Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Excuses, excuses

"Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday."

from "actual excuse notes from parents (including spelling)" from the Office of Educational Assessment at the University of Washington, cited on
"Strangeplaces", which I found referenced on Life Weirder than Fiction

Your love better than Ice Cream

Given the week we've had, I figured Mary could use some flowers.

These are from Fraches, a local florist I like to patronize because they have a refreshing creative streak -- for important occasions I like Mary to know her flowers aren't just a bunch I picked up at Safeway or Costco along with the groceries. Usually, though, I have to special order a week or more ahead, since the Lethbridge market tends towards the conservative, so walking in off the street I don't usually see anything I like. (They love when I come in because they know they get to do something really different. I now generally trust them to do something eye catching, so I just say, 'give me something different in X price range', and stand back. For Mary's 40th I they delivered a spectacular arrangement featuring limes to the restaurant where we went for dinner. Everyone in the place kept looking at the arrangement because it was fabulous, and because, did I mention the limes? The two strangest were private jokes back when I was dating Mary, where I had them do an arrangement out of broccoli and another one out of doggie biscuits.) And usually Tigana and I have to do a fair bit of negotiating when we go to get something for Mom, as Tigana's tastes run to colorful rather than, um, strange sophisticated. But when we saw this one in the display case, we both agreed instantly that this one was the one! Tigana burst out laughing the second she saw it, and I knew we had to have it. Exactly what the week called for....

Monday, August 29, 2005

Did I mention the mouse?

Oh, and about 10 days ago, a mouse ran across Mary's foot as she was nursing Kasia to sleep, with predictable results. Not having seen the mouse myself , I'm afraid my reaction was somewhat ineffectual: I got a soup bowl in which to capture it and stared intently at baseboards. "You've never actually seen a mouse, have you?" my wife asked. Well, no, I've never had to deal with this problem before. This went on for several days, and then yesterday, I saw the mouse (well, a mouse) leaving via the backdoor. It was huge. I mean, I could no more have captured it in a soup bowl than Godzilla. So I switched to one of those giant salad mixing bowls.

Mary was not impressed. She did not share my optimism that since I had seen a mouse leaving, that the problem was solved. She pointed out that the mouse I had described was the wrong color, and that there was no reason to assume that we were dealing with a lone mouse. In any event, when I came down this morning, the back door had been left wide open all night (a problem with the latch, so yet another required repair) so no doubt any number of addtional mice could have wandered in. Sure enough, a/the mouse ran across the floor in front of Mary again this evening, and I was directed to go to Home Depot and buy mouse traps. I am extremely squeamish about hurting fellow mammals, and protested that traps were inhumane. Mary, grumbling about people who can't kill mice but have no problem eating steak and porkchops at the same sitting, got out Tigana's butterfly net and started stalking the mouse for a capture and release program. She complained that everything she'd read said that if you released the mice too close to the house they would just come back the next day. I suggested that we take it with us on our trip to Kananaskis and relase it there, where it could never find us. She gave me one of those "is it time to have him committed already?" looks, until I explained that if it got loose in the hotel,we could call the manager, and maybe they'd comp our room.

In the end, it became obvious that capture and release was unrealistic, since we were not doing so well with the 'capture' portion of the program. (Particularly annoying here was the sighting of the mouse walking past the dogs, whose only reaction was to move so as not to be in the mouse's way.) So Mary set out a couple of traps, on the understanding that I woull retrieve these when Kasia first wakes (around 5:AM), before our toddler can be allowed to wander down stairs, lest we hear a 'snap' followed by howls of pain; and to avoid too many penetrating questions from our vegan 7 year old (Lisa Simpson having nothing on Tigana). About an hour later, the first trap had caught a mouse. Mary took one look and said, "Okay, now I feel guilty." This one looked much smaller than the one I had seen earlier, and may or may not be the same one that has been driving Mary crazy, since they probably look much bigger when in motion. But darn it looked cute. No wonder there are some may storybooks featuring mice. But not so many with the dead mouse in the trap illustration. I keep thinking of the Gaham Wilson cartoon with a certain hollywood mouse caught dead with suit and brief case in a giant mouse trap.

