Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Power of Podcasting

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Power of Podcasting

Article excerpt

This new technology is revolutionizing the way faculty and administrators interact with students

Most years in Dr. Kevin M. Gaugler's Spanish civilization class, the students were so focused on note-taking that they rarely uttered a word. Then last fall, he decided to do something a little bit different. He started podcasting his lectures, which are in Spanish, hoping to take pressure off his students.

Before long, his once silent class was erupting into lively discussion on Spanish literature, geography or Spain's civil war. "Once I offered the podcasts, class time stopped being so one-way." says Gaugler, an assistant professor at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "Students began commenting on what they'd read. There was a more active type of learning, and their vocabulary and spelling improved."

All over the country, college faculty and administrators are plugging themselves into one of the newest - and hottest - technologies in an effort to better connect with students. Although it's easy to understand why many people mistakenly believe podcasts are strictly associated with Apple's wildly popular iPod, they are actually homespun broadcasts that can be listened to on any portable digital music player, including iPod. The podcasts can also be accessed on any computer with audio and video downloading capabilities. Podcasting's syndicated audio feed makes for a greatly simplified delivery system. While the word "podcast" certainly works to iPod's advantage, some pioneers of the medium insist the term should stand for "personalon-demand" or "personal option digital." Podcasts can be automatically routed through cyberspace to subscribers' personal media devices and consumed at their leisure, like a digital audio version of hard-copy magazines. And like magazines, podcasts can be shared and swapped over and over again. But unlike magazines, podcasts don't require any physical space, making the medium even more appealing.

National studies show that more than 80 percent of college students own at least one device that can download and play recordings. The iPod's characteristic white earbuds can be seen nestled in the ears of students on any campus in the country. Like cell phones, digital music players have gone from techie toys to must-have fashion accessories. And it's the popularity and portability of the devices that proponents of podcasting as a teaching tool point to. Students are listening to class podcasts in the car, at the gym and often more than once, they say. Critics, meanwhile, say it merely spoon-feeds a generation that has grown dependent on entertainment-driven gadgets at the expense of reasoning, creativity and problem solving. Some faculty also fear students won't go to class if they know they can rely on recorded lectures. During conversations with faculty elsewhere, Gaugler emphasizes that they should "approach podcasting as a way of interacting more with students, not avoiding them.

"I saw no difference in class attendance," says Gaugler, who warned students he would quit recording lectures if they dropped out of sight en masse. Although he didn't require them to tune in to his podcasts, all of his students ended up sampling at least one. The experiment drew rave reviews on the end-of-semester evaluations, prompting Gaugler to resume podcasting his lectures next fall.


Duke University's faculty podcasting efforts offer another illustration of how this new technology is blanketing campuses at a pace rivaling the broadband Internet revolution of the late 1990s. In a widely publicized move, Duke handed out about 1,600 iPods pre-loaded with orientation material to its entire incoming 2004 class (see Black Issues In Higher Education, Nov. 18, 2004). Among other things, students used them to gather field notes and conduct interviews. Engineering students even used the iPods as signal generators in some courses. This academic year, the university's Center for Instructional Technology is coordinating with faculty to develop more iPod-friendly courses. …

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