Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Gadget Giveaway or Educational Tool?

The articles we read this week discuss podcasting and its use in academic settings. While the focus is primarily on initiatives at institutions such as the University of Michigan and Harvard, the Duke iPod program was mentioned in passing.

In August 2004, Duke University launched an initiative designed to expand the use of technologies in education by distributing iPods to approximately 1,600 first-year students. The results of this program can be found in this report. Even though data were collected to support the notion that the iPods added value to the educational mission of the institution, the actual impact of this tool is still unknown. Like the authors of this week's articles, Duke University researchers also concluded that more research is needed; however, anecdotal evidence suggests that the iPods did positively influence exam outcomes.

Still, the Duke program was scaled back and iPods were only distributed to students who were enrolled in courses that used the technology. Despite this turn of events, though, many institutions were making the move to hand out various types of devices (e.g., laptops, PDAs, Blackberries, etc.) to their students. This raised the question as to whether podcasting did foster learning, or whether it was merely a pawn in the "great gadget giveaway" - efforts not to enhance student learning but to recruit students to certain campuses.

What makes pieces like the one by Brittain et al. (2006) so important is that these individuals clearly illustrate why the University of Michigan School of Dentistry integrated podcasting into the curriculum. Even though students were asking for video recordings of lectures, the authors worked to determine whether this technology would best match the needs of the students. After several stages and pilot studies, podcasting was found to be a better match. Rather than selecting a technology just because it's hip and cool, this program and its students rationally considered their options before selecting one. It's research like this that can be used to counter claims made by skeptics. With anecdotal evidence alone, though, this is a much harder case to make.

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