Analysis of Students' Downloading of Online Audio Lecture Recordings in a Large Biology Lecture Course

By White, Brian T. | Journal of College Science Teaching, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Analysis of Students' Downloading of Online Audio Lecture Recordings in a Large Biology Lecture Course


White, Brian T., Journal of College Science Teaching


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Students in large lecture courses have been making audio recordings of lectures for many years. Recently, it has become possible to record lectures digitally and post the resulting files on the web for easy download by all students. Because these files can be easily downloaded to personal MP3 players like the iPod, these are often called "podcasts." Many educators have advocated the use of podcasts at the university level. For example, Duke University has begun a program in which all entering freshmen have an iPod (Duke University 2005).

Podcasts take many forms, from podcasting of lecture audio only (French 2006; Kadel 2006; Read 2007) to audio and video podcasts (McGrann 2006) and even courses where the lectures have been entirely replaced by podcasts (Smeaton and Keogh 1999). Although many articles encourage the use of podcasting, there has been very little formal research on the effects of this technology on students and the classroom. French (2006) cites dual encoding theory and studies of multimedia software to suggest that listening to lecture podcasts "while watching TV, conversing, or browsing the web" may not be an effective learning strategy and calls for more research into "how podcasting can be used to increase learning" (p. 59). While generally supportive of podcasting, Kadel (2006) suggests a series of research questions that need to be addressed. These include how podcasting is used by professors and students, whether podcasting decreases lecture attendance, and if particular podcasting options are effective teaching tools. This paper addresses three questions apropos of those posed by Kadel in the context of a large introductory-level undergraduate science lecture course. It begins by exploring which students download the podcasts and when. Next, it examines the temporal pattern of downloads and what this suggests about how students use the podcasts. Finally, it examines whether the availability of podcasts reduces lecture attendance.

Subjects and data collection

General Biology II (Bio 112) is the second-semester introductory course for biology majors. It consists of three 50-minute lectures and one three-hour lab per week. There are three inlecture exams and one final exam each semester. Typically, there are 150-200 students enrolled; most of these are biology majors, some are postbaccalaureate premedical students, and a few are majors in other departments. In spring 2007, when this study was conducted, there were 185 students enrolled in the course.

I have made lecture audio podcasts available on the course website since spring 2005. Each of the 39 lectures is recorded live on an MP3 recorder and posted on the course website immediately following lecture. Lectures from the previous spring semester are available until they are replaced by lectures from the current semester. As a result, students can use the lecture audio either to prepare for upcoming lectures or review past lectures. The lecture audio files are not part of a subscription service that distributes them automatically as they become available, as with a true podcast; students must download them individually as they need them. Accessing the audio files requires a password that I provide to all students and a small number of other users. The web server keeps a log of each file downloaded, the time of the download, and the internet protocol (IP) address of the downloading computer. In spring 2007 I began collecting log files at the start of the 4th week of the 17-week semester. Log files were not collected for the first three weeks due to a server configuration error. I only included log entries that recorded complete transfer of an audio file; interrupted or partial transfers were not included in the analysis. Students were not aware that I would be analyzing these log files. Using these log files, I have been able to construct a picture of who uses these files, for what purposes, and if this has any impact on attendance in lectures. …

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