It's a rap, but not as we know it...

June 9, 2006

John Fothergill is probably the UK's first rapping pro vice-chancellor.

Leicester University students had to readjust their headphones when they heard Professor Fothergill launch into his rap as part of a ten-minute podcast.

The stunt was devised as part of a research project to investigate how new audio technology can enhance learning on degree courses.

The project is a serious effort to discover how much students can learn from downloads to their MP3 players, by providing entertainment as well as information.

Professor Fothergill, who admits he is in the "50-something" age group, said: "I am not sure if the rap was any good, but it seemed to amuse the students. I have to admit I stole some of it from the web. I suppose I must have become the first ever rapping pro v-c."

The subject of the rap - how to set up wireless networking in your house - was hardly the kind of streetwise gangster-inspired material students are probably used to.

Leicester's Beyond Distance Research Alliance has won £40,000 from the Higher Education Academy to test a variety of approaches. The 12-month project, Impala (Informal Mobile Podcasting and Learning Adaption), involves working with the Royal Veterinary College, the University of Gloucestershire and Kingston University.

The approach so far used in the pilots involves transmitting bite-sized chunks of educational information in a ten-minute podcast: it begins with news items relevant to learning and finishes with a joke or some other fun item.

Professor Fothergill said: "We are not interested in simply dumping lecture notes in a podcast. What we want to do is see whether podcasts can be motivational; whether it makes students' learning easier or more flexible, and in what ways we can use it to enhance their learning."

Gilly Salmon, professor of e-learning at Leicester, who is leading the project, said: "We piloted our ideas and students soon caught on. They download the podcasts and multitask while they do other things. They constantly listen again between lectures."

Some 15 academics and 300 students in a range of subjects will take part in the pilot at Leicester.

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