Assistant Professor Lorena Barba (ME) has posted the College of Engineering’s first course on iTunes U, a free multimedia learning environment created by the leading online music retailer. Intended for graduates and advanced undergraduates, the Spring 2010 course, ENG ME 702 – Computational Fluid Dynamics, shows students how to develop computational tools to simulate the motion of fluids in phenomena ranging from airflow around a wing to global climate change.
Sequenced in more than a dozen video tracks, the new course is part of the Boston University iTunes Library, a growing compendium of online multimedia educational offerings and news developments from across the BU campus. Anyone with iTunes on their Mac, PC, iPod or iPhone—whether a member of the BU community or a lifelong learner across the globe—may download items from the library for free.
From Lecture Notes to iTunes Video
To produce each lecture video for ENG ME 702, Barba applies a simple, inexpensive, do-it-yourself delivery method that she’s developed over the past four years. Before each class she converts her lecture notes into a set of Keynote (Apple’s version of PowerPoint) slides, each bearing a title; a few key points and equations; an occasional image, diagram or video clip; and a lot of whitespace. Once in the classroom, she annotates each slide on a laptop linked to a graphic tablet, wireless microphone and overhead projector.
As Barba derives equations, plots curves, and adds words of explanation on the tablet and students follow on the projection, a “screencasting” software app records what appears onscreen and what the mike picks up in an integrated QuickTime video. Afterwards, she deletes any “dead space” from the beginning and ending of the video—as well as occasional class discussions—and uploads it to iTunes U.
“By using the tablet to annotate each slide, I can combine the support material that’s typical of a static PowerPoint presentation with the dynamic, one-step-at-a-time pace of deriving equations on a chalkboard,” said Barba. “The hardest part is getting used to writing on a tablet and looking at the screen at the same time.”
Enhancing the Learning Process
Through this course Barba aims to enable both enrolled and online-only students to develop an intuitive grasp of the Navier-Stokes equations, which describe fluid motion, and to acquire basic skills in solving these equations via computational methods. Lectures and programming assignments build incrementally toward mastery of the material, which enrolled students must display in periodic presentations of 20 PowerPoint slides, each delivered in 20 seconds.
For the dozen students in Barba’s class, it’s no easy feat to follow every detail of each lecture, which can last up to two hours. “The iTunes U provides one way to replay the lecture exactly at those points where you missed something,” said Barba.
Case in point is Gordana Siftar, a graduate student in BU’s Department of Earth Sciences. “During the lecture, part of our attention is directed towards writing the lecture notes, so we are not entirely focused on what has been taught,” she said. “The greatest advantage of iTunes, as opposed to posting the lecture notes, is that we not only see what has been taught, but hear it as well, which makes the learning process more efficient.”
Individuals accessing the iTunes course remotely—including one based in Colombia, South America—are finding it an effective means of self-paced learning. “Awesome podcast, very interesting lecture, great for beginners,” e-mailed one student who learned about the course on a CFD online discussion board. “Great fun to ‘program along’ with your class.”