Obama was here

So today was the big day at West Chester University. I’ve never seen such excitement on this campus! I thought it would be big, but I never imagined it would be this big. Over 2,200 wildly animated people crowded into Hollinger Field House to watch Chris Matthews interview Barack Obama on MSNBC’s “Hardball College Tour.”

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Barack Obama, and I’ve still not decided who will get my vote.  It’s a long way to Election Day, and a lot can happen in the next few months.  But I have to admit Obama made a rather positive impression on me at this event. He really is eloquent, and he seems like a very sincere and passionate person.  I’m not sure what kind of President he would be, but if he does win the election, I think he could bring some positive changes to Washington.  

I’d like to hear from Hillary in person before the primary vote.  I was impressed with Chelsea Clinton when she visited our campus last week.  I know there are those who dislike Hillary, but I think America might benefit from a woman President.  And I thought it was telling when Chelsea she said she thought her mom would make a better president than her dad was.

And although I’m not particularly impressed with John McCain, I will probably watch how he does when he appears with Chris Matthews on the next stop of Hardball’s College Tour (April 15 at Villanova University). It would be interesting to see if the Villanova crowd gets as excited as the one here at West Chester.

Below are a few pictures of the event.  You can see more photos on my web gallery.

Obama is coming to town

It’s official.  Barack Obama will be coming to West Chester University this Wednesday afternoon. But it’s not for a stump speech or an open discussion.  No, Obama will be on a TV show that is being hosted on campus.  And not everyone can get in; you need to get a ticket if you want to see the show.

So this afternoon, I got a ticket. Here’s a picture of the ticket itself.  I found the wording interesting: “West Chester University of Pennsylvania presents ‘Hardball with Chris Matthews’ 2008 College Tour with Special Guest Senator Barack Obama.”  I wonder how I should interpret the statement that WCU “presents” this event.  Should I take this to mean that WCU is sponsoring this event? Or does it mean that MSNBC (the cable channel that airs Hardball) is just using WCU as a remote venue for the program?  Is it costing WCU something in order to bring this show to town?

One thing this event IS costing us is the use of a parking lot for two days.  Tomorrow and Wednesday, the parking lot next to Hollinger Field House will be closed.  This is a pretty big lot, and it means that a lot more people will be trolling the remaining parking lots looking for a spot to park their wheels.  At least the Sharpless Street garage has announced that they are providing free parking during the lot closure.

When I picked up my ticket, I was told that “no backpacks will be allowed,” and I’ll need to present my WCU ID card along with the ticket to get in.  They would only give me one ticket, so I couldn’t bring my wife along.  Oh well. I guess she’ll have to watch it on TV like everyone else.

So if you’re watching MSNBC Wednesday afternoon, look for me in the crowd.  Or not.

Chelsea Clinton visits West Chester University

So this afternoon, Chelsea Clinton visited our campus. I expected there would be a crowd, but didn’t expect this big of a crowd. The Sykes Union television lounge was filled to capacity, and the overflow crowd extended upstairs to the second floor. I had to struggle to get close enough to take this picture!
5CBXg.MPVHqVGB3MAM.jpgAs for her comments, I didn’t really hear anything out of the ordinary. She was stumping for her mom, and the crowd was primarily routing for her. She spent most of the time responding to questions, and there were plenty of them. I thought she handled one question about the Bush presidency particularly well when she said that 2008 really should have been the last year of a Gore administration. Chelsea spoke with grace and dignity, although sometimes she was a bit difficult to hear in the crowded environment.

Many people were wearing the Hillary stickers they were giving out. I might have worn a button if they were offering them, but I guess political buttons are a thing of the past. Maybe I’m old-fashioned (or just plain old) but I’d take a button over a sticker any day. Stickers are just so…disposable. Not to mention sticky.

There were also quite a few students holding up “McCain for President” posters, which you can see in the picture. I didn’t see them giving out buttons either. The McCain supporters were persistent but reasonably polite, and they didn’t seem to faze Chelsea.

I did see a lot of video cameras documenting Chelsea’s appearance, and quite a few big guys that looked like Secret Service types.

Anyway, one nice thing about the extended nomination process for the Democratic candidate is that it’s making Pennsylvania’s primary an interesting one. And it’s great to see so many students interested in the political process.

By the way, I hear Barack Obama will be coming to campus next Wednesday. MSNBC plans to bring Chris Matthews and his “Hardball College Tour” to West Chester University for a live broadcasts at 5, with repeats at 7 and 11 that evening. I suspect the crowd for Obama next week will be even bigger than the one for Chelsea today.

I’m on Sabbatical…I think

This semester I’m officially on sabbatical leave from my faculty position at West Chester University. I’m supposed to be spending my time working on my sabbatical project, and that’s what I’ve been doing…at least part of the time. But during the first two weeks of this semester, I’ve found myself responding to a lot of situations at school that aren’t directly related to my sabbatical project.

For example, last week I spent quite a bit of time helping faculty colleagues with their computers. One of my colleagues had a computer that wouldn’t boot on the first day of class. A few had problems connecting to our departmental server. And there were a host of small issues that I was called upon for advice.

