In response to student demand for more flexible learning options, the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) is investigating the use of online technologies to supplement, or replace, lectures of the future.
The issue was discussed at a UTS Student Forum this week where podcasting took centre stage for its potentials in self-paced learning and remote education. Other potentially useful technologies have been said to include Second Life and social networking tools.
"There have been so many requests from students to introduce podcasting," said Shirley Alexander, the university's Vice Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President of Teaching, Learning and Equity.
The start-up costs of podcasting are estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention ongoing maintenance costs, and potential costs and disruptions to students already entrenched in existing teaching methods.
However, this could be a small price to pay for the University of Technology to live up to its name.
Darren Loasby, President of the UTS Students' Association, debated that the university's lack of standardized online teaching methods could be putting it behind its more technologically-enabled peers. The Queensland University of Technology and the University of Sydney were named as institutions with online education systems already in place.
"Podcasting of academic material is being implemented all around Australia and all around the globe," he said. "Students are frustrated that going to the University of Technology, Sydney doesn't give them access to similar systems."
"In 2007, it's harder than ever to be a student," he said, citing an unavailability of income support, a shortage of time, and rocketing education costs as likely causes of difficulty. "Basically, students are paying so much for education; I believe they should have some flexibility in how material is accessed."
Podcasting could alleviate scheduling difficulties for some students as podcasts are easily accessed online and can be made available on-demand. Furthermore, Loasby said, podcasts would allow students to learn at their own pace and in their own time, so students could potentially be listening to course material while at the gym or in transit.
For lecturers, Loasby expects podcasts to allow the university to track student study behaviour, and identify any systemic problems. Far from encouraging students to stop turning up to class, podcasts could drive lecturers to improve their in-class teaching methods, he said.
"If I can download material off the Internet, then there has to be a reason for me to come [to class]; and that should be face-to-face interaction with my teacher," he said.