It’s All in Our Heads

ILLUSTRATIONS BY YUIKO SUGINO/GUARDIAN
ILLUSTRATIONS BY YUIKO SUGINO/GUARDIAN

ON CAMPUS – In such a technology-driven age, it’s hard to imagine what we can’t get with the push of a button – including, thanks to UCSD podcasts, the surround-sound lecture experience. The only crimp in the lecture-fromhome concept is that, sadly, Academic Computing Services hasn’t yet convinced roughly four out of every five Center Hall professors that they should utilize the service. But when large classes are held in podcast-ready lecture halls, there’s no excuse not to use the technology we’ve already paid for.

The decision to podcast or not to podcast is left entirely up to the professor, many of whom choose not to do so. Of all the classes in Center Hall that could be recorded, only 20 percent of them are actually podcasted.

The relatively new program, which saw its first installations on campus in 2006 and launched its first year of full-fledged broadcasting in 2007, allows students to listen in on their professors from the comfort of their sofa dents. In some cases (where a camera-to-computer hookup can be installed), podcasted lectures include a corresponding video of a professor’s PowerPoints.

When UCSD launched its podcast program in Fall Quarter 2007, only 42 classes participated, and since then, that figure has more than doubled to 94. Though the initial installation of recording equipment, microphones and cameras was quite pricey (as much as $1,500 per room), once the technology was set up, it became invaluable to over-sleeping and double-booked students alike.

In large classes where the objective is to sit quietly, notebook in hand, and be lectured like a good student, podcasts provide the same minimal intimacy as showing up. Additionally, with the mere clip of a microphone to a collar, we can have access to a perfect record of lectures throughout the quarter.

Smaller classes, however, exist chiefly for discussion and exchange; in those few environments where we get face-to-face time with professors and fellow students, a podcast can’t substitute the real thing. For this reason, the recording of lectures hasn’t taken off with everybody. Oceanography professor Nicholas Holland pledges to the idea of “teaching naked” – giving lectures without technological aids such as PowerPoints and, yes, podcasts.

Holland argues that, when offered a glossy presentation, students tend to zone out and pay no more attention than if they were watching the local news. Instead, Holland favors a more organic approach, choosing to bring in glass baking pans and fill them with jellyfish and brittle stars, to be projected up front for all to see. Eye-catchers like these, he says, will force students sit up and take notice – something that can’t be captured on a podcast.

To an extent, he’s right. But a two-hour lecture on the gastrointestinal tract doesn’t lend itself to flashy demonstrations quite as well as the crustaceans and copepods of marine science. Showstopping lectures like Holland’s are few and far between.

Most podcast-resisting professors, according to Instructional Web Development Center Manager Christine Bagwell, fear students don’t get the same experience from podcasts as they would from live lectures. To begin, Bagwell said, they lose the opportunity to interact with their teachers. Professors are also concerned that students might be more inclined to skip class if they think they can just listen in later on, andcould miss out on important lecture materials, as podcasts shut off when movies are played to avoid copyright issues.

But let’s be realistic. Students typically save more intimate questions for TA sections, and the moment a lecture hall’s lights go out and a movie comes on, half the class takes a 15-minute reprieve for a little shuteye anyway.

A study released in October by the Educause Center for Applied Research showed that whether a student attended class had little to do with whether or not it was podcasted. Of students polled, 64.7 percent strongly disagreed that they would be more likely to cut class if podcasts were made available. Instead, the attendance (surprise, surprise) depended on whether or not the lecturer was interesting, as did the number of podcast downloads.

Sure, in a close-knit class where 20 students are using their personal experience as a reference point for discussing the conflict between firstand second-generation immigrants, the learning experience is entirely dependent being there in person. Whether or not this is a good thing is debatable (such classroom freedom often breeds awkward silences when no one is very inclined to speak up), but it’s not an environment a podcast can recreate.

In lecture halls, however, it’s no wonder half the class doesn’t show up until the final. We might as well not be there. The lecturer has his or her own agenda to rush through in 50 minutes, so even if we do decide to ask a question, our desperately waving hand may go ignored way up in the nosebleed section.

There are advantages to “teaching naked,” to be sure, like the more personal touch that comes from replacing typed PowerPoints with hand-drawn chalkboard diagrams. But when it comes down to last-minute studying for that international business midterm, frantically double-checking our notes on the linguistic genocide in 20th-century Spain would be far less stressful if the professor’s comments were audible at the click of a button.

Readers can contact Hayley Bisceglia-Martin at [email protected].

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