Podcasting lectures is really easy

My hi-tech expensive phone, I won't show the MP3 player as it is old battered and tacky, but also works ;)

Judging by a conversation with a colleague today, and by John’s comments on my previous post teachers often do not realise just how easy podcasting lectures is, or that they almost certainly already use all the equipment necessary. So here’s a recipe, with equipment list and step by step instructions:


  • Mobile phone or MP3 player which can record and connect to a PC. My two year old Nokia 3120 Classic – current price 100 Euros or about US$135 and my six year old cheapest available then MP3 player (some more modern even cheaper MP3 players lack tghe facility to record but the SanDisk Sansa Clip can, and Amazon sell them for <US$30)
  • Access to a computer with Internet – since you are reading this you already have that for sure.
  • The capacity to go to the Mobile Media Converter site and download and install the program. (If you think this is difficult ask your grandchildren!) You will also need Audacity if you want to be really clever and edit the podcast.(NB this is probably not necessary but will give you extra bragging rights in the staff room ;)
  • If your institution does not have a course system you will also need either iTunes or a blog – but I am assuming your institution already has Moodle, or something like that.

There, the equipment list was not too frightening, and the cost is less than $50 in the worst case. Now for the instructions.


  1. Practice finding the “record” feature on your phone or MP3 player (these can be fiddly so allow 30 mins). Check the battery well BEFORE the  class.
  2. Remember to take the phone (preferably in silent mode or with the SIM card removed, it is embarassing as well as spoiling the recording if the lecturer’s phone goes off ;)  or MP3 player with you.
  3. At the start of class (but ideally after the faffing around at the beginning) switch it to record. Place the phone or MP3 player on the lectern (for males in your shirt pocket may perhaps work better with some equipment or if you move around a lot).
  4. Switch the record function off at the end – you DO NOT want to record your harassed replies to the students who ask questions after the class has finished!
  5. Shift the new file to your computer.
  6. Open MMC, select output format (MP3 is good ;) and drag the audio to it. (With some MP3 players you miss out this stage.)
  7. Upload the new converted file it to the course site.
  8. Sit back and enjoy the student appreciation and be the envy of your luddite colleagues – you are now a Fully Fledged Digeratus (or Digerata).
  9. Get ambitious and remove the odd bits you don’t want to podcast and/or the first six “ums” and “errs” – this means using Audacity, but the editing task is easier than it sounds. Just find the wiggles that represent the bit to cut, highlight them (one by one) by dragging with your mouse, and press delete. Don’t worry about mistakes as Audacity has an undo feature. You are now an Advanced Digerata (or Digeratus).

Turning libraries outside in :)

Today was Carey Principal’s Day (sort of a staff retreat under another name) two experiences have me thinking about how our changing communications technologies are changing libraries.

The ghost of libraries past (photo from 23 dingen voor musea)

The first was driving up for the day. Our “farm” is three hours away, so on the journey I listened to some great radio, from the BBC and ABC. None of the programmes (not even the always stimulating Digital Planet, or the often intriguing All in the Mind) could get me to remember when they are “on” or rearrange my life so as to listen to them. One silent revolution in my life over the last several years has been the quantity of radio I now hear. Almost none of it live. Digital technology, and Internet delivery, enable me to shift time, and ignore geography, and listen to what I like when I like :)

During the day, when our librarian had presented her dream of the Carey library in five year’s time,1 our staff comedian (and resident American) Brian Krum quipped: “So you want the library to imitate Borders ;)” Siong is equally quick: “No I want Borders to imitate us!”

The ghost of libraries to come? (Jan Steen “Argument over a card game”)

Siong is right, libraries (already in part, by five years away so much more) are about breaking down borders. The library of the present/near future is a Library without Borders. Library users no longer need or want the hushed “study space” of yesteryear. Or if they do they are hopeless stick-in-the-muds who enjoy anything “retro”. The information and ideas libraries distribute is increasingly available anywhere anytime. Libraries are becoming places to interact with others about that information and those ideas.

