An ongoing study conducted by Dr Maree Gosper of Macquarie University, in conjunction with Murdoch University, Newcastle University, Flinders University and the Carrick institute, has found that a majority of students report having had positive experiences with "Web-based Leaning Technologies" (WBLT), such as podcasting.
Results were obtained via an online survey that received 817 student responses. Almost 80 per cent of respondents found that WBLT made it easier for them to learn course material, and 66.7 per cent believed that it helped them achieve better results.
More than two-thirds of the survey respondents claimed they could learn from WBLT as well as they could from face-to-face lectures. Worryingly, a quarter of the students admitted to not attending face-to-face lectures, most of whom blamed their regular absences on scheduling difficulties.
However, more than half of the students using WBLT still claim to be attending lectures frequently. Gosper highlighted a motivational atmosphere, and interactions with other students and lecturers, as students' reasons for attending.
Dr Sue Hood, a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at UTS, specialises in language and literacy teacher education. From her research on the role of gesture in creating meaning in face-to-face learning, Hood warned against using podcasting as what she believes will be an incomplete substitute for existing teaching methods.
"We mean through language, we learn through language, we construct knowledge through language," she explained. "What we also know is that language changes as modes of learning change, so if we change a mode [such as moving from face-to-face lectures to podcasting], we are not only changing the mode but also the meaning and knowledge."
"If we are extracting sound from lectures and presenting it in a different context, we are impoverishing the meaning potential," she said.
While Loasby agreed that some subjects may not lend themselves to being podcasted, he said that podcasting should not be used as a simple replacement for face-to-face classes, and should, instead, be used to supplement other existing material.
"Depending on individual lecture styles, not all material is suited to being podcasted," he said. "But I think what students want is a broader range of educational options."
"I don't think that podcasts should ever replace meaningful face-to-face interaction between teachers and students," he said. "While podcasts should be supplementary to other academic material, they can become a very significant part."
Hood said that the use of podcasting as a follow-up supplement to lectures "seems a more attractive proposition". However, she raised the question of if podcasts would then be viewed as a replacement for reading material, which could then present problems in how lecture supplements would be designed.
Meanwhile, Alexander encouraged the university's staff and students to explore other, new uses of technology, rather than considering them mere replacements for existing methods.
"My concern about the way in which we have embraced technology is that we have often used it just because we can; we tend to use it as an automated replacement for existing technologies," she said.
"Let's not just automate what we are doing already; let's look at the root of the problem, which is that students are time poor."
The university has formed three working groups with the aim of formulating a future education strategy within the next 12 months. The groups have been charged with the responsibilities of researching the current and future design of curricula, investigating necessary infrastructure changes, and designing learning spaces of the future.