Interview with Professor Patrick Wiseman – Podcaster Before it was called Podcasting

Back in December, I interviewed Professor Patrick Wiseman of theGeorgia State University College of Law_ about his experiences inpodcasting. He offers excellent advice to law faculty interested increating audio materials for their students.

Interestingly, Professor Wiseman got started recording his classes so that he could listen to them himself and so improve his teaching. This an excellent side-benefit of podcasting.

:Q1. The big question, of course, is … Has attendance to your class dropped because students can listen to your lectures outside of class?

There was some evidence of this when I first started to record my classes (Spring 2003). At the time, although I had an attendance requirement, it was on the honor system. On one particularly bad occasion – students with legal writing papers due did not show up, and maybe 60 of 80 students were present – I complained that my "supplement", the recording, was being used as a "substitute" and that my generosity in making the class available in recorded form was being exploited. (Having said, and recorded, that, I
stopped the recording and put that up as the class podcast for the day! I did, in fact, record the rest of the class and made it available weeks later.) The students present suggested that I start taking roll. I did so, and attendance has not been an issue since. In fact, last semester, I reverted to the honor system (while promising to take roll if attendance seemed to drop off) and it was not a problem!

:Q2. Has the fact that you record your lectures changed how you teach or what you present in class?

I’m careful to speak in complete sentences, and I try to remember to repeat student questions before answering. Sometimes, of course, the class is very conversational and some of that gets lost in the recording (another reason why the recording is no substitute for being there). And I suspect I’m tempted to "lecture" rather than converse because that will be more useful in recorded form. Some courses I don’t record at all because I specifically want them to be as conversational as possible (First Amendment, e.g.). I suppose one could record some classes within a course – those that are setting ground work – and not others, but I’ve not really tried to make that distinction. I did not record a Q&A review session recently, but told students that if they wanted its benefit they needed to be there.

I’m also "tied to the podium," because that’s where my recorder is, whereas I used to prowl the front of the classroom. (Use of the SmartBoard tends to keep me there now as well.) I think being in one place for most of the class is probably a good thing. (But having a lapel mic might be nice as it would free me up to prowl once more!)

:Q3. Explain the technical setup – what hardware is used to record the lecture, what software is used to process it in post-production, what website or blog is used.

I’m also using our SmartBoard instead of a whiteboard or blackboard, and I save the pages at the end of class. (It’s not "animated", but it does save each page.) That’s uploaded to my class website together with the mp3 file.

I’m using a handheld mp3 player/recorder (a now obsolete but still functional PoGo RipFlash). It connects to my office PC via a USB cable and I simply save the file to our web-accessible network drive, and rename it appropriately – e.g., a class held on November 10th, 2005 would have two files on the network drive, 20051110.pdf (the SmartBoard file) and 20051110.mp3 (the recorded class). I don’t do any post-processing to improve the quality. The recorder is surprisingly good at picking up voices from quite deep in the room.

I use my own class management system, which is template driven. When the syllabus page for each class is invoked, the underlying software checks for the presence of those files for the day and, if one or the other is present, links to "Today’s podcast" and "Today’s whiteboards".

:Q4. Are your lectures behind a password?


:Q5. Are your class lectures up and available after the class is over? Do you know if students who are planning to take your class listen to them?

I wish you’d stop calling them ‘lectures’! I probably do talk too much (and recorded classes might be less useful if I didn’t), but my classes are more in the nature of somewhat one-sided conversations than monologues or soliloquies!

The only access to the recordings is through the current syllabus to students currently enrolled in the class. But a student newly enrolled in this year’s class who figured out what the URL looked like could always listen to classes from last year. In other words, it’s still password protected, but any remaining security is through relative obscurity.

Another benefit of recording classes, at least if a teacher has a predefined syllabus and pretty much sticks to it, as I do, is that on those rare occasions when I’ve had to miss class (one year it was a snow day, this year I had ‘flu) I was able to provide the recording of the class from the previous year. I don’t recommend doing that often, but it was nice to know I could if I had to.

:Q6. Have any of your colleagues expressed interest in your podcasting?

Only to say that they think it’s neat that I do it. No-one has expressed an interest in doing it too.

:Q7. Do you think your recorded lectures have improved your student’s learning?

My students tell me it does, that they do in fact listen to them. We’re a commuter school, so lots of students have long car rides home. I can’t imagine listening to my classes on the ride home, but at least some students do.

It would be hard to say exactly why, but my exams in recent years have been better than before. Among the things I’m doing differently is the class recording (but I’m also doing the whiteboards, and stressing in ways that I haven’t before the value of doing practice exams).

Teaching, and the factors that go into it working or not, is (at least as I do it) unscientific. It would be hard to design a controlled experiment which could isolate one factor from another.

:Q8. Have your recorded lectures made you a better teacher?

I was always inclined to speak in complete sentences! I think, as I suggested above, that it may have made my students better learners and, to that extent, it’s made me a better teacher. I think students found my mobility at the front of the classroom a bit distracting, and I don’t do that now. I’m conscious (although not in a way which distracts me) that the class is being recorded; I think, as a consequence, I try a bit harder to have a class be relatively coherent, as a whole.

:Q9. What advice would you give to other law faculty considering to podcast their lectures?

Ask why you’re doing it. I originally started recording class because I sometimes say things which surprise me, and then forget it after the fact; in other words, I recorded class for me, not for my students. Then it occurred to me that, if I have it, why not make it available to them. I continue to record class more for my own benefit than theirs, although I’ve not had occasion to go back and listen very often myself, at least in my first-year Property class. (I record my upper-level Constitutional Law
class as well.)

What I would not presume is that students will listen to the recorded classes; some will, and I’m happy to make it available to those who find it a useful resource, but many won’t. So I think the idea of podcasting a lecture, expecting people to listen to it, and then discussing the material in the f2f class meeting, as has been suggested, is unrealistic and overburdensome on students. (I also, frankly, don’t get why the reading assignment alone is not enough to provoke discussion if that’s the way a teacher prefers to conduct class.) I try to get my students to be self-aware about their own learning style, so that auditory learners have the use of the recording, whereas kinetic learners find it more useful to write things down during class, etc.

And I would suggest recording only those classes which lend themselves to fairly extended faculty presentation, the ‘sage-on-the-stage’ kind of class (as, I think, my first-year Property class appropriately is). The ‘guide-on-the-side’ kind of class probably won’t record well (which I think is why you refer to ‘lectures’; they lend themselves to podcasting, whereas conversations, unless very structured, do not.) That said, I still think a recording of a class which the student attended has value to
the student who finds it useful – that’s not as tautological as it sounds! If something is missed during class, all the students know that they can listen again later and fill in the gaps. Of course not all students will do this, and maybe, for those who are obsessive about law school, it is potentially harmful, because they feel it necessary to use every resource. On balance, I think – so far, I could change my mind – that it’s better to make the resource available than not.

Thanks Patrick!

Comments are closed.