i podcast my intro soc class and here’s why

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.

10 thoughts on “i podcast my intro soc class and here’s why”

  1. Interesting. I have never considered doing this, but it strikes me as a good idea for all the reasons you say! For lectures (roughly half of my total undergraduate teaching), my policy is that I don’t care if they come to class at all, but the material in the lecture will be fair game. I know this is hopelessly retrograde, but it spares me from being an attendance clerk.

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  2. I think this is a great idea. I am going to do it this Spring with my intro sociology course.

    Erik Wright did this for his intro course, “Contemporary American Society.” You can get the lecture slides, plus podcasts, here

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  3. Thanks for sharing this, it’s great. I agree with your analysis that class size is the issue, not technologies we use to compensate for these things.

    Would you mind sharing some of the technical details of how you put the Podcasts together — What are you using to generate them? I assume the slides are the same you use in class? Do you link to the iTunes store from a class website?

    Btw, my graduate fellowship is in a “technology & pedagogy” program, and I’m going to share your post with our listserv, as we are always interested in people not just using tech, but thinking out loud about those uses.

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  4. On a day-to-day basis, it is very easy. All I do is hit “record” on some software on my computer before the lecture, hit “finish” at the end, and then upload the file it creates to a blog.

    Getting it all set up was a bit more difficult:

    I use iShowU to make the recording. It picks up the audio from my computer’s microphone* and records everything that shows up on my desktop. This includes the Keynote presentation, the bar charts that my clicker software creates when I ask a question, and on the few occasions when I show something from the internet, it will show that, too.

    After class, I take the optional step of using Quicktime to trim the first minute or so off of the front of the recording so it is a clean start. I upload the .mov file to a blog. (This is a Typepad blog, because I had trouble getting WordPress.com to deal with a .mov file, instead of the Flash version it automatically generates, but I since have learned how to do it on WordPress as well.)

    You can set up a podcast in the iTunes Music Store by using the “submit podcast” link on the podcast page. Once it is approved, it gets the RSS feed from my blog, so whenever I post to the blog, it shows up in the iTMS automatically. If students subscribe there, new podcasts will download automatically whenever they connect to the iTunes store.

    *This is why the sound on my podcasts is uneven–when I walk away, it gets quieter. The better way to do this is to feed the mic I wear for class into the input to my computer, but my classroom is having technical difficulties at the moment.

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  5. Oh, I didn’t answer your question about the link. Yes, I provide some instructions and a link to the iTunes Music Store on the course management software for the course (WebCT).

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  6. That’s really cool. I started a new job with a pretty obscene commute (1.5 hours by public transit) and podcast lectures have been my saving grace – I’m working through some psych lectures right now, but it did seem like soc podcasts were a bit on the sparse side relative to other disciplines. Thanks for helping alleviate that – now we just have to get up some classes that I haven’t taught before.

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  7. In part due to this post, I have decided to record mini-lectures explaining SPSS commands for my intro stats class. The pace at which students grasp the program varies a great deal, which makes it difficult to teach all students at once. I’m hoping that posting those mini-lectures — screen captures with audio — will reduce confusion. My university has Tegrity, which apparently is $5,000 for just one license. I was surprised at how expensive it is to pay for software that simply records what goes on the screen with audio. Maybe I’m just too accustomed in the age of Google to getting incredible software tools for free or close to free.

    Tina, did you notice a change in student performance after you starting posting the lectures?

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  8. @8: I can’t say anything about performance; I have not taught this course without podcasting it. And although my university tried to do a controlled test with multiple sections of the same course in another discipline, the clever students mucked up the works by downloading the podcasts from the section in which they were not enrolled. I expect, however, that some assessment info will be available soon, as this is the million-dollar question.

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