Tech-savvy profs face a catch-22

Mike Platt

According to a recent Newsweek article, professors at several prominent Universities have implemented the technology called “course-casting.” Similar to Apple Podcasting, professors at Duke, Stanford, Drexel and American University have begun recording their lectures in mp3 format and making them available for students to download over the Internet and potentially listen to on their iPods. At long last, you can now listen to a lecture on the Cuban missile crisis in between “My Humps” and Ashlee Simpson’s latest faux-introspective crapfest.

Of course, as with every other time a professor adapts to the changing technological landscape, the college student will inevitably ask his or herself, “How can I use this to be more lazy?” Because students can download and listen to lectures anytime they choose, the need to attend class becomes less and less. Although course-casting at first might seem like an alternative for attending egregiously bad classes, its implementation ultimately would be counter-productive. It would stand to reason that the professors who are savvy enough to utilize course-casting are likely to be the most popular with students. Thus, course-casting would lessen the appeal of the well-taught and intriguing classes, instead of serving as a substitute for poorly taught ones.

Take Microsoft PowerPoint for example. The presentation software has allowed professors to easily integrate text, graphics, sound and video into their lectures. But let’s face it, when you see a professor load up a PowerPoint presentation, your brain half shuts-off. Moreover, when a professor doesn’t use PowerPoint or some other reproducible visual aid, shrieks of terror, cries of anguish and wails of “There is no God!” rattle the walls of the classroom.

Now imagine what would happen if we adopted course-casting. Of course, there would still be that tool who sits in the front row asking if the upcoming exam will be as easy as the old midterms posted on Blackboard. But behind him/her/it, there would be rows of empty chairs peppered with a few students nearly approaching their REM cycle.

It would be cliche to use the “blame society” cop-out, but few could argue that is what’s happening. TV shows on DVD, Internet video, podcasting and TiVo have eliminated the need to listen to or watch anything when it actually happens. But in the case of television, movies and music, we’re not missing anything by watching it later. The same cannot be said for academia. The best professors I’ve had are the ones who engage students and facilitate interesting discussion during class time. Sadly, course-casting would trivialize such intangibles that some professors bring to their classes.

As a result, technology is unfairly forcing professors down two roads. One, either eliminate class lectures completely and make all of the necessary information available online or go back to a third-grade style attendance policy of assigned seats and role-call.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not paying $40,000 a year for either.

Mike Platt is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]