In its continuous effort to use a variety of teaching methods to improve students’ academic performance, Santa Monica College (SMC) is launching an educational podcasting pilot program Monday, July 3rd.

Targeting a group of 25 incoming freshmen in SMC’s “Summer Bridge” program, the college will lend Apple iPods — funded by a federal grant — to the students for the six-week summer session.

The students will be able to download video, audio, photos, graphics, and text. The downloaded material is for homework or supplemental assignments and will not replace in-class instruction.

“We are excited about the potential of podcasting as a supplemental teaching tool,” said Jeff Shimizu, SMC vice president of academic affairs.

“We will use this pilot program as a way to see whether this improves learning.”

In starting the pilot program, SMC follows in the path of a growing number of campuses nationwide using podcasting, including Stanford, UCLA, and Duke University in North Carolina.

“Everyday, we all witness greater numbers of students listening to their iPods and MP3 players in between their classes,” said Al DeSalles, SMC’s media and graphic services manager.

“We know they’re listening to songs, but there’s really no good reason why it can’t be educational content. Our teachers and media development team can create compelling content that students can use to further their learning.”

At SMC, podcasting will be used in the remedial English and college orientation courses that the targeted group of students are taking as they make the transition into higher education.

Students will be able to download their assignments onto their iPods using computers set up in the college’s Media Center.

“I want to tap into the media literacy these students already have and use it to foster academic skills and critical thinking,” said Mira Pak, who will teach the English course.

Pak hopes to use music videos, film clips, and more to reinforce lessons on such issues as the depiction of minorities in the mass media.

She also plans to have students produce their own videos as part of their assignments.

Similarly, counselor Jackie Seiden, who is teaching the college orientation course, is interested in having students watch, for example, portions of the hit TV show The Office to highlight ineffective ways of communication.

She also hopes to have students produce video podcasts.

“I’ve always loved technology, and the idea of having all these resources at your fingertips that you can download, that you can watch or listen to at home or sitting on a bus, is very attractive,” Seiden said.

“The iPod is hip. Students will understand that this isn’t just about downloading music but that they can actually learn from this.”

Targeted for the pilot program is a group of low-income students who are often underprepared for college.

“Most have the willingness and drive, but for whatever reason, they don’t yet have the skills needed to be successful in freshman college courses,” Pak said.