And the boiler is still not fixed -- though they are supposedly coming to finish tomorrow, along with the locksmith for the doors.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Train Wreck Week

So last week we had the dog into the vet for bladder problems. He'd recently taken to relieving himself on the frontroom carpet, next to the picture window. He's getting old, 14 years, so there is some concern that it may be time for him to 'move to the farm', but he is a key family member who has saved my wife's life on at least two occasions, so we are anxious to keep him around for as long as he has any quality of life. (Besides, as I am so much older than my wife, I am not keen to set any precedents about what one should do when incontinence starts to become an issue....) So we fork over the $450 in vets bills to check for bladder problems and hope for the best.

Monday night I'm running a bath for Kasia, and there is no hot water. I go down to the boiler room and find an inch of water on the floor and no burners on -- the boiler is kaput and leaking. I phone our contractor, and first thing Tuesday morning it takes Joe only three minutes to pronounce the boiler dead at the scene. We haven't had the nerve to ask what this is likely to cost, but neighbours gestimate the $3500 range. Monday and Tuesday are the coldest days all summer, and with no boiler, we not only have no hot water, but no central heating.

The replacement boiler and a pair of plumbers and an electrician arrive Wednesday morning along with the heaviest rain storm of the year...and we discover problem #2. The rain is coming in through leaks round the front room window (well, it's the window if we're lucky, the roof if we are not...) The contractor doing the boiler work promises to look at the leak the next day. In the meantime, we're left apologizing to the dog as it now obvious that the spots in the front room were from the leaks all along -- we just never get enough rain to correctly diagnose the problem before.

Wednesday night there's more bad news (#3)-- when the plumbers went to connect the boiler to the water heater, they've discovered the heater is broken. Indeed, it now appears that it was the ruptured water heater that resulted in a five fold increase in pressure within the boiler, blowing it out. And the contractor breaks the bad news that this kind of heater costs $1000 wholesale before he adds on his retail and labour.

Thursday I wait around for the plumbers to show up but about 5 the contractor tells us the specialized heater tank we required is being shipped in from Edmonton, and there is no hope for hot water before Monday.

Saturday, I go out to the deep freeze in the garage to get a loaf of bread, and notice it is not frozen. The door was left open, all our frozen food is gone. Bill, probably another $600 down the tubes. So much for savings through bulk buying.

We drive out to the store to pick up a few groceries. We get back to the car, and Mary asks, "What's that puddle under the car?" Well, judging by the smoke coming out from under the hood... So, towed the car to the garage, a week after paying $375 for tune up and check etc. So hopefully it will turn out to be a hose, not the radiator, but... well, weekend without the car. and waiting for the other shoe to drop -- what next?

And the hell of it is, I know what lead to this run of expensive bad luck -- about a week ago, I turned to Mary and said, "You know, another month, and we'll have cleared off our credit cards....." One should never say something like that out loud, lest the gods take it as a challenge.

But shrug, the kids and Mary are okay, so it's really not anything to get depressed about. No one likes taking that many financial hits in a row, but I'll take a busted boiler over something wrong with one of the kids any day.

Who Needs the Education Faculty?

A guest editorial by teaching activist, Richard Hake (Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University)

Date: Wed, 24 Aug 2005 21:18:45 -0700

Anemona Hartocollis (2005), in her provocative New York Times article
"Teaching for Teachers: Who Needs Education Schools?" [Hartocollis
(2005)] wrote in part [my CAPS]:

. . . .If Emporia State is a throwback to an earlier time, when
preparing teachers for the classroom was a high calling, it is also a
reminder of how many teachers' colleges have strayed from the central
mission of the normal school. For decades, education schools have
gravitated from the practical side of teaching, seduced by large
ideas like "building a caring learning community and culture" and
"advocating for social justice," to borrow from the literature of the
Hunter College School of Education, part of the City University of
New York. With the ambition of producing educators rather than
technicians, in the words of Hunter's acting dean, Shirley Cohen,
schools have embraced a theoretical approach. But critics say that
ill prepares teachers to function effectively in the classroom.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Just what do education schools teach? In a report published last year
that put many educators on the defensive, researchers found that top
education schools were not equipping their students to deal with the
standards movement - nor giving them an understanding, going back to
classical sources like Plato and Aristotle, of what constitutes an
educated person.

