iTune U: The Potential for Change

August 9, 2007

A few months ago Apple announced the launching of iTunes U as a separate feature. I am excited about this announcement for a variety of reasons. Podcasting is becoming a common theme for those who discuss Web 2.0 applications. However, some in education feel that podcasting is a fad, too complicated, or any of several excuses for not embracing this powerful tool. The launching of iTunes U provides a powerful endorsement of podcasting in education.

While universities have been taking advantage of iTunes and podcasting for the past few years, the introduction of iTunes U puts podcasting in education into a larger light. The number of K-12 podcasts in growing rapidly each day. When I first started exploring podcasting two years ago the Education category on iTunes had the sub-categories of K12 and Higher Education. Since then the sub-categories has expanded to include Ed Tech, Training and Language Courses. The number of educational podcasts is so great that if I do not place time limits on my searches I end up spending most of my evening searching and listening to various educational podcasts. The introduction of a specific University feed on iTunes can direct lifelong learners or educators.

Open/Free Learning

I embrace the fact that I am a nerd. At any given moment my TIVO will have between 10-20 hours or recordings from the History Channel. I recall in college using Yahoo to locate the syllabus or project assignments for courses at universities I did not attend, simply because of an interest in the topic. The only deterring factor to this practice, setting aside that I kept this practice a secret from my roommates, was the time involved in the process of searching for assessments. iTunes U will allow people with similar addictions the opportunity to attend courses as if they were at the school.

Continued Content Development

As an educator I am excited about the chance to continue my education. I have found that time is against me, preventing me for keeping active all of the podcast subscriptions on my iTunes. That said, the ability to subscribe to a college level course is a great tool. Last year I taught a course in economics. While I enjoy this topic, I have not studies this discipline since my junior year in college. The ability to enroll in college level economic courses is a great advantage for me. I cannot only use such courses to recall the explanations of topics that my and other professors use, but I can experience the changes in these explanations since my graduation.

Podcasting ideas

I began using podcasting in my English courses in reaction to the NPR series “This I Believe“. After my wife tipped me off to the series, I thought it would be a good essay topic for my students. This lesson is my favorite of the year and my students tend to enjoy the process. In planning this lesson, I realized that the odds were against one of our essay hitting the radio waves, so we began podcasting the essays. While I do not know that I will be able to get such ideas from courses on iTunes U, I am optimistic.

Future Change

The high of my excitement for iTunes U is the possibilities for change. In a podcast in early June, George Mason Professor Russ Roberts interviewed Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. Towards the end of the podcast, beyond the 45 minute mark, Pink and Roberts begin to discuss the idea of great professors who cannot communicate their discipline. Pink notes that the common statement that, “Professor X knows his subject, but does not know how to teach,” is an incorrect statement. Pink argues that if a Professor truly knows his or her content, then they could relate this information to the students. I admit that until I heard this podcast I subscribed to the theory that a professor could be smart, but not a good teacher. Given time to digest Pink’s position, I must agree. If someone truly understands the information they teach, they can relate this information to the audience. In fact, I believe that understand how to connect with your audience holds more weight than being brilliant in your field.

Why mention this? I recall when Duke assessed their iPod initiative one of the concerns by professors was student attendance. One professor noted that he began implementing pop quizzes because students were passing exam by simply listening to his podcasts and quit attend class. The response to this professor, paraphrasing because I cannot find the bookmarked article, was to transform the way you conduct class. If your students can pass the course without attending class, then why should they. My hope is that more college professors will realize how podcasting can liberate them from lecturing as much as shift the learning in courses. Then again with the growth in K12 podcasting, if college professors do not embrace podcasting, students are going to eclipse them and by using the right brain thinking rule the university.

Enjoy your day,

Student Narratives–This I Believe

August 27, 2006

This past week our English I Pre-AP class wrote narrative autobiographical essays. Within class we read and analyzed a selection from Arthur Ashe’s autobiography Days of Grace. We also listened to three selections from the NPR series This I Believe. I provided the students with the link to the NPR series to listen on their own. I elected to listen to the essays by Tony Hawk, professional skateboarder, Josh Rittenberg, a junior at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in Manhattan, and Sen. John McCain. I wrote my essay back in April and the link to my essay is still viewable under teacher entries on our Class Blogmeister page.

Besides working on our understanding of narrative essays, my goal for our class is to work on the editing process. This class is also taking AP Human Geography and will be taking the AP exam in May. As we work on our writing, my first goal is to get students comfortable with the revision process. I am publishing the originally submitted drafts; however, I am requiring students to submit a revised copy before we record these essays for publications. We will be revising and podcasting these essays later this week. Check back for the student podcast.

Educational uses of Audiocasting

July 6, 2006

Yesterday I posted on how to create an audiocast.  At the end of my posting I ask everyone to think about how to use audiocasts in an educational setting.  Notice that I posed the questions as audiocasts for educational purposes.  What I did not say was audiocasts in the classroom.  One of my primary reasons for supporting the use of technology in education is to expand education beyond the walls of the classroom.  The key to realize is that there are no new answers to this question; rather audiocasting presents a new medium for the same activities teachers have been using for years.  What is new is that this medium opens countless opportunities to use these new activities.
1)      Teacher lectures

The most obvious use of audiocasting is recording lectures.  When to record and how to use these recording vary depending on the comfort level of the instructor and the accessibility of the students to such recordings.  Two options exist for teachers to record lectures for use as audiocast.  One is during class.  A teacher can do this easily using a handheld recorder such as the attachment to an iPod or the internal microphone on a Creative Zen.  Recording during a presentation presents some limitations as to the use of the audiocast.  Primarily this audiocast can only be use by students for reviews.  Students preparing for an exam or a presentation can replay the lecture.  Students who missed a lecture due to an absence in class can review the information missed.  While this is a nice gesture, I see more advantages to recording lectures prior to class.  That said, I have enjoyed several lectures recorded in this fashion.  The difference I have noticed in those audiocast of lectures recorded while the instructor is presenting is those lectures seem to be geared toward fellow teachers; a professional development session.  My belief is that most instructors realize that few students will replay an entire lecture, so the instructor realize that he or she can better spend the time making an audiocast for other reasons.


