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teaching on the cutting edge

February 28, 2008

I noted in my last post that ACU is going to give away an iPhone to incoming freshmen. InsideHigherEd.com has an article about Duke’s foray into giving away iPods. What follows is the bulleted conclusions from Duke along with my professional, Instructional Designer opinion.

  • More than 600 students were in courses using the iPods each semester of the academic year that just concluded. A decent pool of students, but back in 2005 I don’t think that the iPod had video capacity. This means that the school was relying solely on audio content. One sensory approach will have limited appeal/success.
  • Use was greatest among foreign language and music courses, although a range of disciplines used the devices. These courses will have the most accessible audio content (remember those language labs with the cassette players?)–and of course music. I can see a real boon for both of these areas.
  • While audio playback was the initial focus of most of those involved, students and faculty reported the greatest interest in digital recording. I don’t really know what this bullet point is trying to say…Did the experiment result in more illegal downloads (hey, I have the hardware, let’s get Kazaa!) or did they want to move to the newer iPods with the video screen (music videos!). Again, content, or the lack of, would be the killer (see below).
  • The effort was hurt by a lack of systems for bulk purchases of mp3 audio content for academic use. iTunes debuted in January, 2001. In that four years, music had begun porting, but podcasting, especially academic podcasting, was of limited appeal. It was like downloading a sermon–lots of audio of some guy talking about something or the other. Not really dynamic.
  • There are many “inherent limitations” in the iPod, such as the lack of instructor tools for combining text and audio. Here is the real heart of the experiment–and I think this point is mistaken. It was not so much that there was limited tools, but a profound lack of understanding or insight in how to use the tools that were available. Or, more to the point, how to envision digital instruction (see more below).
  • Some recordings made with the iPod were not of high enough quality for academic use. Speaking into a computer mike is the audio equivalent of using a webcam for broadcasting video. It is overreaching the mediums capacity.
  • The project resulted in increased collaboration among faculty members and technology officials at the university, and the publicity about the project led to more collaborations with other institutions. Don’t overlook this benefit. Anything, and I mean anything, that gets faculty talking to the gear-heads is a good thing. Anything that encourages faculty to question how to present material is a good thing. I think this point would have made the whole experiment worth the cost–and to ACU, here is where you need to focus your attention.

If you are thinking about moving to the present-future, keep some of this in mind. Your students will know how to use/envision the hardware much better than you. Ask them what they might like to see (RSS feeds on assignments?; meeting notices for study groups?; better integration into a digital platform like BlackBoard?–I got more).

The kernal of the problem lies in content. The old-line book, pencil and lecture will not be enhanced by an iPhone, and if that is all the instructors will do, then they are wasting their mission money.

If, though, ACU continues along the line they are, then I feel that this experiment will produce measurable results.

For example, perhaps in anticipation to the general announcement, ACU has positioned their website to accommodate lurkers (like myself). Clicking the visitor option, you are taken to ACU’s presence in iTunes.

The content available, which I am sure to grow, includes both audio and video options. For example, the theater department includes a fairly good “Staging Shakespeare” which, while a static slideshow montage moving behind a sit-down interview, the quality and content is, on the whole, interesting. And, it looks as if it could be created with standard Apple applications.

A similar selection can be found in Kyle Dickson’s Brit Lit course. His approach, which I think is both smart and appropriate, is to encourage the students of a given section to create the content–group projects that are digitally updated. Again, taking spoken audio the student presentations provide voice-over for slides (images I am sure are not in violation of copyright). The engagement factor, though, comes from how the students are encouraged to approach the material. One example had a discussion of 18th century fashion presented by two, modern fashionistas (think red carpet commentary). Upbeat, engaging, it was a strong student production. It was also, even for this watcher, engaging.

More to come.

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3 Comments
  1. Catherine permalink
    February 28, 2008 7:24 pm

    Great post, PPP. I found that my science courses at Big U made extensive use of technology. One of my current classes meets in the med school and the lecture hall has amazing technological equipment. However, I have found that the other disciplines use very little technology in their instructional design and given the state of the AV equipment available in most classrooms, I don’t entirely blame them.

    However, I have had too many classes where the instructor is still lecturing off the same yellow notes s/he used in 1992. If the adoption of technology forces some innovation in instructional delivery and content, that can only benefit the students being served.

    fka Miranda

  2. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    February 28, 2008 11:19 pm

    I am curious, what kind of information do you receive in the med classes via technology?

  3. Catherine permalink
    February 29, 2008 3:15 am

    It’s actually an interdisciplinary course in which one of the main instructors is a medical school faculty member. We mainly use the technology for movie watching and presentation slide viewing but there are two giant screens and two projectors and controls that actually work in the med school lecture hall. My normal classes have locked projector cases that occasionally work. My general science lectures were in a large lecture building, made good use of technology, but, again, the equipment often did not work.

    I hope I answered your question and if not, I’ll try again. It’s good to see you back.

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