You see them everywhere at USC. Those trademark white iPod earphones have become as ubiquitous an accessory for students at USC as wearing the cardinal and gold.
But don’t assume that every plugged-in Trojan traveling down Trousdale Parkway is nodding along to the sounds of their favorite feel-good hits.
They might just be brushing up for a midterm.
Many professors supplement classroom learning by offering students downloadable versions of their lectures as podcasts. Accessible using Apple’s iTunes software, podcasts are pre-recorded audio, and in some cases video, that users can subscribe to and automatically download to their computers, or mobile devices like iPods, as new lectures or episodes are published.
This spring, the university’s efforts to enhance the traditional classroom experience using the latest consumer technology will have a new online home — USC on iTunes U.
“The idea of this is that young people are using iTunes anyway,” said USC College chemist Charles McKenna. “With a couple of clicks, they can see what USC wants to show them.”
The iTunes U program is a free hosting service provided by Apple. It offers institutions of higher education a centralized “home” among its directory of podcasts, and provides an easier interface for faculty to add their lectures as podcasts. USC is one of the early adopters, joining peers such as Stanford, UC Berkeley and Duke as iTunes U participants.
McKenna first suggested the iTunes U partnership to the university’s administration late last fall. From there, plans were shepherded along thanks to a team effort coordinated by Suh-Pyng Ku, the university’s chief technology officer for enhanced learning and professor in the USC Marshall School of Business.
USC on iTunes U couldn’t have come to fruition without the work of staff and faculty in the Faculty Advisory Committee for Technology-Enhanced Learning (of which McKenna is a member), the Office of the Provost, the Office of the General Counsel, Information Technology Services, Global Directory Services, Student Information Services, USC Public Relations, the USC Gould School of Law and the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Ku feels that this large-scale effort will expand the reach of the university’s instruction.
Ku said, “With USC on iTunes U, essentially, we can extend learning and teaching beyond the classroom — anywhere, anytime.”
“We are all excited about the opportunities this new collaboration will provide,” said Gene Bickers, associate vice provost for undergraduate programs and a professor of physics in USC College. “Music and video downloads are a part of every undergraduate’s life, and iTunes U will enable us to bring the same technologies to bear in enhancing learning outside the classroom.”
Security of information is a top concern for USC’s team; much of the technical coordination involved in this project was to make sure the system is secure. Authentication for administrators, faculty and students logging in to USC on iTunes U will be handled by the university.
To facilitate professors’ podcasting efforts, the USC Center for Scholarly Technology has offered training and mobile kits with equipment for capturing lectures to interested faculty. In the past year a number of new multimedia classrooms have been built on campus, and USC now has more than 30 multimedia classrooms outfitted for video conferencing, distance learning and recording podcasts.
In addition to course lectures and other password-protected content restricted to enrolled students, USC on iTunes U provides the opportunity for a variety of podcasts available to the public. Admission information, alumni updates, cultural events and news will be available at USC on iTunes U.
“iTunes U is just a new portal for things that we’re already doing,” said McKenna, “but I think it’s also a chance to shine a spotlight on these types of activities.”
A Distinguished Fellow of USC’s Center for Excellence in Teaching, McKenna is a podcasting pioneer at the College, and his enthusiasm for using new technologies is difficult to overstate. He has used a number of distance learning technologies in his course CHEM 203, “AIDS Drug Discovery and Development,” which he has co-taught with Amy Barrios, assistant professor of chemistry.
Each lecture given live is also recorded for later posting on the class Web site, and everything from the submission of assignments to grading is done online via an interface created by McKenna and his colleagues.
“When we saw the iPod, we realized that we ourselves could create podcasts fairly easily,” said McKenna. “And since we were already putting both audio and video versions of every lecture on our Web site, last fall we decided to implement podcasting.”
According to McKenna, about 15 percent of last fall’s class, which numbered more than 300 students, had subscribed to the CHEM 203 podcasts by the end of the semester.
Other College professors are joining McKenna in producing podcasts.
Audrey Li, professor of linguistics and East Asian languages and cultures, and Jane Iwamura, assistant professor of religion and American studies and ethnicity, will offer podcasts of course lectures via USC on iTunes U in the spring.
Professor Susan Forsburg, director of the molecular biology doctoral program, and her co-lecturers in BISC 502a began podcasting in fall 2006. Although she has some concerns with the technology, she’s found that students love it.
“We started off by running a trial,” Forsburg said, “and because of student enthusiasm, we decided to continue. Traditionally, we had little dictation cassette recorders in front of us blinking away. Podcasting gives us a way to make recordings accessible to all students.”
“I have been a big fan of audio lectures,” BISC502a student Prithiviraj Chellamuthu said. “The ‘profcast’ helps me refresh my memory about important ideas I might have forgotten from the lecture.
“With the advent of new technologies, we should really take full advantage,” he said.
As young adults become more and more “plugged-in,” lectures published as podcasts will go from being a novelty to an expectation, McKenna predicts.
“Many students’ reaction is, ‘Why haven’t you been doing this already?’ “ McKenna said. “To them it’s natural, it’s normal, it’s obvious.”
“That’s the future,” said William Tierney, Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education at the USC Rossier School of Education and director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis. “The future is that younger students are more comfortable with electronic media than even today’s students, and certainly faculty who are a generation older.
“So, really what we’re doing with technology is enabling different ways of learning, which is increasing the potential for learning rather than just transferring it from one medium to another.”
“The administration in the College has been very supportive of these efforts,” McKenna said. “They’ve had the foresight and been willing to experiment with new techniques, and to back that up with some resources. I think the students are the winners as a result.”