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Podcasting possesses power to aid present, future students

By Amanda Melchor     1/29/09 6:00pm

One of the great things about college, especially at a university like Rice, is the plethora of technology available to guide students in learning. The Digital Media Center offers both video and photographic cameras for student use as well as programs and classes to help them create DVDs and Web pages. But as I browsed through my iTunes account the other day, I was taken by a particular feature that Rice could use: more podcasts.Essentially, a podcast is a media file that can either be audio (like an mp3 file and most music) or video file. The iTunes store has free podcasts with topics ranging from sports to science to politics and virtually everything in between. Podcasts are simple tools - and cheap if done through the Digital Media Center - that the university could use more to not only help its current students but also aid future matriculants.

After a brief search for "Rice University podcasts," I found the podcasts Rice currently posts and makes available for online streaming and download (http://edtech.rice.edu/rss_feeds/RicePodcast.xml). The Web site mostly includes lectures from the President's Lecture Series, and notable guest speakers as well as lectures organized by various organizations like the Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance and departments within the university. While the availability of these lectures is great and the topics diverse, the Web site has not been updated since October 2008 and with the exception of the Dalai Lama's, few of the lectures are well-known or recent. Overall, podcasting is underutilized and could be better implemented to aid current students and promote the university to potential ones.

Podcasts could specifically be used in the classroom to record lectures. If a student missed a class or wanted to review a lecture, he or she could download it for listening during a workout, at work or while moving around the campus and the city. Podcasts would provide a way for students to literally take their lecture and learning outside the classroom.

Of course, while I am fully for the use of podcasting in the classroom, I realize that the possibility does introduce a few problems. Couldn't recording and posting a class's lectures on Owl-Space or elsewhere online threaten the attendance, participation and quality of a course?

Not necessarily. In more moderately sized courses, professors could still take roll, use visuals and give out assignments relating to the lecture that are not mentioned or included in an audio or video podcast. Class discussions and participation are vital for many classes and a podcast couldn't replace the benefit - or grade - students receive from physically and mentally being present in class. By attending class, students can ask questions of their professors, which they cannot do by reading or listening to recorded lectures alone. Professors could also create and incorporate video podcasts into their curriculum, with additional information and videos to fortify class concepts. In addition, if a student is traveling for a tournament or a graduate school or job interview, they could keep abreast of their work through podcasts instead of relying on another's potentially inaccurate notes, especially if the course doesn't have a textbook.

Podcasting would also be a great way to promote Rice and draw in prospective students with glimpses into academic and student life. During Owl Days and Vision Week, many students attend classes with (hopefully) highly-rated professors. Instead of making these experiences exclusive only to students who attend these weekends, podcasts would allow potential students with financial or scheduling restrictions to listen to and watch Rice lectures and get a taste of Rice's academic experience. Ideally, these audio and video recordings would come from classes and professors that have been very favorably reviewed by students and that are unique enough to separate Rice from other larger, top-tier schools. Podcasts would also be a great way to feature student life on campus, with various students from all backgrounds and majors discussing their Rice experience. Rice began a virtual tour several years ago and podcasts conducted by actual students could allow matriculants - as well as members of the Rice community and administration - to gain some more insight into student life and what matters to the student body.

Despite all of the potential benefits podcasting offers to current Rice students and potential applicants, the university has yet to utilize the technology it has so readily available. Podcasting stands as a way of not only enriching academic life and promoting the uniqueness of our campus but also as a way of changing how we learn and communicate with one another.

Amanda Melchor is a Hanszen College senior and opinion editor.

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