No more lectures, just podcasts

The shape of things to come – a UK university lecturer says he will no longer deliver lectures to students and instead will offer them as podcasts:

[…] Dr Bill Ashraf, a senior lecturer in microbiology at Bradford University, says the move will free up time for more small group teaching. He told The Times Higher Education Supplement that first year biochemistry students would watch or listen to virtual lectures in their own time. Students will access the podcasts via their MP3 player, phone or computer. Students will ask questions about lectures via text message, which will be answered in Dr Ashraf’s blog.

The lecturer has also been putting his appointment times online so students can check if he is available or book a meeting without coming into the university.

Dr Ashraf said the move would better suit the needs of distance learners, part-time students and those balancing studies with family and work.

I can see this approach as being extremely useful in providing university students with information in a way that meets the classic time-shifting appeal of podcasts  – listen when you want and, with a digital audio player, where you want. It’s also understandable why Dr Ashraf wants to do this:

[…] Some lecture classes have 250 students, so I question the effectiveness of a didactic lecture for an hour.

Valid points. Yet isn’t there more to a university lecture than just listening to a lecturer? What about the interaction with and between fellow students and the lecturer? You can’t get that just by listening to a recording and sending text messages.

Still, it’s a terrific idea, especially the marriage of podcasts with the lecturer’s blog. I wonder what the students themselves think of it.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Tom Abbott

    I saw this as well. Interesting move by Dr Bill Ashraf.

    Our experience at Warwick has been that podcasts may play a more valuable role in supporting lectures and learning through adding extra content rather than replacing existing channels – see your point about the interaction between lecturer and students for example.

    Many lecturers quizzed about this have expressed just those concerns – so it is interesting to see Dr Ashraf balance that by saying – actually this allows me to spend more of my time on small group contact.

    I have wondered about the use of Skypecast for online seminars, especially for distance learning. It seems to be a great tool for adhoc discussion groups for research, teaching and loads of other applications.

    I do wonder if Universities are a bit fixated on podcasts for eLearning and missed the opportunity for other areas – certainly that may be the case in the UK. At Warwick we have tried to do something a little different from just recording lectures and sticking them on the web. Instead we interview academics about their research and allow them to go into more depth than might be allowed in a media broadcast. We also try and get experts discussing matters of topical interest – the Iranian Nuclear Crisis, the Danish cartoons, Nuclear power, oil prices – for example. In the 7 months we have been doing these I think they have become a fascinating and valuable tool for demonstrating the relevance of the institution and our academics.

    We are now investigating podcasts for student recruitment and Alumni relations – we may be behind the Americans, but I like to think can bring something new!

  2. Heidi Miller

    I found this interesting as well. I come from a background in pedagogy and higher ed (I used to teach French 101 at the University of Texas!), and I was never much a fan of distance learning in general for the reasons that you mentioned–that learning is more than just listening to a lecturer. A course is more than just content.

    And while I agree that for some, distance learning is the only viable option, I’d only propose the podcast/blog course combo as an alternative to a live course rather than a replacement. When I taught French, my classroom was always interactive, and I do believe that students learn just as much from their interactions with other students in class as from the content that the professor delivers. And while that interaction can to some extent be facilitated through comments to a blog and podcast, well, it’s just not the same as having a live discussion with classmates and professor joining in, now, is it?

    However, I do agree that for some lecture classes, it would be a nice luxury to be able to both attend the lecture and then listen to it again as a podcast a few days later and post any questions that came up to the blog.

  3. neville

    Tom, thanks for sharing your thoughts re your experiences at Warwick.

    Interesting what you say about universities being fixated in podcasts for elearning. I’ve seen similar thinking in the commercial world, where some people see podcasting (blogging too) as a substitute for face-to-face communication.

    I agree with you, Heidi – complementary tools. I don’t want to second-guess Dr Ashraf, but I would have thought that the idea of podcasting lectures ought to be seen as a complementary activity to the traditional. Perhaps that’s what he will be doing, notwithstanding the BBC report saying he’s ditched lectures entirely.

    I’d still like to know what his students think.

  4. Andreas Auwärter

    Hello from germany to this very interesting story.

    there were several points i could answer to this psting, Mr. Ashrafs conception and his told motivation.

    And how so often in the last days there is an little angel and a little devil sitting on my shoulder and thinking about those plans.

    The devil favours this plans and accept the reasons for more flexibility and teaching style, but the angel counters that this – implemented in this way follows a lot of discipline and (last but not least electronical) competence.

    In the same way i’am always a little bit wondered that all the electronical stuff sould fix now the lost acts or omnissions equipping the universitys and high schools in personel and room capacyity. But let us leave th politics now. The same could be mentioned in the context of pedagogical teaching.

    I hardly thought about what i would miss if i had heard podcasts instead of lectures. And one thing came directly in my mind was that most of the lectures i hear and have heard where constructed in dialogical priciples way – so you as listener and learner has been involved into the teaching process. Such value of learning can yust bring more effiency than every dialogue via a discussion board – if i reflect now the use of mimic, irony and gesture, … the played missunderstanding there are a lot of tools you use in your lectures which cannot be replaced.

    But – who nows me, I’m deeply involved in plannings creating a podcast in the university context. But I’m shure that there is a lot of good reasons embedding podcasts into the lecture procedrues in the way of enrichting the students studies.

    So far ad best greetings from Koblenz.

  5. Tuan

    As a senior at Auburn University in Alabama, I could see the positives and negatives of podcasting these lectures. If a professor is to podcast their lecture I think it should be supplemental to their regular in class lecture. Being in a classroom is important to me, if all my classes are available through podcasting I do not think I, along with many others, would be disciplined enough to succeed. College students are not always perfect bookworms, the temptations of our new found freedom and ability dictate our own schedule gets out of hand sometimes. You are in a new environment and trying to make new friends, studies are put on the backburner now and then to go out and have fun. But then again I am talking about your traditional student.
    For the untraditional student, distance learners and part time students, this could be very beneficial. But I believe everything needs to be supplemented with the podcast. Having a specific time each week where the entire class could discuss their learnings and questions in a forum with the professor would be helpful. Though professors are knowledgable, some students may be able to help each other by showing a different perspective on the information.
    Previously, I said podcasts should be supplemental to the classroom. In this I mean that making a podcast available one or two days available after the actual lecture. This would help students who have missed out on class or a section of the notes. It could be used as a studying tool, so that you can know exactly what the professor said and not confusing yourself into wrong answers. Also, with the delay of the availability of the podcast class attendance would be encouraged.
    Podcasting for education seems like a good thing but situational. Give me a desk and a knowledgable professor who can stimulate my thinking and I will always be in class.

  6. Jean-Claude Bradley

    In my experience, assigning recorded lectures and doing workshops during class time can work well. I think it depends a lot on the type of course. For lecture style science courses like organic chemistry, this is a good model because it creates time to consolidate the material with conversation during workshops.

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