For some students, listening to MP3s in iTunes is a way to unwind from studying. For others, those MP3s have become an essential part of classes.

Over the past year and a half, podcasted lectures have increasingly become a part of academic life at the University. Since early 2005, the School of Dentistry has uploaded podcasts of almost all of its lectures to a private directory on the iTunes music store called ItunesU.

More than 125 LSA classes use podcasting on CTools, said CTools product manager John Leasia. In February, LSA students downloaded an average of 2,500 podcasts per week, Leasia said. The business school has launched a website to with video podcasts of speakers and has purchased podcasting equipment.

The business school’s Chief Technology Officer Ed Adams, though, said the technology has yet to catch on with business school professors.

Dentistry student James Skoursen said the recordings are a huge benefit. He reviews recordings of his lectures late at night to help him keep on top of his heavy course load.

“I wouldn’t pass school without podcasting,” Skoursen said.

Listening to podcasted lectures lets Skoursen pause and rewind sections of a lecture that he didn’t understand or wants to focus on. He said that making notes on a one-hour podcast can sometimes take him over two hours.

While he admits it’s no replacement for seeing the professor, Dentistry student Harold Anderson said the podcasts give him the flexibility to learn the material on his own schedule, without necessarily attending lectures in person.

Anderson said podcasts are “majorly beneficial” when he has busy schedules and that he listens to them all the time.

“I stayed up till 4 a.m. listening to the podcasts,” he said. “I drank a whole two-liter of pop listening to nine podcasts.”

Lynn Johnson, the director of dental informatics at the School of Dentistry, has led podcasting efforts at the dentistry school beginning in early 2005. Today, the school has more than 993 podcasts, 10 percent of which include video.

Johnson said that when the project began, she didn’t expect it to grow so quickly. Originally the school planned to only record the audio of lectures, but soon branched out into video podcasts as well.

Along with sound recordings of lectures for students, the dental school records informational videos for patients. The school also shows patients videos about treatments. Johnson said that by letting patients watch a video, the school can standardize the information given to patients about potential treatments. It also saves time for staff members who no longer need to do these presentations in person.

Videos of procedures also allow students to review treatments they may have learned about months earlier but never preformed, Johnson said. There is a collection of videos that cover both course-specific and general dentistry topics.

“We are building an archive of videos that cuts across the whole curriculum,” Johnson said.

Based on the work at the dental school and numerous requests from student groups and professors, the University’s Course Tools website now also includes an iTunesU link. There, professors who request it can upload audio or video recordings of their lectures for students.

The podcasts that professors upload include purely sound files, sound files annotated with Powerpoint slides, and full-fledged videos, Leasia said.

Leasia said that the response to the system has been very positive and that the only limits to expanding the program are computer processing power and disk space.

Despite their availability, Engineering freshman Danny Byrd said he never took advantage of the podcasts offered in his organic chemistry class last semester. Because he went to class and took notes, Byrd never thought like he needed to supplement class with the podcasts.

When he missed class, Byrd talked to his professor because he thought that would give him a better understanding of the material than listening to an audio file.

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