Monday, March 9, 2009

Podcast University

Recent research from the psychology department at the State University of New York at Fredonia reveals that students who "attend" lectures by watching recorded podcasts gain higher exam scores than those who attend physically. This has been a shock to the professing community and brought the national spotlight to the lead researcher - Dr. Dani McKinney. The research was recently discussed in New Scientist.

Having experienced the benefits of recorded lectures first hand, the results of this experiment are not surprising. Not only can a student rewind and repeat key portion of the lectures but the ability to pause and bring up research articles or other background information allows a pupil to come up to speed on a topic before resuming the talking head in front of them. I would argue that a student observing a podcast lecture spends more time engaged in learning than a yawning coffee corpse waiting for the caffeine to take hold.

The scientific method needs to be more rigorously applied and the results repeated, but I believe Dr. McKinney is planning follow up large scale experiments. This finding is the seed of what could be a revolution in collegiate information transfer.

As a student and teacher of biochemistry I have often mused at innovative ways to transfer knowledge of protein architecture and function. I envision the classrooms of the future to hold large interactive holographic displays. A professor might guide an interactive tour of the cell while he/she explains the catalytic triad and the students are able to manipulate the structure while their classmates watch. For children I would suggest a Nerf version of amino acid building blocks having magnets embedded in the foam to illustrate hydrogen bonds. A group of graduate students and I have been visiting a local elementary school to teach them about genetics and enzymes. At first I was skeptical of how much they would actually "get" but to my surprise they "got" a lot more than I thought. With the advent of recorded lecture series there is no reason real science education could not start much early in the public education system of United States.

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