The New York Times discusses the Universal/Apple iTunes contract shenanigans. Executive summary – Universal stays on board: Apple wins. Universal leaves: Apple wins.
Fellow blogger, mac-head and educator Kim Bach noticed Apple’s iTunes U section where colleges and universities can post podcasts of general interest or linked to specific courses. Bach wonders why Danish educational institutions haven’t followed the lead and as I have been slightly involved in a programme at Umeć University – which didn’t really lead anywhere as far as “my” department is concerned – I thought I would share my experiences with him and the rest of the intertubes.
What Was the Big Idea?
If we leave aside the fact that the vice-president of Umeć University got infatuated with her MacBook, then there was also a policy decision behind the podcasting test: Umeć University should be leading in providing ICT-based education at college and university levels in Sweden. Quite an ambition.
As it turns out, there is also a formal project at the university level. Not that I have been informed about it, but there you go. Information in complex administrative structures.
Why We Failed
The bad news is that my department has failed to produce a single “live” podcast during the past academic year and as volunteer participant, I should count myself responsible for this dismal failure.
Well, not quite, because if the thing should have taken off, we as a department ought to have addressed a number of issues. When the workplace is in a state of economic chock and the guy who should take care of the project (i.e. me) is on his way out, then that is an uphill battle.
But I’ll list a number of specific issues that I think have played a role and add a few more topics that I’ve seen presented in the discussion about podcasts and higher education in general.
Oh, no – We have to use m-m-m-macs…
Problem #1 was that the project was arranged in cooperation with Apple’s Swedish branch. The positive part was that Apple provided training in using GarageBand (which is really cool when it comes to making professionally sounding podcasts) as well as discounts for hardware.
In the real world, people’s reaction to this is: “If we have to use Macs, then we can’t do it”. There is an anti-mac sentiment out there which is hard to break.
I would answer with two arguments:
1) No, you don’t have to use a Mac to make podcasts. If you’re cheap, get Audacity and LAME and you can be off making mp3-podcasts for free in ten minutes. (Actually, I would like GarageBand to have the option to export soundcasts in the mp3-format as well as AAC but that is another matter). If you want to spend money, Adobe Soundbooth or Adobe Audition could be your weapons of choice.
2) But hey, why not simply buy a MacBook? You don’t catch AIDS from using one.
And why, oh way do Windows-users more often than not react to the mentioning of Mac OSX in the same way that Evangelicals react to homosexuals? đ
Podcasting is for off-campus students
The knee-jerk response among my colleagues when it comes to ICT seems to be that it is something you use for off-campus courses. Well yes, you can use ICT for that purpose, but there might be reasons why you would want to break the lecture/classroom-format. ICT can provide the tools for that.
And yes, I’ll have to declare myself guilty here.
It’s about IT
No, it’s not. Driving a car isn’t about being a mechanic, is it?
It is about communication, or rather about creating a framework for two-way communication between teachers and students.
The computer guy will take care of that
He’ll try, but my conclusion from five years of working with ICT in higher education is that you need to engage, if not everybody in a department in this kind of projects, then a substantial number of people who will inspire and spur each other.
But trying to create educational teams has been a persistent problem: Most university teachers tend to see teaching as an individual, not a group project. (There are reasons for this but I’ll leave that discussion for later)
Great, now we can listen to the lectures at home
This is the way, podcasting is often presented in media and by universities: We simply take the existing one- or two-hour lecture format, add a microphone and a computer and then we have University 2.0.
This annoys me for several reasons.
First, most university teachers are not particularly good speakers. Listening to a one-hour monologue by someone like me would only make you fall asleep after five minutes. Most lectures do no have the quality to become even mediocre podcasts.
As it is, if you’re not Melvyn Bragg having two or three inspiring guests to discuss your subject with, you shouldn’t make podcasts longer than 10-15 minutes.
Or in other words: You’ll have to organise your presentations in a completely different way when you make a podcast. And maybe this is the really big didactic problem – that we have to drop the soliloquy and the 45-minute structure. (After 15 years at the blackboard, I can talk about anything, probably even theoretical physics, for 45 minutes). A podcast is something else than a lecture.
Second, the podcast as such is a one-way format, but what students really need is two-way communication. If podcasts are to be an integrated part of a course, you have to provide some kind of forum – perhaps nothing more than a blog – where teachers and students can exchange questions and answers.
And finally, a comment to an argument raised in the Danish debate:
Making lectures public will ruin the freedom of university lecturers
A teacher from Roskilde University made this rather surprising argument in a letter to the editor of the Danish weekly Weekendavisen. I think his basic premise was that lectures were private functions only attended by the lecturer and registered students. In particular, this would allow the lecturer not only to test new ideas but also to insult and ridicule fellow researchers at leisure. (I kid you not: The guy feared being taken to court).
First, lectures are in fact public. It’s just that they are so specialised that no-one in his or her right mind would spend a lot of time attending lectures at a course without registering for the exam.
Second, while most academics are as sensitive as mimosas when it comes to criticism from colleagues there is a big difference between criticising another person’s work and ridiculing it. Just to press the point: Irony or sarcasm is not the same thing as ridicule.
And in any event, poking fun at people isn’t illegal even if it may strain working relationships.
Finally, when it comes to presentations and publications in the academic world, there is an interesting question about the relationship between the illusion that academic work somehow follows a straight line from problem over theory and empirical work to conclusions. In practice, there is a lot of detours and false starts on the road and maybe – maybe – it is not a bad thing if the tentative steps of an academic argument are made public.
Today is – as you may have noticed – the day of the 22-hour rock extravaganza “Live Earth“. It’s hard not to note the irony that we have rock (?) stars and their entourages travelling all over the world adding to the already formidable CO2 emission rates of air traffic. (Just to make my point: Here’s the Columbian singer Shakira performing for an audience of umbrellas in Hamburg).
Does anybody remember Phil Collins’s double bill at Live Aid back in 1985 when he played a set in London only to rush to the Concorde in order to play a second set in Philadelphia? Collins has probably been advised not to repeat the stunt (yes, I do know the Concordes have been withdrawn)
But the real question is: What is the best way to do something for the environment – by a) watching rock galas, b) restricting your amount of air travel (we’re not just talking holidays here) or c) restricting your consumption of bottled water? (Hat tip: Eszter Hargittai)
I’d be surprised if you ever see such a forecast that predicts an upcoming recession. That means that every budget or mid-session review should be projecting on-budget surpluses or their quick resumption if we are just coming out of a recession.
the Bush White House has repeatedly sought to expand its powers, often doing so in secret, while sidelining both Congress and the judiciary.
Scary news from the UK:
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act name for the first time 46 institutions which the government feared could collapse even after the introduction of tuition fees boosted university funding.
The Guardian has more.(No, we’re not talking Oxford, Cambridge or the LSE here but second-tier – but still competent – institutions)