Podcasts, Part of Higher-Tech Education

At El Centro Community College in Dallas, podcasts are used to supplement classwork. Bill Zeeble of member station KERA takes note, while Debbie Elliott gets more on the new classroom technology from University of Alabama journalism professor George Daniels.

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Ms. CATHERINE CAROLAN (Coordinator, Echocardiography Program, El Centro College): So now what we're gonna do is walk through those geometric models and if you look in your textbook on page 107...

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

You might think we recorded this sound in a classroom. Actually, we downloaded it from a podcast prepared for students at El Centro Community College in Dallas. Bill Zeeble of member station KERA visited recently to find out how students are using their iPods to earn credits.

BILL ZEEBLE reporting:

Earlier this year, three students in El Centro's Echocardiology program, a class in ultrasound heart imaging, received iPods for a month. It was the next phase in the school's distance learning program and seemed a logical next step. But it reminded Catherine Carolan, coordinator of the echocardiology program, of reservations she initially had years ago when El Centro first downloaded lessons to desktops.

Ms. CAROLAN: I didn't trust it because I didn't think, well, what about connection with the student, I like to see the whites of their eyes, I want to see them understand it.

ZEEBLE: But Carolan dutifully recorded her lectures and diagrams for download and went along with a plan that meant her students rarely had to show up for class. Then she panicked.

Ms. CAROLAN: I said, okay, you haven't sent me emails or questions and whatever. I don't care. I want to see you. Come up to class.

ZEEBLE: That's when Carolan's students taught her a lesson.

Ms. CAROLAN: I sat with them and in the end I said, so you're fine? And they said, yeah, we're fine. And I said, so you're really just here because I had separation anxiety, and they said, yes Ms. Carolan, can we go now?

ZEEBLE: Before becoming full time students, many in Carolan's class were full time nurses, tending families. Sharla Scovell(sp) lives thirty miles from school. For her, an iPod is a portable classroom.

MS. SHARLA SCOVELL (Student, El Centro Community College): This morning I drove, but I was able to listen to the lecture just as I'm driving in the car, so it was great because we have such a volume of material that we have to learn that one pass doesn't do it.

ZEEBLE: Technology also gives students new options on where to go to school. Jan Poston Day is Director of Standards at Blackboard, one of El Centro's technology vendors. She says the flexibility that comes with new technology has prompted colleges and universities to pay attention.

Ms. JAN POSTON DAY (Director of Standards at Blackboard): They really need to focus on the student experience and make the entire teaching experience not about the professor giving their lectures, it's about how can we reach out to the students in a way that meets their needs, because so many of today's students are not your quote unquote "traditional learners."

ZEEBLE: For NPR News, I'm Bill Zeeble.

ELLIOTT: To find out more about why professors are bringing podcasts into traditional classrooms, we turn to George Daniels, who teaches journalism at the University of Alabama. Hello there.

Professor GEORGE DANIELS (Professor, University of Alabama, Journalism): Hi, there.

ELLIOTT: Now, I understand you are offering a course that allows students to attend in person for two days but then to skip that third class period if they listen to your podcast?

Professor DANIELS: That's exactly what we're doing and we are looking to see how doing that allows students to get information in a different way and hopefully learn even more.

ELLIOTT: So what would I hear on one of these podcasts?

Professor DANIELS: Oh, anything from interviews to clips from an NPR affiliate to actual teaching going on from a previous class. There are a variety of different elements that we put in these podcasts.

ELLIOTT: How is the podcast different from, say, a lecture you would give in your traditional journalism class?

Professor DANIELS: Well, one, it's shorter. We're not gonna talk 50 minutes on podcasts. Generally, these run from ten to 20 minutes. For instance, we include in one of the podcasts an interesting interview that I did with a reporter from the Atlanta television market. He talks about ethics and making decisions about stories that may be controversial. That kind of information may not be as available to us in the classroom unless we just play it during the course of a lecture.

ELLIOTT: How do you know that they're really listening and not just taking the easy way out. I mean let's face it, listen to a ten minute podcast, sit through a 50 minute lecture, not a hard choice here. I'm looking for the easy way out.

Professor DANIELS: We still have the old fashioned exam. Every podcast has a couple of questions that I expect for them to go and research and be able to answer them on the next quiz or the next exam. But also, if they haven't listened to he podcast, they'll have a hard time with the next class concept that I'll be presenting in the lecture.

ELLIOTT: What can't you learn from an iPod?

Professor DANIELS: Well, it's a little hard to teach layout and design of a newspaper page or a webpage. It's also difficult to give feedback on how to write a lead for a news story or what's wrong with the way this story has been edited? So those are challenging topics that we have to condense in presenting them two days a week instead of three days a week.

ELLIOTT: What kind of a response are you getting so far?

Professor DANIELS: Well, the students have done fairly well on the quizzes with the questions that come from the podcast. What we're still trying to assess is whether or not the students are actually downloading the podcast on a schedule that fits with the syllabus of the course or if they're waiting until the quizzes to actually do the listening.

ELLIOTT: So even though this is new technology, the age old tradition of cramming right before the test is still possible?

Professor DANIELS: There's some things technology won't change and that's one of them.

ELLIOTT: George Daniels is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Thanks for speaking with us.

Professor DANIELS: Thank you.

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