Bringing the digital world to the classroom

Many students coming to campus these days have been brought up in a culture of instant media gratification. YouTube brings video clips of every imaginable variety to their laptops in the blink of an eye, while they download podcasts onto their MP3 players and buy their latest musical choices from iTunes rather than head down to the record store.

Richard Nafshun explains some chemistry basics for a short video he’ll make available to his distance-education students. Victor Yee from E campus films a number of different segments for Nafshun, which are posted for his class, as well as being available through OSU iTunes University. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Richard Nafshun explains some chemistry basics for a short video he’ll make available to his distance-education students. Victor Yee from E campus films a number of different segments for Nafshun, which are posted for his class, as well as being available through OSU iTunes University. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Given that many of their instructors were raised in an entirely different generation, before the Internet revolutionized information delivery, there can be a disconnect between how the student is used to receiving information, and how their professor is used to delivering it.

In order to jump that particular hurdle, the use of digital media as part of teaching must be made as simple and efficient as possible. And thanks to a number of recent additions to the Oregon State University digital toolkit, faculty are now more able than ever to add layers of digital education onto their traditional classroom approach.

Richard Nafshun, senior instructor of science education for the department of chemistry, has taught general chemistry classes for extended campus for more than six years. He has found that videotaping small, digestible segments on general chemistry, and making them accessible on-line to his far-away students, has been a great and popular way to teach.

“I call them modules,” he said. “They’re three to five minute segments, attention getters. They include quick (chalk) board work.”

And its clear his distance-education students are watching. In fact, 92 percent of the students watch at least 75 percent of the modules or higher.  He tries to include direct questions to students, as well as pauses for them to work out the problems, in each module, so it feels more interactive. He also practices before-hand, and makes sure his equations are error free before he tapes the segments. While Nafshun doesn’t see video as ever replacing classroom time for on-campus students, he thinks it serves as an important tool to the greater OSU community.

“It is able to reach students who would not otherwise be on campus,” he said. The videos are available both on the E campus web site, and OSU’s new iTunes University.

ITunes University is a new site to bring instructor’s lectures and other audio and video content to listeners and viewers. It provides a gathering place for video and audio to be distributed to a wider audience. Other universities have already jumped aboard the iTunes platform, and OSU has been working for several years to get their own iTunes U site ready for the public. The university is in the middle of a quiet launch of the site, and there are currently 121 tracks spread over a dozen different categories.

OSU is first among public colleges in Oregon to provide iTunes U, which went live Nov. 21, according to David Baker, director of Web Communications. iTunes U allows instructors to share podcasts and audio files with their students literally at the push of a button.

“Podcasting or videocasting can effectively double the time a lecturer has in front of the student. Instead of delivering the same lecture year after year, students can review the lecture independently and then use the classroom time for discussion and to ask questions,” Baker said. “Video or audio podcasting can also be a great form of outreach or marketing, developing and education a core group of listeners/viewers who can then become your advocates.”

Almost simultaneously to the introduction of iTunes U, OSU Media Services introduced a new digital media management system to users across campus. Media Manager H.264 automatically encodes video, audio and almost all other media files and then returns them to the producer, usually a faculty member, who can then post them to Blackboard, iTunes, YouTube or their own Web site.
The onus is still on faculty and staff to produce content, such as videos of lectures, or recordings of interviews, but the Media Manager allows them to send that raw data out, and have it turned into something they can easily upload.

Considering laptop computers and today’s digital home cameras often come with recording capability, and that Media Services can also provide the equipment to make video and audio recordings,

The process enables Media Services to “increase what faculty can do and puts what they can do into their own hands,” he said.
Together, the two additions utilize existing infrastructure to streamline the delivery of the most up-to-date media for classroom, departmental, and marketing use, according to John Greydanus, director of Media Services.

OSU is the “furthest developed” of all Oregon universities and colleges, Greydanus said, “and most of our peers.”
By building on what already exists, he said, “we doing this with much fewer staff – only four for the 160 classrooms we serve.”

OSU has already established a YouTube channel to post university videos on-line. Because YouTube has become so ubiquitous as a video viewing site, it’s a great marketing tool. With the fact that approximately 10 percent of all web traffic currently goes through YouTube, OSU will be able to tap into the power that concentration brings, Greydanus said.

And as faculty and staff learn more about what digital offerings are available to them, it can only get better.

“It takes a lot of commitment to produce good quality content,” Baker said. “But on the flipside, it’s an excellent way to reach a global audience and start building a community of viewers and listeners.”


~Theresa Hogue and Ed Curtin

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