The old, outside-in, library was a place you went to in order to acquire something. They were “study spaces” where ideas were mulled and books composed (as  Karl Marx and hundreds of others did in the British Museum). Coffee shops were places where ideas were discussed and debated.

In our world we need outside-in libraries, places like the coffee shops of old where people meet, linger and talk – or better still argue! Now that’s a revolution that most libraries cannot make, yet. They, almost all, have a massive investment in books, and books take space and human resources to curate and distribute them. It is not only the ancient and massively endowed Bodleian Library that is running out of space, the much humbler Carey library requires staff to assist in “culling” its stock! That inertia means that for some time to come libraries will be both “inside-out” places we come to – increasingly infrequently – to get information and ideas, and also “outside-in” places to go to in order to share those ideas with others, talk and argue.

Many of my readers, I know, are aflicted with codexphilia. I used to be a sufferer. The once scores, then dozens of boxes that accompanied my moves were mute witness to my plight. I still enjoy the look and feel of a well-produced volume – increasingly seldom, for publishers in search of “cost savings” must still compete on price. But I know how I’d spend the budget if I was a librarian, and a coffee machine and some decently comfortable couches would rank higher than more dead trees ;)2

  1. How anyone, especially an information specialist, can think that far ahead amuses me! []
  2. No. You got it wrong! This is not another rant predicting the death of the book, or even the codex. I think, and hope, that codexes will be with us for generations to come, new and beautiful ones as well as those redolent of age. But they are already – and will increasingly be – either works of art, or of antiquarian interest. They will not be tools of my trade. []


Image from BecomingJewish.Org

Jonathan (my always stimulating, still just, but soon moving on, colleague) of ξἐνος pointed me to a piece in the NY TImes by Lisa W. FoderaroIn a Digital Age, Students Still Cling to Paper Textbooks“. This may be, and much of it reads like, the traditional claim that “books won’t disappear anytime soon”, digital technologies and books are different, and the new cannot replace the old… Cant that has been around at least since the first enthusiast on the other “side” proclaimed with equal evangelical fervour the death of the codex. It is different from the run of the mill in a couple of ways.

First it is based on research. Among other things this gives hard figures. For example: “three-quarters of the students surveyed said they still preferred a bound book to a digital version.” Which of course is a resounding vote of confidence in the codex textbook, especially in view of the fact that a couple of years ago the figure would have been over 99%.

It’s the implied competition and contrasts between e-textbooks and paper ones that interested me.The three paragraphs I quote below came, in reverse order (with just one paragraph from the original left out) which I think enable me to make a reverse case.

“Students grew up learning from print books,” said Nicole Allen, the textbooks campaign director for the research groups, “so as they transition to higher education, it’s not surprising that they carry a preference for a format that they are most accustomed to.”

This familiarity factor is gradually diminishing as students come into the system with less familiarity with print codex works as a major part of their previous study. Already some of our first year students (younger than the average, and straight form school) only use print books if we encourage them to. Most of these students’ assignments are written using resources available on the Web, if I am lucky through Google books. But often from websites of pastors sermons, or reprints of devotional classics.

Many students are reluctant to give up the ability to flip quickly between chapters, write in the margins and highlight passages, although new software applications are beginning to allow students to use e-textbooks that way.

But of course the very things these students are reluctant to “give up” are precisely the things that any decent e-text should make easy! Non-sequential access is what hypertext is all about, commenting and user annotation are easier and more flexible in an electronic environment, and highlighting is basic. It is only publishers rushing shoveleware onto the market repurposing existing titles into containers that are designed to mimic a dead tree that makes current e-textbooks unresponsive and equally dead!

“I believe that the codex is one of mankind’s best inventions,” said Jonathan Piskor, a sophomore from North Carolina, using the Latin term for book.

Duh! Of course it is. It revolutionised the world almost as much as the invention of writing. That’s why we may expect that the next big step forward, e-text, will be equally (or at least nearly) as revolutionary.

So, who is interested in a Free Open Source Old Testament Textbook?

