Faculty Experiences - Steve Peterson

Steve Peterson - photoSTEVE PETERSON

Communication Studies

Interview Topics

What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?

How could the University better facilitate the use of technology in instruction?


Ask good questions

Group projects

Student presentations


Acrobat PDF

Chat sessions



PowerPoint (software)


Dynamic Use of DVR Technology

I like to have control over the tools I use, because I can make it as easy for everyone as possible. What is most important to me is the actual course content, and using technology should enhance that. The minute that you get bogged down with confusing interfaces you can make people computer-phobic, and that really affects their understanding of the material.

One of the courses I've taught, Communication Studies 189, concerns cross-cultural issues and media affects on children. We look at television policy from a cross-cultural perspective--for example, how television is produced in other countries, the effects of the US television market on international media, and specifically, the impact television development, production and broadcasting has on children. Students have to conduct a content-analysis for television shows aired in the Los Angeles area, so they take television-show samples from typical English-speaking channels, Spanish-speaking channels, Korean television, and the BBC, and making predictions and comparisons. They are free to choose their own focus--they might study the incidents of violence or the depiction of gender roles on a show, or compare how shows of the same genre in different markets are produced. Essentially, it's an investigation, given all the theoretical and empirical stuff they've learned over the quarter, of the L.A. television market. They collaborate in groups to conceptualize the issues and then make hypotheses, do a content analysis, and then interpret the data and make a presentation to the class.
My most important teaching objective is to keep students engaged in the class and in the course ideas. This is especially difficult in large classes, so I make it a point to open up my door so students can come in and talk about different issues. I also try to give them a little bit of freedom in terms of final projects, because I know from my own educational research that if they're not really interested in what they're doing, they're not going to remember it, they're not going to extrapolate from what they've learned. I want them to find something that interests them and that's also related to the course ideas--that grounds the theoretical stuff they've learned in the course in their real lives.

One of the ways I make lectures engaging and dynamic is to use Digital Video Recording (DVR) technology. DVR is great for quickly organizing, categorizing, and accessing recorded video segments for presentation and study. It captures the whole digital stream--including content description, ratings information and time-slot--which allows you to ask questions about the target demographic. Is this shown during a time when children watch? What channels is it on, and how often? Having the ratings information ready to hand helps you ask questions about the rating process, such as how one show differs from another, even though one's rated violent, and the other isn't.

A DVR is essentially a UNIX-based computer that downloads shows from your digital cable or Direct-TV service and converts them to MPEG-2 format. The computer organizes the shows into a database, so that when you go through your menu guide, you're just going through your hard drive. I keep a database of 20-25 video samples for use in my class: examples of violence or cross-cultural issues, for instance. If I'm doing a class on violence, I can show a clip of sporting violence, where there's a fight and people cheering, then show a Jerry Springer clip, along with the dates and times when these were shown. I have easy access to the material, and can integrate it easily into a PowerPoint presentation. The flexibility this access affords me helps keep the students engaged, because I can show videos easily and spontaneously. If I had to rely on videocassettes, I'd have to find the tape, then rewind or advance to the relevant segment, which would interfere with the flow of the discussion.

I actually bring my own DVR to class with me, but this technology would do wonders if we integrated it into our wired classrooms. UCLA has an unbelievable infrastructure, fiber-optic cables running around the whole campus. If we had a centralized DVR database, instead of having to go to the Instructional Media Library, check out a videotape, figure out how to use it, and bring it back, I could access everything that Powell had on its storage drive. You can store maybe 30 full-length shows on one DVR, but you could store thousands of hours on a bank of computers. This would ultimately save on media expenses--some classes, such as intro to psychology, use the same set of videocassettes every quarter, and they get worn out. If you had a DVR in the classroom, you could arrange to have the materials downloaded into your DVR the week before class starts, so they'd be available whenever you want, rather than having to wait three days for a request to be processed. Actually, you wouldn't even necessarily need a local DVR, because materials from the centralized database could be made available on any computer. If UCLA were to make the initial investment in the equipment and media conversion, this would be a great teaching innovation.

Another possibility would be to make DVR technology available for use in student projects. Apart from the ability this would give them to collect and organize research materials more efficiently, it would make collaboration easier. For group projects, they often need to determine inter-coder reliability, so they watch the same show and do measurements together, and make sure that they're all the same. If each project had access to a DVR, they could do random sampling of shows, they'd have all the data about the show, and they would be able to access the same information at different times to take inter-coder reliability measures, to see if the coders are coding the TV shows the same way.

Outside of class, I use the web to distribute materials and communicate with my students, but I don't depend on just one system, because I like to have control over the tools I use. I take elements that are the best for my class--for example, the chat tool available through Social Sciences Computing, the GradeBook tool on MyUCLA. I also use my own web site to post downloadable PDF readings, class information, answers to quizzes, and things like that. It's very simple, doesn't involve going through a junky third-party interface, and it's password protected, so my materials won't violate the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. I don't want technology to get in the way. What is most important to me is the actual course content, and using technology should enhance that. The minute that you get bogged down with confusing interfaces you can make people computer-phobic, and that really affects their understanding of the material.

If I had the time--which I'd have if I had the support of a TA or two--I'd like to start incorporating sophisticated statistical software into my Communication Studies classes that would help students conceptualize research ideas. Learning to use statistical techniques would prepare them for professional work in the field; it would help shape and limit their research projects, and allow them to interact with social science data just as real researchers do. The most important factor for using technology in the classroom in an engaging way, however, is to lower the class size. You need to interact with the students, and they need to interact with each other, to set things up. You can obviously use technology to make big classes smaller, but a smaller class leads to more engaging interactions.

Oral Interview, April 2004