Exhibit 3: Student Reaction
I required students in all three of my Fall 1999 classes to listen to Streaming Audio presentations, to most of which I provided "handouts" keyed to the lectures, in the form of web pages.
Every semester I ask students to write what I call an "Anonymous Constructive Course Criticism" during the final class. I dont use a form, suggesting instead that the students comment on both the form and the content of the class, and offering some examples of aspects of the course they might choose to critique. In addition, I stress that I would prefer if they confined their remarks to those aspects of the course which they think should be improved those which did not work as well as they should. I specifically ask them not to spend their limited time, about 30 minutes, on those aspects of the course they were satisfied with. I emphasize that I am not looking for a "balanced" critique, but one which focuses on whatever failings they find in the course. I ask them not to put their names on the evaluations, even if they are willing to do so, because I want their responses to be as frank as possible. I hand out lined paper so that each criticism will have a uniform appearance. Finally, in order to further stress that I am really interested in their frank and critical opinions, I remind the students that I have no idea what their handwriting looks like, since I have never seen it (all assignments are emailed to me or put on threaded web discussion forums).
I have reproduced below every comment concerning Streaming Audio from the Anonymous Constructive Course Criticisms done by my students in two of my three Fall 1999 classes. The first set are from Middle English Literature. The fifteen students were English Majors, mainly juniors and seniors. The second set is from World Literature, a course which satisfied a General Education requirement, and which therefore draws upon the whole student body, mainly freshmen and sophomores, with few literature majors. (Although I specifically encouraged all the students to comment on the use of Streaming Audio, some chose not to do so.)
The criticisms are basically four. First, that setting up the free RealPlayer caused some students problems. Second, that the audio did not stream fluently during peak Internet usage times. Third, that some of the audio files were unclear, difficult to understand, in places. Fourth, that to listen to, make notes on, and then write an assignment (to be emailed to me and to the students small in-class discussion group) was too onerous a task for a single homework assignment.
How have I changed my creation and use of Streaming Audio in response to these student criticisms? To be honest, I had anticipated them all.
RealPlayer setup is the most problematic. It caused no problem for computer-savvy students, but some problems for most of the rest. No student criticized my detailed directions, however.
In future I am planning to provide an additional link to the RM file itself, so that students may, if they wish, download the file onto their own computers and save it there. Then it will be no problem to "stream", or listen to, it, since it will not have to "stream" over the Internet, but only from their own computer's hard drive. Naturally, students will be able to delete it at the end of the course, as they will probably want to do.
Audio clarity is a major issue. The sound file to be digitized must be as clear as possible. I have had the best results if the speaker uses a hand-held microphone connected directly to the tape recorder. With this method, even a very basic, inexpensive Radio Shack tape recorder yields tapes of excellent quality. When I used a small, expensive Aiwa pocket tape recorder with a lapel mike for one speaker, I unexpectedly picked up a lot of noise from his heartbeat!
As for the issue that listening to a lecture and reading the web-based handouts, making notes, and then writing and emailing a 300-word assignment was "too much", it should be kept in mind that these classes met only twice a week, for 75 minutes each. I am not now persuaded that this is too much work.