All entries for Friday 02 June 2006

June 02, 2006

Podcasting at Bradford

From the front page of the THES on 26th May:–

A Bradford University lecturer claims to be the first UK academic to abolish lectures completely in favour of podcasts. First year students taking Bill Ashraf's biochemistry course next year won't have to go to a lecture theatre. Instead they'll watch or listen to virtual lectures on their MP3 players, phones or computers in their own time.

It's intriguing if true. Most academics who've been experimenting with podcasting thus far have been using as a supplement to, rather than replacement for, traditional lectures. They've either recorded the lecture itself, or recorded an alternative reading of the lecture material, but either way the lecture still takes place. If there were no lectures, would students really be motivated to listen to a series of (presumably) hour–long audio sessions? Experience generally suggests that it's awfully difficult to make an hour–long audio recording which holds the listener's attention effectively (though of course the same could be said of hour–long lectures). Will it matter that there won't be slides or a blackboard or an OHP? Will students miss the social elements (and to some extent the peer pressure) of convening for lectures?

And why does Dr Ashraf want to do this?

Dr Ashraf said the move would free time for more small–group teaching, and would better suit the needs of distance learners, part–time students and those balancing study with work. He said "Some lecture classes have 250 students, so I question the effectiveness of a didactic lecture for an hour".

No problem with any of that, although I'm not absolutely clear that the didactic value of a podcast intended to replace a lecture would necessarily be any better than the lecture itself – though I suppose it need only be no worse. Next week I think I might try and contact Dr Ashraf and find out more about what form his podcasts will take and how he might be planning to measure their effectiveness during the year.

Home again, home again

Sunset on the beach, Cattolica, ItalyAaaaaaaaaand… we're back.

A sunny week on the beach made all the sweeter knowing that Coventry was cold and rainy. Italy's a great place for random observations:–

  • There seem to be two modes of parking: either completely blocking the pavement and rendering it impassable, or in the middle of the road causing a huge tailback. It's important in either case to envince complete indifference to the outrage of those affected. One imagines that the ultimate triumph for an italian parker would be to rotate the car through ninety degrees in order to block both the road and the pavement.

  • Italian seaside resorts are justly famed for their Gelateria – ice cream parlours with a great range of flavours. But I'm starting to believe that the secret to great ice cream isn't flavour so much as texture; the flavours were no better than (say) Ben and Jerrys, but whereas B&J ice cream goes from rock–hard when it first comes out of the freezer to liquid ten minutes later, these Gelateria seem to have freezers which keep the ice cream at about –5 or so, ensuring that it's soft and creamy when it's served. We proved this by taking some home and putting it an ordinary freezer; sure enough, next morning it was as hard as stone.

  • You can buy Italian SingStar! The disc has some of the same songs as the UK edition, but also some Italian hits from the eighties which are more cheesy disco than a dance–floor made entirely from parmesan.

  • Bizarrely, Italians seem to have formed the view that the road to ultimate coolness lies in adorning clothes, bags and signs with randomly chosen English words. It doesn't seem to matter what the words are or whether they're appropriate for their context. So we saw a t–shirt with "World furnace" on it, a pair of shorts with "Get Ready" printed across them, and our local shop was called "Happy drinks".

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