Arnold Kling  

Should Pacey Teach Economics?

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I have started teaching a class at George Mason called Economics and the Citizen

It's been over 20 years since I taught at a college level, and I feel like Rip Van Winkle. After the first class, I was given quick tutorial on the technology in the room. I was struck by the sound coming from the computer through the speakers.

I decided to type my lecture notes (the stuff I might scribble on the board) onto a web page, and then record what I would say using an Olympus DS-330 digital recorder, which I bought a while back because Zack Lynch said it was cool.

I put the audio onto the web page. At that point it occurred to me that if I put the web page up and played the audio, then anybody could stand up in class, move their lips, and pretend to give the lecture. I put up a graphic of Pacey from Dawson's Creek on the page, so now it sort of looks like he's giving the lecture.

In addition to being better-looking than I am, Pacey has neater handwriting--he doesn't scrawl all over the board. Also, Pacey will come into the student's room and give the lecture on the student's computer. If the student spaces out for a minute, he or she can rewind Pacey, and Pacey will repeat himself.

Pacey will not get stuck in traffic, or sick, or snowbound. Shouldn't Pacey teach the course instead of me?

Go to this page and let me know what you think. It's a bit of a process getting Pacey to work, because the proprietary format of the digital voice recorder seems to confuse Internet Explorer unless you're very careful about things. But other file formats are cumbersome (e.g., the huge .wav file at the bottom, which only gets about 1/4 of the way through the lecture).

For Discussion. Is this a plausible way to implement distance learning?


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CATEGORIES: Economic Education



COMMENTS (9 to date)

I think your presence is partly psychological, student prefer to listen to a live speech. Also, you can adapt what you say to non-verbal clues and verbal questions from the audience. When you have perfected the talk by adapting it to audience clues this way you could record it. I know a technology company executive who did this including recording the most frequently asked questions.

Sam writes:

You might want to encode the audio using MPEG Layer III. It won't be as good (read, larger file) as a specialized voice audio codec but more people will likely be able to play it without having to download software.

I've seen demonstrations which ran an "avatar" on client computers driven by audio, i.e. only the audio would be transmitted from the servers to the student computer, then the student computer would generate an animated image of a synthesized head mouthing the words, while the audio played. This isn't all that far out from some of the more advanced video-conferencing systems.

chris writes:

I agree that you should transcode the .rss files into MP3 format. Or at least contact the administrator of your server and have him configure the MIME type for files with the .rss extension so that they can be saved as .rss files and don't appear to the browser as .html files.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

Only one question: How do the Students get their Presentation on audio?

First, your layout should not be too difficult for College-level students, but you will have to devote one lecture to explaining Course requirements.

Your projected Problem work is designed on the West Point framework, which requires far greater Classroom participation than can be expected, and without sufficient Problems to give the Students a feel for Staff work.

I actually like the style, but warn there will be problems: you actually think Students should think for themselves; a problem if one expects rational thought. lgl

Arnold Kling writes:

"I agree that you should transcode the .rss files into MP3 format."

But MP3's are TEN times as large! Maybe in a few years when everybody has broadband, storage is essentially free, and super-powerful web servers are free. For now, the compression is worth it, IMHO.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Arnold, MP3s don't have to be 10x as large. For spoken voice, you need only sample at 8KHz (phone quality) and can probably bump the data rate down to 32kbs or lower. A good MP3 encoder should give you these options.

Interesting you ask about remote learning though. There is a whole market of desktop sharing software (in which I'm on the verge of having a product). Things like GoToMyPC.com, WebEx, glance, etc. Aside from controlling a PC remortely, there have turned out to be a lot of applications in "remote marketing", i.e. playing a PowerPoint presentation through the browser. The market leaders seem to think that you get ubiquity of access by relying on standard, widely deployed software for viewing -- i.e. a modern browser. Yes, I see these things displacing the trade show and some traditional advertising, because there is a certain amount of "demand" that is there and doesn't need to be motivated -- people lining up to be sold on something. In the classroom, however, teachers still need to motivate, make the subject interesting and relevant. Tough to do without a presence.

Shaq writes:

The key IMO to any distance learning class is to make it mandatory for students to interact with each other via an online forum. In addition, there are many more tools to take advantage of such as powerpoint or other presentation software. Good luck

Melinda Scott writes:

I don't believe that something like Pacey can replace a Professor. Firstly, a class should never be a "dumping" process. Being in the Gen. Ed. Honors Program at Mason, it has become more and more evident that our "student" role in the classroom is not exclusively to be a sponge.

Yes, a sponge we should be, but a professor is necessary so that one may ask questions, debate what the Professor may dictate, and the professor should serve as a mediator so that one student may interact with another.

However, Pacey can still be used to benefit the student. Pacey can record the Professor's on site lecture and be saved so that later, in the dorm, or at home, the student can refer to (and yes, rewind back to) any of the information that was unclear.

We should never see a classroom as a "dumping" place for knowledge. It should be conducted as a socratic environment - a discussion among peers and professors and especially an avenue for students to explore ideas.

JackP writes:

I haven't seen anyone mention Macromedia. Distance learning researchers have quite successfully used this software.

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