Podcasts: a productive way to procrastinate


Podcasts are becoming increasingly popular in university communities but it is yet to be determined exactly how they fit into student life.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with podcasts they are essentially recorded radio shows that can be accessed online and downloaded (for free) onto your iPod. There are shows about everything you could imagine, including Sporkful which discusses every element of food and WTF with Marc Maron which features casual and entertaining discussions often between Maron and other comedians.

According to Jim Handman, the executive producer of the CBC’s first popular podcast Quirks & Quarks, radio use has become obsolete and podcasts have taken its place. “I don’t know anyone under the age of thirty that own a radio; that’s not how people get their content anymore,” he said.

With the deadlines for final papers approaching, podcast appear to be an ideal and guiltless way to delay studies as they are often educational. Lewis Kaye, a communications professor at Wilfrid Laurier University had much to say on the topic and its role in universities. “It’d be a terrible way to procrastinate because it’s not procrastination,” said Kaye.

Unfortunately he did not fail to mention that podcasts are by no means a replacement for studying. “If you have a paper due you have a paper due,” he said.

Programs such as iTunes University, an application that offers podcasts of university lectures, introduce the concept of using technology in replacement of in class lectures. According to Kaye, recorded lectures are simply not as effective. He expressed the concern that if administrators use podcasts as a way to cut spending they will be losing valuable components of teaching that cannot be extracted from podcasts.

For many the ability to ask questions is important. There is also the opinion that many students could not excel with a purely oral teaching style. “The opportunity for distraction when you’re listening to podcasts is so high,” said Kaye.

However, many professors use podcasts in accompaniment with their classes, giving their students the opportunity to pause and rewind their lectures. “Podcasts have always been used as supplementary material,” said Kaye. “There are some instructors that are using these technologies that are finding effective and interesting ways to use [them in the classroom].”

It cannot be denied that the use of technology in education is increasing each year. “I think that as time moves along we are going to move more into blended learning,” said Sandy Hughes, the director of teacher support services at Laurier.

“If you took a one term credit course (being 36 classroom hours), I can see that time being cut back in terms of classroom time and being supplemented by online material.”

Despite the concerns that replacing teaching with technology may limit student success, Hughes assured us that success rates in online learning courses prove just the opposite. “The retention is really, really good – there’s not a lot of attrition,” she said. “There could be eight per cent or something like that drop out which is probably exactly what happens in a classroom scenario.”

Hughes suggested that students are open to the integration of technology in lecture, reporting that interest in online courses increases approximately 12 per cent each year. “As soon as we develop the courses they fill,” she said.

According to Handman, the use of podcasts in a university setting is far from a new concept. In fact, the show received feedback that the science program had been used as a teaching tool at Georgian College in Barrie nearly a decade ago.

Handman assured us that podcasts are by no means a lesser source of information for students to use. “If they’re listening to smart, intelligent, engaging content it doesn’t matter where they’re getting it from,” he said.

Handman predicted that the use of podcasts in the educational setting will only increase as students and educators recognize the extensive ways these technologies can be used to support education. “I think it has to end up being more and more in the curriculum,” he said. “You have to engage students in a manner that they want to be engaged in. For instance there are lots of university lectures where the lecture is available online. All of these tools are just really good uses of the technology to make it easier to learn.”

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