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Professor In Your Pocket

Could ivy-covered lecture halls become as obsolete as the typewriter? This fall, a dozen colleges across the country have introduced a controversial new teaching tool called course casting, aimed at supplementing-'"and in some cases replacing-'"large, impersonal lectures. Although it has been around for less than a year, course casting has become as popular as a keg party on homecoming weekend.

But critics complain that digital lectures delivered through earphones cut down on the vital interaction between professors and students. Being in class keeps them in regular contact with professors, which, experts say, is a key to keeping dropout rates low. Students also learn an important skill when they are required to show up for a lecture: creating a schedule and sticking to it. Lectures also force students to focus for long, uninterrupted stretches.

Course casting might work, says Lee Knefelkamp, a professor of education at Teachers College at Columbia University, if a professor is trying to deliver facts and concepts for later regurgitation. "Students can listen to that anywhere." But a topnotch lecture, says Knefelkamp, "should be provocative, catch you up short and make you think in ways you never have before." Those kinds of intellectual epiphanies, she says, rarely happen at the laundromat.

This article, written by Peg Tyre, appeared in the November 28th, 2005 issue of Newsweek.

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