April 25, 2008

Podcast technology enhancing classroom lectures

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — It may not be as exciting an instant replay as the game winning three-point shot or Hail Mary pass, but students studying, for finals in Charles Leonard's Contemporary Intergovernmental Relations class may be glad they can access a replay of several course lectures.

Leonard, a visiting assistant professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is one of several on campus using podcast technology to enhance his classroom lectures. Students are able to use iTunes U, an Apple network, to access a variety of SIUC downloads, including recordings of campus activities, public lectures, sports-related interviews, visiting artists, media productions and yes, course lectures.

Leonard said he opted to bring the audio-visual technology into his classroom partly because it's new and therefore, as he said, "pretty slick," but also because he believes it helps his students. His advanced senior-level course, which includes a few graduate students on the roster, is not one students take casually. If they miss class, there is generally a good reason. And if they missed something in their notes, well, let's face it, it might be "on the test." And, while Leonard doesn't podcast every lecture, he said he is extra glad for the technology when he invites off-campus experts for guest lectures.

Leonard, who was one of the first professors on campus to use the podcast technology, said the inclement weather this spring caused transportation problems for at least one of his students. The podcast, he said, was a "salvation."

"It's not an intrusion for me – I just have to clip on a wireless microphone," Leonard said, noting that technological experts from Morris Library do the set-up and take-down and make the whole podcasting adventure possible.

Gregory Wendt, an instructional technologies expert, is pretty much the man behind the curtain. He said current capabilities could handle up to about 10 courses using the podcasting technology. After that, more people and more equipment may be needed. At present, going from lecture to podcast is a several step procedure, he said, though as the technology improves and becomes more accessible, the process will become easier.

"We'd like to see this grow," he said. "It's an evolution for us – we've always used video to enhance the educational experience."

Senior student Gretchen Cavaletto, a political science major enrolled in Leonard's course, said she would have had to drop the class if not for the podcast availability. Dropping a class would have interfered with her funding, she said – and with a three hour round-trip drive to SIUC, she depends on that funding – a monthly GI Bill stipend – to stay in school.

Cavaletto said she thinks course podcasting will also help recruit students. "If professors were to utilize this program to its full extent… more non-traditional students and traditional students who attend classes from afar, as well as those with disabilities, (might find the option useful)," she said.

History professor Jonathan J. Bean uses iTunes U for his freshman level 20th Century America survey course. He said making course lectures and materials such as lecture outlines and PowerPoint slides available through iTunes U has several benefits for a large, undergraduate survey course. The podcasts allow students to re-access the points, explanations and conclusions he made in his lectures – which is especially handy for students with learning disabilities or those who haven't yet mastered note taking.

"In a class the size of an underclassmen survey, there is always one or more students with a learning disability," he said, noting that in at least one case he is aware of, the podcasts have helped a student with a learning disability maintain an A in the class.

"Overall, it helps those who seek information – it isn't a substitute for hard work," Bean said. "I think this is also good for our community relations. This is a free service we offer – anyone, in effect, can audit a course for free."

To see what is available in iTunes U for SIUC, log onto http://itunes.siu.edu. After you enter the site, you will have several options. You can follow SIUC links, or check out podcasts under headings such as "SIUC Campus and Community," "Events," "Courses," and "Research."