Harvard Offers Course Via iPod

Podcasts offer Harvard Extension School course to public

In addition to tuning into National Public Radio (NPR) broadcasts and episodes of FOX’s television show “The OC,” iPod users all over the world can now listen and watch a Harvard Extension School class. This year, lectures of Computer Science E-1: “Understanding Computers and the Internet” are available in audio and video Podcasts on iTunes, free of charge—the first time a Harvard course has been offered through this medium.

Podcasting consists of distributing audio and video feeds online through Podcast clients, allowing “subscribers” to watch music videos, listen to audiobooks, and review lectures.

With 67 registered students, “Understanding Computers and the Internet” is the third-largest computer science course at the Extension School this semester, according to course instructor David J. Malan ’99, who has taught the course since he was a senior at the College.

This course is no stranger to pioneering technology. In 1999, it was one of the first courses to join the Extension School’s Distance Education Program and be offered to students on campus as well as through RealVideo format on the Internet.

Three months after Apple added Podcasting to its iTunes software, “Understanding Computers and the Internet” lectures became available, in early September, as an audio Podcast on iTunes. And when Apple released the iPod video in early October, the course made lectures available through video Podcasting.

Since lectures have been Podcasted, “Understanding Computers and the Internet” has been featured in iTunes’ top 100 Podcasts and “New & Notable” list, Malan wrote in an e-mail.

Podcasting lectures merges students’ habits of reviewing course material with the current iPod frenzy.

“Since students have historically taken advantage of recordings of lectures…we simply wanted to make the course accessible to students in a more portable format,” Malan wrote. “E-1 may now, in fact, be the first computer science course you can take while jogging.”

Malan’s students appreciate the ease to which lectures can be integrated into jogging and other daily activities.

Sarka Dluhosova said she attends lectures and listens to lecture Podcasts when doing homework or reviewing before an exam.

“I can do it anywhere—I can listen to it when I’m on a bus or when I walk, when I run, when I drive,” Dluhosova said.

For Dluhosova, Podcasting has become essential to her learning experience.

“I think I would expect it from now on almost as a standard, because I think it’s very helpful, it definitely adds to the quality of learning,” she said.

Extension School students represent a variety of ages and occupations and Podcasting has become a convenient asset that allows them to learn with minimal obstruction to their other obligations.

Pieter Burgess, a retired nursery school teacher, found Podcasting extremely helpful when she had to miss lectures because of cross-country travel that was planned before she enrolled in “Understanding Computers and the Internet.”

Burgess said she prefers Podcasts, which allow her to return to the material after attending an intensive two-hour lecture.

“I’m 59 years old…I have to go over things a little more often,” Burgess said. “[Podcasting is] a brilliant way for us oldies to learn.”

Malan sees the new medium as a practical application of the material he teaches. “Rather than simply talk about multimedia with our students, we wanted to show it to them and create it for them,” he wrote.

Only registered students of “Understanding Computers and the Internet” can receive credit for the course and access certain resources, but Podcasting has also increased awareness about Extension School classes.

“The Podcast nonetheless offers, to anyone in the world with an Internet connection, a glimpse into the classroom of the Extension School’s most introductory computer science course,” Malan wrote.

Indeed, Malan has received enthusiastic e-mails from people in Mexico, to France to Austria, all thanking him for his educational Podcasts.

Harvard is not the first university to offer Podcasted lectures. Princeton University’s University Channel Podcasts public lectures from different universities.

Executive Director Donna M. Liu said that she is noticing more and more schools capitalizing on the Podcasting trend, whether they offer Podcasts individually or collectively.

Just as Harvard’s “Understanding Computers and the Internet” has attracted the eyes and ears of an international audience, the University Channel’s Podcasts serve a similar far-reaching purpose for its parent institution, Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

“It enhances the school’s role in serving the public because it opens it up to a much bigger public,” Liu said.

—Staff writer Lulu Zhou can be reached at luluzhou@fas.harvard.edu.