spreading iTunes U

We’ve had iTunes U at Cortland for three semesters now, and its use has grown slowly. There are a number of local reasons for that.

  1. The primary interest in iTunes U at Cortland has been from faculty like myself who are interested in having their students produce audio or video podcasts and share those podcasts with their classmates. Perhaps, in the long term, such compositions will become more regular features of academic work, alongside the essay, the blue book exam, and the in-class PowerPoint student presentation. Right now though, this is a fairly small demographic of faculty who have the interest and expertise to incorporate student podcasting, as well as a curriculum in which the time devoted to such practices makes sense.
  2. On the other hand, there has been little or no interest from faculty for doing what has become the conventional application of iTunes U: coursecasting. Cortland’s faculty, I believe, are fairly typical in their level of technological proficiency. That is to say I believe most of them could learn to podcast if they chose, but very few know how right now. So there’s a question of the time involved in learning and then implementing this practice.
  3. Finally, there are ongoing concerns about the effect of podcasting on education. If I coursecast my lectures, will students stop coming to class? Do coursecasts improve student performance? Or do they prevent students from learning other important skills?

These are all valid issues. More generally I believe they point toward the way that convergent media networks are reshaping education. And that we need to think on that level as we approach these concerns.

If faculty want to doubt the efficacy of podcasting, I’m not interested in proselytizing. The question of effectiveness is a dubious one to me. It assumes that the goals of curriculum are not a product of the technological and material context in which learning takes place. That is, imagine teaching in the absence of writing technologies. You teach by speaking to your students, and your students demonstrate their understanding by oral presentation or examination. How would writing technologies help your students be better speakers or help them to memorize information? Indeed you might claim that writing would hamper your students ability to memorize information. You might claim that the time spent learning to write and writing would interfere with reaching the established goals of an oral education.

It would be difficult to argue that writing did a better job of achieving the goals of an oral education than an oral education would. On the other hand, writing obviously allows us to do different things and establishes new goals for education. Similarly, industrial print production allowed access to writing in a new way and changed the role of writing and texts in education.

So media networks change what we can do and how we do it. Obviously we don’t know the extent of these changes at this point, particularly as things change. As such there seems little point in asking whether podcasting is effective in achieving current goals. Instead, we need to move forward, experimentally. What happens to the classroom when the lecture is podcast? What happens when students offer podcasted audio and video as part of their work in a course instead of writing or something else? What happens when students are asked to learn through a media network in addition to or instead of a textbook or a classroom?

There’s really only one way to find out, and I’m not sure what the alternative is, except to be left behind and allow teaching practices to be defined by others.

  • Kafkaz

    We can probably guess a few things about podcasting courses based on what we know about how the writing classroom has moved online generally.
    My first guess is that things will work out best if the podcast is not a lecture or the inscription of a lecture, but understood a supplement to what is happening in the physical classroom. How many times are great discussions, questions, and emerging points just nicely heating up when we have to break and move on to the next course?
    Seems to me that those post-classroom teaching ideas–those further thoughts and connections that we’re pondering as we consider that day’s worth of work together–would make the perfect grist for the podcast. A kind of p.s., maybe.
    Then, too, the podcast should be necessary. That is, some clear work or project or purpose should be impossible to complete without tapping into the podcast in question. Maybe some types of assignments or discussion prompts go there. If students will be invited to compose podcasts of their own, then a podcast would seem to be the perfect vehicle for both laying out that kind of assignment, and serving as an example of what might be done.
    Then, you might consider reviews that aren’t repetitions. If, for instance, some concept is proving pretty generally tough for a group, or if a certain kind of challenge or question keeps emerging, then the podcast can become a means of addressing those things that naturally flow from class meetings.
    Straight-on reviews would be good, as well, but maybe shouldn’t be the first choice for content, and again, I would suppose that these would work best if not simply recordings of or otherwise repetitions of what has already been said in class. Something old but new again, then: the pre-exam podcast, the night before the essay is due podcast. Things that students will find immediately useful, but also fresh.
    Some of these could be set to expire, too: scarcity creates more urgency.
    So, a few initial thoughts, at least.
    Kafkaz

