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A growing number of iPod users are doing more than listening to music. Many of them are actually law students using hand-held devices to take their legal education on the road. “Podcasting” — technology that makes it simple for users to automatically download audio files to their computers and transfer the files to hand-held devices such as iPods and MP3 players — is showing up more frequently at universities as a way to expand the reach of education outside the classroom or lecture hall. American University’s Washington College of Law officially launched podcasting in the fall of 2005. It was the first law school to offer podcasts through iTunes, the popular software that enables listeners to subscribe and automatically download content from the Internet. Listeners anywhere in the world can download complete audio of many of the WCL’s events through iTunes and can personalize their podcasts, using keywords to capture and download only those programs of interest to them. Class lectures, or “class casts,” also are available for download to WCL students and are password-protected. EVERYONE HAD AN IPOD The podcasting idea was initiated after Korin Munsterman, director of technology at the WCL, began working at the school in 2005. Munsterman noticed immediately how many of the students owned iPods or MP3 players. A former evening law student who worked full time, she had often missed campus events that took place during the workday. Podcasting seemed an excellent way to enhance students’ law school experience. She ordered an iPod and approached Dean Claudio Grossman with a prototype in hand. Grossman, Munsterman says, understood the value of the service immediately. “Technological developments open opportunities for virtually unlimited access to education, greatly reducing time and space constraints,” says Grossman. “We intend to promote these tools to maximize the quality and outreach of our programs.” Gone are the days when students would line up their tape recorders in the front row of the classroom. Now the professor need only wear a small microphone and recording device to capture a lecture for podcasting. Law students can then listen to the audio files at the gym or while commuting to the school’s Spring Valley campus in Northwest Washington. The program has been a hit. There have been more than 77,000 downloads of the school’s more than 270 public podcasts, and students have downloaded class lectures nearly 50,000 times. Almost two dozen WCL professors are recording their lectures for podcasting, according to Munsterman. She expects more faculty will take advantage of the technology as student demand increases. The school’s podcast library, which includes lectures on international law, legal ethics, human trafficking, human rights, and journalism and law, is listed in all the major podcast indexes, including those for iTunes and iPodder, and the legal blog directory Blawg. Listeners from 140 different countries have downloaded the WCL’s public podcasts in the past year. What makes podcasting useful in the classroom, says Peter Jaszi, faculty director of the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Clinic at the WCL, is not its novelty but its convenience and accessibility. Students learn in different ways, says Jaszi, and podcasting makes it simple to review complex content several times or make up a missed class. In the past, Jaszi videotaped his courses and encouraged students to bring tape recorders, but none of these technologies have been as easy to use as podcasting. Also, he says, “students learn not only in all sorts of different ways but also at different times. If they want to listen at 3 a.m., they don’t need to worry about checking a video out from the library and returning it later.” PLAY IT AGAIN Podcasting has also worked well for the school’s large number of international students, for whom rapid lectures of complex material can be challenging. According to Munsterman, podcasting allows students to review and even adjust playback to a lower speed to ensure they get the most out of their classes. It also means that students who may have trouble keeping up with a professor’s speech need not identify themselves in class. Though podcasting can be a useful resource for students of all disciplines, it can be particularly useful for law students absorbing large volumes of technical material. For would-be litigators, podcasts can be an invaluable tool for preparing for moot court competitions, says Erin Overturf, a second-year law student and 2006 winner of the Alvina Reckman-Myers First-Year Moot Court Competition. “I knew that last year’s competition was available on videotape in the library,” Overturf says, “but the podcast was so accessible. It allowed me to go back and listen to it for things I could do differently next time.” Podcasting covers more than just lectures and court competitions. The WCL Office of Career and Professional Development podcasts many of its career-development workshops, combining the audio files with a document library where students can download handouts provided at the sessions. The office has used podcasting and Webcasting technology to assist WCL students preparing applications during the summer months. “I would hate for someone to miss important information just because they can’t attend a program on any given day,” says Traci Mundy Jenkins, director of the office. “I want to ensure they have maximum exposure to the tools that they need for their career development. This technology really makes that easy.” Some educators have expressed concerns that the easy availability of class lectures through podcasting may encourage students to skip class and make up material later. Quite the contrary, says Jaszi; students have told him that it actually makes them feel more motivated to come to class, as they can easily review difficult concepts through playback and can keep up more easily if they must miss a lecture. Jaszi finds that the availability of class casts also has liberated students from note-taking. Rather than hunching furiously over their keyboards, they actually become more engaged in class. “I have used podcasting in classes of 50 students and classes of 10, and in neither setting have I seen more empty chairs than I would normally expect after my 30 years of teaching,” he says. Some challenges still remain for professors seeking to capture the classroom experience in its entirety. A podcast records only audio, so any visuals an instructor creates during class cannot be transmitted via podcast. With the increasing popularity of video iPods, however, the school intends to begin “vodcasting” — creating downloadable files containing both audio and video — this year. Munsterman also plans to launch enhanced podcasts with Westlaw and LexisNexis, which will link audio to a corresponding slideshow. The WCL currently Webcasts many of its continuing-legal-education credit events, and it will soon offer vodcasts of these events, as well. Second-year student Parag Khandhar regularly listens to podcasts of school events to complement his course work. An active user of Internet-based technology, Khandhar provides an excellent example of both the promise and the challenge of such readily available information. “I haven’t even had a chance to listen to all the podcasts that interest me,” Khandhar says. “But they’re all archived on my computer.”
April Fehling is a public relations specialist at American University’s Washington College of Law.

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