In a recent blog entry, Phil Miller at Market Power argues against podcasting lectures or providing copies of lecture notes. While I understand his argument, that by reducing the cost of skipping class, one increases the incentive to do so, I also think Phil is missing an important point.
[O]ne of the profs I taught [TA’d] for would hand out the lecture outline before class. Much more often than not, students would walk into the lecture hall, take the copy of the outline, and leave.
What does it say about the value-added of class attendance if students can master the material from your lecture notes or a podcast? Doesn’t it make sense then for them not to attend?
Phil seems to imply that the alternative sources of content (podcasts or lecture notes) are not perfect substitutes for class attendance, that students are not mastering the material from the alternatives, and so therefore they need to be forced to attend class. If he’s right, perhaps that needs to be a topic for discussion with students.
I agree that podcasts, lecture notes and live class sessions are not perfect substitutes, but I don’t agree that live class sessions are unambigously superior media. What are the pros and cons of different media for learning course content? One clear advantage of podcasts is their portability. Students can listen to them in the car, in the gym, almost anywhere, over and over until they understand the material. You can’t replay a lecture.
I’m not arguing for or against any particular medium here, rather that we need to think more carefully about what their strengths and weaknesses are.
We know that students have different learning styles. Once they know the pros and cons, shouldn’t we offer students the choice of the best medium to use?