Media and presence in distance education

For some people e-mail as well as offering the chance to think before "speaking" also offers a sense of "presence" (Photo by janetmck)

In this post I want to move beyond the earlier one “How’s my presence?” where I argued that presence is not a binary state, but a graduated one. We can be more or less present. Here I will summarise briefly some fascinating research by Steve Wheeler at the University of Plymouth, make some suggestions arising out of my understanding of his work, and so prerpare for discussing a course I am preparing and teaching in (a) future post(s).

Wheeler, Steve. “Creating Social Presence in Digital Learning Environments: A Presence of Mind?.” In Learning Technologies 2005 Conference: Combined Presence. Queensland, 2005. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Wheeler investigated 305 first year education students (272 females and 33 males so more women than would be typical in theology classes) most were mature students with full-time jobs, with a mean age of about 40. So apart from the gender imbalance not unlike the “distance students in my classes. They completed two sets of questionnaires, at the start of their studies and 6-9 months later.

Photo by timparkinson

The real surprise, it should not have been – with the usual 20/20 hindsight it makes good sense, was that students with different approaches to learning showed striking differences in their perceptions of “presence” in differing media. So autonomous and tenacious students had strikingly different perceptions and responses to face to face learning. Autonomous students “neither need nor experience a great deal of social presence” in this setting (p.6), while tenacious students do experience high levels. For e-mail the results showed similar tendencies. Curiously for telephone these figures tended to reverse, with autonomous students experiencing presence and preferring this medium. He speculates that this difference reflects an autonomous student’s need to feel in control of the process (student initiated telephone call).

At the least this means that different students will perceive “presence” differently with different mixes of media, and therefore a course that uses varied media will be more likely to promote a feeling of participation across any varied group of students.

neither need nor experience a great deal of

social presence

How’s my presence?

All present and correct? photo by Ed Yourdon

When we discuss flexible learning (we call it “distance” but many of the students live near the college but become “distance students” in order to study at flexible times) many of my colleagues worry because theology is a discipline that requires personal engagement and distance students “inevitably” do not get that, and so also inevitably receive a second rate formation. I think my colleagues are wrong.

[Before I get into that, though, just a note that this view often means that people are willing to “try harder” – as the old Avis ads used to say, “we’re number two so we try harder”!]

Back to the issues of personal engagement: the discussion usually ends up focused on “presence”.  On the view I am critiquing, presence is a binary concept, either someone is present or they are absent. In education the model of this view is the school register.

But is it true? Take the example of two people in the same room. They can be more or less present to each other. Imagine me sitting on the couch typing on a laptop, perhaps writing this post, Barbara is sitting at the desk playing Scrabble with our son in the Isle of Man. despite the distance he is more present to her at that moment than I. Unless I attract her attention. A casual remark in such a situation may well elicit a response, but often only a half aware response, like the “Uh Huh” with which I responded to much of the catalogue of their day that preceded this domestic scene. “Uh huh” indicated less than full attention on the account of the things various people said in an examiners meeting she attended. On the other hand another remark may get through and elicit full attention, and suddenly we are fully present to each other. Presence is not binary but a variable (and, at least conceivably) measurable quantity.

This everyday recognition has significance for flexible teaching, if presence is not binary, then “distance students” are not inevitably disadvantaged, even in this area!

Helping students remember

The forgetting curve: we need to remember classes better

Ebbinghaus forgetting curve from Wikipedia

Left to themselves memories of teaching wither fast. The shallow “forgetting curves” at the top of the diagram do not look too bad. But the typical case is nearer the bottom one. In bad cases, we lose 50% in half an hour. Which would mean in a three hour class at Carey very little of the “content” would stick unaided to the end of the lesson time :( We need to remember classes better.

