November 16, 2007

New technology puts instructor’s voice in students’ heads

Stephanie Bozzalla, crouching, and Amie Denisova fit model Tami Alward with the latest creation for the upcoming

There was a time when students recorded their instructor’s lectures. Now, some instructors are recording their own lectures and making them available to students via music players such as the iPod. Podcasting, as it is called, is gaining acceptance in classrooms across the country, and one Sacramento State instructor has begun using the technology to teach his class.

Professor Nick Burnett, chair of Communication Studies, uses podcasting to teach Com 103, Presentational Speaking in Businesses and Organizations. The course is mandatory for business students and is designed to help them sharpen their speaking and presentation skills. Students attend a 75-minute weekly lab but listen to the hour-long lectures on their own time.

“So far it seems to fit student needs,” Burnett says. “They like having the ability to time shift the lecture if they want . It certainly makes a difference for students who have to commute from long distances. They only have to make one trip to the campus per week for the course instead of two.”

One of the downsides of digital learning is the lack of direct interaction between the students and the instructor. Graduate students run the lab, and students rarely, if ever, see Burnett. “Podcasting is not as satisfying as being in front of the class and teaching,” he says. “I miss the back and forth.”

But in all fairness, Burnett is the chair of the department and wouldn’t have a class load anyway. “This is sort of ‘gratis,” he says.

Burnett recorded his lectures over the summer and discovered that what seemed like an easy task had its hidden challenges. “I found out that when you record in a 10-foot by 10-foot studio you don’t get the same energy and focus as you do in a lecture hall with students,” he says. “I had trouble hitting my stride at first, because talking to walls is very strange. I learned to be careful and to modulate my voice and eventually, I got better.”

This is the first year Burnett has experimented with podcasting. The course will be offered again in the spring, and at the end of the school year, the Communication Studies department will collect data to judge student satisfaction with the format.

“This is not an original idea,” he says. “Other universities are doing it as well. It’s not the solution for every class, but it’s another option in the 21st century classroom.”

Podcasts are available as MP3 files or as streaming audio files that can be listened to on any computer. To view a sample of the MP3 lecture experiment, visit www.csus.edu/indiv/b/burnettn.

For more information on the experiment, contact Burnett at (916) 278-6508. For media assistance, contact Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.