David M. Steiner, co-author of the report, is director of arts
education at the National Endowment for the Arts and on leave as
department chairman in educational administration, training and
policy studies at Boston University. With his associate Susan D.
Rozen, he reviewed the curriculums of 16 teachers' colleges, 14 of
them among the nation's best, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

Since there is little data on which educational approach translates
into effective teaching, they looked for a balance in material.
Instead, they found little effort to present opposing schools of
thought. The general posture of education schools, they concluded,
was countercultural, instilling mistrust of the system that teachers
work in. Among the texts most often assigned were Jonathan Kozol's
"Savage Inequalities," an indictment of schooling in poor urban
neighborhoods, and writings by Paulo Freire, who advocates education
to achieve political liberation. Theories of how children learn, like
the multiple learning styles advocated by Howard Gardner of Harvard,
were more likely to be taught than what children should learn, like
the Core Knowledge curriculum advanced by E. D. Hirsch, a professor
emeritus at the University of Virginia.

TAUGHT METHODS THAT WOULD HELP THEIR STUDENTS DO WELL ON STANDARDIZED TESTS. Most texts used to teach reading had been written by proponents of whole language methods, and there was only fleeting exposure to the kinds of scripted, phonics-based curriculums, like Open Court, that are increasingly being adopted in the nation's schools.

"There is a vision here," Dr. Steiner said in an interview, "and it's all just one vision. IT IS A SYNTHESIS OF WHAT WE CALL THE PROGRESSIVIST VISION AND THE CONSTRUCTIVIST VISION" - that is, the theory that it is better for children to construct knowledge than to
receive it. But, he added, "The counterview has an equal and much
longer tradition - the responsibility to engage the student, but to
engage the student as the authority." To suggestions that his report
was itself ideological, and conservative, Dr. Steiner says he's
actually an old-fashioned liberal.

On Aug. 15, Dr. Steiner will step directly into the fray, as new dean
of education at Hunter College. At Hunter, he says, he hopes to
prepare teachers who "are scholars of their craft," both proficient
in methods and curriculum and able to think in a sophisticated way.

Given all the sound and fury, there is surprisingly little
disagreement with that.

"One of the biggest dangers we face is preparing teachers who know
theory and know nothing about practice," acknowledges Arthur Levine president of Teachers College at Columbia, one of the leading
avatars of progressive education. Historians note that Dewey himself
had such concerns in the 1920's. But, Dr. Levine says, that is not
what happens at strong - and philosophically diverse - education
schools like Stanford, the University of Virginia, Alverno College in
Milwaukee and Emporia State.

"They have a clarity of mission," says Dr. Levine, who is conducting
a two-year study on the quality of education schools that will be
published in November. "They know what they're trying to do. THEIR

(end quote)

See the complete version.

There is no indication that Hartocollis or any of those she quotes is
aware of education research *outside* schools of education [e.g.
Heron & Meltzer (2005)] that is devoted to the assessment of student
learning deemed so important by Arthur Levine.

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana Universit

See homepage at Hake or see physics


Hartocollis, A. 2005. "Teaching for Teachers: Who Needs Education
Schools?" New York Times , 31 July 2005; freely available online (probably only for a short period)

See also Steiner (2005).

Heron, P.R.L. & D. Meltzer. 2005. "The future of physics education research:
Intellectual challenges and practical concerns," Amer. J. Phys.
73(5): 390-394; online
here, scroll down
to "invited papers," or
download directly(56kB).

Steiner, D. 2004. "Skewed Perspective," Education Next, Winter 2005;
online here Education
Next is a publication of the Hoover Institution

Reprinted with Richard's kind permission

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Blogger and Explorer

I am a bit annoyed with Blogger lately. It suddenly stopped letting me log on with Explorer, insisting that I had to enable cookies and java (both of which are actually set correctly). When I went to the blogger help files, the info on Explorer settings only applied to Window's version or older versions of Mac, so that was no help. When I emailed support, they emailed back the exact same text from their help files, even though I had specifically pointed out in my email question that the help files did not apply to the version of Explorer I was running and that in any event, my software settings were the ones they said they needed. So their only suggestion was to dump Explorer in favour of Safari.

Yeah, all well and good, I can do that, but what about my 300 students, most of whom only have access to whatever software is available in the computer lab? I've been specifying blogger.com for my blog assignments so that we can all be using the same software, but I may have to rethink that decision. It was clear that whoever answered my queries at Blogger could care less that I was using blogger as a class assignment and that this one glitch could affect hundreds of users. I was a bit disappointed, to say the least.

