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September 1, 2006

Professors use cutting-edge technology in classroom

To educate his students on technology and its widespread use, Bill Barnett, an associate professor of computer information systems, is utilizing podcasts, a method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio or video programs, for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. The term, coined in 2004, combines "iPod,” a popular portable audio device, and "broadcasting," according to Wikepedia.

Students in Barnett’s Management Information Systems class are required to listen to technology "news casts" each week. Barnett dedicates about 30 minutes of class time to technology discussions, including discussions of podcasts and their impact on business and society.

Barnett began using podcasts after the debacle with Sony music installing spyware on music CDs as a form of digital rights management (DRM).

“I couldn't help but think, ‘Some group of MBAs from the biggest business schools in the world thought up or were presented that idea, and thought it was great.’  Sony was hit with a number of lawsuits over this incident, and now must submit their DRM schemes to outside review. The assignment is intended to get our MBA students to understand technology better, and begin to develop a feel for its impact.”

According to Barnett, podcasts have two major advantages in terms of providing ancillary material for students. Producing a podcast is much cheaper than producing conventional media like tapes or television, and the podcasts, which are recorded into an electronic file, can be downloaded and digested at any time.  “This gives students the capability of programming their own ‘channel,’ so to speak, that serves their specific needs.  This creates, in essence, an educational radio or TV network customized to an individual's specific interests and needs,” he said.

Barnett plans to produce his own content to support his classes, such as lecture recordings and extended discussions about special topics that students can listen to outside of the classroom.  “Eventually, I would like to take advantage of the video capabilities of the newer video capable players (like vidio and iPod) by producing narrated slide presentations or Camtasia movies.”

Barnett is not the only ULM professor to utilize podcasts. Gordon Harvey, associate professor of history, distributes his lecture materials in podcast form.

Harvey brings a digital recorder with a lapel microphone to class, records the lecture, then converts the lecture to an MP3 file, which he posts on Blackboard (a website) so his class can download it or listen to it directly in their web browser. Utilizing podcasts will help Harvey study his students’ habits, he said.

“I want to study student usage of such media in their study time away from the classroom. What, if any, is the connection between how and what they hear and what they record in their notes?  Will they use the podcast as a means of filling in gaps where they lost attention, and got behind in writing notes or just missed a class?  Does this help or hinder the learning effort?”

There are inherent challenges with podcasts, Harvey said.

“Since I am podcasting entire lectures, there is always the danger that the student will try to skip class and get the podcasts later, but I have told them that when class attendance drops off significantly for a few days, then the podcasts will cease.  They still have to come to class, but this might help them learn the material a little more efficiently.”

Podcasts have several advantages for both students and professors, he said.

“Students often complain that it is hard for them to listen to a lecture while also trying to record the most important information. In short, it is hard to focus on writing down information while also taking in new auditory information,” Harvey explained. “I had a biology professor in college who was a fantastic lecturer, so much so that I would just sit and watch and listen. Then, at the end of class, I hadn't written a single thing.  So maybe this effort will assist them in understanding the broad sweeps of my lecture without missing the necessary factual and philosophical information.  And maybe I can understand better the process of my lecturing, their writing down notes, and how they display this understanding on my exams.”

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