Not that I’m complaining. I appreciate being useful, and it gave me an excuse to keep in touch with my colleagues. But it was making me wonder if I was really on sabbatical…or just “sort of” on sabbatical.

This week I’m happy to say I’m making more progress on my sabbatical project. I’m hopeful that by the end of the year, I’ll see some tangible results. Much of the work I’m doing will be coordinated with our departmental intranet, which I’ve recently developed at communication.wcupa.edu/myCOM. I’m building myCOM using the open-source learning content management software Moodle, which I’ve used in the past for maintaining course web sites on our departmental web server. Eventually, however, I would like to have the content I’m creating integrated into an iTunes U site, something that West Chester University was supposed to have launched a year ago.

Yes! We have a contract!

Today was a happy day for faculty in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). After five days of difficult negotiations, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (APSCUF), our faculty union, has achieved a tentative collective bargaining agreement for the next four years.Our union was ready to call a strike, as our current contract ended June 30. Many were concerned that there wouldn’t be a second summer session this year. But a last-minute request from the state mediator to extend the talks gave the negotiating teams another chance to iron out their differences. I haven’t seen the contract language yet, but the basic terms seem to be fair. Hopefully, the faculty will have regained at least some of the ground lost in the last contract.I anticipate that while some faculty may raise questions about specific issues, the tentative contract will likely be approved, and we can move on to do what we like to do…teach students and pursue our scholarship.

Podcasting Tips and Tricks

[Below is the text of my presentation at this year’s RECAP conference.]

For the past three years, I’ve been podcasting my lectures in the introductory course in mass communication I teach at West Chester University. Students have often told me that the lecture podcasts have been a valuable study aid, and have helped make the large lecture hall experience more manageable and enjoyable.

Despite an early concern that attendance might suffer from making my lectures available as podcasts, I have not found this to be a problem. A comparison of the Blackboard tracking data for the podcasts I did during the 2005-2006 academic year found no significant correlation between podcast use and attendance. Subsequent surveys found most students use podcasts as a supplement to the class lecture, rather than as a substitute for attendance.

Here are a few “tips and tricks” I have learned from my experience with podcasting lectures…

Pay attention to the audio. A lecture is not very valuable if the students can’t hear it. Sometimes I have used the built-in microphone on my laptop computer to record my lecture, and as long as I don’t stray too far away from it, this seems to work fine. But since I tend to move around a lot during my lectures, I’ve found I achieve better results when using a separate microphone. I have used small digital audio recorders with some success, although it pays to invest in a good one (I use the Sony ICD-SC25). Newer iPods have the ability to directly record high-fidelity audio with inexpensive add-ons like the MicroMemo from XtremeMac; this company also sells a matching lapel microphone called the MemoMic that is ideal for lectures.

Syndicate your podcasts. At first, I simply uploaded the digital recordings of my lectures to Blackboard, but this isn’t really podcasting, as the content isn’t “syndicated” using a “feed.” Since the version of Blackboard we use on my campus lacks the ability to create such feeds, I use the free service at feedburner.com. Feedburner helps me create the RSS feed that I then insert as a content item on Blackboard (or any web page). They even provide me with a free web page for the podcast feed (for example, here’s the feed page for my Spring 2007 course in mass communication). Although they don’t host podcasts, other sites do, including archive.org and putfile.com.

Provide more than just audio. While my first podcasts were simple audio recordings, most of my podcasts now include graphics that can be displayed along with the audio. Sometimes called “enhanced podcasts,” this kind of podcast takes advantage of the ability of digital audio files to store and display graphics that change according to chapter markers embedded in the file. Originally intended as a way to provide “album art” for music files, this feature can also be used to display PowerPoint slides or other graphics that are part of a lecture. A program that I have been using for the past year that greatly aids in the process of creating “enhanced podcasts” is ProfCast (www.profcast.com). This is an inexpensive tool that can work with both PowerPoint and Keynote presentation software, allowing you to record your podcast while giving a lecture. (At the moment, ProfCast is only available for the Mac, although a Windows version may be forthcoming.)

Consider vidcasts. Video podcasts (vidcasts) are growing in popularity, and are becoming easier to produce. Because most of my lectures are an hour or longer in length, I’ve been hesitant to create video podcasts of my lectures, since these can be very large files. But with bandwidth issues subsiding and compression techniques improving, lecture vidcasts may soon become the norm. One promising tool for video podcasters is VODcaster (www.twocanoes.com/vodcaster/). Although it is not as easy to use as ProfCast, it does offer a number of useful features, and it’s free.

Use free web tools. There are plenty of web sites that offer free tools for podcasters. Here are a few:
Splashcast: splashcastmedia.com
Podcast Alley: www.podcastalley.com
Audicity: audacity.sourceforge.net
Our Media: www.ourmedia.org
SpinXpress: spinxpress.com
Freevlog: www.freevlog.org
Blip TV: blip.tv
Veodia: www.veodia.com
Putfile: www.putfile.com
Lifelogger: lifelogger.com
Educational Podcast Network: www.epnweb.org