned homework in order to grasp difficult concepts.

Some students and professors said they are concerned that listening to a lecture through headphones may negatively affect the educational experience.

The technical format of podcasting makes the broadcasts less valuable than live lectures, Lauren Frohlich ’09 said.

“I pay more attention when a professor is standing in front of me than if I’m looking at my computer screen,” Frohlich said.

Yale Comparative Literature professor Barry McCrea said he would not be interested in using iPod technology for his courses.

“Lectures and classes are partially about human beings in the same place exchanging information,” McCrea said.

Powell said recording lectures could also raise questions about intellectual property among professors.

Jackson said he does not think podcasting will replace class time for his students.

“In my experience the students do not skip class more often because what we do in class is discuss,” Jackson said. “Usually, class discussion is a substantial part of the course grade in everything I teach.”

Comments