The other annoyance really isn't their fault, so I'm just whining about my luck, not really complaining. Having launched a fairly large scale study of blogs using the "Next Blog" button as the basis of my sampling, damned if they don't go and change the software to include a new "Flag this" button. I understand the need for such a button, which allows people who are cruising the "Next Blog" network to complain about obscene or offensive material -- not everyone appreciates coming across nude pictures or porn fiction or hate literature as they browse at random. Once flagged, Blogger staff look at the post, and if it is potentially offensive, they delist it from the "Next Blog" button (though leaving it on the web -- people are free to go there through search engines or through knowing the author or through direct links, but won't now stumble across it accidentally when "Nexting".) Okay, well and good, this seems to me an appropriate compromise to ensure that the average blogger/reader has a good experience, but it does screw up my sampling by introducing the bias that 'potentially offensive' blogs will be under-represented in my sample. Since the whole point of the study was to identify characteristics of typical blog, this is kind of a problem!

I also wonder what qualifies for the "flag this" compliant department. What offends me the most is not the occasional porn site or hate literature (all gist for the sociologist's mill) but the endless fake and commercial blogs. Some days as much as 75% of the "Next Blog" sample I collect consists of blogs with nonsense text (random words or letters) between search terms and links to a commercial site. I'm guessing that the purpose of these sites is not to be read, but to be indexed by google bots -- a 'black hat' trick unscrupulous webmasters use to raise the link ratings for the commercial site to which the fake blog links, since sites move higher in the search engines the more other sites link to it, and the more recently updated those links are. Creating free blogger sites is so easy, some of these guys can knock off and/or update fake blogs almost as fast as I can hit the next blog button (well, it takes me a couple of minutes to record the info into my study database), so that I often get three or four of these sites in a row, all obviously by the same guy (Blogger user name 'Phone1', next blog, it's 'Phone2', next blog it's 'Phone3', etc.) linking to the same mobile phone sales site, or whatever. I'd like to flag these bad boys so the Blogger staff could take them down (blogger is owned by Google, and Google naturally does not want the 'black hat' tricksters using its own free site to defeat it's ratings software.)

Of course, in terms of my study, the existence of these blogs is a significant and heretofore overlooked factor in estimating blog usage. All the studies of blog usage so far have looked at how many blogs are started on various hosting services (like blogger.com), and maybe look at how many are abandoned vs frequently updated – but these fake blogs may be significantly inflating the numbers, since a single 'black hatter' might create dozens of fake blogs in support of one commercial site; and they would show up as 'frequently updated', as the evil genius goes in once a day and drops another chunk of nonsense boilerplate into each of his fake blogs and moves on to the next one as fast as his browser can rotate windows -- as I say, I often find ten or twelve of these fake sites in a row, the result of their being the most recently updated blogs when I happen to be doing my browsing.

Which brings up another frustration with Blogger. I can't actually find the analog for the "Next Blog" function described anywhere on the Blogger site. Most people assume that it is completely "random" (using that term in its popular, rather than technical sense) or that it represents the most recently updated blogs, but I can't seem to find any specific information, which I really need if I am going to be using this as the basis of my study sample. And I can't find an email address to which I can send my queries, though I'm sure those in the know would be happy to tell me what I need for my study, if not giving away any industry secrets. But given my disappointing previous contact with support, I won't be contacting them for answers. Well, I'll continue to poke around until I find someone suitable to ask.


Am revising my cyberculture course for delivery in the Spring (i.e., January-April) 2006 term and am open to suggestions for possible new directions, or new readings, etc. I think the basic thrust of my course, which is how to tell when a trend or emergent technology is significant or just bandwagon hype, remains valid, but I can't help feeling I might be missing something.

I was interested to see, googling around for ideas, that "cyberculture" seems to have fallen out of favour in recent years: most cyberculture references are in pages four or more years old. I wonder if this is because the field has expanded sufficiently for people to be narrowing their focus to more specific subtopics, or if the whole concept of a cyberculture has fallen into disrepute?

