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ASEE PRISM
  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationSEPTEMBER 2006Volume 16 | Number 1 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
FEATURES
Booting Up - BY THOMAS K. GROSE
Woman of the World - BY PIERRE HOME-DOUGLAS
Getting in Gear -     BY JEFFREY SELINGO

DEPARTMENTS
COMMENTS
CONTRIBUTORS
BRIEFINGS
REFRACTIONS: Engineering and the City - By Henry Petroski
ASEE TODAY: President's Letter - Conference Highlights - 2006 Awards - Calls for Papers
CLASSIFIEDS
LAST WORD: Closing the Gender Gap - BY RAYMOND SIMON

TEACHING TOOLBOX
The Pod Squad - ENGINEERING PROFESSORS ARE LOOKING AT MP3 PLAYERS AS A NEW WAY OF ENHANCING EDUCATION.  - BY LYNNE SHALLCROSS
YEAR OF DIALOGUE: A Focus on Scholarship - BY RONALD E. BARR
BOOK REVIEW: Leonardo's Lost Robots - BY ROBIN TATU
ON CAMPUS: Ready, Get Set, Go!










 
TEACHING TOOLBOX - The Pod Squad - ENGINEERING PROFESSORS ARE LOOKING AT MP3 PLAYERS AS A NEW WAY OF ENHANCING EDUCATION.  - BY LYNNE SHALLCROSS - Illustration By Sara HaywardTEACHING TOOLBOX - The Pod Squad - ENGINEERING PROFESSORS ARE LOOKING AT MP3 PLAYERS AS A NEW WAY OF ENHANCING EDUCATION.  - BY LYNNE SHALLCROSS - Illustration By Sara Hayward  

IPODS AREN’T JUST FOR ENTERTAINMENT ANYMORE. ENGINEERING PROFESSORS ARE LOOKING AT MP3 PLAYERS AS A NEW WAY OF ENHANCING EDUCATION.

Patsy Cline and plastics? An odd couple at first, but they’re the perfect pair in Tim Osswald’s Manufacturing Processes class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. When students in Osswald’s class turn on their Apple iPods, they hear him describe a $950 million settlement for homeowners with leaky plastic pipes. Patsy Cline croons “I Fall to Pieces” in the background, a humorous song choice that Osswald says makes the students smile.

Students use their Duke-issued iPods to record an interview with a St. Bernard’s Parish firefighter about his experiences during and after Katrina.A lesson in mechanical engineering might not be first on everyone’s iPod playlist, but at a growing number of engineering schools, iPods and other MP3 players are finding a home in the classroom. In 2004, Duke University launched its iPod First-Year Experience, becoming the first school ever to provide each incoming freshman with a 20-gigabyte iPod. Last year, Duke gave the program a new name, the Duke Digital Initiative (DDI), and provided iPods to students taking classes using them. This year, Duke is encouraging students in classes using iPods to buy one at the discounted price of $99 or receive a loaner for the semester.

Although Duke has been the front-runner in the use of iPods on campus, the idea is catching on elsewhere. Lynne O’Brien, director of academic technology and instructional services at Duke, says an “overwhelming number” of schools, as well as corporations, embassies and the U.S. military, have contacted Duke looking for guidance on using iPods to enhance education and training.

Although many schools are still getting their feet wet, iPods are at least on the radar at most institutions. “I think there is some skepticism, but there is a feeling that there are some novel and good uses for it,” says Lisa Huettel, a Duke electrical and computer engineering professor who used iPods in one of her classes during the first semester of the program.

Huettel jumped at the chance to integrate iPods into the lab component she was developing for her Fundamentals of Digital Signal Processing class. Huettel’s students headed to the gym and, using a plug-in sensor, recorded and stored the electrical signals of their pulse rates on the iPods. The students then brought the data into the lab on their iPods to develop a pulse rate monitor.

Collecting their own data made the experiment more realistic and interesting for the students, Huettel says. In fact, the students told her it was their favorite lab. This past spring, when Huettel conducted the lab without using iPods, she noticed a difference. “I just didn’t see the same enthusiasm and interest,” she says.

In David Schaad’s classroom at Duke, engineering students used iPods to document the immense role engineering can play in people’s lives. Schaad, an adjunct assistant professor and assistant chair in the civil and environmental engineering department, taught the course Natural Catastrophes: Rebuilding from Ruins this past spring. The class focused on the analysis of natural disasters, and during spring break, almost 100 of the 180 students in the class traveled to New Orleans to help with the hurricane rebuilding effort. While there, the students talked with Katrina victims and recorded the interviews on their iPods, which they made into an audio journal for the class. The project gave the students a perspective of the disaster and what went wrong, Schaad says. “The human aspect of what we do as engineers is critically important.”

Wisconsin’s Osswald, who is the K.K. and Cindy Wang Professor in the mechanical engineering department and co-director of the Polymer Engineering Center, teaches the plastics half of the engineering school’s Manufacturing Processes course. Amounting to just 13 lectures, that’s not enough time to cover everything, Osswald says. So this past spring, with a Division of Information Technology Engage grant, he began generating three- to five-minute podcasts of material not covered in class—like explaining polybutylene through Patsy Cline and leaky plastic pipes. A podcast, derived from fusing the words iPod and broadcasting, is a digital audio or video file that can be downloaded and accessed via an MP3 player like the iPod or a desktop computer.

