Science - July 6, 2006

Lectures at the press of a button

‘Didn’t I see you at the fitness centre yesterday?’ ‘Yes, that’s right. I was listening to an extra lecture.’ From September it will be possible to do this in Wageningen. The IT department has developed a new system that enables lecturers to record their own lectures easily. Students can download them as an MP3 or as a short film from the internet.

The people at ICTO, the group that develops IT solutions for teaching in Wageningen, are quite proud and justly so. The system they developed, Presentations To Go (P2G), is up and running and lecturers will be able to use it from September. They can choose from two options: a memo recorder that just records sound or a complete ‘roadkit’ that lecturers can use to make an audiovisual recording of themselves.

With the audio version, the lecturer borrows a memo recorder from the ICT department, pins the microphone on a lapel and records his or her lecture. When finished, the lecturer plugs the recorder into a computer and mails the sound file to the ICT department, where it is added to the EDUweb page of the academic department. This is in fact a podcast that students can listen to later with an MP3 player such as an iPod.
The ‘roadkits’ allow the lecturer to go a step further. The case on wheels contains a computer and video recording equipment. To record a lecture, the lecturer simply connects a few cables and places the camera on the stand that comes with the equipment. One press of the button, and the recording starts. The lecture can be followed live on internet and can be watched again later as well.

Hendrik Klompmaker of ICTO: ‘Our system is unique because it records both the lecturers and the Powerpoint slides they use. If you watch the recording on internet, you see both next to each other. When a new slide comes up, it is enlarged on the screen for a moment.’ His colleague Michael Hegeman adds: ‘We wanted to develop a system that was user friendly for lecturers. The beauty is that this works at the press of a button. The fact that it is quick and easy should make it a success.’

The system is in fact already in use: all PhD promotions in the Aula are automatically recorded and many lectures at Studium Generale can be followed live. Klompmaker: ‘The interest in live PhD ceremonies is not yet very high; about five to ten people watch on average. But when Dutch politician Wouter Bos came to give a lecture two weeks ago, about fifty people watched. The Science is Cooking lectures drew about a hundred watchers.’ So far there are three roadkits available. A number of lecturers are already enthusiastic, and a number of big software companies including Microsoft have shown interest.

Does this mean the end of old-fashioned lectures? Klompmaker: ‘Things won’t go so fast. At Stanford University in California the experience is not that students follow fewer lectures, but that they are doing more subjects. They can follow lectures that otherwise do not fit in their timetable. The University of Amsterdam also makes podcasts of lectures. Students there use them mostly to listen again to lectures, for example because they had too little time to make notes.’

Time will tell whether the same is true for Wageningen students. / JH

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