There is a certain sense I get googling around that some of the initial excitement/panic over the internet has settled down. Perhaps the bursting of the dot.com commercial bubble a few years back reigned in some of the more exaggerated hype, and internet usage has reached a sufficient critical mass that there is no longer as much anxiety over one being caught on the wrong side of the digital divide. But part of it may be the whole cycle of academic publishing: as new technology or social implications emerge, there is a rush to be the first to publish, leading to a spate of books and articles on that topic; then the market is quickly satutated as everyone gets their 2 cents worth out, and the topic becomes passé then the topic drops off the radar because no academic wants to try writing on a topic that has already been fully covered/documented in the last five years, and yet students won't read anything more than three or four years old -- so whole issues simply drop off the curriculum under "its been done", yet may remain real and pressing social issues for all that no one is paying attention any longer.

For example, five years ago there were a whole series of books addressing privacy issues in the digital age, but I can't seem to get students interested any more. Yet various data bases continue to track every purchase we make, every Dr. visit, every site we link to; google maps helps stalkers find the closest Starbucks to the stalkee to improve their chances of 'running into you'; and Microsoft makes you sign a contract that says they can use spyware to authenticate your copy of any of their software, and so on. But there is very little currently being addressed to these issues, and students consider anything written in the 1990s as hopelessly out of date. (Well, I guess it probably is, because things are MUCH worse now!)

And whatever happened to virtual reality? When I went to VikingCon ten years ago, it was set to be the next big thing, and was the key example of an emergent technology we analyzed in class for its impact on education. But here it is a decade later, and nothing.

I'll probably use podcasting as the current example of a significant emergent technology, and mobile phones as a current technology now intruding into the classroom (mobile bullying, text messaging for cheating, phones as a general distraction, changed social expectations and interchanges, etc.) but these lack some of the oomph of the bigger issues I was tackling last time I taught this course. No one seems to see the Internet as a new thing any more -- for my current students, it is just there, like TV, and trying to talk about the impact the Internet has/ is having is like trying to get them to notice the air they breath -- i.e., they only think of the net when they are temporairly cut off.

Anyway, open to suggestions of trends or etc. that I might be overlooking.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

On Trust...

Quote of the day:

Of vocations, Bricker & Wright, (2005) report firefighters, pharmacists, nurses, and doctors, in that order, as most trustworthy. Chiropractors ranked 15th, two spots below the judicial system and environmentalists were 17th just two places ahead of religious figures. Politicians were rock bottom among the 31 vocations named. In a parallel list measuring distrust or “most likely to lie”, politicians topped the list, followed by lawyers, corporate executives, and union leaders. Amazingly, “more Canadians believe in the Loch Ness monster than believe in their politicians”. Bricker, D. & Wright, J. (2005). What Canadians think about almost everything. Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada., cited by Lissa Howes.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

How Not to Write an Inquiry

Received a letter to day from Michelle (last name withheld for obvious reasons) which was addressed to my old address, with the name of my former publication mispelled and the following brief note:

"I have a symopsis of the Story Alien Nation : Who Will Rule? written for an alternative sereies , a miniseries , a sinoff serie s, a cindema movie or a direct to video movie. May I pelase have a list of names, addresses and telephone numbers of Canadian SCI FI film companies . Could you also send me over your magazine too. The date is July 29, 2005 A.D. My telephone number is 1-(***)-***-****. could you please write back to me by August 15, 2005 A.D. They you very much alot."

*Sigh* Typos and spelling errors in original, of course, though I could not reproduce the many typeovers (It was produced on a typewriter by someone obviously lacking typing skills and desparately in need of a new ribbon). It was accompanied by a one page (!) synopsis, half of which is a character list, the other half a completely incomprehensible summary:

"The story is about four stories in one. The first story is about Bucks, confrontation with Marlon over his Old Gang members, support of Marlon in which Mathew teams up with Buck to get Vessa back from them. The Second story is about Byron wifes, dissappearence..."

And so on. Mind you, Buck and Mathew don't actually appear in the provided character list, and I frankly have no idea to what any of this refers. Are these characters in someone else's TV series?

So let's see, how many errors do we have here? Besides the obvious errors in the text, we have a demand for a free copy of my magazine (why would a publisher send out a freebie?) a demand for an address list (why would I be motivated to compile and mail at my expense such information? Why would they think I know? Why does this person not look it up for themselves at the public library or online?) for Canadian SF film companies (well, I could probably stretch a point and claim the producers of "White Skin" a 'Canadian SF film company', but I mean reallly) so he can send a one page treatment (absurdly incomplete) to the studios (NO studio accepts unsolicited treatments -- precisely to avoid these sorts of letters) for a series whose copyright is owned by somebody else (pretty much a non-starter all by itself) and then gives me a deadline!

