Making lectures available as podcasts might sound like a novel idea, but in reality, only the technology is new. Dr. Fath gives some historical perspective.
"We've been videotaping lectures here since 1991, and audiotaping them long before that. Students used to check out the tapes but making duplicates and keeping track of them was a big job." Students could only keep the tapes for a couple of hours, and near exam time, there was a long – and no doubt anxious – waiting list. With coursecasting, anyone with an MP3 player can download a lecture in minutes and keep it as long as they want.
"We knew we had the capability, because we've been streaming video of lectures since 1999. We still make tapes but only as a backup in case something goes wrong. No one uses the tapes for viewing anymore," he says.
Podcasting is audio only, so theoretically it's a matter of removing the video and making the audio available as a separate file. But is it really that simple?
Dr. Fath's office, which consists only of him and systems technician Medrick "Woody" Woods, provides all streaming and videoconference services, plus support for a variety of special projects across the Medical School and the UT Health Science Center. They simply could not handle much more work. That's where the magic of the podcasting "revolution" comes in, and why so many people are getting into the act.
"There's a lot of podcasting software out there, and some of it is even free," says Woods. "We paid about 35 bucks for ours, and it runs on the same classroom computer as the video encoding software. It only adds about 1 percent to the computer's workload."
After the lecture, the audio is automatically compressed into the MP3 format, and with a few mouse clicks, it's uploaded to the server, ready for students to download to their iPods and listen at their convenience.
The coursecasting bandwagon shows no signs of losing steam, and articles on new applications appear every month in publications like the Chronicle of Higher Education. Duke University gained the national spotlight in 2004 when Apple iPods were given to every incoming freshman. With little in the way of course programming, it was widely derided as a gimmick, even by Duke's own students. But a recent report shows that the program, after some adjustments, is thriving.
Even lesser-known schools are taking the plunge, though on a smaller, more targeted, scale: the University of Montana bought 40 iPods for music students, and Drexel University in Philadelphia will distribute about 30 players to students in an education program. Like the UT Medical School, Purdue University used to make hundreds of lectures available on audio cassette, and coursecasting is seen as a natural, cost-saving evolution of the same service.
At the UT Medical School, coursecasting is just taking off, but in reality, it is simply another tool in the armamentarium of medical education. It appeals to the new generation of students, who tend to be time-stressed, accustomed to multi-tasking, and who take computers and the Internet for granted.
So, what's next? Are you ready for… videocasting? "Been there, doing that," says Dr. Fath. UT Interactive Video has got you covered. For more information, see www.uth.tmc.edu/schools/video.
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