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.