Electronic lectures: Download your notes here

More and more podcasts are being used on courses – so is this the end for lectures, asks Andy Sharman

Nothing, it seems, is safe from the onward march of technology. Now, a practice that has been at the centre of higher education for centuries – the lecture – is under threat from alternative methods: foremost among them is the podcast.

This month Dr Steve Jones, a biochemist at King's College London, has sparked debate about what alternatives could be used to improve upon, or indeed replace, the lecture.

"The traditional lecture has stood the test of time but it's now under attack," says Dr Jones. "It's considered by some to be an ineffective way to construct understanding of a topic."

With MP3 players widely used by students, some universities are seeking to exploit podcasting technology to create the modern lecture. This could see more and more lectures recorded as digital media files and put on the internet for students to download.

Apple is at the forefront of the podcasting revolution and the company's iTunes music store even has its own "iTunes U" section, dedicated to university podcasts. However, the service only hosts broadcasts from US institutions, and Apple would not say whether it planned to open iTunes U to British universities.

But forget Apple: we've got Ashraf. In May 2006, Dr Bill Ashraf, a senior lecturer at Bradford University, abandoned lectures in favour of podcasts on his first-year biochemistry and second-year molecular genetics courses. He has also offered students the chance to send questions to him by text, which he answers, for all to see, on his blog. He did this, he says, after seeing how his teenage daughters were organising their social lives via mobile phones and online social-networking sites. "That's how my future students are going to be thinking: online," he says.

Ashraf also discovered that he is dyslexic, which motivated him to seek an alternative to lectures. "With a podcast, you're not struggling to write down notes. You can pace yourself," he says. "What's more, students don't have to chase me round for lecture notes – it's all on the podcast."

The project has proved successful with students. Kaz Matsumoto, a student on Ashraf's molecular genetics course, says: "Before exam time, I listened to them over and over again while going to the gym and even while walking between lectures. It also helps when you miss lectures from time to time to be able to hear the lecture in its entirety."

Ashraf has begun to offer "enhanced" podcasts which feature slides and video. Does this spell the end for lectures? Many universities are offering podcasts alongside lectures. As a result, there is concern that students will stop turning up for lectures if they can download the podcast.

But according to Lynn Vos, senior lecturer in marketing at Middlesex University Business School, these fears are unfounded. Research shows that the introduction of podcasts does not reduce attendance at lectures, and students see the technology as an additional educational tool, not a replacement, she says. "Podcasts will not supplant the traditional lecture in the near future. I believe they will be viewed as a way to enhance the student experience and form an additional set of materials students can use to remind, de-mystify and clarify."

The lecture offers a forum for student-teacher interaction, according to Vos. Students are able to question tutors on material they find confusing, and the tutor can then adjust the content to improve students' understanding. "Also, the lecture can be viewed as an 'event' where students get together and participate in what is in effect a live performance," she says.

Others don't see podcasting as progress. "I don't think that digitising lectures in itself is the best way of using the technology," says Professor Allison Littlejohn, director of the Caledonian Academy. "After all, it's not that different to what the Open University was doing in the 1970s when it was sending out video tapes."

The Academy, a centre at Glasgow Caledonian University, is charged with investigating new approaches to teaching, looking at the use of computers, MP3 players, social-networking websites and mobile phones. "We're looking at other ways of using podcasts to transform the technology into something that can help students learn," she says.

Warwick University is also seeking to use podcasting as a way of supporting, rather than supplanting, lectures. The MA creative writing course has a podcast for which students are asked to submit short stories. "It's the first podcast with a call to action," says Tom Abbott, who looks after podcasting and the website at Warwick. "It's integral to what the tutor is trying to achieve with his course."

French students at Warwick are also able to download a 10-minute introduction to each lecture. "They go into the lecture better informed and in a better frame of mind," says Abbott. "If we restrict podcasting to just recording lectures, we've missed a trick."

News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Primary Teacher

£90 - £150 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Upper Key ...

Primary Teacher

£90 - £115 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary NQ...

Primary Teacher

£90 - £115 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary NQ...

PE Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup