February 27, 2009
Photo by Colleen MacPherson
A number of units on campus have joined forces to bring podcasting to the University of Saskatchewan.
The initiative, undertaken by the information technology unit in the College of Arts and Science, Educational Media Access and Production (EMAP) and Information Technology Services (ITS), has so far seen completion of a pilot project and upgrades to recording equipment in lecture theatres across campus that will allow teachers to record class materials as audio files and make them available to students through PAWS.
Gary Brunet, IT associate director in the college, said the genesis of the project was a fall 2006 trip he and Bill Wallace, student computing program manager with ITS, made to a conference about technology in education. “We came back with this idea about podcasting and immediately started the ball rolling as a college project.”
The first step, he said, was to recruit interested faculty members; they got eight. The participants were trained on a hand-held recording device, and software was developed to upload the audio files to PAWS through the college’s Digital Research Centre. In the fall of 2007, the pilot began.
Brunet explained that podcasting is simply a process of creating an audio recording or MP3 file that students can then download to their computer or a device such as an iPod. While there are many additional “bells and whistles” available for podcasting, “the idea with this project is that it’s in its purest, easiest form. If you wanted to create this utility in the IT world, you could go crazy but we wanted to build the most basic form and get buy-in at that level.”
In December 2007, at the end of the pilot, the organizers surveyed both students and instructors to gauge response to the system. They found that the majority of students listened to the podcasts on a computer at home, and that 97.67 per cent used them when they had missed a class. In addition, some 90 per cent said having podcasts available had no affect on whether or not they attended a lecture.
For their part, faculty members said the podcasts appeared helpful for students who missed class but also as a way for students to complete class notes and to review prior to exams. Several noted they were able to listen to their own lectures to study their teaching style and hear their own teaching voice. Others felt a synchronized audio-video recording would be better than audio alone. The only downside, reported by both groups, was that the current system does not record in-class conversation or questions.
“The positive responses proved to us we had to take it further, but then we needed some investment,” said Brunet.
EMAP joined the project, he said, in order to help provide the service beyond the College of Arts and Science. Frank Bulk with EMAP’s consulting services said that microphones were installed in lecture theatres and computers upgraded where necessary to handle the audio files. Some 28 rooms in various colleges were completed at a cost of $391 per room.
Phase two began last fall but Brunet and his colleagues have discovered “that getting buy-in is the hardest part.” There are currently 26 classes using podcasting but “anybody can use it. At this point, we don’t quite know what success looks like. How many faculty (using podcasting) is a success?”
There is an ongoing discussion about ownership of academic data and content, Brunet said, “but students are saying it’s a fantastic tool. It’s not a luxury. It’s something that just has to be offered.”