Amazing. But not altogether atypical.

So what do you think? Is this an ambitious 8 year old, or a mental case? Should I write back, or trash it?

Comments Please

I believe that I have fixed the problem with the "comments" code and that it should be working properly now... Please let me know by email if you still encounter problems.

Some of the comments from before were saved on the holoscan site, even though they were not showing up on my blog. I have attempted to go back and reinsert them, so thanks to those of you who made comments even though you couldn't see them....

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Podcasting in Education

Evo Terra at Podcasting panel at WesterCon 58, July 3, 2005.

Michael Mennenga at the Podcasting panel

Tee Morris at the same panel

I recently attended a conference (Westercon 58 in Calgary) where I met Tee Morris and Evo Terra (co-authors of the forthcoming Podcasting for Dummies manual), and Michael Mennenga (Terra's co-host on their weekly radio /podcast show). I spent about four hours pumping Terra in particular for anecdotes and insights, and we both were intrigued by the educational potential of this new medium. Evo pointed out that the main barrier for the average citizen to podcasting was the bandwidth requirements, but that these do not apply to educational institutions which generally speaking have much greater bandwidth than they are currently utilizing. (When I asked my own IT people about this, they immediately assured me that university policy was to purchase memory as needed, and that I could access as much bandwidth as required to produce learning objects, such as course-related podcasts.) Evo gave the example of his wife, a jr. high English teacher who had for several years been buying, reviewing, and then presenting young adult books to her students in hopes that some of them would borrow and read one or more of the books. Evo had essentially said to her, "Look, you're doing this presentation on a book every week to your 30 students anyway, why not podcast it as a weekly show and allow other English teachers across the country to benefit from your work?" Sounds like a brilliant idea to me, and one that will quickly revolutionize how teachers access resources, and therefore something for which I need to prep my student teachers.

What I got from Evo was how podcasting is catching on with millions of American commuters who are stuck in their cars for hours at a time and growing bored with just listening to music. Podcasting therefore represents the rebirth of radio, because it provides specific programming on demand. Radio mystery, comedy, drama, etc. is suddenly back in because podcasting technology allows anyone to produce their own shows cheaply and to deliver them directly to their own niche market. Tee Morris, for example, produced 26 weekly podcasts of an abridged version of his fantasy novel, Morevi in hopes of attracting potential readers/buyers.

Michael Mennenga reviewed some of the technology available to produce professional radio quality podcasts and it is astonishingly affordable. The bottom line is that $35US buys one a USB compatible microphone, which is sufficient for acceptable quality 'talk radio' or most educational applications; $150US buys one a mixing console to facilitate more sophisticated integration of music etc.; and $350US buys a complete package that integrates the hardware with dedicated software controls for high end podcasts. If $350 gets one's garageband on air and lets the local SF club produce its own professional quality SF drama, well then hello 500,000 channel universe. (The sociological implications here are very intriguing since media analysts are still trying to come to terms with the 500 channel universe.)

Advantages of podcasting over videoconferencing for distance learning

First, audio may represent a better use of student time. Many of my target audience are rural teachers -- that is why they are taking the courses at a distance, after all -- and the most common pattern is for these teachers to live in one small rural community, and to teach in another...leaving them with a daily commute. For these graduate students, the daily commute is mostly 'deadtime', and providing a weekly podcast of their course lecture is likely to be greeted as an improvement because it allows them to multitask -- two birds with one stone is a deal in anyone's books. In contrast, videoconferencing is generally ineffective because it requires the student to forego other activities to attend class without the actual benefit of being in the classroom with the instructor. Even if we use streaming video so the student can access the video at their convenience, we're dealing with the painful exercise of trying to attend to a talking head for three hours -- not possible. Thus, "less is more" here: audio wins over video because the video component is not carrying its weight in information and ties the viewer up whereas audio frees the listener to drive, walk the dog or do other chores.

Second, audio is easier for the instructor. To produce an audio lecture from my existing lesson scripts requires only as many hours as it would to deliver the lectures in person. In contrast, video conferencing requires additional technical staff or technical know-how and effort on the part of the instructor. Attempts to make the videos more effective (inserting other visuals into the taped lecture, for example) require an expenditure of effort on the part of the instructor out of all proportion to standard face-to-face delivery, and so is a major disincentive to innovative teaching. Thus video demands too much from both lecturer and listener.