The second method for teachers to record lectures is those lectures recorded prior to class.  This provides various opportunities of use, depending on student availability to technology.  “Why would I record my lecture prior to class?”  Obviously when you are planning your lessons recording your lecture gives you a chance to preview your information.  We always tell our students to proof read their work; occasionally we should follow our own advice.  Second consideration when pre-recording lectures is the access to technology of your student.  While teaching three sections of World History last year I began to record my lectures prior to class and combining the recordings with visuals using Microsoft Producer.  This added a concrete image to the words.  My students had access to computers during class.  After providing my students with an outline my students were able to listen to the lecture at a self-guided pace.  This allowed me to pace around the room answering specific questions in a less intimidating environment.  It also allowed my students to replay portions of the lecture without the fear that associates itself in asking “what did he say”.  It also ensured that my lectures were consistent, at least in basics.


While I was able to do this because of consistent student access to computers, students with iPods or similar MP3 players could still complete such an activity in class.  Our class schedule is block, so typically I would follow a lecture in this format with a partner activity applying the lectured information.  I found through trial and error that students use twice as much time to listen and write down notes from a recorded lecture as the actual time elapsed if the lecture played through without interruption.  Therefore in a block setting I would record twenty minutes of information and students would complete the lecture in about forty minutes.  If I wanted my students to download from iTunes the audiocast for Friday’s class, I would make that available for my students beginning on the Monday prior.  This four day time gap will ensure ample opportunity before or after school or at home for students to download this audiocast.  Then in class I would handout copies of the visuals and the accompanying questions/activities.  If the students had a video iPod or similar video player you could create an enhanced audiocast.  (Information on this comes in future postings.)


But not all of my students have iPods or access to computers, how can I use audiocasts?

2)      Exam reviews

Over the past year I have listened to several teacher audiocasts providing students with exam reviews.  Remember that students can listen to audiocasts directly on a computer.  Even students with slow internet connections can download the audiocast and then listen after the download completes.  I have listened to some teachers who provide bonus points for students who can name the music played during a review or provide bonus information that only students who listened to the audiocast would know to review.  This type of bonus information also provides the instructor with an unscientific means of assessing the use by students of such reviews.  And since they are bonus, students who do not take advantage of these opportunities face no penalty.


These ideas are great (thanks), but what if my students listen to Friday’s lecture before Friday or stop listening to my lecture because they know I am recording it and will post it online?

3)      Application of Knowledge

If those teachers who find this to be a problem could please share with me how they were able to do this I would appreciate the secret.  If you can get the students to review the information for class before the class day reserved for that information you are in my circle of envy.  This means that you can spend your entire class completing activities and applying the information they have gained.  This is like students reading the textbook before the class. 


I recall a discussion from a professor at Duke who cited just this complaint.  I wish I bookmarked the comment, but I could not believe what I read.  He was actually upset that students did not attend his classes because students could pass his exams by listening to his audiocasts.  I had a professor who did the same thing, only we could pass his exams by reading the book.  Had the availability to download the lecture existed I would have save the money spent on the book.  I would assume that a professor at a university with the reputation of Duke would understand that if students can come to class with the information then this provides you the opportunity to use this information.  Imagine never having to lecture again and guiding students through creative assessments where they apply rather than regurgitate the information.  Alas, these thoughts are becoming a separate monster that we should save for a future discussion.


While these general ideas are great do not forget about student audiocasts. 

4)  Student Created Audiocasts

This is truly an avenue of endless opportunities.  In my World History courses my students created on-line text books and recorded brief (three minute) lectures highlighting three items they viewed as significant.  As soon as we linked these recordings to their blogs, you could not believe the sense of accomplishment I saw.  In my English course my students recorded an audiocast of a personal essay based on the NPR series “This I Believe”.  I received more positive feedback from this activity than any other throughout the year.  The written portion of this activity was my focus, but I allowed the students to record their essays after we listened to some from NPR.  They recorded while other students edited their essays. 


These are just general thought on audiocasting.  While I am of course bias toward the social sciences and English, think of how useful this would be in any discipline.  After all, every discipline is just a new language.  My historical people are French nouns.  My literary terms are scientific formulas. 


I recommend subscribing to some of the audiocast listed below.  Either access the websites directly by clicking the link below or search iTunes’s podcast directory for key words.  Listen to a few and start jotting down your ideas.  If you are worried that you will lose your list before you finishing planning your lessons for this fall; I have a great idea.  Post your list as a comment to this article.  Then whenever you need to you can refer to this posting.  This will give you a reason to view the ideas of other teachers and see what new ideas arise.  If you have written a similar blog posting link us to it.  I am curious to all the various ideas we can pile up.

Speaking of History 

AP World History

Literature Circle

Econ 100 UC Berkeley

French for Beginners

Learn Japanese  

SMARTboard Lesssons 

Wichita Public Schools IT department

St. Thomas Aquinas High School–link does not work, but do an iTunes search for the morning announcements


Enjoy your day,