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).
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.
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.