Chronicle column: Attack of the Pod People

December 6, 2006

Robert Schneider, an assistant professor of theater and dance at Northern Illinois University, submitted an excellent column to The Chronicle of Higher Education about Podcasting. A story that apparently sang the praises of Podcasting appeared in the student newspaper, and Schneider felt compelled to respond with a nuanced counterargument. When the newspaper finally decided to publish Schneider’s piece, it appeared in abbreviated form, making him sound a bit like a technophobe (depending on how one reads it, of course; in Schneider’s view, the edited version of his piece sounded that way). Fortunately, he was able to post his original letter online beneath the “hedgeclippered” version, and he has expanded further on his thoughts in The Chronicle.

Although I concur with Schneider’s thoughts, he seems to be overreacting somewhat to the student reporter’s article. To be fair, the article does not explicitly endorse a complete switchover from attending in-person classes to Podcasting. Rather, the opening paragraph of the article simply imagines a scenario where students can download lectures on an iPod and not even need to go to class. This idea goes against Schneider’s ideas about teaching, which prompted him to write his own counterpoint. (Personally, I agree, and I even sympathize; I don’t think that anything can replace the teacher-student interaction that occurs in a classroom… at least no technology that currently exists.) Even though course Podcasting isn’t a terribly new idea, the student probably opened with that paragraph as a “provocative” ploy to get the attention of readers.

In any case, considering the apparent back-and-forth between Schneider and the student newspaper, the shearing of nuance from Schneider’s opinion piece has simply added to the mythos about technology in higher education. In this epic, progressive technosaviors and arch-reactionary technophobes are engaged in a life-or-death struggle for the soul of higher education. That may be true in some instances, but I think that most people have more nuanced opinions on the subject. If not, we make ourselves vulnerable to zealots from either side.

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