It’s just a wheel

One of the things that has captured me for as long as I’ve worked with instructional technology is the realization that the tools that I’ve used make and keep a record of the learning experience.

We think of learning as a process, which it is of course, but the process is ephemeral. A lecture happens, and then it’s gone. A really excellent discussion occurs, but often after a while it’s only a memory. That’s not to say that learning hasn’t occurred, but the happening is gone, and if you weren’t there, you missed it.

We tend to assume at least on one level that a course is the same every time it’s taught–after all, satisfying the requirements for a major means you complete a certain set of courses, no matter which term you take them or who the instructor was. Similarly, we tend to assume that a lecture is the same every time it’s given, and yet, when we think about it, neither of these assumptions actually true.

Gardner’s first podcast from the University of Richmond reminded me that it is possible to capture that lecture. It’s possible to record a discussion in an electronic format like a wiki or blog. This isn’t really an original idea–the printed book has been around for centuries and written text for millenia. But to capture the happenings in a classroom does seem new to us. What are we to make of this?

When we evaluate the utility of a recorded lecture, say, we tend to look at it from the perspective of students in the class. We worry about whether students will perceive the podcast as a perfect substitute for attending class. We conclude that since live performance and recording are not the same, even though the information presented is similar, they should be thought of as complementary.

But once we publish the podcast or blog, the experience is out there indefinitely. It’s likely that someone in the future or from a different school today will come across the podcast or blog and use it as a resource for their own learning. With more traditional media, we recognize this as “research,” but the notion that someone from another school would augment learning for their course with my lecture is a new one.

Does publication change the value of a lecture when it becomes more widely available than just to the students in the course? Does it change the value provided by a school when others can obtain the education who are not enrolled? Economists call this an external benefit. What are the implications of this to society? I haven’t reached many conclusions, but it’s got to be good for education.

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7 Responses to It’s just a wheel

  1. Laura says:

    You know that’s a really interesting way of looking at a podcast and I think might be one reason why, ironically, faculty shy away from them. It records what was once ephemeral. If a class didn’t go well, faculty were assured that 10 years from now no one would be the wiser. Now, however, it might be possible for someone to find that class and recognize its faults.

    Actually, I have a faculty member who plans to piece together her podcasts from last year with other podcasts by faculty who teach her same subject and assign those as “readings” instead of using a textbook. I think that’s pretty cool.

  2. Steve says:

    I appreciate what you’re saying, but I think those faculty are only seeing half of the story. If I was going to podcast a course, I would put together the portfolio of lectures over multiple terms. If a particular lecture went poorly, I probably wouldn’t publish it, waiting until I did it well in a subsequent year. Over time, the quality of the collection would improve. In a given term, if a lecture didn’t turn out well in the classroom, I could always point students to the better version in the podcast.

    I think your other faculty member has a much more useful point of view, and I can imagine colleagues who would love to adopt such a “textbook.”

  3. Angela says:

    Laura introduces an interesting point, though, which is that fear, which is, in my view, endemic in the academy, often prevents faculty (particularly junior faculty) from wanting to be recorded in precisely this permanent fashion. After all, when we publish even an article on a topic in our expertise, it goes through multiple layers of peer review.

    That’s not to say that your suggestion isn’t visionary and really exciting. But, how to get traction? Perhaps the answer is simply infectious enthusiasm.

    Are you going to give a paper on this at Educause?

  4. Gardner says:

    Amen to the infectious enthusiasm.

    I know that fear, indeed I do. I know our students feel that fear as well, and some will never speak up in class, never push themselves to go to the next level in a class, for that very reason. It may well be worse for faculty, however, since we’re supposed to be the ones who know.

    On the other hand, I’ve had stuff go through multiple layers of peer review (even by a peer at Yale) and still be attacked, in one case pretty pointedly. Of course it wasn’t my expertise that was being challenged (directly), it was my point of view. Still, “how could you think that?” isn’t much nicer than “don’t you know anything?”

    So much opportunity for joy and a community of creation. But yes, I know the fear. And the enthusiasm, on my good days….

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  6. Jim says:

    “Infectious enthusiasm”, I think that’s one way to describe what’s been happening at UMW recently, and it is a very powerful process to be a part of. I can see its gripping power on a daily basis as of late.

    This discussion of podcasts and pedagogy reminds me of an interesting project I heard of over a year ago. A Marymount Manhattan College professor, David Gilbert, did a fascinating project wherein students remixed the MOMA. This is in some ways even more exciting than the podcasted lecture, for the medium is both capturing an experience and making it public while at the same time introducing a new relationship between students and the hallowed art of museums. As apprentices (or budding art historians, museum folk, etc.) they are honing their skills for reading and interpreting the collection of MOMA; a process of learning how to narrate their field as soon-to-be professionals.

    And while I don’t believe a liberal arts college need be a home for “practical education,” (in fact I often think in the opposite direction) -I do beleive re-examining our relationship to teaching might often prompt a recocneptualization of methods for delivering the message beyond how we capture it.

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