Students

Virtual pedagogy - A series of exciting new teaching initiatives at Aston University could change the way that students learn in the future.
THE Virtual Pedagogy Initiative (http://podcast.aston.ac.uk/podcast/psychology/index.html) is a five-strand teaching project that enables undergraduate students to learn in a fully flexible manner. No longer will lectures just consist of a room of students intently listening to their tutor at the front of the class!
THE Virtual Pedagogy Initiative (http://podcast.aston.ac.uk/podcast/psychology/index.html) is a five-strand teaching project that enables undergraduate students to learn in a fully flexible manner. No longer will lectures just consist of a room of students intently listening to their tutor at the front of the class!
The initiative is already attracting attention, not least because of the way it could accelerate the process of change in terms of the way students learn. In this short article we hope to provide a snapshot of a student’s perspective of using the initiative; to do this we go over each of the strands of the initiatives with quotes from students who has used it.

Podcasting
The first part of the initiative is Podcasting – the recording of practicals and lectures and turning the results into a professional-quality audio stream that students can either stream onto an iPod or listen to online anywhere in the world.
But are podcasting lectures useful? ‘Yes, because in doing this people who may find their lectures difficult to understand can access them again…thus helping people who may not have done so well without it,’ writes S#1. According to S#2, podcasting lectures plays a bigger role and it is ‘also good for the interest in the subject [psychology] to increase as well’.

Vodcasting
The second strand of the initiative is Vodcasting (which stands for video on demand), and this really takes lectures out of the classroom and to the students. The beauty of vodcasts is that they can capture both the lecture, the audience participation and the lecturers’ own personal style, and this does have an impact.
Take the comments by S#3: ‘The lectures were good and interesting…simply because they were interactive and energetic. The fact that they have an international audience is good, because there are people who do not study psychology but are still interested in it.’ This shows that vodcasts are appealing to a wider audience.

Mini-pods
But it is the third strand of the initiative that has really captured the attention of the national press. This is the use of ‘Mini-pods’, which are high-quality, short video files that are sent to individual student mobile phones using MMS or Bluetooth technology.
These Mini-pods will provide students with a 30-second snapshot of the most salient points of a lecture, which they can then refer to at a later date. Students can subscribe to this service via their mobile phones. Student feedback here has been mixed – while undergraduates do like to communicate via mobile phones, some feel uncomfortable watching a video clip of their lecturer talking to them.

Campuscam
The fourth strand is the ‘campuscam’, which will enable events at one part of the campus to be broadcast to another location anywhere on the planet. The campus cam was put to good use in 2006 when an international student ‘dialled in’ and took part in a first-year group assessment from her home in South Africa.
However, effective distance learning is not the only thing that the student can benefit from with the campuscam. S#4 writes (from South Africa!): ‘It was really exciting to be back home and be still part of my lecture.’ This suggests that being part of an academic community is just as important as the pedagogic value of the assessment.

Virtual Lectures
The final strand of the initiative is the Virtual Lecture, which at the moment runs only in a dedicated  chatroom on Aston’s intranet. All students can become involved in these lectures, even those who are reticent in a traditional ‘live’ lecture format.

What underpins the entire virtual pedagogy initiative is a desire to push a flexible distance-learning infrastructure for undergraduate students and to create a sense of community between the staff and the students. At the core of the initiative is the fact that formal lectures are moved out of the classroom and into the hands of the students, giving them more responsibility and, perhaps most importantly, flexibility in their studies. This can only be a valuable addition to their learning portfolio.

- Carl Senior, Peter Reddy and Jon Woods are in the School of Life & Health Sciences, Aston University.

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