The future looks dim, or are those just the students?

iTunes U Proves Better than Going to Class
Sarah Perez

Skip the lecture, download the podcast. That's probably not what university professors tell their students, but perhaps they should. New psychological research conducted by Dani McKinney, a psychologist at the State University of New York in Fredonia, shows that students who only listened to podcasts of lectures achieved substantially higher exam results than those who attended class in person.

To find out how much students can learn from a podcast, McKinney's team created one for a lecture from an introductory psychology course. The podcast contained both audio and video of the slides used in class.

Half the students (32 of 64) skipped the class and listened to the podcast only. The other half attended in person, where they also received a printed handout. A week later, the students were tested on the material.

Podcast Listeners Did Better
The students who downloaded the podcast alone averaged a C (71 out of 100) but those who attended class averaged a D. And those who listened to the podcast and took notes did even better - their average was 77.

Before university classrooms empty out, it's important to note that this is only preliminary research. McKinney's study involved only a single lecture. Also, motivation may have come into play as well. Her experiment didn't count for class credit, so students were encouraged to participate with iTunes gift cards. The high scorer from each group was awarded a $15 gift certificate for use in the online store.

McKinney now plans to further study podcasts in the classroom over the course of an entire semester, instead of just one class. She wonders if students might find podcasts more useful early on in a class, when the material is still new. Still, McKinney is a big believer in the power of technology and its impact on education. "I do think it's a tool," she says. "I think that these kids are programmed differently than kids 20 years ago."
More facilitation of the dumbing-down of an entire generation masquerading as empirical research. I think the real story here is that after being provided with detailed audio and visual recordings of entire lectures and bribed with iTunes credit, students in this 'study' - who didn't have to take a single note by hand - topped out at a C average. Students who showed up and were given written materials to take away managed a stunningly unimpressive D average.

I'm not even going to ask who McKinney thinks "programmed" "these kids". The answer might be just the catalyst I need to give up hope ... on everything.

Perhaps the fact that the students are referred to as both children and brainless, lifeless entities subject to manipulation is indicative of a toxicity endemic to an education system which needs to employ bribery and trendy gadgetry to achieve barely passing grades. I have no doubt that a good podcast, which, after all, can be listened to/watched, reviewed, paused, saved and shared, can supplement a learning experience to beneficial ends. Taking notes in conjunction with audiovisual input should jump scores even more drastically. Above all, being able to discuss and question (whether in person or via email, chat, webcam, etc) the material with the original author or speaker is also invaluable. Few educators disagree that as many tools of learning as are available should always be used together to enhance the experience for all involved. My impression is that this 'study' started from a position of low expectations to justify already falling standards in higher education. In the end, you only get what you give.

Perhaps a better experiment would be to provide podcasts to students in advance of a lecture or seminar, so that the time in contact with the lecturer can be better spent engaged in discussion and debate, rather than the recounting of a PowerPoint presentation. However, this would require that all students read/listen to the material in advance, make notes, willingly participate, think independently, and accept their lecturers and tutors as guides on the academic journey, rather than glorified notetakers. There's always a catch!


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