Delivering lectures via podcasts no longer is the province only of those universities on the cutting edge of technology: Through the use of software and programs that make it easy to produce and distribute podcasts, colleges and universities increasingly are making course lectures available for downloading online.

Most of today’s college students are “digital natives” who have been surrounded by technology nearly their entire lives, and they expect their college or university to create a collaborative experience that integrates familiar technologies such as podcasting and on-demand video into their learning environment, supporters of the phenomenon explain. Their beliefs are supported by data: Three of four young adults download and view internet videos daily, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, while Burst Media reports that college students spend more time online than they do using any other form of media, including TV and radio.

At the University of California at Berkeley, a survey of incoming freshman this past fall revealed that students considered podcasting to be just as important as wireless internet access or campus eMail. Video podcasting storage and distribution via Apple’s iTunes U and Google’s YouTube have necessitated a scalable network for Berkeley’s open-content initiative: webcast.berkeley.

Berkeley’s associate vice chancellors, Susanna A. Castillo-Robson and Shelton Waggener, sponsored the study, called “Information Technology at UC Berkeley: The Student Experience.” Eight Berkeley staff members participating in the university’s Leadership Development Program conducted the survey.

Its objectives were to evaluate the technology needs and expectations of incoming students, provide recommendations for closing the gap between these expectations and what the university currently offers, and propose a method for ongoing, campus-wide evaluation of student IT needs.

When asked if they would like to be able to download a greater number of class lectures in the form of podcasts or webcasts, 72.5 percent of students said yes. Students said they could use the podcasts or webcasts in case they missed class, and they would be able to review their notes more easily while listening to the lecture.

“Since we launched the [podcasting] offering in 2006, we saw 2 million downloads of our podcasts in the first year alone from our iTunes U channel. We have had 650,000 views in the first two weeks of our YouTube channel launch. Interest in our content has exploded,” said Adam Hochman, project manager for Berkeley’s Education Technology Services department.

Like its iTunes Store, Apple Inc.’s iTunes U has become enormously popular since its launch in late 2005. Now, hundreds of colleges and universities use the free service to distribute their digital content to students and the world at large.

Berkeley also has started a movement to develop free podcasting software, and more than 30 other colleges and institutions have joined in the effort. Although the project is only in its initial phases, many say it indicates that the podcasting movement is thriving at colleges and universities.

Called OpenCast, the system is slated to debut in the fall of 2008. The system is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but it nevertheless will be available to other schools.

“UC Berkeley has taken steps to develop a flexible object model that will allow other schools to potentially participate in a broader community-source initiative,” according to the OpenCast web site.

Another system for capturing lectures, called CourseCast, was developed at Carnegie Mellon University and is being offered free of charge to qualified academic institutions. The software uses standard PCs to capture video and audio, index and archive it, and stream it over the internet. Students then have on-demand access to these indexed lectures.

Panopto, the company that makes CourseCast, created the Socrates Project to distribute and develop the technology to qualified institutions, which include colleges, universities, and K-12 schools. Members of the Socrates Project will participate in ongoing beta testing and development programs to enhance the technology, and in exchange, they will receive free access to the CourseCast platform.

“The goal of the Socrates Project is to allow other academic institutions to deploy CourseCast, thus delivering on part of Panopto’s charter to give back to academia,” said William L. Scherlis, founding director of Carnegie Mellon’s Ph.D. program in software engineering and co-inventor of CourseCast.

“We have captured thousands of lectures, and there have been more than 100,000 viewings to date. CourseCast is used by on-campus students, by disabled students, for distance education, and for many other purposes.”

Members of the Socrates Project include Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh (UP), and the University of Pittsburgh Medical College’s Institute for Clinical Research.

“What captured our attention about CourseCast was the technical architecture of the product and its potential for the future, particularly its flexibility and scalability,” said Nicholas Laudato, associate director of instructional technology at UP’s Center for Instructional Development and Distance Learning.

“An important example of this is its simple, web-based interface that allows lecturers to edit their recorded presentations, making multiple versions that target selected topics without modifying the original content,” Laudato said.

For example, he said, instead of providing students with a link to a two-hour recording, which few might actually view, the instructor can create an instructional sequence and embed it in a course management system–such as Blackboard–by providing links to multiple extracted recordings interspersed with learning objectives, readings, and activities.

The software “can accomplish this without the cost or cognitive overhead of high-end video editing applications, freeing the instructor from dependence on specialized technologists,” Laudato said. “CourseCast has the potential to do for streaming rich media content what Blackboard did for course web pages–that is, make it available to all faculty, regardless of their level of technical sophistication.”

“We’ve been a very satisfied user of CourseCast for over a year now. As a charter member of the Socrates Project, our collaboration with Panopto has yielded real innovations in their product line and dramatically reduced our implementation costs in the process,” said Sue Alman, director of distance education at UP’s School of Information Sciences.

In spring 2006, Anystream debuted its Apreso podcasting product, which originally was adopted by large media outlets to convert digital footage of broadcasts for redistribution on the web.

The Apreso software can be loaded onto an existing podium PC in a media-enhanced lecture hall, or onto a separate machine dedicated to its use. Once installed, the solution can be configured to work with classroom hardware, including microphones and installed video recorders, to capture a full video of the professor’s lecture automatically. In older classrooms, where video recordings are not an option, Apreso can be configured to record all visual presentations, including PowerPoint slides and other electronic applications.

Last year, George Washington University equipped six classrooms with Apreso Podcast to capture lecture content automatically and convert it instantly into podcasts playable on iPods and from within iTunes U.

“Many of our professors are uniquely qualified in multi-modality teaching styles to cater to a wider student body. These varying teaching methods require a level of in-class flexibility,” said Derek Parker, an instructional technologist at Lynn University, which also began using the product this summer.

“Students with learning differences benefit from the repetitious multi-sensory playback of powerful lectures,” said Parker.

Other companies that offer coursecasting solutions include Codian (now owned by video-conferencing leader Tandberg) and Advanced Media Design.

Charles Fadel, global leader for education at Cisco Systems, noted that students are driving the podcasting movement in schools.

“Just as we’ve seen an influx of consumer technologies into the workplace, students are setting their university’s IT agenda by demanding access to the same internet services that they enjoy at home,” said Fadel. “How this trend plays out in higher education depends on how successfully a school takes advantage of the network’s full potential.”


Information Technology at UC Berkeley: The Student Experience