Casting call

Today (Monday, actually) was the start of the 2006 LIU Teaching with Technology Institute. Unlike many professors, I of course have no problem adapting to new technologies, since I basically invent new technologies for a living. But the reason I like participating in this – and other workshops sponsored by our Teaching and Learning Initiative – is that it's great to get together with other passionate profs to talk about teaching. Or, more accurately, about “creating effective learning environments.” Or, more pretentiously, about ‘pedagogy.’

You see, as long as I think it will be worth my time, I can quickly master any new language, protocol, tool, or environment that comes down the pike. That's the advantage of a broad education in computer science. But what I don't always see immediately is how to make effective pedagogic use of the technology. In my own education, many of my most effective and memorable classes were strictly chalk-and-talk. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But I don't necessarily know how successful use of technology in learning should look, other than the standard CS fare of downloading handouts from web sites, participating in news groups, and electronic submission of programs. Hardly revolutionary stuff. In class, instructors still mostly wrote programs on the chalkboard in long hand, and explained them using simple diagrams. And perhaps beyond that, you get diminishing returns for the amount of effort expended. Even so, I think it behooves us to continue to research and evaluate new methods; the cost/benefit analyses can change mighty quickly in this field.

Today was mostly about pod-casting. We first heard from Mike Soupios from Columbia University's Center for New Media Teaching and Learning. He gave a very basic overview of the concepts and limitations, and referred to lots of successful uses in Columbia's schools of medicine and other health sciences. Unfortunately, our time with Mike got compressed a little and most of the examples he had time to go through were about what doesn't work well. :( Taping your entire lecture and putting it online makes for a very dreary pod-cast. Go figure. For one thing, we excuse a certain amount of stalling (uh… um… well…) in a live lecture, but in a media ‘product’ we really (quite reasonably) expect more polish and pizzazz.

We spent the rest of the afternoon with Steve Cervera, our local Apple rep. This was more on the technical side: a look at the pod-casting features in the new GarageBand. This could have been rather boring for me – I'm sure I can figure out for myself which buttons to push in GarageBand – but Steve is a talented presenter, and seemed to be able to hold together an audience of profs with wildly varying interests and technical aptitudes. Maybe he can herd cats, too.

The new GarageBand (with iLife ’06) did seem pretty smooth and simple. Unfortunately, I bought my PowerBook last Fall, before the latest iLife was available. I really didn't see much need to upgrade it, until now. I had tried GarageBand a bit, even got it to gab MIDI with my Yamaha digital piano, so I was able to lay down multiple tracks, edit individual notes, mix, add effects, etc. It worked reasonably well, but some limitations were clear – this isn't a ‘pro’ tool for sure – and the interface was a little bizarre, maybe because this wasn't originally an Apple product, but that of some company that Apple acquired.

Anyway, the newer GarageBand seemed nicer than what I was used to, and the ability to create pod-casts with still images or video was fairly compelling. So I decided to upgrade. Also, since some time during this week-long workshop is set aside for faculty to pursue their own projects, I decided that I'd like to upgrade today. Unfortunately, the Apple retail stores do not offer educational discounts on software, only on hardware. So the only way to get the educational price on iLife ’06 (US$59 vs. $79) is to order online and get it Friday or so. I chose to pay the extra $20 and get it today. (I have yet to hear a reasonable explanation for that rule; we also bought new iPod ear buds today, and got a $4 educational discount on those. What's different about software?)

I do find it a little regressive that, in this broadband age, I would have to get in my car, drive to a store, bring home a cardboard box with a DVD (which itself is not much different than a digital cardboard box, a container for bits) just to have some new software. I mean, the very reason we call it software seems to imply that we shouldn't have to box it up and ship it around the country in trucks. But I digress…

More from the workshop tomorrow, perhaps.

©20022015 Christopher League