Molly Gannon: Keep it human in the classroom

“We now have the potential to allow students and faculty to participate in the educational experience when actual physical contact to the classroom may not be possible.” That quote from a Duke University technology manager in an article discussing the new service, “iTunes U,” (“Lectures to go on iTunes,” Aug. 30, p. 1), caught my attention. While proponents of the service are optimistic about its benefits, these technologies meant to improve the classroom experience have the potential to actually do more harm than good.

This program will be offered in select classes at GW this fall; however, the University and the world of academia in general should be cautious about this new technology. The use of (and likely reliance upon) iTunes U could make classrooms obsolete and diminish the need for professors by removing the need for physical contact with classrooms or instructors.

It was no surprise to me that Apple, which produces iTunes and the iPod, developed this software that would directly benefit its target audience: America’s youth. iPods are everywhere on campus – a testament to the product’s continued popularity. iTunes U opens up the opportunity for an expanded market for Apple and the possibility of benefiting students. Their intentions might not be sinister, but the unintended consequences might be negative.

I like to think that college lectures should be engaging and interactive, giving me an incentive to attend class. I believe that many GW professors especially make an effort to lecture in a way that is appealing to their students. But by making lectures available to download, the course becomes one-sided and significantly less interactive. Students would lose the opportunity to ask questions during a lecture or to hear the opinions of other classmates.

Granted, lectures available for download will save students paper and time; however, there would be little reason for students to go to class if lectures can be downloaded and saved to computers. Freshman year, I discovered how easy it is to become a “part-timer,” a student who simply prints out lectures posted on Blackboard and shows up for the tests. I’m sure that in the case of my class, the professor’s intention was to supplement his lecture with the notes to make class easier, but only half the class showed up on a regular basis. Widespread iTunes U use will have the same effect, but potentially expand this phenomenon to even more classes.

Another problem I have with this move closer toward delivering “course content to students in a medium they are familiar with,” according to Assistant Vice President of Academic Technology P.B. Garrett, is that it is not a fair course of action, since not all students are able to afford iPods. It may seem as if everyone has one of the digital music devices, but some still do not. It is also easy to forget that this is a $200 to $300 investment, one that not every college student can afford. While these students will be able to enjoy the lectures on iTunes, they will be unable to access the content on-the -go while away from their computers, as some of their other peers are able to.

It seems as if the benefits of this new software take the classroom out of the equation. What good are wonderful professors if class attendance drops and students become completely reliant on downloading lectures? It certainly might make some professors think twice about teaching here, as well as encourage parents to question the necessity of high tuition costs.

-The writer is a senior majoring in American studies and minoring

in journalism.

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