Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From the College Lecture Hall to Your Headphones ; How a Company Recruits Professors and Records Their Wisdom So That Time Stuck in Traffic Can Be Enlightening

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From the College Lecture Hall to Your Headphones ; How a Company Recruits Professors and Records Their Wisdom So That Time Stuck in Traffic Can Be Enlightening

Article excerpt

She calls it a "dim sum PhD."

In the past five years, Lucinda Rodd has absorbed roughly 400 hours of academic lectures at 60 universities. She's always on the hunt for that perfect blend of solid knowledge and electrifying delivery.

And for all this learning, Ms. Rodd earns a paycheck. She's a recruiter for The Teaching Company, which has been delivering audio and video courses to the self-taught set for more than a decade.

Whether they're commuting to work or hammering out miles on the treadmill, people have made these digital professors part of the fabric of their lives.

The lectures "have turned the Long Island Expressway into an opportunity instead of a nightmare," says Richard Kossman, a neurologist in New Jersey who listens while commuting in his champagne-colored BMW.

Tom Rollins, CEO and founder of The Teaching Company, says there are three specific qualities that separate certain teachers into a class of their own: depth of knowledge about a subject, extraordinary communication skills, and passion.

"Great teachers think they have figured out something about the universe that they think no one should go through life without knowing about," Mr. Rollins says. "They love the subject and they want to share that passion with other people."

The company has chosen more than 100 professors who fit the bill. Their collective recordings top 2,000 hours.

Rodd compares her job to that of a football recruiter - but instead of scouting talent from the sidelines, she's at the back of the classroom. Recommendations for new recruits come from a variety of sources - editors on the student newspaper, course evaluations, teaching awards, and sometimes the professors themselves. The company's goal, in part, is to pick lecturers who remind people of their favorite college professor, the one who showed such enthusiasm for a subject that the classroom wasn't just a location, it was an experience.

But recruiting is not without its challenges, such as trying to find more women to record lectures. "So many women profs don't lecture. They are much more likely to offer seminars and engage with their students through dialogue," Rodd says.

Roll teleprompter

Once a professor clears the audition hurdles, a grueling process lies ahead. First, a professor submits his or her courses for review. They must be tailored for a 30-minute recording with no tangents, no forgetful "ums," and no stopping for questions. Then comes the recording session in a studio near Washington, D.C.

At that point, a lecturer must "come loaded for bear," says Robert Greenberg, the music historian in residence at the San Francisco Conservatory. He's been working with The Teaching Company from its inception and has recorded 246 hours of lectures on musical masters and their works.

In the studio, the lecture script rolls on a teleprompter. …

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