Txtg info 2 stdnts may b shape of things 2 come

August 11, 2006

Universities are experimenting with gadgets to reach students. Jessica Shepherd reports

"The days of traditional lectures are over," predicts Carl Senior, a lecturer in cognitive neuroscience at Aston University.

Dr Senior is one of a growing number of UK academics involved in projects that turn new technologies, such as text messaging, into teaching tools at universities.

Together with John Wood, a colleague, he has invented the mini pod - a broadcast with audio and video clips that is small enough to be sent to students' mobile phones.

From September, a pilot group of undergraduate psychology students will receive the clips, which will, for example, summarise lectures and offer a digest of the following week's reading material.

There are also plans for a "campus cam", a live link-up from one part of the campus to another, which will enable students in a lecture theatre to watch and listen to a magnetic resonance imaging scan down the road.

Dr Senior said: "Universities are essentially service providers, and we are defined by the consumer. Our consumers are going to want to watch vodcasts and listen to podcasts in their pyjamas.

"We believe that what we are doing in Aston is pretty unique and at the absolute cutting edge of modern teaching methods."

Meanwhile, Wolverhampton University staff are incorporating text messaging into the curriculum.

A two-year pilot project involving up to 1,200 students started in April.

Physics undergraduates might, for example, receive a text explaining Ohm's law. Others might be sent reminders that library books are due back or that an assessment deadline is coming up.

John Traxler, a research fellow in the School of Computing, is leading the pilot scheme.

He said: "The widespread technology is going to be SMS (mobile phone texting). Students with jobs can look at and memorise texts that help their learning while they work.

"A mobile phone might be the only kind of technology they can access all the time because a large proportion of students don't have a computer at home.

"This is also a way of bringing the university experience into the community.

"The main problem is that it could become too popular, and students will want more and more messages and at a cost. We don't yet know how many messages a student will think is acceptable."

At Leicester University, Gilly Salmon, professor of e-learning, is piloting a podcasting project in conjunction with the Royal Veterinary College, London, and Kingston and Gloucestershire universities.

Lecturers are being trained to create ten-minute podcasts that might encapsulate something in the news that relates to their course, feedback on last week's assessment and even a joke or two.

Professor Salmon said that the pilot, which started in May, had helped to raise the pass rate for an engineering module by between 2 and 3 per cent.

She said: "If you want to be part of a student's daily life, you have to adapt.

"The only thing is that we do not yet know whether students will listen to lectures on an MP3 player in the way that they listen to music. We mustn't assume any-thing."

jessica.shepherd@thes.co.uk

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