Third, podcasting allows for greater Individualized instruction. Supplementing the core lectures is similarly easy. For example, in my graduate methodology course, half my students have already taken three or four methods courses in their undergraduate program, whereas the other half have had nothing previously. If I include the lecture on hypotheses for those without any background in research, those with previous courses become bored out of their minds; but if I skip it, those without the background are quickly left behind, lost and terrified. Making the lecture on hypotheses available online as a supplementary resource means that those students who need the lecture can get it, while those who do not need not trouble themselves.

Similarly, our introductory research course is designed as a survey class that lays out the range of research methodologies and orientations available and so cannot provide much depth for any one approach. With the ease with which additional lectures can be made available as online podcasts, one could easily allow students to select a 'custom made' course that would allow them, for example, to choose to focus on either qualitative methodologies or quantitative methodologies in much greater depth.

Fourth, Weekly podcasts may encourage the development of learning objects. Not only could one do a 13 week course via podcasts with no more effort than the usual face to face lectures (especially if one is primarily a 'chalk and talk' style lecturer like myself), but one could continue the weekly episodes to build up supplementary materials. For example, I propose to phone up various methodological theorists and interview them for my course -- doing one one hour phone interview a week would probably not be particularly onerous for either myself nor my potential interview subjects, but over the course of a year yield an additional 40-50 learning objects students could access.

Fifth, podcasting can be easily integrated with other pedagogical techniques. Michael, for example, assured me that PowerPoint presentations could be keyed to podcasts, such that the slides would progress on screen as the podcast provided the associated audio. Of course, this reduces advantage #1 above, but does mean that PowerPoint lectures can be deliver as effectively at a distance as in a face-to-face situation.

Sixth, podcasting could off load lectures from class time If students in a regular (as opposed to distance ed) situation can access lectures outside of class time (perhaps in lieu of equivalent reading hours), then classroom time could be devoted to workshop and hands on style applications. This may not be useful in all classes, but I can think of several situations where I would love to free up class time for direct consultation/interaction with and between students, while still being assured students have the opportunity to hear me cover the key curricular concepts.

Seventh, podcasting can reach a broad audience. This one is still open to discussion, but I'm thinking of making my podcasts broadly available through the Internet, rather than just to my own students. It seems to me that some student in Illinois might well benefit from hearing my lectures as a supplement to his/her own instructor -- I often find it useful to get two or three different takes when trying to master new concepts. On the other hand, as Mary pointed out to me, interview subjects may balk at a permanent universally available recording....They may be only prepared to participate if the podcast are secured behind WebCT logins and up only for the duration of the course. Though personally, I am fine with having my ideas out there as broadly as possible. So we'll see how that one works out.

Eighth, Podcasts open the way to innovative teaching Speaking of interviews, one way to break up the lecture might be to include phone interviews with key speakers. I can't get big names to drop into my class easily, but a phone interview might well be possible...Students should love hearing it from the horses mouth, and talk radio is probably more dynamic than straight lecture. And that is only the beginning. I think one problem with videoconferencing and other distance learning tools is that we are too preoccupied with recreating the face-to-face classroom. But the effectiveness of face-to-face instruction is something of a myth and our preoccupation with recreating that format as closely as possible in distance learning contexts may have more to do with functional fixedness than with effective pedagogy. Let's give talk radio a chance to evolve as its own unique educational tool, with different advantages (and undoubtedly, problems) and figure out which content is best suited to which formats.

Ninth, well, I'm still thinking this through and experimenting, but I'm pretty sure there will be other latent functions here. Of course, I'm sure there may be latent dysfunctions that will turn up too, but we'll have to see.

One question that Jim Henry suggested to me is whether instructors can talk into a microphone as fluently as to a class...without the body language feedback from the students one depends on to pace lessons, to decide what needs to be clarified, and what needs to be skipped over. An issue raised by colleague George Bedard is whether podcasts address the issues of peer learning adequately -- cohorts like getting together for class for reasons of moral as much as for direct learning opportunities; and it is not clear how podcasting can provide some of the support for students who require reassurance about how they are doing. But perhaps a phone in question and answer session could be a start?