Where technology and learning are concerned, the University of Wisconsin needs to stay ahead of the curve. Demand for new technologies to be incorporated into college classrooms is higher than ever. A recent study conducted by the State University of New York in Fredonia concluded students who listened to podcast versions of their class lectures performed significantly better than students who actually attended lecture.

This finding is somewhat staggering — especially considering that the massive majority of students have been drilled over and over about the importance of attending lectures daily. This study could rightfully lead to a re-evaluation of our current educational system. And even if it’s looked over by the powers that be, at the least it makes a huge comment about the role that technology should play in higher education.

The Fredonia study comments on the effectiveness of lectures in general. Perhaps the reason podcasts are so useful is they provide students the opportunities to take more constructive notes. There’s no rewind button if you miss something in lecture, and taking notes requires you make effective decisions about what material you record and leave out. As indicated by the study, current technologies accommodate students with vastly different methods of learning. Podcasts take out the guesswork by limiting the material provided. Recorded versions of lectures also prevent professors from going on tangents which, while possibly insightful, are not necessarily relevant to course material. By condensing the most important information from lecture and keeping this material accessible throughout the semester, podcasts can drastically increase retention rates.

In a society where technology is continuously blamed for decreased attention rates, podcasts are having the opposite effect in the classroom. Another possible benefit is that podcasts remove general classroom distractions. It’s a common form of thought among students — one that I’ve fallen prey to — that if you attend lecture you’re good to go, even if you’re Facebook stalking all through class. But, as I’ve discovered, it helps to pay attention.

There’s controversy here too, though. Podcasting allows students to listen to lectures on their own time. Sure, it’s likely there are students out there who will use podcasting as an excuse not to attend lecture. So for a podcast lecture to work, it needs to be utilized correctly. Researchers at SUNY concluded podcasts are most effective in lecture if they are listened to in efforts to prompt in-class discussion. Similar to outlines provided online, the material will allow students to gain a general conception of what is being taught, while providing them with inspiration to actively engage in lecture. Essentially, what this study shows is it is more efficient for students to learn on their own time — and to expand on this self-developed knowledge in class.

Luckily, UW seems to be on the right track.

While most classes have yet to make the most of this new learning mechanism, the transition to podcasting is hardly expected to happen overnight. Notably, some foreign language departments have already begun to use podcasting, recognizing listening is essential to learning a language. Madison’s department of German boasts a series of podcasts that have been featured on the Apple Higher Education website, bringing attention to UW’s status as a state-of-the-art, technologically progressive university.

Our Writing Center also features a number of podcasts to be used as learning materials. From an online “Introduction to APA Documentation” to a four-part broadcast entitled “The Series of Writing,” students can learn better writing from the comfort of their own homes.

And iTunes University is a recent development used to document UW staff seminars; it also includes a number of lectures and seems to be picking up speed.

While these examples are nowhere near exhaustive, there is still progress to be made. The addition of podcasting to curriculum as an educational supplement is worth the consideration of UW staff, as it keeps our university current and plays to the strengths of our student body.

Emily Osborne ([email protected]) is a sophomore intending to major in journalism.