There are lots of ways students can remember classes better. Basically by either repeating the material or better still by using it. We remember the ideas and information we use. We use ideas and information by working on them or with them :)

Donald Clark posted 10 techniques to massively increase retention (HT Jane Hart). He lists three of these techniques for students. He also gives seven things that teachers can do to help. I’m not sure all his ten are workable in my setting. So I’m selecting, and in one or two cases improving ;)

How studentscan remember better

  • blogging your courses. This has all the benefits of getting you to put the key ideas and information in your own words. (Cf. “take notes” below.) It may also add interaction with others – not least potentially your teacher who may correct your misunderstandings ;)
  • take notes: Carey provides copious notes to students. We produce these books as replacement lectures for distant students, but give them to everyone. Sadly, this helps ensure only “good” students remember the contents because most are not noting the ideas and information in their own words :(
  • use loo summaries: Summarise the material from each week onto one sheet of paper. Keep this in the loo, there you will have peace, and enough time to cast your eye quickly over the summary every day, brilliant for memorising.

Teachers helping students remember classes better:

  • repeat yourself: ideally do this less as you go along. But do use the “tell them what you’ll tell them”, then “tell them”, finally “tell them what you told them” approach, and then summarise last week’s class before starting this week
  • record the class: this allows even students to run over the material again (or at least the bits they need to). Even those who are poor notetakers (as I was) or too lazy to take notes (as most people are, given the chance – like Carey’s big blue course books). It is easy to do. I used to use an MP3 player on the lecturn, now I use my phone (the noise reduction technology helps make a clearer recording). The only disadvantage of the phone is it records as AMR (a highly compressed format, that needs Quicktime to play) but I can just drag that to the Miksoft Media Converter and it makes an MP3…
  • make students process the ideas: Set assignments, or in class exercises, or online discussions… Force students to engage with the material, reuse it, do something new with it… that way they will forget less.

I know I am not good at these things. That’s why I have prepared this post – maybe this time I won’t forget, but will actually use this information ;)

Interesting use of YouTube

Still from the Execration Texts video

Robert Cargill has been making interesting use of YouTube. Basically it seems (I am judging by the videos, I have not asked him) he videos class sessions (with the screen as well as the lecturer in shot) then later extracts interesting short focused segments of few minutes on a topic. As I write the most recent were on the Gihon Spring and the Triumphal Entry of Jesus and the Execration Texts and Jerusalem. He has also, as the screenshot on the right shows added “annotations” in YouTube which provide concise explanations of terms used and other technical matters.

I think both these two things make his videos more useful than the average recorded class:

  • their short length and focus: means they offer people a manageable chunk that is on the topic they are interested in, not merely a record of a class – that is, you or I could point our students to one of these for a quick fix on their topic
  • the annotations: make the videos more useful for both his own students revising, and for your or mine looking for a noddy guide

I’d love to try this, it seems like the next step up from my current audio recordings (for my students) and 5minuteBible podcasts (for the rest of the world). More work, but potentially richer (than the audio) and more reusable (than the class recordings).

HT: Jim West.

Computers in class :: or a false view of teaching?

I am reposting this, because it has had an excellent comment added today :)

Photo by Hari Bilalic

Another teacher fires a round in the war against laptops in class “Computers in the Classroom…Not All They’re Cracked Up to Be?” Is this a “Dog Bites Man” headline, or what? R. Scott Clark talks sense about the fact that students who make handwritten notes are likely to do better than those who try to typewrite a transcription of the lecture. Students and other profs chime in to complain about the clacking noise… yada, yada, yada…

BUT, the whole conversation is again so wrong. The “lecture” should not ne something you can, or would want to transcribe! Think about it, if it is transcribable why not just buy the book, a $20 paperback costs far less per student than a teacher and you can read it when you want – and you can choose a “better” teacher ;-) The lecture as a means to transfer information and ideas (as data) is inefficient and inconvenient, compared to print. Use the “lecture” time to do more, add value, get students engaging with the ideas and information and long term they will learn more.

Photo by peiqianlong

If one dictates a “lecture”, and students write a transcription (or even – though this is much better – makes selected notes) by hand or on a laptop then the teacher was replaced by technology over 500 years back! When Herr Gutenberg invented moveable type he made the printed book cheap – why take lecture notes, if the teacher just “lectures” save travel-time, boycott the class and buy the book….

HT to Joe Fleener