It was no surprise to Paul Lopez to hear his professors on the radio while he was driving to a wedding. As a matter of fact, Lopez said he heard his professors voice everywhere he went last weekend.

Sarah Royce
Second-year dentistry student Jared Van Ittersum holding his iPod on which he can listen to recorded lectures. He proposed to his professors that they podcast their lectures last year. (DAVID TUMAN/Daily)

As a second-year dentistry student, Lopez is just one of the growing number of University students who are listening to class lectures on their iPods.

“I drove for four hours and listened to four lectures. Without the podcasts, I couldn’t have used that time to study,” Lopez said.

With the ubiquitous iPod is a feature to listen to radio broadcasts as mp3 files called podcasting.

Recently University professors have been recording their lectures then downloading them as podcasts for students to listen to. At the forefront of this nationwide trend at college campuses is the School of Dentistry.

“I think that it adds one more tool to our communications toolbox,” said Lynn Johnson, director of dental informatics at the University’s School of Dentistry. 

One year ago, second-year Dentistry student Jared Van Ittersum suggested to professors that they start using lecture podcasts. 

“Before, we would record lectures ourselves and put them on our iPods,” he said. “Now it’s a lot easier since professors are doing it.”

To test out how well this new system would work, Johnson helped construct a study in which two weeks of lectures were recorded. They could be accessed in three ways: as downloadable digital video, audio recordings or power point with audio. Results from the study showed 60 percent of students chose the audio recordings for their iPods.

“The audio is what everyone wanted,” said Dennis Lopatin, associate dean of the dentistry school. “Students listen to lectures while they’re working out – sounds like our own Richard Simmons version of ‘sweating to the oldies.’ “

Duke University was the first college to begin offering podcast lectures last fall. Duke spent $500,000 to hand out 1,600 free iPods to incoming freshman that fall.

James Hilton, University of Michigan associate provost for instructional technology affairs said of the benefits of podcasted lectures: “They enable us to think about the classroom as a virtual place that extends beyond physical walls.”

Hilton added: “To take a fairly mundane example, e-mail has dramatically expanded the notion of office hours.”

But some faculty members still hesitate about allowing their entire lectures to be electronically accessible.

“It’s an idea that a lot my colleagues and I have been discussing for listening activities in the classroom,” said Julie Evershed, who is an information and resource coordinator at the Language Resource Center. “But many professors are reluctant in fear that students won’t show up for class.”

On the contrary, Perry Samson, a professor in the atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences department, who began offering lecture podcasts to his students this semester, said because of the podcasts more students are becoming actively involved in his classes.

“I actually have more students now than previous years, but don’t know the exact number of how many students actually use the podcasts,” he said.

Lopatin said attendance has not dropped at the School of Dentistry since the podcasting of lectures. However, this stability in attendance records within the school may be because only graduate level classes offer podcasting of lectures.

“With a professional program like this there’s a maturity level we have,” Lopez said. “We all definitely still go to class. And the people who are immature enough to not attend class, they’re missing out on the classroom experience.”

LSA Associate Dean Robert Megginson said the main disadvantage of podcasts is that such audio delivery of lectures tends to be less interactive. Another is that some professors are not familiar with the technology. Megginson said he does not know of any LSA professors who use podcasting, but he added that it is definitely something for the school to consider.

“On the negative side, collaborative technologies are still immature,” Hilton said. “Both in terms of the technology and in terms of our experience with them. Some of it will prove useful and some of it almost certainly will not.”

But he added with every new technology, the trend has an opportunity to take off.

Megginson said, “I do think that there is interest in having more electronic delivery and review of lectures. – And I would expect to see more of that in the future, particularly as the technology becomes easier to use.”

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