Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Sorry about another technology related item, but here goes... There's been a fair bit of press (as commented in an earlier post) on the topic of podcasting lectures. For those unfamiliar with this, basically it means that lectures are recorded (or at least the audio is) and then made available on the web for students to download onto their personal MP3 players, or just listen to on their computers. This is really taking off in a number of US and Australian universities. Indeed our own CELT podcast series in Galway is about to be launched - we're busy recording a series of interviews and discussions on teaching and learning that will form the content of the first wave of releases sometime in April.

Yesterday, we had a visit from Joccasta Williams of the University of Western Australia. They've developed a system called Lectopia (previously iLecture) which provides an integrated and automated approach to lecture recording so that from any of their lecture theatres, from the moment the lecturer switches on the microphone, the lecture is recorded and after about 20 minutes is available on their VLE or websites. In addition to the audio, this system also records powerpoint/computer displays or input from a document camera/visualiser. The attraction of the system is its complete automation.

Others have been pursuing similar work, but mainly requiring the individual lecturer to manage the recording and posting and, on a small scale, this is fine. A range of approaches are being used including, for example, Camtasia Studio which lets you capture on-screen presentations along with audio, combinations of PowerPoint with other software, or Lecturnity, all of which require some post-production to get the recordings in shape and/or online.

The question, which has been raised in a somewhat unkind manner by some commentators, is just how interesting are such recordings to listen to? No doubt they are of use in revision and for students who have some particular needs. Indeed, as an interesting digression, Jo told us that the bulk of use in their university was revision and demonstrated a peak of access/download in the run up to the examinations. The vast majority of the students who listened to the files actually attended the lectures, in contrast to the cynical view that such would decrease attendance. Back to the main point, though - is it better to use such technologies to deliver teaching or to augment the experience?

A really good lecturer (in the traditional oratorical style), for example, should demonstrate presence, a rapport with the audience, an ability to respond to the mood and atmosphere of the class as well as a clear and varied tone. Perhaps, for those who are consumate performers, the audio recording will work well as a standalone learning resource, but for many others this might not be the case. Indeed, even those who follow much of the available "best practice" guidelines used these days, will be aiming for interaction with the students, breaking the session into activities, etc, something which would not translate well in a recording.

Like all media, podcasts will have their particular strengths and weaknesses, or as some might put it, their educational affordances. It is best, therefore, to use particular media when their strengths can best be exploited and perhaps for podcasts, this means creating specific content designed to be delivered in that way, say interviews, discussions, or relatively short monologues (rather than hour-long lectures).

However, lecture recordings will still have their use, but they only paint a fraction of the picture of the learning experience, something that needs to be brought home to students and others concerned. Not all lecturers are going to be radio stars, after all.

Still we'll be making a recording facility available to those who want to use it, but on agreement that we undertake an evaluation study to inform future developments. Meanwhile, Apple will be promoting their iTunes U approach in Trinity College next Friday (3rd March) apparently, although I don't have full details yet.


Iain said...

it turns out that the Trinity event is only for locals! ah well, over here in the West we'll do our own thing with MP3 players of any denomination!

Niall said...

I agree with your reservations about podcasts. Personally, I can't imagine wanting to listen to podcasts of many of my former lecturers. Also, it takes an hour to listen to a podcast of an hour lecture - reading is much more time efficient.

As always use of (educational) technology should be appropriate.

Cloud said...

I think a combination of podcast and notes would be better than notes alone.