Inside Higher Ed has an article on “lecture capture,” an automated way of podcasting class lectures so that students can download them at their convenience. The article reports that a new survey shows that students prefer to have access to this technology, and it shares some faculty concerns that podcasting lectures diminishes the quality of education.
I don’t think there is an easy answer to the dilemma of providing a quality education to more and more students with fewer and fewer resources, but I don’t agree that podcasting on its own is reducing the quality of education.
This year, I have 475 students in my class. Even if only 5% of students miss a given class due to illness, emergency, or sloth, that is 20 students who have missed out. Also, my classroom is ginormous. If two students share a joke for a minute during class, ten others around them miss something I said. This tees off the students no end, and I have had students interrupt lecture to ask me to tell people around them to stop talking. The podcasts help the students who miss class or who miss something in class. They help students who transfer into class two weeks after the start of the semester, and they help the dozen or so students with learning disabilities who need extra time or space to take notes. They help my TAs, whose schedules conflict with lectures.
And while I am sympathetic to the concern that recorded lectures are passive learning, as opposed to the active learning that we all know works much better, I am not convinced that the recording itself creates passive learning. The structure of the course pushes toward a passive learning model at every turn: a 50-minute lecture, seats that are bolted into the floor, not a spare seat in the room, the professor up on a stage, etc. I can and do swim upstream and insert some interaction into class where possible, but there is only so much I can do.
I acknowledge that by making podcasts available to students who want to learn the course content, I am also enabling the students who are looking for an excuse not to come to class. This latter is not a problem I can solve, but I reward students who come to class with participation marks that add up to 10% of their grade, using yet another technology, clickers. If a 10% grade penalty can’t get students to come to class, I don’t know what will.
And here is the detail about how I use podcasts, missing in the linked article, that I think is really important to this discussion about quality of education. I make my podcasts available not only to my students, but to whoever has the fortitude to bear listening to my squeaky voice for 50 minutes, twice a week. I would argue that opening access to class lectures through podcasts might actually improve the quality of those lectures by sharing resources with other Intro Soc teachers and by setting the stage for constructive dialogues about teaching techniques, content, etc. In addition, knowing that someone might be listening to my podcast gives me a strong incentive to deliver quality content. I may know more about sociology than my students, but I certainly don’t know more about it than all of you out there who might (but probably won’t) listen to the podcast. I better make sure I know what I’m talking about before I start spouting off.