(1) It turns out I was wrong at my coffee break chat today when I thought that January 24th was meant to be the most depressing day of the year. According to the psychologist and PR company that spent the past few weeks selling the story to the press it should be January 23rd. The Times Higher discusses (1) this issue and the wider ethical problem of PR companies trying to get university researchers to agree to attach their name to pseudo-scientific or dodgy press releases in exchange for payment. As a number of interviewees state, this type of story does a disservice to the name of research and raises serious questions about public perceptions of science and professional behaviour.
(2) The Education Guardian reports on Apple's new scheme to simplify the recording and distribution of lectures using iTunes (2). This marks an increasing trend in the US and Australia to make lectures available to students either via live and archived video streams or podcasts. Useful no doubt for those unable to attend (including distance learning students) and also as a resource for revision, or as a help to those with a different first language (so that they can pause, repeat, etc). It, of course, also raises a number of issues about what the nature of a lecture is or should be and the extent to which it should be considered an active, participatory session as opposed to the delivery of content.
If the latter is the intention, then perhaps the lecture format is not the best means of achieving this goal, particularly if it is intended to be delivered using audio or video technologies. In those cases the design of the programme should match the capabilities and strengths of the medium being used and not simply a "capturing" of an event. Significant numbers of institutions now do this broadcasting routinely and it would be interesting to undertake a research study on the impact of this on teaching, student engagement and changing perceptions of the "lecture" as a format.
I certainly have on occasion used webcast lectures from other institutions to show to new or apprehensive lecturers some examples of how poor a lecture from a prestigious institution really can be; which usually helps boost their morale quite considerably! Perhaps not quite the intended purpose. In some cases lectures can actually be purchased from iTunes - I doubt, however, that such materials are really as marketable as the lecturer might think.
The University of Chicago (3), by contrast, uses webcast/podcast technology for PR purposes to provide interviews with key researchers in the institution and these can be viewed in a streaming format or downloaded. Their format is much more appropriate to this type of delivery.
What we're seeing thought reinforces Diana Laurillard's point (4) that historically, all too often, universities' response to new technologies has been to subvert them to fit the information transfer model of education, rather than to exploit them in ways that build on their inherent strengths. We could for example legitimately use audio and video materials to supplement a lecture programme or to provide key materials that can be used to research an argument or form the basis of a subsequent in class discussion, but this is not done often enough yet.
(4) According to a survey undertaken for Einstein Year, 11-14 year olds in England consider science as not being for "normal people." (5) Interestingly enough for those who have struggled from year to year on postdoc grants the kids might have a clearer understanding than we realise since one of them said science wasn't for them "because you would constantly be depressed and tired and not have time for family."
(4) "Rethinking Teaching for the Knowledge Society"Laurillard, Diana; Educause Review, February 2002, reprinted in The Internet and the University: Forum 2001, Maureen Devlin, Richard Larson and Joel Meyerson (eds), Educause, 2002. (http://www.educause.edu/apps/er/erm02/erm021.asp )