Podcasting Lectures at the U of A

Post ImageDuane Szafron is a Computing Sciences professor at the University of Alberta. He’s also a podcaster. Sadly, being both a podcaster and a professor is currently a fairly rare combination, but I hope the work of Szafron and others will change that:

“I think it makes it harder for people who give fairly boring lectures. I think more students won’t show up for those,” he said. “And I guess my attitude [as a professor] is, if you can’t deliver anything extra than what you would provide online or whatever, then what’s the difference if people don’t show up for class? Is that really bad if people don’t show up?”

Spot on! I’ve written before about podcasting and boring lectures, and I completely agree with Professor Szafron. Recorded audio and video lectures are not a replacement for class time, they are a complement.

It sounds like Szafron’s podcasts have been a hit, at least based on an informal survey of his students. Currently he makes lectures available in MP3 format, though he apparently experimented with video as far back as 1999. Both have their place, but I think audio is a much more appropriate format for lectures – they are easy to listen to on the bus, train, or while doing something else.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we might be able to help educational institutions take advantage of podcasting. Maybe I’ll have to pay Professor Szafron (who I never had as a prof) and his colleagues a visit!

Read: The Gateway

MTV buys RateMyProfessors.com

Post ImageIf you’re a college or university student you have probably heard about RateMyProfessors.com. The site has been around since 1999 and now boasts almost 7 million ratings from over 6000 schools, making it pretty valuable to MTV:

RateMyProfessors will become a part of MTV Network’s mvtU.com, an online channel of job listings, philanthropy projects, campus news, music and videos for college students, as well as a campus television production company.

Unfortunately the article doesn’t mention how much the site was purchased for.

This deal could be a very good thing, so long as MTV doesn’t screw it up. The UI could be tweaked to make it a little more interesting, but I hope they don’t start changing the way it works.

Read: CNET News.com

Boring podcasts are not the answer!

Post ImageAnother day, another educator fighting podcasting because she fears students will not attend class. Liz Dreesen is a general surgeon lecturing at the University of North Carolina, and her students have asked her to podcast her anatomy lectures. She doesn’t want to do it:

I want the medical students also to learn the importance of presence, to attend our anatomy lectures, to see us in the flesh and not podcast, so they can begin to be doctors, not just technicians and knowers-of-facts.

She makes a really good argument about medicine being a “contact sport” that requires physical presence. So what to do about the attendance problem?

Podcasting consultant Leesa Barnes says the answer is to make the podcasts “boring as heck”:

In other words, make the video podcast so boring that students will use it as a backup and not as a replacement. That’s the way to provide convenience for students without sacrificing class attendance.

Sorry Leesa, but I think that advice is just plain dumb. Lectures are boring enough as it is.

I don’t know about you, but when I shell out hundreds of dollars to attend a technology conference, I do so because of the people I will meet, not the content being discussed. Sometimes the content is boring, sometimes it’s interesting, but the interaction with other people is always worth paying for.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of shelling out hundreds of dollars for a university lecture. I do it because I am required to in order to get that piece of paper that says I graduated. Things could be different though. In my six years of post secondary experience, I have learned that more often than not, lectures are simply boring and don’t allow for much interaction. This needs to change.

The answer to the attendance problem then, is to provide for interaction in the lectures. I don’t mean reading lecture notes and then allowing students to ask questions at the end, but real interaction. The same kind of interaction I pay for at the technology conferences. And of course, podcast it all. Make the podcasts as interesting as possible, so that students who watch them later can’t help but wish they were there.

With all that interaction going on, there will be less time to get the boring but required information across. So record it ahead of time, and make the podcasts (boring information + class interaction) an integral part of the course. If they are considered required material, they won’t be seen as replacements for class. Tell students to watch the podcast and then come to class and discuss it.

For the most part I think the way our education system works is, for lack of a better adjective, crappy. Podcasts and other emerging technologies might enable us to make some positive changes, but only if we use them correctly.

Read: Podonomics

Gates on High School Education

Post ImageMany of my friends are in, or have graduated from, the Faculty of Education. I guess that means that whether or not they become teachers, they have some interest in education, and indeed a vested interest in seeing education move forward. Yet I have often said that I don’t think the way we do things is right. I have wondered aloud to these friends that perhaps a move back to the old “master and apprentice” way of learning would be more appropriate! Today I came across these remarks from Bill Gates made back in February:

When we looked at the millions of students that our high schools are not preparing for higher education – and we looked at the damaging impact that has on their lives – we came to a painful conclusion:

America’s high schools are obsolete.

By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded – though a case could be made for every one of those points.

By obsolete, I mean that our high schools – even when they’re working exactly as designed – cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.

I’d say that’s a fair assessment. Almost since day one of my University career, I have thought there must be a better way to do this. After the first two years of University, Grade 11 and Grade 12 largely seemed like a waste of time. Or maybe not a waste of time, but an inefficient use of time. Maybe I’m just cynical, I don’t know. I know there are teachers who care, but there’s often not enough resources. And some of the things that students need, they don’t have the opportunity to obtain.

I don’t really have a suggestion for alternatives though either – I simply haven’t given it enough thought. I do know however, that I want my kids to have the best education possible. There’s so much that we could be doing in high schools that we aren’t.

Read: Bill & Melinda Gates