iTunes can Replace Professors


Undergraduate general psychology students listening to podcasts from a lecture of their professor who took notes while listening to the podcast scored significantly higher than the students attending the in-class lecture condition on the exam on lecture content.

Ten years ago I would have given about 7 days of lectures to hordes of medical students, 2 to 3 hundred in each lecture each 3 months. Interaction hardly possible. Nowadays these lectures are mostly presentations of patient problems and life patients demonstrations. In a whole year the number of lectures for medical students can be counted on the fingers of two hands.

The results of this study are in no way an indication that audio copies of lectures could or should replace actual professors, or even regular class attendance. The advantage the students in our study received was only when the student took notes as they would do during a lecture, and when they listened to the lecture more than once. In essence, the same things a student does during the actual lecture, they would need to do to show a benefit of the podcast.

The authors are very cautious with their conclusions. In the results section an initial t-test revealed that the students in the podcast condition scored significantly higher on the exam in session two than the students in the in-class lecture. Only with further analysis it was discovered that those who took notes during the podcast were responsible for this significant difference. The others did not differ significantly with the in class lectures.

This cautiousness is probably due to the critique by their fellow professors on campus: …. generated much debate among our colleagues on campus was that in this study the podcast condition was not used to enhance a college lecture (perhaps giving students who attended the actual lecture a chance to listen to it again), but rather was in place of attending the lecture.

Another evident advantage of the podcast compared to the in-class lecture was that they were able to listen to the lecture several times, the in-class lecture group only had their notes.

Overall of the 66 students that completed the experiment, 57 of them owned mp3 players (86%). Twenty-eight out of the 57 also had video capabilities on their players (49%). While 57 of the participants had mp3 players, only 3 students in the study had ever listened to podcasts before (5%), and none of the students had ever listened to a podcast of a classroom lecture. The average amount of time the students who had mp3 players spent listening to them each day was 1.67 h (SD = 1.20 h). The most common answer to the question of time spent listening was 1 h per day.

In the podcast condition the ProfCast software to record the lecture had the addition of chapter markers into the podcast. With each PowerPoint slide a chapter marker was created, this feature was very appreciated by the students and at least 88% of the students in the ProfCast condition preferred the podcasts.

How was this study done?

In the lecture condition, participants listened to a 25-min lecture given in person by a professor using PowerPoint slides. Copies of the slides were given to aid note-taking. In the podcast condition, participants received a podcast of the same lecture along with the PowerPoint handouts. Participants in both conditions were instructed to keep a running log of study time and activities used in preparing for an exam. One week from the initial session students returned to take an exam on lecture content.

It is only needed to study the kind of material, the complexity of the lectures that might benefit the most from ProfCasts. Replication in larger groups and different studies are very welcome.

What do you think can professors be replaced by podcasts?
Dani McKinney, Jennifer L. Dyck, Elise S. Luber (2009). iTunes University and the classroom: Can podcasts replace Professors? Computers & Education, 52 (3), 617-623 DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2008.11.004