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New iPod mix: Jay-Z, Beyonce, Econ lecture

College lectures and course materials can now join the music and videos on students’ iPods.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published August 4, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG — Satyan Sreenath, an aspiring doctor about to enter the University of Miami, rarely goes anywhere without his iPod nano.
Good thing; when the St. Petersburg High graduate gets to UM, it may be where he stores much of his course material.
Apple’s iPod and other pocket-sized digital audio players already have changed the way students listen to music and watch television. Now the portable best-sellers are changing the way colleges deliver courses.
Public and private institutions in Florida — St. Petersburg College, Florida State University and the University of North Florida, to name a few — are preparing to offer lectures, video illustrations and other course supplements that students can download like they do music.
These universities are among dozens across the nation signing on to Apple’s fledgling iTunes University. The free service, launched earlier this year at seven pilot universities including Stanford and Duke, allows colleges to set up their own iTunes sites that work like the popular iTunes music store.
Students can download course lectures, mid term study reviews, campus visitors’ speeches, even football season highlights — and then put them on their iPods for easy access, whenever and wherever they want.
Meanwhile, professors at the University of South Florida and the University of Miami are offering students digital audio and video recordings, called “podcasts,” that can be played on digital players or even the latest cell phones.
College administrators say this is the reality of teaching so-called “millennials,” the generation of students born after 1980 and raised on computers, cell phones, text messages and now iPods.
“If the teacher is just up there with the chalk and the board, I don’t think I would be able to pay attention,” said Sreenath, 18, of Seminole.
Students want PowerPoint with visuals and audio, and they want to download those presentations onto their computers and MP3 players as study guides.
“Students are used to getting information in this way,” said psychology professor Mark Durand, vice chancellor for USF St. Petersburg, which this summer delivered seven classes via podcast. “This isn’t some foreign technology for them. This is how they communicate. It makes sense to kind of follow that.”
Skeptics question the quality of course work viewed on a palm-sized device or absorbed through an ear piece.
But supporters say these digital lectures and videos aren’t meant to replace courses delivered in a classroom with a live professor. The idea is to enhance the curriculum and provide flexibility for students — especially older ones with families and jobs.
“So it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and you can’t sleep? Get up and take a course,” said David Brodosi, coordinator of  instructional media services at USF St. Petersburg. “Your professor is there for you, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
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iTunes University and other podcasts offered via college Web sites are just the latest, most high-tech incarnation of distance education.
They aren’t as interactive as online courses, which often have students and professors e-mailing or sending instant messages back and forth. But the idea is the same: Give students an alternative to the traditional classroom model.
Some of the earliest distance education courses were videotaped recordings of a professor giving a lecture, sometimes offered through a public access channel or sent to students on a videocassette. Then colleges delivered those lectures on a CD, and later through the Internet. Online courses are now common at institutions like St. Petersburg College, which enrolls 17,000 students online.
Today’s cell phones and MP3 players are the next step. They allow students to transfer course materials from their computers to a device they can carry into a gym, through a mall or onto a plane.
“Kids have iPods in their ears 24-7, so why not do it?” said Sreenath. “You have to be up with the times. I think it’s cool.”
So do millions of other people, many of them young, who own iPods.
Since the iPod debuted in 2001, Apple has sold 58-million of the hand-held devices — from the tiny $69 iPod Shuffle model to the $399 version that holds tens of thousands of songs and pictures and hours of video.
A Duke survey of freshmen found that 75 percent use iPods for academic work — recording lectures, taking oral notes, even using iPods to make cyber-flashcards.
“This is a proven, easy-to-use, popular tool among students,” said Apple spokesman Todd Wilder. “Administrators can tap into something that is already so pervasive on campus.”
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Though excited about the possibilities, some colleges are taking a cautious approach with iTunes University and podcasts.
“There is a right way and a wrong way to use this tool,” said Jim Olliver,  provost of St. Petersburg College’s Seminole campus. “We don’t see this as being a whole class delivered through the iPod. This is supplemental, a mix of video and audio.”
Dr. Ronald Clark, a University of Miami medical school professor, uses the technology to show students the brain and visual system — mixing voice, animation and live action that students can watch on their digital players.
“For a number of years I’ve thought that the traditional approach of transferring information to students via a lecture system is not particularly efficient,” Clark said. “It is passive, not active, and many students waste their time in the lecture hall.”
Instead, his students can do their assigned reading and download his presentations — then discuss it with Clark in-depth during class.
While some worry about technology replacing live instruction, professors like Clark say it actually increases class attendance because students are engaged through a medium they enjoy.
At USF St. Petersburg, the seven classes offered this summer via podcast were the most popular, said Durand, the vice chancellor.
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The University of North Florida will start rolling out its iTunes University course materials this fall, said Deb Miller, assistant director of faculty enhancement at the Jacksonville school.
FSU plans to focus its iTunes material on courses like foreign languages and music, which are ideal for the iPod’s audio capabilities.
USF, meanwhile, is in negotiations with Apple. But podcasts are nothing new at the College of Education at USF’s Tampa campus.
In the college’s Laptop Lounge, aspiring teachers learn to incorporate the technology into lesson plans.
“The way the world is going, our education students need to be active producers of this, not just users,” said James Welsh, who heads up the laptop lounge.
Already, third-grade teachers are using PowerPoint and having students create their own podcasts, he said.
Luis Perez, a 34-year-old USF graduate student who works in the laptop lounge, has a 6-year-old daughter who makes her own podcasts.
She is the surest sign that universities have to keep up with the latest technology.
“If you don’t do this,” USF’s Brodosi said, “you’re missing out on potential students.”
Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3403 or svansickler@sptimes.com.

[Last modified August 4, 2006, 22:32:45]


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