Podblasting

The last two times pods invaded this planet, they prevailed. Will they (should they?) win again?

It was 1978 when the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers hit the big screen, and after shuddering through hours of Hollywood-style horror, I had nightmares about waking up in a pod as a creature with no soul. Some campus podcasting detractors might say not much has changed since then.

In January, the University of Cincinnati equipped seven instructors with podcast-armbands, arming them to teach-and-record, and enabling students to jump online and download to their MP3 players the day’s lecture, student presentations, and class interactions. It’s almost as good as being there. And that, in essence, is the basis of the argument against widespread use of classroom or lecture hall podcasting.

“Some say podcasts will make it easy for students to skip class—why show up when you can get it all online?” reported Lori Kurtzman in the Jan. 6 Cincinnati Enquirer (“UC Podcasting Trial Merges Education with Technology”). Indeed, Kurtzman is only lending voice to something that many campus profs have been wondering about since Duke University (NC) launched its freshman iPod program in 2004: Why should colleges and universities make it easy for their students to never attend class again? Is this yet another case of schools looking for excuses to utilize new technologies, in order to lure tech-spoiled kids to their campuses?

No. The use of MP3 recorders to enable podcast of classes and lectures is simply a good example of a 21st-century higher ed system that is more enlightened and less threatened than its 20th-century predecessor. And I am old enough to recall the hoopla about students bringing calculators (let alone laptops) to class: Teachers feared that if students weren’t required to perform calculations with pencil and paper, they might stop using their brains altogether.

As it turned out, calculators didn’t make us stupider after all. By removing the time-consuming tedium from calculation, they enabled us to surge ahead into ever more sophisticated levels of calculation, and freed us to move into deeper levels of theory. Need I look back at what abandonment of pen-and-paper and adoption of word processing, computing, and Internet searching has allowed students to achieve?

With all of this experience with technology on campus behind us, why d'es irrational fear of technology still persist? Why do so many still worry that kids will opt to stay in 6-by-8-foot dorm rooms for four years, rather than mingle with peers and experience live interaction in the classroom or lecture hall? If that was to be the case, why was there not a mass exodus of traditional students from the actual campus to the virtual campus, when higher ed hit the cyberworld? Why do high school students still compete to get in to real colleges?

Anyone who can remember back to his years of note-taking in a lecture hall will realize how precious the ability to revisit a live lecture can be—the words we couldn’t hear because of bad acoustics; the points we missed because of preoccupation with someone cute in another row; the whole lectures we lost when our notes blew out the back of a VW convertible.

Stop blasting those iPods, and give the kids a break, folks; they’ll keep coming to class. Your lecture is just going to get through this time.

—Katherine Grayson, Editor-In-Chief
What have you seen and heard? Send to: kgrayson@101com.com.

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