Monday, July 19, 2010

Multimedia outside the classroom

Following on from my last post, on the challenges posed by the lecture format to what we know about teaching & learning, I want to spend a little bit of time thinking about uses of new technologies outside the classroom, but still for learning experiences.

Specifically, I'll be responding to some ideas & arguments put forward by Tara Brabazon in her article Socrates in Earpods?: The Ipodification of Education. Brabazon's article was written in response to the increasing (in 2006) trend for universities to promote themselves as forward-thinking by having lectures available in mp3 format for students to listen to at their own convenience, rather than at a specified lecture time that may not suit all students. Brabazon argues that this undercuts not just the purposes of learning (& teaching), but also that of the university as a whole.

For myself, in addition to those points, I believe that iLectures - however designed or enacted - can simply never be a substitute for an actual classroom experience. Even in the least interactive classes, there is something gained from merely being in the same room as the person imparting information. Listening to podcasts allows the listener's attention to stray to an even greater extent than it would in the classroom. (And this is entirely aside from the visual components of lectures such as videos/powerpoint slides etc.) This may be a consequence of my having finished my undergraduate degree before the release of the Ipod, but there is also a lesser sense of obligation to listen to podcast lectures than there would be to actually attend class. Nobody knows if you never listen to the podcast, but (at least in smaller classes) student absences from lectures are observable. But, again, perhaps that sort of thinking is less relevant to students who grew up with an Ipod.

Indeed, the problem with podcast lectures stems from the fact that they neatly combine all of the negatives of actual person-to-person lectures without any of the (potential) advantages of that format. They also are, as Barabazon notes, completely different experiences from the perspective of the lecturer:

Good lecturers have different skills to good broadcasters. Through professional development and training, teachers may develop sonic awareness and pedagogically-appropriate delivery. But good materials for the ear rarely emerge from a lecture theater. Lecturing is a different process from producing audio-only programming.

To be sure, the recording of lectures might serve the same purpose as the uploading of powerpoint slides onto your course's Blackboard site: to allow students who missed the lecture or who would like to re-visit it the chance to catch up with what was discussed. But I think that the other side of that use is the potential for students to decide that it's easiest to simply skip the lecture in favour of printing the slides & downloading the lecture's audio, and then not pay much attention to either.

From a teaching point of view, I find another problem with this: I am always disappointed when attendance at one of my lectures is smaller than it should be. The idea that students would prefer to stay away from my class & then listen to it when they felt like it would make me feel like I wasn't properly engaging their attention or interest. And, yes, that can be a spur to improve my lectures, but it can also be dispiriting if I think that I have prepared an interesting class.

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