  • http://profile.typekey.com/AlexReid/ Alex Reid

    Thanks Kafkaz, those are good ideas. One study I have heard about indicates that students find most valuable podcasts that allow them to review course material (like a recording of the lecture) but faculty see podcasts of supplemental material as most valuable. I guess this points to a fact we should probably already know: the vast majority of students will not be interested in anything that is “supplemental.” As such I certainly agree with your point that podcasts must be necessary, at least as necessary as required readings for a course.
    Just yesterday, meeting with my two professional writing colleagues, we were talking about the idea of recording a conversation between us for course podcasts. It’s not that we are all so very fascinating, but I think it might be a good idea, as opposed to a monologue, to model a conversation about a reading or concept or whatever.

  • Kafkaz

    Hmm. Maybe “complement” or “completion” is a better word, then. What I wouldn’t do is have the whole course’s worth of lectures always available unless it’s a totally online class. If the reason to come to class is to partake of the lecture experience, but the lecture is available online, then what’s the reason to come to class at all? Maybe isn’t one.
    I would sometimes post ppt versions of lecture notes for students after class, and would design them with an eye toward ensuring that they enriched the understanding of those who had attended. Those who hadn’t attended would find them useful, perhaps, but no replacement. A complement.
    Yes, I like that better. Not “supplement” as in “extra but not needed thing, ” but “complement” as in “completion and enrichment of.”
    Kafkaz

  • Kafkaz

    So, what if you turned the whole idea upside down. The question then becomes not how does the classroom best emply podcasting, but how can podcasting best influence the classroom.
    Put all the lecture stuff up, and keep it there all the time for easy reference and access. So, right away, the classroom can’t just be another iteration of that.
    What, from that angle, should the classroom be?
    I think this is a more fruitful way to look at it.
    Kafkaz

  • Anonymous

    Kafkaz, I think that’s a great way to look at it. The lecture becomes another text in the course, albeit an audio or slidecast or video text. Then we must really face the question of what is face-to-face communication good for? I think the answer is that FTF is potentially good for many things but from this angle we must look at the material and institutional affordances of the classroom and look at the classroom with fresh eyes.

  • Kafkaz

    Yes, *but*. We know from previous techie adventures that it isn’t what will happen–at least not at first. If the usual pattern holds, what’s likely to happen is lectures going online, and lectures delivered in class. Soooooo. I actually think that the transitional period is something to tend to if you are in a position to lead faculty development on this one. At first, I’d urge no lectures online, or no lectures available online before they’re due to be delivered in class. Then, you can talk about why that doubling can be a bad idea, explore some things *besides* fairly traditional lectures that a podcast can be used for, get the whole idea that maybe lecturing isn’t the sole or best use of podcasting, either, out there, and then move toward the, “So, when the online space is considered part of text of the course, what do we want that text to look like, and how does it both complement and alter what’s happening in class” approach out there.
    I’d like to think we could go there *first*, but experience suggests that’s it’s not likely to happen, not so much because of resitance (there is that, too), but because it’s just not the usual progress of the developmental phases, here. Often, we need boxes to grow out of–once we’re comfortable and experienced with a technology, then we can start to envision the creative options. But, “here’s podcasting, now redefine your whole notion of education” doesn’t happen all in leap.
    Kafkaz

  • Alex R

    Oh, I agree with that. You won’t sell faculty on technology by showing them all the wonderful problems and challenges it will create. You want to show them technology as a tool that addresses needs they already identify without creating much (or any) work for them.
    That’s why I think that colleges that have wide adoption of podcasting are doing course casting where most of the technical business is handles by tech staff. All the prof has to do is press record, give a lecture, and then press stop. IF this works well, then maybe those profs will start to get interested in other possibilities.