An article on the BBC reported Friday that a college professor at Bradford University in the UK has replaced classroom lectures with podcasts.  Professor Bill Ashraf feels that the quality of his lectures is compromised by the large size of his classes, some of which contain as many as 250 students.  Using Dr. Ashraf’s method, first year biochemistry students can listen to lectures on their own time and send questions to the professor via text message.

Apparently, Professor Bill Ashraf is not alone is his use of podcasts to supplement or replace classroom lectures.  Locally, American University’s Washington College of Law has begun offering podcasts of guest lecturers in order to accomodate students’ busy schedules.

The University of Minnesota has also started offering various podcasts to students that give advice for stress relief during hectic times during the school year.  The University is also considering using podcasts for spreading information about orientation, life after graduation, and even computer tips.  At the University of California at Berkely, about 40 courses are reproduced in podcasts, providing students with a method of reviewing course material during finals periods or in the event that they miss a class meeting.

If that’s not creative enough for you, check out a new school opening next year in Melbourne, Australia. Coburn Senior High School plans to allow students to download podcasts of classes at on-campus internet cafes on a routine basis.  The school will have a technology focus, and will be built despite the 2003 failure of Moreland City College, established on similar principles to Coburn.

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Elementary schools have even jumped on the podcasting bandwagon.  Jamestown Elementary School in Arlington, VA has been “pen-podcasting” with an elementary school in Scotland, where children as early as kindergarten have been introduced to iPods and other computer technogoies in the classroom.

It seems that teachers are trying to reach students in ways that seem interesting, engaging, and interactive.  Considering how fast technology is advancing, it is definitely necessary to introduce kids to as many of these tools as possible at an early age.  But really…will the Ipod be the teacher of the future?

In 2004, Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, began issuing iPods to incoming freshmen.  This program was so successful that Duke started the “Duke Digital Initiative“, a program aimed at acheiving, through the use of new technologies, “innovative and effective teaching”, “curriculum enhancement”, “infrastructure development”, and “knowledge sharing”.  The university believes that its 69 “DDI” courses offer many educational benefits, such as “improved oral and written communication skills”, “restructured classroom time”, “expanded classroom boundaries”, and “integration of engaging content into courses.”


In theory, all this innovation sounds great.  It seems like teachers and students are finally able to make the most out of strategies offered to them through various forms of technology.  And I am sure that Duke students are enthusiastic about receiving iPods upon matriculation and being able to catch up on lectures simply by putting on some headphones.  But is all this innovation truly an improvement on traditional teaching methods? Or is it just an easy way out for less-than-dedicated students, and teachers, alike?

When asked about North Carolina Central University’s new plan to issue iPods to all faculty members and to begin podcasting courses, Dean Cecilia Steppe-Jones replied, “to engage this cell-phone generation, we have to deliver instruction using their preferred means of communication, which is both digital and now portable.”  It seems her goals are in order…or are they?  In an interview with ABC11TV, Dr. Steppe-Jones commented, “This way, we can sit on the beach and have an iPod in our hand and record a lecture.”

That was disheartening for me to read.  As a recent college graduate and current master’s candidate, I realize that a large part of the lessons learned in college is learning to be responsible and to be held accountable for one’s actions.  When discussing this with a colleague of mine, who is currently working towards his master’s degree at the University of Massachusetts, he commented, “A large part of the academia process is simply being responsible, being dedicated, and jumping through the hoops a university lays in front of you so you can get your diploma.  College gives students the opportunity to apply basic study techniques learned in high school in order to begin the actual process of learning.  Podcasting classes allows students to skip that part of the process, cutting out a large portion of what college teaches kids, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”

Whatever happened to getting  5 points on tests just for showing up?  I guess at schools like Duke, AU’s Washington College of Law, and NCUU, that no longer applies.

The same colleague, who has a significant amount of high school teaching experience, also commented, “using technology in the classroom is definitely important, and it is a great way to reach kids on different levels.  People learn in different ways -audio, visual, etc.-and using technology can help to overcome some of the barriers created by different learning styles.  But teachers should be careful that using these technologies, especially with young children, is actually improving upon traditional teaching methods and not just a bunch of fireworks.”