Podcasts from the classroom

In the next couple of weeks, college students across the country will begin studying for midterms. Thanks to technology, some of them will be able to go back and listen to their lectures again.

Podcasting – or the technology that makes it easier to download audio files as they are released – has begun to take hold in the lecture halls of our nation’s universities.

Richard Shingles is a Professor of Biology and in charge of the podcasting program at the Center for Educational Resources at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland. This is the third semester he has been recording his General Biology course and posting it online for students.

The program at Johns Hopkins began last spring with Shingles’s class. Now, there are eight courses, mostly large lectures, available for students to download and listen to.

“It’s an ancillary to the class,” as opposed to a replacement, Shingles said. “Students can use [it] to review lecture material or to catch up on material that they may have missed.”

About 18-20% of students take advantage of this technology, mostly around exam time Shingles said, citing internal surveys.

Best of all, he said, the nature of the product means that “students can review lecture material on their own time and when it is most convenient to them.” This reduces the need discussion sections, when students would otherwise review lecture materials.

Johns Hopkins isn’t the only nationally-renowned university with a podcasting program for courses.

Various colleges around the country give professors the opportunity to use the technology, including The George Washington University, Purdue University, and the University of California at Berkeley.

UC Berkeley boasts one of the largest and most popular coursecasting programs available to the general public.

Berkeley’s iTunes U site hosts 77 different courses in fields as diverse as philosophy, psychology, international studies, and chemistry. Other academic events are also recorded and posted online. Last semester alone, 1,682,520 files were downloaded, and that doesn’t even include those in the month of December.

“As a study tool, this is very beneficial,” said Richard Bloom, the Course Webcast Administrator at Berkeley. “Being able to get the lectures and go over something you missed in class or maybe didn’t understand can be a great help.”

Because of its distribution on iTunes, Berkeley’s lectures reach a wider audience than those inside campus gates.

“We get emails from people all over the world thanking us for the service and saying how wonderful it is to have a subject that they’ve always been interested in but were never able to pursue,” Bloom said.

Berkeley’s program began in the spring of 2006 with over 30 courses available for download online, either through iTunes U or through the school’s website.

“We felt it was another way to distribute the content, something that’s fairly ubiquitous out there,” he said. “Our site drives them to iTunes and iTunes drives them to our site.”

“We try to stress that these podcasts can be used as a supplement for studying,” Bloom said. “It’s very student driven.”

Bloom said that students will often ask their professors if they’re going to be recording their class. Professors can then decide if they want to use the technology or not (if the classroom is set up, of course).

“It’s really up to the individual professors,” he added.

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