Podcasts at the UW – experiences so far

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Scott Leslie, who writes the generally insightful EdTechPost blog up in BC, wrote a post the other day entitled The only post you’ll ever see me write about podcasts, where he derides podcasts in education as a fad of the moment.

What has really annoyed me, though, about podcasts as a phenomenom and as hype, especially in the context of podcasting ‘lectures’ or other ‘knowledge transfers,’ is that it replicates what is already not a very good model of how to distribute information/learning – the synchronous spoken lecture.

I dropped Scott a note to let him know about our experiences with course podcasts here at the UW, and Scott wrote back to ask whether we’ve let the larger community know about our work. That made me realize that I haven’t mentioned any of this here in this blog.

We’ve had a pilot project with some course podcasts going this year, starting with four courses in fall quarter, thirteen courses in winter, and more this spring. There’s an early report by my colleague Cara Lane of some research on some of the first quarter participants online in a pdf file at http://catalyst.washington.edu/projects/podcasting_report.pdf. This report is based on a small sample – 41 students out of 148 enrolled in a single course, but it’s at least interesting as an early indication of how some students enrolled in a course are making use of the audio recordings of the course.

The bottom line? Students find the audio recordings useful as supplementary material to enrich the course experience. Not exactly revolutionary, but certainly useful. One other finding is that the podcasts do not have a negative impact on course attendance. That’s something some faculty have worried about, so it’s good to have some data on the question – though to take Scott’s point up, perhaps it would be more interesting educationally if this technology enabled more independent learning without attending lectures.

From a larger point of view what’s attractive about capturing lectures, along with materials such as presentation slides, lecture notes, and syllabi is that it allows the University to share and publicize the wide array of expertise and knowledge of the faculty beyond the walls of the campus – which stands to be good both for the institution and for the faculty who participate.

While I agree theoretically that lectures are not generally the greatest way of imparting information or the best mode of learning, it’s certainly a technique that’s stood the test of time and there are many faculty in all disciplines who are very good at lecturing – and attending a really good lecture is a wonderful experience. Having technology to cost-effectively share those experiences isn’t transformational, perhaps, but it’s certainly worthwhile.

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