Podcasting Professor: A Step Ahead of Mac

Walking on UC Irvine’s Ring Road on a Monday afternoon, one thing sticks out as a unifying factor among the diverse population of students: Almost everyone trekking to class is listening to an Apple iPod.
Countless individuals can be seen bobbing their heads on their way to class where the music will stop. This may be so for most of the classes at UCI, but when it comes to Professor Richard McKenzie’s ‘Microeconomics for Managers’ class, the video iPod will begin to play an integral part in how McKenzie teaches his students.
With technology increasingly saturating our everyday lives, it was only a matter of time before McKenzie decided to take the modular approach to learning. He has made it possible for students to actually download his course instructional materials onto a video iPod.
McKenzie turned his office at UCI into a studio where he creates his video modules, five- to 15-minute components of his classes, for his MBA students. Along with the video modules McKenzie also created his own textbook, ‘Microeconomics for MBAs,’ which is included on the modules. Students are given copies of the video modules on a DVD included with McKenzie’s textbook.
McKenzie does not include the entirety of his lectures on the modules because, ‘it eliminates interaction between students and professors.’ Only portions of his class and sections from his textbook are included in the video modules which cover basic theories and other key components of the class.
McKenzie never intended to publish his modules but he agreed to go forward with the project when Cambridge University came to him wanting to publish them.
‘When the video iPod was released last fall, the transition to iPod podcasts was an obvious benefit,’ McKenzie explained. With so many students using iPods, it made sense to McKenzie to use that as another way of getting his course materials to his students.
‘Our computer guys were able to develop the podcasting capability in January, before Apple was able to create the downloading technology,’ McKenzie explained. ‘We developed this capability because there is a good chance that there will be significant value added for fully employed MBA students who are constrained for time.’
Jacob Klint, a fifth-year information and computer science major who works at the Paul Merge Business School, created the technology that allows students to download the video modules onto an iPod.
‘I wrote software that detects when new files are created, encodes them to the MPEG4 and AAC format so that the iPod can play them, and then publishes them on the Internet,’ Klint explained. ‘On the student’s end, he just subscribes to the podcast for his class in iTunes and he’ll automatically receive new videos whenever they are available.’
Since McKenzie started four years ago with 18 video modules, he now has 52, which have been published with his textbook and are available to download on your iPod. Now, students are able to replay the course materials outside of class, encouraging better performance.
‘Classroom attendance remains high because of the emphasis on give and take between students and instructor,’ McKenzie explained. On average, class attendance among MBA students is 95 percent and above.
McKenzie also believes that his students’ performance in class has benefited greatly from the video modules.
‘Student performance has improved so much that I will have to adjust my grade standards. My grades are too high,’ McKenzie said.
McKenzie estimates that students spend a total of four hours a week watching his video modules. The students’ reception of the video modules has been positive.
Because basic theories are available as video modules to be downloaded onto an iPod and watched at home, ‘classrooms are more devoted to personal exchanges,’ McKenzie explained. ‘The time I spend with students off-hours at Starbucks, my remote office, isn’t wasted explaining and re-explaining basic theories. We can engage in more interesting dialogues over coffee.’
McKenzie is one of the first professors to take instructional material and making it available for downloads to iPods.
‘Beats me,’ McKenzie said, on why other professors don’t create their own video modules. ‘It’s a win-win.’
The podcasted modules will be available free to the UCI community, but outsiders will be charged. If you don’t own an iPod, you can still access McKenzie’s course materials as video modules for free at http://www.merage.uci.edu/~ mckenzie/module.htm. Or, you can access the material on a DVD included with the course book.