A lecture in your back pocket

New initiatives at Carleton and Guelph let students download their professors’ lectures to their iPods. But that’s no reason to play hooky, professors say

Unlike this Queen’s lecture, if students can’t make it to Carleton professor Bob Burk’s first-year chemistry classes ...
Unlike this Queen’s lecture, if students can’t make it to Carleton professor Bob Burk’s first-year chemistry classes ...
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... they can download the class later to watch on their iPods.
... they can download the class later to watch on their iPods.
Photo: 

Jessica Wynja, ArtSci ’08, sits in her 8:30 a.m. lecture and tries to scribble down what her professor is saying. Because Wynja hasn’t shaken off her morning grogginess, she can’t write as fast as her professor speaks, and she misses some of his points.

Wynja wouldn’t have to ask one of her classmates for the items she missed if she was a student in Carleton University professor Bob Burk’s first-year chemistry course.

After her lecture, Wynja could return home, turn on her computer and download an exact video recording of her professor’s lecture. She could quickly review the lecture and fill in the points she missed. She could even upload the video to her iPod.

“I’m kind of a keener and would definitely take the time to review the lecture,” Wynja said, adding that she would still attend the course even if the lectures were available to download.

And that’s what Burk, 48, intended when he decided to make his lectures available in video on demand (VOD) format.

“Students love it, mostly as a means of review,” Burk said of the more than 450 students in his first-year course. “The classroom is still full.”

Carleton was already recording Burk’s course for Carleton University television (CUTV), a form of distance education at Carleton where students either tune in to a Rogers digital cable channel or rent a video cassette or DVD to watch their professors deliver course material.

Burk said converting the video recordings into digital files was a simple matter, and students can now download his lectures via iTunes, which allows them to transfer the lectures to their iPod, Sony PSP, cellphone or computer to view at any time.

“The lectures are still given live, and are still available on CUTV,” said Burk, who has worked at Carleton since 1993. “We have since added some instructional laboratory videos and some chemical reaction demonstrations.”

Through an agreement with “iTunesU,” Apple Computer Inc.’s education branch, universities can use the iTunes application to upload their professors’ lectures and supplemental course material.

Carleton took the initiative one step further, providing students with the first opportunity to download video recordings of Burk’s chemistry lectures.

Because Burk agreed to use all of his own material for the course, he doesn’t infringe on any copyright issues.

“This is a problem, however, in other courses, where the instructor may only have permission to show something in the classroom where the number of viewers is limited,” Burk said.

But Carleton is trying to address the copyright issue as it tries to expand its VOD content, said Patrick Lyons, the university’s instructional innovation manager.

“We are currently examining ways to work with rights holders to secure permission and examining if there are ways to work around the issue by replacing copyrighted material where rights costs cannot be negotiated or [are] prohibitively expensive,” said Lyons, who is responsible for choosing or applying appropriate technology in new ways to support teaching and learning.

So far, tech-savvy students are lapping up Burk’s VOD lectures, Lyons said.

Students as far away as Norway and Australia are downloading his lectures for general interest, and most students in Burk’s class use the VOD lectures regularly.

What’s more, Burk said, the availability of his lectures in VOD format doesn’t change the method by which he delivers the material, nor does it deter students from coming to class.

“This is a very popular misconception and is used by many instructors to avoid doing this, or to avoid putting the notes on the website,” Burk said.

Gloria So, ConEd ’08, disagrees.

“If I had [access to downloadable lectures], I’d become lazy and probably not go to class,” she said, adding that she would also feel pressured to buy an iPod to keep up with the technology.

Over the last 20 years, Lyons said, several things have happened to account for increases in audio/visual equipment in lecture halls:

•Students have much greater access to information.

•They have become adept with different communication tools such as cell phones, online discussions and instant messaging. This has driven instructors to explore how that technology might be incorporated into teaching and learning.

•They seem to be more demanding of an instructor: if an instructor uses a PowerPoint Presentation, students ask for the notes to be made available online.

•They have a need for immediacy, and want lecture notes posted right away.

•Their desire to see relevance in what they’re learning seems to have increased.

•Most instructors have a genuine interest in improving their teaching.

•There’s a movement from teacher-centred learning to student-centred learning.

Lyons said people will value advances in teaching methods that improve the convenience and flexibility of learning.

“At the same time, face-to-face interaction between students and instructors, students and students, and students and TAs will be even more important,” Lyons said. “The type of interactions may change, but [the interaction] will be increasingly important.”

At the University of Guelph, engineering professor Bob Dony is waiting to see if audio recordings of his signal-processing course improve students’ learning.

Dony told the Journal he decided to record his lectures in an attempt to supplement students’ understanding of challenging equations.

“With my running commentary recording, students can review the lecture material and see why I moved from point A to point B,” said Dony, who is 42 and has taught at the University of Guelph for almost eight years.

The only students who have access to Dony’s audio files are students in his class who can visit his course’s WebCT page.

Dony said that since his course deals primarily with communication and audio signals, recording MP3 files for his students was a relevant way to reach them.

“I’m always looking for something special to use,” he said.

Dony added he wants to use the technology in a manner that is as unobtrusive as possible. That’s why he usually uploads his lectures’ sound files, without editing anything, five minutes after he completes his class.

Like Burk at Carleton, Dony said he’s comfortable with incorporating technology into his classrooms.

“But not all faculty members would have the same comfort levels at this point,” Dony said.

He also said his students enjoy having access to the audio recordings.

“For them to be exposed to technology adds value to their learning,” Dony said, adding that the technology hasn’t proven a substitute for missing lectures.

So what if Queen’s adapted the technology used at Carleton and Guelph?

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane was unavailable for comment, but his assistant expressed surprise at the idea of allowing lectures to be downloaded to an iPod.

Representatives from the Queen’s Learning Technology Unit, a sub-section of Information Technology Services responsible for helping professors incorporate technology in the classroom, did not return the Journal’s phone calls.

Shirlee Palmer, continuing and distance studies (CDS) manager, said aside from a first-year anatomy course that students can take entirely online, CDS isn’t planning to develop courses that students can download or watch on television.

“Our mandate has changed,” said Palmer of CDS’ decision to focus on accommodating full-time students at the University more than distance students.

Alan Graves, Comm ’06, said he wouldn’t be open to the idea of downloading lectures to his iPod if it meant paying the same amount of money for the same course in a traditional lecture setting.

He said the virtual classroom was a good reference point for students when they are studying, but he added that he thought lecture attendance, on the whole, would decrease.

For Graves, the decision to attend class or flick on his iPod and catch up at a later date would depend on what class offered the technology. He said if the class were a core course, he’d probably attend. But if it were an elective, he’d attend fewer classes than normal.

“I’d skip a lot more 8:30s,” Graves said.

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