Purdue News

May 22, 2006

Purdue prof brings Hollywood techniques to podcast productions

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A Purdue University professor is taking podcasting beyond the typical course lecture audio by using a variety of moviemaking techniques — and comedy borrowed from "South Park," Will Ferrell and Jeff Foxworthy — to increase students' ability to learn in the classroom.

Laurie Iten, an associate professor of biology, produces 5-10 minute online video reviews of the previous class and previews of the coming lab for her first-year students. She relies on scripts that incorporate video clips, quirky soundtracks, cartoonish sound effects and retro graphics to add life to routine lessons.

"Our Rewind/Flash Forward podcasts make the connection between what we learned and what we will learn," Iten said. "We focus on the skills we know students have difficulty with."

Michael Patzer, a freshman from Evansville, Ind., said the podcasts better prepare him to conduct laboratory experiments by teaching him new techniques in advance.

"A lab manual is just not the same as visual instruction," he said. "You can read a description, but until you see it, it doesn't really sink in."

Iten adheres to standard Hollywood screenwriting practices, including the three-act format standard to any story: setup, conflict and resolution. Her tutorials seek to make students the main character and instructors the supporting characters.

Teaching assistant Adam Estes said the podcasts — such as the one requiring a student to help Kenny from the Comedy Central hit show "South Park" figure out whether he has anemia — strike a chord with students.

"It walked students through scientific aspects very well in a medium they enjoy and a manner to which they can relate," Estes said. "Some of the students engaged in our hands-on training have limited background in biology. They tell us the podcast helps them prepare for class and gives them the confidence they need to succeed."

Iten presented her team's techniques this spring at Purdue's annual Teaching and Learning Conference. Their how-to instructional podcast, "Rewind/Flash-Forward Podcasts — Helping Students Make the Connections," is posted on Pod Pedagogy, the blog site of her co-producer Rodney McPhail that serves as a clearinghouse of information about podcasting. "Using Screenwriting Theory to Write & Produce Online Tutorials" will be posted soon. McPhail said he is getting hundreds of hits from would-be producers from Fort Wayne to San Diego.

"Lectures are OK to do, but they're 40 minutes of sitting and listening. We're finding the average student attention span to be 15-20 minutes," said McPhail, the biology department's director of scientific illustration. "We're doing something that's shorter and more entertaining and supplements the lab experience."

Purdue is a national leader in implementing podcasting. The university's information technology department, ITaP, has wired more than 70 rooms to record class lectures. More than 60 courses are regularly posted online and more than 200,000 mp3 files have been podcast through the system since August. Apple software automatically seeks out new postings that students can listen to on desktop and laptop computers, as well as highly portable mp3 players such as the iPod.

"Students are definitely making use of the system," said Bart Collins, ITaP's director of digital content. "As the semester comes to a close and final exams approach, usage spikes."

John Campbell, ITaP associate vice president for Teaching and Learning Technologies, said Purdue's investment in new technology expands the 21st-century classroom beyond four walls and is inspiring and enabling both teachers and students to perform at a higher level.

"I look forward to increasingly creative applications of a technology that is already changing the practice of higher education," Campbell said.

Iten has created her own production suite using a processor, two monitors, a keyboard and headphones. Iten invested in a good microphone and a capable audio mixer to ensure a crisp, professional sound to her productions. She uses off-the-shelf software to record and mix the audio and to mix in video and images.

"If the price of $1,500 for that software is too expensive, there are lower-cost options," Iten said.

New computers usually have the starter software preinstalled. Iten already owned many of the products that she needed to make podcasts, but ITaP provides the cameras and much of the hardware and software equipment and training that other Purdue instructors or students might need to follow Iten's lead. Free or inexpensive stock photos available on the Internet can flesh out presentations.

Iten's team, which includes instructional coordinator Tim Kerr, will be profiled soon on Apple's higher education Web site because of its podcasting innovations.

Writer: Jim Schenke, (765) 494-6262, jschenke@purdue.edu

Sources: Laurie Iten, (765) 494-8113, liten@purdue.edu

Rodney McPhail, (765) 494-8119, rmmcphail@purdue.edu

Michael Patzer, (765) 495-6098, mpatzer@purdue.edu

Bart Collins, (765) 496-3685, bcollins@purdue.edu

John Campbell, (765) 496-3952, john-campbell@purdue.edu

Adam Estes, (317) 696-9070, ajestes@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

Related Web site:
First-year biology labs


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