söndag 6 november 2011

Bridging the student - teacher gap

Students and teachers oftentimes misunderstand or don't understand each other. As universities have scaled up in size and become knowledge factories, the contact between individual teachers and individual students has decreased. To teachers, students are oftentimes numerous, faceless and replaceable. They are not really individuals. To students, teachers and courses pass on a 5-year long lit de parade, one after the other. It's difficult for a student to feel an obligation to someone who doesn't know who you are or who doesn't even know your name. That's why I nowadays make serious attempts to learn my students' names in my courses.

Another problem that I face is that students oftentimes don't understand how exciting the topics of the course I'm giving is. Instead of thanking me for curating and carefully selecting good texts for them to read, they complain that the literature is difficult, or takes too much time to read. I'm sure students have similar but opposing views of my lack of understanding issues that are important for them.

So, I'm really happy that one of the groups in my "Future of radio/Radio of the future" course has chosen to try to bridge that gap by exploring how radio/podcasts can be used in higher education. One point that some of our guests lecturers drove home in that course was that radio is the master storyteller medium. So instead of using radio as one more channel to deliver information, this project group is instead exploring how to use radio to tell stories. Last week I summarized their project here:

"Niche podcasts for students who have started or is about to start studying a course. An entertaining and inspiring way to learn about the topic of a course through an interview with the responsible teacher and also a way to bridge the gap between students and teachers through the use of stories."

What they did was to interview with me in my role as responsible teacher for a course about social media. The interview was 90 minutes long and it primarily covered 1) me and who I am in relation to 2) interesting phenomena having to do with social media and 3) my interests in social media in general and these phenomena in particular. The students then edited and cut it down to a 20-minute long fast-paced radio program/podcast (which is available here - through one of the student's blogg).

The very specific audience for this kind of niche podcast are the students who have just started a course, or who perhaps are considering selecting that course. It's a way to bring a subject and a course alive. It might be difficult to make a math course exciting, but why not interview the teacher and ask why the math in the course is useful, or even beautiful, poetical, fun or exciting? A teacher ought to be able to say something about that, right?

The idea behind a podcast like this isn't primarily to give the student a lot of information about the course itself (literature, content, examination etc.), but it will for sure give the student a lot of information about the subject through (hopefully entertaining) musings, stories and anecdotes by the teacher who will teach the course.

Talking about my social media podcast, it really is a little strange to hear your own voice "on the radio". While the podcast is fine from a technical point of view (I can't believe how much gets said in only 20 minutes!), neither me nor the students have a lot of routine in the craft of posing great questions or providing great answers. It feels like I ramble or have attention deficit disorder (ADD), bringing up new topics without finishing the previous one. I could definitely have given "better" answers and great sound bites, and a journalist with some routine would have known exactly how to pose a question in order to get an answer that would sound great on radio (or asked me to reformulate a good answer to make it great). But that's all just details. Right now we're after proof-of-concept.

I was interviewed a week ago and just this past Friday the "Future of radio"-students came into the social media students' classroom and unveiled/promoted the podcast. We hope that many social media students will download and listen to the podcast and then answer the short survey. I don't know exactly how the students will proceed with their project (for example if they will make another podcast with another teacher about another course), but I will find out later.

At the moment, the podcast is not published on the Internet, but only available to the students who take my social media course. I might make it accessible on the web later (I have to listen to it again and perhaps have some colleagues vet it). I think the basic concept is pretty great anyway; creating stories around topics, courses and teachers.

Right at this moment (Sunday evening), only 8 students have downloaded the podcast since it was made available two days ago. There are 50 students taking the course and I hope many more will listen to the podcast and answer the survey. The podcast in itself can for sure be reused in next year's course and perhaps after that too.

Any of my colleagues reading this are welcome to get in touch to listen to the podcast - if they promise to provide feedback!

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