2007 Campus Technology Innovators: Podcasting

2007 Campus Technology Innovators

Innovator: University of Connecticut

Sophisticated use of podcasts, precasts, and postcasts to enhance course material and facilitate learning

University of Connecticut Professor David Miller wanted to develop podcasts that would do more than simply record actual lectures; he wanted to give students in his large (315-student) General Psychology course an opportunity to interact with him, with one another, and with a broader community. "As the first person to incorporate podcasting into courses at the University of Connecticut in fall 2005, I decided not to simply 'coursecast,'" he says. "Though there are times when coursecasting may be useful, I felt that there was nothing particularly novel about recording lectures. Creating this simple record was not my main purpose for podcasting."

UConn's David Miller

podcasting to give students
an opportunity to interact
with him, with one another,
and with a broader community.

Instead, he developed iCube, a weekly one-hour discussion of course material in which students meet with him, discuss psychology, and record the session as a podcast. The idea began as a way to make an exam review session accessible to all students in the class, but soon expanded into an informal group discourse that helps students get further engaged in psychological science. "We not only discuss course material, but also any other topics of interest related to psychology," explains Miller. "Some students have even switched to psychology because of their active participation." But students benefit on a personal level as well as academically: "Students who participate in the recordings get to know me very well, and vice versa. Some become my advisees; all are in a great position to get meaningful letters of recommendation from me," he notes.

Technology choices. Miller uses four Marshall MXL 990 condenser microphones and an Alesis MultiMix 12 FireWire mixer connected to his Power Mac G5 to record his iCube sessions; the WireTap Pro application from Ambrosia Software captures the audio feed from the mixer. He then edits the files using Sound Studio 3 from Freeverse, mostly to eliminate silent passages and adjust audio levels with a compression filter. Then he converts the file to MP3 format, uploads the file to his server, and updates an RSS feed (using The Podcast RSS Buddy, shareware developed by Chris Tolley that generates RSS feeds in XML format), so that the podcast will be accessible not only on his iCube website, but also on iTunes and other podcast aggregators.

Pre- and postcasting. In addition to his successful iCube podcast series, Miller has further enhanced his courses with precasts and postcasts. "Precasts are enhanced podcasts that I produce using ProfCast software [from Humble Daisy], which allows me to incorporate visual components from PowerPoint presentations," explains Miller, who uses the precasts to give students a heads-up, in advance, on important points to look for in an upcoming lecture. "Just before class, I also play the precast associated with the upcoming lecture, for students who arrive early."

After class, Miller uses an Edirol R09 portable recorder from Roland to create short audio recordings (postcasts) in which he addresses particularly difficult concepts that were discussed that day. "Every professor has experienced times when he or she feels that material could have been explained more clearly during a lecture," he says. Postcasts allow him to do just that, on the fly—without setting up his mixer and microphones.

Advice. "My main piece of advice regarding any form of technology is to think first about how the technology will enhance your course," says Miller. "How will it facilitate learning? Do not use it simply because it's available or cool, or because your peers might be using it. Think: How will it work for you, for your students, in your course, in terms of an actual enhancement? Then, try it out. And if it's not working, modify it."

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