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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.