At Penn State, podcasting has reduced the number of 11 p.m. phone calls that Matt Parkinson, assistant professor in engineering design and mechanical engineering, gets from his students. “FAQcasting” is what Parkinson has dubbed his series of how-to video podcasts, which he created for his students of “things that are really hard to explain in words and really easy to show.” Though Parkinson says he’s more than willing to review topics outside of class, the students “don’t have the problem at 2 in the afternoon—they have it at 10:30 at night,” he says. For students with late-night questions that might require demonstration, Parkinson now points them in the direction of a podcast that can show and tell for him.

Some schools have begun using a free, hosted service from Apple to set up Web sites that manage the podcasts and make them easily accessible. iTunes U organizes each school’s educational podcasts for students, faculty and staff much like the Apple iTunes Music Store organizes songs and albums. Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, have opened their iTunes U sites to the public.

Although Stanford on the whole is actively offering podcasts through iTunes U, only one engineering course is being podcasted, says David Orenstein, spokesman for Stanford’s School of Engineering. But if popularity is any clue, it might behoove the school to make a few more. The management science and engineering course podcast, where lectures are speeches from prominent Silicon Valley engineers and entrepreneurs, has been as high as No. 2 on iTunes’ list of the most popular educational podcasts.

Prepared for Class?

But not everyone thinks the iPod is ready for its classroom debut. David Dickinson, professor of welding engineering at Ohio State University, says for right now, iPods aren’t up to the task in his class. In his Introduction to Welding Engineering class, Dickinson gives students a course DVD, complete with video clips, graphs, recorded lectures and interactive virtual laboratories. “We looked at iPods, and we said, gosh, that would probably be a good thing—take all that stuff, load it on to an iPod and they could take it any place they wanted to go.” But the screens are too small, Dickinson says, and they are, for now, incapable of the resolution necessary to view the graphs and other material adequately.

Keeping the information visual is crucial, Dickinson says. All engineering freshmen at Ohio State take a learning styles test designed to determine how they process information. Over the past 10 years, Dickinson says the students have shown themselves to be highly visual learners. “If our students had been more auditory, I would have embraced the iPods right away,” he says.

Investigating the merits of this new technology in the classroom was the theme of one class at Penn State Abington this past spring. In his Information Sciences and Technology introductory course, Robert Avanzato, associate professor of engineering, challenged his students to explore MP3 players and podcasting with the goal of recommending a podcast solution for the campus. The students also had to create and produce their own podcasts. “Many of the students predicted that the availability of lecture podcasts would decrease class attendance, but they felt that podcasting overall could improve students’ learning,” he says. Duke’s Huettel has found a way around the class attendance problem. She chooses not to make her lectures available for download. Some of her students record her lectures while in class, which helps them clear up questions when they’re studying later. Osswald doesn’t create podcasts from his class lectures, either. “Podcasts should not replace class time,” he says. “That should not be the intent.”

Dan Schmit, instructional technology specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says there is no excuse for podcasting only the lectures. Offering podcasts from experts on relevant topics and creating a “sound-seeing” podcast for students on a field trip are just two of the many options, Schmit says. And if professors podcast lectures as well, that shouldn’t decrease attendance. Class time is much more than just a lecture, Schmit says. “If all you’re giving them is the lecture, why would they come to class?”

Although almost any mp3 player, not just the Apple iPod, can play podcasts, Michael Hicks, audio recording technician for information technology at Purdue, says iPods are still far and away the leaders. “Creative Vision and Sony make portable mp3 players, as do iRiver and Data Kits, but none seem to be as prolific as the Apple iPods,” Hicks says.

Stan Ng, director of iPod product marketing for Apple, says using iPods in the classroom is an “innovative use of technology.” It’s a practice that is continually growing, Ng says, although he’s unsure of an exact number of schools using the iPods. Especially in engineering, educational information is updated and changed almost constantly. Being able to download and transport fresh, up-to-date information easily is iPod’s greatest benefit to education, he says. “It really frees up those barriers of time and place, and it allows learning and research to happen anywhere, anytime.” And schools should take advantage of the prevalence and popularity of iPods. “There’s a great opportunity for universities to leverage the fact that students may already have or are purchasing an iPod that can be used to enhance their educational experience.”

Professors and students who’ve embraced iPods in the classroom seem to agree that the trend will continue to grow as the technology improves and the benefits become more apparent. When Wisconsin’s Osswald surveyed his students about using the podcasts at the end of the semester, the responses were overwhelmingly positive. Podcasting “helps you remember important information about the course,” said one student. According to another, the benefit is that “you don’t have to cramp your neck from reading.” Osswald chuckles reading the second response. “I was kind of shooting in the dark, but in a way, it did work out. Overall, I think it was success.”

Lynne Shallcross is associate editor of Prism.

 

 


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American Society for Engineering Education