Podcasts go to school
ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN MACNEILL
Justin Gallivan was starting off the fall 2005 semester with his biochemistry course at Emory University in Atlanta when he noticed the front row of desks was covered with tape recorders and microphone-equipped iPods that students had brought to record his lecture. One coed even posted to the class website, offering five dollars for a recording. Earlier that summer, he had been reading about a new trend: coursecasting, or distributing class lectures as podcasts. So he bought his own $39 microphone, and gave the idea a shot.
To present a highly visual subject like biochemistry, Gallivan now relies on enhanced podcasting to include images like chalkboard drawings and website links to protein databanks, for example. Among his 200+ classmates, two-thirds of students regularly listen to podcasts of his lectures. They have also been downloaded more than 700 times per lecture, by biochemistry enthusiasts everywhere from Mexico and Norway to Australia and Japan.
Though creating each podcast takes half an hour to 45 minutes, the effort shaves hours off the time Gallivan would have spent answering students' simple questions-ones they can now answer themselves by just replaying the podcasts. What's more, he says, "the students love it. It's a win-win situation." But won't the on-the-go format encourage students to skip the actual lectures? It hasn't so far, Gallivan says.
Drexel University science librarian Peggy Dominy uses podcasts to find hot topics that help her search for books or journal articles she can pass on to faculty members. Perhaps as a testament to the increasing legitimacy of podcasts, Dominy is starting to add them to her archived collections at the Philadelphia-based university, and experts now offer podcasting seminars for librarians. "If they're stable and around long... why not catalogue a podcast?" she asks. Dominy says professors often request relevant podcasts to play in their lectures.
Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana has been maintaining its own coursecasting website for its students since its 2005 fall semester. In November, Stanford University was the first school to post coursecasts on iTunes for students, faculty, and alumni, and the University of California at Berkeley recently made podcasts of nearly 30 course lectures free to the public. Universities like Princeton use them to distribute general interest lectures and highlight the institution's research.