Podcasting lectures, one year later: A quiet, generally favorable start

The numbers don't really show it yet, but podcasting is starting to take hold on campus.

Fall 2007 marks the start of the second full year of the campus podcasting program, and so far, less than 100 instructors are using it to record their lectures. At the end of spring quarter, 49 main-campus classes were registered to podcast through the Information and Educational Technology service, although only 38 posted material. The demand forecast for this fall is about the same.

Rodd Kleinschmidt and Charlie Turner of IET-Academic Technology Services (ATS) both work with the podcast service. They ascribe the numbers so far to faculty concerns that podcasts depress class attendance, and to limited access to podcasting hardware in classrooms--just 10 had installed podcast hardware last year, although 18 have the hardware now. Plus, some faculty don't want their lectures recorded.

But instructors who have used podcasts generally like the experience. And students appreciate the service--sometimes for unexpected reasons. So odds are, the use of podcasts to record and distribute lectures will keep growing.

Helpful for ESL students, post-lunch sleepiness

Liz Applegate, a senior lecturer in the Nutrition Department, is a campus podcast veteran who joined the campus pilot project two years ago. She podcasts her lectures and review notes, then posts them through iTunes for easy downloading for her Nutrition 10 course.

Nutrition 10 is a lively class with up to 600 students. Applegate said the podcasts, combined with the reviews and posted lectures, offer students a fail-safe way to get course material. If students miss class, she directs them to the podcast. That saves her time and makes it easier for students to get the information.

Applegate woul d like her students to use the podcasts in the right way--to reinforce the information, not as a substitute for coming to class. "If you have a choice between the Nutrition 10 podcast and Green Day," she often tells students, "pick the podcast."

Victoria Cross, another veteran of the podcast pilot and a lecturer in psychology, uses her podcasts to evaluate the information, organization and flow of her lectures, as well as to make them available. She was surprised at the variety of reasons why students find the podcasts useful.

"I have heard from ESL students that if I use a word or phrase that is unfamiliar, they put a mark in their notes and come back to it later on in the podcast with a dictionary to help identify what was said," she said. That helps them keep up with the lecture and not worry about what they missed.

A busy single mom who found it hard to stay alert during the lunch-hour class told Cross she listened to the podcast later in the day to reinforce the lecture.

Student feedback leads Cross to believe that the availability of podcasts frees her students to spend more class time thinking about the material, rather than just taking notes. She also suspects class discussions have improved.

Some doubts for large classes

Erwin Bautista, a lecturer in Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, says podcasting has worked very well for his smaller classes. He's less certain about their influence on his courses with 250 students or more.

The major disadvantage, he said, is that podcasts plus the relative anonymity of a big class "may make it really tempting for a student to skip class."

Podcasts are useful when students use them as supplements to lectures, not as replacements, Bautista said.

"I'm beginning to believe that the availability of podcasts might encourage absenteeism, sim ply because students know this resource exists and that podcasts are accurate audio copies. They may even trust it more than borrowing lecture notes from a student who attended that day."

"But they should understand," he added, "that they'd miss out on those special things and nuances that are only experienced during lecture, which the podcast doesn't replicate."

"Anyway, I'll most likely use it this year," Bautista said. "Maybe the benefits outweigh the bad behavior that the podcasts may encourage. We'll see."

Students like it

Students seem to like podcasting. In 2006-07, student use of the service rose 154 percent over the prior year.

Applegate recently surveyed her Nutrition 10 class, asking students if the podcasts helped. Eighty-five percent of the students who answered strongly agreed, and 13 percent agreed.

The UC Davis School of Medicine operates its own podcasting service separate from IET. Unlike the main campus, all of the medical school's lecture halls, classrooms and labs are equipped to record audio and video. The school records lectures only if the instructor or speaker consents, said Roger Santos of ATS.

Students are glad to have the recordings to help them review material, he said.

About 80 percent of the core classes in the School of Veterinary Medicine will offer podcasting this fall, estimated Instructional Media Development Specialist Chris Brandt. The school started podcasting a few classes in fall 2006; most core classes were using the service by spring. The recordings are posted on CERE, the school's version of SmartSite. (That approach also lets the school control access to the recordings.)

There's been no sign of depressed attendance, he said. Stude nts have appreciated having the chance to review a lecture.

"Everything I've heard about podcasts is positive," Brandt said. "There's no harm in having it, and for those who use it, it's exceptionally valuable."