Globalizing Education One Podcast at a Time

Globalizing Education One Podcast at a Time

In the fall of 2005, I opened the door of my “History of Photography” classroom and found that there were hundreds of students on the other side. These students were Chinese, German, Italian, British, Australian, American, Japanese, and Costa Rican. They ranged in age from 15 to 80. They were professional photographers, amateur photographers, designers, executives, truck drivers, high-schoolers, doctors, and homemakers. There were a lot of them, and they were all interested in the history of photography. While the room only had 25 seats, hundreds of people were sitting in on my class sessions each week.

The room wasn’t crowded though, because these students were taking part in a virtual classroom experience by virtue of my recording the class sessions and publishing them as podcasts. These audio files (with images from my Apple Keynote or PowerPoint slides embedded and synchronized with the audio) could be downloaded and heard by anyone with an Internet connection, a bit of time, and an interest in photo history. It wasn’t just these “outsiders” who were listening either, as my own classroom-bound students also discovered that listening to and viewing podcasts of class content at a later time aided them in their progress through the course. Most importantly, the students on the inside of my classroom welcomed this diverse group, and were amazed at the level of interest, thought, and overall intellectual discourse that these new students brought to the class.

Fostering Asynchronous Learning

Podcasting is a generic name for a method of distributing audio and other multimedia files over the Internet for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. Although this type of content has long been available on Web pages, a podcast is usually defined by its ability to be automatically downloaded to a user’s computer by subscription. That electronic file can then be easily transferred to an iPod or other portable audio player and listened to at any time.

Through podcasting, I have opened the door of my classroom to the rest of the world and started a class discussion that is not constrained by the classroom walls or by the cultural, educational, and personal backgrounds of my physical students. E-mail contact that I get from my virtual students is often read aloud in class, and discussion ensues on topics that my in-classroom students may not have considered. From my classroom students’ perspective, the idea that someone is listening to the classes and e-mailing comments from his BlackBerry while riding to work on the Tokyo subway is amazing.

In addition to helping students see that the world is a classroom, I’ve also been able to help my “live” students learn by providing them with asynchronous delivery of course content. While it might be expected that students would not attend class because they can get the content anytime they want, I’ve found the opposite to be true, and absences from class are rare. Instead, my students tell me that they often listen to the podcasts each week, a few days after our class session, even though they heard the content presented live. They feel that the repetition helps them identify and recall key concepts and facts. Some listen on their computers, but most listen using their iPods so they can take the class content with them in the car, on the bus, or when they are walking to class.

Streamlining the Podcasting Process

To produce the podcasts, I use ProfCast. The software records my voice through my laptop, takes my Apple Keynote or PowerPoint slides and synchronizes them with the audio as I speak, and advances the slides. As an end product, ProfCast creates an audio file that has embedded images of each of my lecture slides. This file can be listened to and viewed using iTunes or QuickTime Player (on either a Windows or Mac computer), or on a student’s iPod.

What’s more, ProfCast helps me manage my accumulated audio files, assists me in uploading them to my institution’s server, and creates the RSS “feed” file. The RSS file (in the form of an .XML document) is what makes the podcast something that can be “subscribed” to so that it is automatically delivered to a student’s computer whenever a new class session is ready. It really streamlines the process of producing and distributing the recorded class content.

Aside from my institution-supplied Apple PowerBook and some available Web server space, there isn’t much in the way of resources needed to produce this content. An inexpensive microphone is used in lieu of the laptop’s built-in mic, and the ProfCast software ($30) is augmented with a couple other freeware or “comes with my computer” software pieces. It takes about 30 minutes a week to finish and upload each new podcast, but that time is more than paid for by the higher quality of learning and the interest and contributions of those “outside of the classroom” students.

Now that I’ve opened the door to the classroom, I can’t imagine ever closing it again, as the benefits for me and my students are genuinely far-reaching.

Visit the “History of Photography” podcasts online.

Jeff Curto is a professor and coordinator of the photography program at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL.