Last month, I wrote about the "software as service" discussion, and how it impacts education, and particularly the implications for testing and evaluation. This month, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how educational institutions are including Web 2.0 tools like podcasts and Second Life in the curriculum.
Let's start with podcasts. A podcast is simply an audio program that can be downloaded to your computer or MP3 player and listened to at your convenience. Delivered through RSS, once a user subscribes, new shows are automatically downloaded into a "podcatcher" program like iTunes. Why is this so powerful for education? Professors can record, and students can listen, to lectures at their convenience. Class is no longer tied to a specific place or time. UC Berkeley currently offers more than 70 podcast courses on iTunes -- everything from Human Emotion (Psych 156) to Physics for Future Presidents (Physics 10).
While the benefits for distance learning are immediately obvious, the podcast format can be useful to deliver supplemental material for any class. For example, speeches by a guest lecturers such as Senator Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, journalist Bob Woodward and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer are now available long past the original "real" dates from Princeton and Yale on iTunes.
The podcast format does of course have its limitations. It is simply an information delivery format. Because it is pre-recorded, it is highly suitable for lectures, but generally inadequate as a sole method of delivery for classes or subjects that require in-depth discussion and interaction.
That's why some institutions are looking at virtual worlds like Second Life. What's a virtual world? In the simplest terms, it is a computer-based simulated environment in which the users interact via avatars.
This week, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Spring Focus Session being held in Raleigh North Carolina is focused on immersive learning environments like online games and virtual worlds. Prior to the conference, Jarret Cummings, an EDUCAUSE blogger, interviewed Sarah Robbins, a TA Instructor in English at Ball State University on her Second Life class.Well worth a listen.
Some other interesting courses and places in Second Life:
- the class, Law in the Court of Public Opinion. from the Harvard Law School and the Harvard Extension School (fall semester, 2006)
- the New Media Consortium's Second Life campus. You can watch an introductory video here. They are also blogging from the ELI sessions and hosting Second Life versions of some of them.
Of course, neither podcasts nor virtual worlds were specifically developed as educational environments. In order to evaluate student performance, we still need a way to test. If the students are on-campus, we have choices, including computer-based tests secured by technologies like our Securexam. Once we go off campus, in a distance learning environment, browser-based testing using the software as service model that we discussed last month seems to be the emerging solution. But for widespread adoption to occur, we need a way to ensure that the person taking the test is the person who should be taking the test. And he or she is taking it without outside help.
We have been working on a solution which is now in beta at a large US university. You can get a sneak peek here. More next month.
- Podcasting in Higher Ed: Reflective, Disruptive, and Evolving by Ray Schroeder
- Second Life Educators List
- Computing Expert Talks in Second Life (The Chronicle's Wired Campus blog)
- Another perspective: Concerns about Virtual Reality and the Second Life Phenomenon