March 22, 2006

History Course Podcasts

Check out this comment from Jeff Curto, one of the people whose podcasts I featured in an earlier post. Note, in particular, the reaction of his students to being part of a larger audience. His perception of their response squares with what I've learned over the years about students and online writing. The larger the perceived audience is, the better their writing seems to be (by and large).

Posted by mills at 09:55 AM

March 01, 2006

History Course Podcasts

After some back and forth with myself over what to do about podcasting, I've made the decision to podcast my summer school course on 19th century Europe. The back and forth was not about the virtues of podcasting, but about the technical aspects. Of course, it means I'm going to have to go and upgrade my iPod so I can have video (like I needed an excuse) and, more importantly, the ability to attach a microphone to the iPod. The camera and the mic we've already got here at CHNM, so now I just need some practice with iLife.

A good overview of what the educational blogosphere is saying about podcasts can be found at Endless Hybrids. Reading through the posts compiled here, you get a sense for the range of opinions--from enthusiasm to outright anxiety.

Posted by mills at 06:17 PM | Comments (4)

February 23, 2006

History Course Podcasts (cont'd)

Several years ago I wrote an essay for Perspectives, the monthly newsletter of the American Historical Association, called Toward Transparency in Teaching. The essay focused largely on course portfolios and how they had become an important component of the scholarship of teaching and learning. But the real hook for the essay was the idea that by publishing a course portfolio, historians open up their classroom for unprecedented amounts of public inspection and comment. In the essay, I wrote:

Perhaps the most daunting issue I faced during the creation of this course portfolio [with apologies for the frames...remember, I created this in 1999 when frames were cool] was the question of transparency. My decision to open up my classroom to the scrutiny of an audience of anyone with a web browser entailed certain risks. Teaching is normally a very private activity, closed off from our peers by the four walls of our classrooms, but also often jealously guarded behind the walls of academic freedom. A portfolio like mine tears down those walls and invites the entire world to pass judgment on my teaching. For my own reasons and in my own professional context, I found complete transparency desirable...
Some of the most intense debates I have had with colleagues, both here and in Europe, about the portfolio have centered on the issue of transparency. Reactions have ranged from outright anger, to skepticism, to approval...If what happens in [our] classrooms cannot be opened up for critical evaluation, in the same way that we open our scholarship up to critical evaluation, then we cannot expect to make much progress on the questions that often vex us the most in our daily lives. Thus, I would submit that we must find new ways to talk about teaching and the course portfolio offers one such vehicle for beginning conversations that are research-based rather than based upon charming anecdotes.

When this essay appeared, I received more feedback from colleagues, ranging again from approving to outraged that I would suggest that colleagues should be able to peek into our classrooms on a regular basis, rather than just during the once or twice a year that peer reviews take place.

At the time I wrote this essay in 2001 the course portfolio was really the only way to provide substantial peer review of teaching. Imagine the reaction I would have gotten if I had proposed podcasting courses along the lines of those I linked to in my earlier posting? The courses you can sit in on via podcasting are entirely opened up for public inspection. The syllabi are on the web and the classroom experience is being captured and broadcast to any and all who care to listen/watch. The only thing not available is student work. But that too could be available via a class blog or some other such vehicle. Now interested observers can see/hear it all.

Isn't that great?

Some will agree and others will violently disagree. We live under enough surveillance already, so why should teachers submit to more? To that I would argue that this isn't about surveillance, it's about making teaching community property.

So often I hear historians complain that teaching does not receive the recognition it deserves. Our scholarly output is respected precisely because it is public and peer-reviewed. Unless we are willing to submit our teaching to the same sort of scrutiny, then why should teaching be valued in the same ways?

The analogy is not exact, because podcasting a course dumps the entire semester of teaching into the lap of the listener/observer, while an article in a peer-reviewed journal or a monograph provides a carefully selected synthesis of evidence. Instead, the podcasted course creates something like an archive that researchers can use to examine the teaching of colleagues and that those of us engaged in the scholarship of teaching and learning can use as we analyze and write about teaching.

Posted by mills at 11:35 AM

February 21, 2006

History Course Podcasts

The podcasting of history courses has begun.

In a quick search of the web I found several examples of history courses being podcasted by their instructors:

Jennifer Burns’ Introduction to the History of the United States at Berkeley
Thomas Laqueur’s European Civilization course at Berkeley
Jeff Curto's History of Photography at the College of DuPage
Gordon Lam's History of the United States at Folsom Lake College

These early course podcasts are largely “classroom captures”, by which I mean they broadcast captures of the classroom experience in audio (or in one case video) format. For the student who missed class, these would be very useful, because he/she can not only hear the professor’s lecture, but can also listen to the questions and answers in the class. This alone is a significant advance on the old practice of posting lecture notes on a website for those students who missed class. And, two of these are available via iTunes, which gives them a potentially huge market beyond the confines of their institution.

Of the examples cited above, only Burns’ course offers video to go along with the audio. XXX at DuPage uses music and studio voiceovers at the beginning of the podcast, but then the audio quality declines. As such, they are truly beta samples of what we can expect in the future. Further, they don’t take advantage of the full capabilities of the available technology—such things as placemarks in the audio stream, links to text or image files, and so on. Soon, though, we can expect to see more and more historians pushing the envelope of what the podcast offers.

When I talk to colleagues about podcasting and ideas like iTunesU, some are intrigued, but most worry that podcasting a class will lead to significant declines in classroom attendance. After all, if a student can listen to/watch class without attending, why would he (or she)?

This anxiety is important, but not for the reason given by those feeling anxious. What’s really at stake here is a bigger problem…if students will choose to skip class and just listen/watch, then isn’t there something wrong with the class? If our classes are so dull that a student might just as well access them while on the treadmill or the bus, then I submit it’s time to teach differently.

Posted by mills at 05:03 PM | Comments (2)