December 24, 2006

The Role of Educational Podcasting: Reviewing the Possibilities

Using Podcasting in Education

Introduction

What follows is a review of my research findings so far regarding the uses of podcasting in an educational environment and some ways of developing one’s own skills which have to take on board some technical issues at a fairly basic level and also production issues in terms of the contents of what is podcast.

What follows has already been influenced by the interactivity of Web 2 internet technologies which is only right. In many ways this has developed rhizomatically for all you (Deluezians out there). The work here is also preliminary work for a certificate in Innovations in e.Learning run by the Open University. (The course is starting in February so if you are inspired by this check it out).

Much of this work has been stimulated by some great experiences with my AS Media Students at Sixth Form College Solihull. We had a great time playing with the Moodle Virtual Learning environment as it was being installed. This experience convinced me that Web 2 represented a significant shift in the ways in which education can work. It made education fun again -right now an awful lot of it is so regimented that education in a liberal sense has been overwhelmed by managerialist discourse – and we were all learning the possibilities.

It certainly worked for some of my students. I met one in Harvey Nichols in Birmingham last week. She was clearly a fashion fan so it was no surprise that she was working there. What was lovely was that although billed to get a ‘D’ she’d managed to gain an ‘A’ on this particular unit and I heard that other students had done better than expected on this unit. That was anecdotal proof to me that being a little less prescriptive and giving students the possibility to drive things – up to a point – can (should?) translate into good results.

The cultural milieu which students work in is very important. There are many paths to learning in terms of developing higher order patterns of thought, and over-reductionist approaches to classroom management are not the only way to gain results.

Thanks to Chris Coe at Warwick e.learning for helping me on the path to blogging. Then thanks to Tom Abbott, the Warwick University Communications Officer, for offering and giving me some of his valuable time. Tom showed me some of the latest podcasting and video equipment and discussed some of the practicalities of producing podcasts particularly in relation to educational purposes. Thanks also to Robert O’Toole for commenting on a blog posting and putting me onto one of the registered suppliers for University of Warwick.

This supplier has got the some of the best descriptions about recording equipment and is a useful way into finding out about some (not all) of the major products which you will probably wish to consider if like me you are just starting out.

One nice thing about this is that there is an exciting atmosphere of ‘just get out there and do it’. As yet there are no precise formulae and there is the mental space allowed to make mistakes. There is something quite exciting about being able to get your voice (quite literally) out there in a way which offers interested people across the world or in your teaching sphere at the local level the opportunity to listen and to respond.

The initial financial entry barriers are very low for aspiring educators and it is clear that humanity is on the brink of another huge communications revolution which in terms of interactivity and reciprocity is opening up our horizons of possibility. This tempts me to point out that even if you are not doing it your students probably will be!

Below I have listed several applications of how podcasting can be used within an educational settting. On a separate posting I will summarise what I have found out about the equipment required to get into podcasting relating this to what you activities you will expect to be undertaking. Different equipment should be used in different settings.

Educational Applications for Podcasting. Production by the Educator

We can split podcasting roughly into two areas: direct usage by the educator and direct usage by students.

There is a range of applications in which podcasting can be used for educational purposes by the educator. This list is not meant to be comprehensive but identifies some common possibilities. There will be separate postings for each point listed immediately below. After that I discuss the advantages of podcast lectures / talks. I then argue that some of the outcomes make a persuasive argument for much greater institutional investment in these developments.

  • Individual teacher / lecturer presentations
  • Carrying out interviews within a familiar internal environment
  • Carrying out location based interviews perhaps in the open
  • Recording visiting speakers giving talks
  • Recording student presentations
  • Recording small group discussions

Podcast Lectures / Talks

This usage can be very rewarding although its use has been controversial. A lecturer at Bradford University has been one of the leading practitioners of this approach. ( Follow this link for more on Dr. Bill Ashraf ).

  • Podcast lectures can function as a replacement for the physical lecture
  • This gives students the opporutunity to predigest the original material and empowers them to ask more searching questions
  • Students are able to listen as many times as they wish. they can also listen in places such as public transport where reading might be far less productive or entirely impossible. Student time can be used more productively
  • The feedback process allows the lecturer to refine the original the original to make points more clearly if they have been weakly understood. Reflexivity is therefore built in
  • Once the lecturer / teacher is satisfied that the content and mode of presentation is right it can be stored for use in the future freeing up development time
  • Should significant changes in the knowledge base emerge the talk can be re-edited to ensure extra longevity.
  • Digitally based archival storage medium is very stable unlike old audio tapes
  • The product is excellent for team working across several groups. Colleagues can work productively on something else to develop an in depth resource base.
  • Colleagues can also easily cover absences as they will know exactly what the students have been exposed to.

Summary of usage for talks / lectures

Making a podcast will initially take more time to produce. Even after going through the equipment learning curve careful attention to structure, pace and rhythm is needed. Attention to radio style communication is important. Lecturers and teachers will neeed training in the techniques. Communications media for teaching will undoubtedly become increasingly important for porfessional practice.

Institutions will need to create professional development time for their educators to learn these techniques. Teachers and lecturers will need to stop whingeing about whether this ‘creates more work’ and have a more get out and do approach. There is a professional responsibility required here. By the same token government (and therefore managers) need to become less obsessed by ‘metrics’ i.e. positivist quantitative reductionism and focus upon educational outcomes and what education actually means for society beyond the terminology of ‘skillsets’.

Pedagogically the evidence is that podcasting lectures is more effective, thus supporting the underlying logic of transferability and flexibility of the medium. The medium is highly flexible in terms of where, when and how it is used by the student. It also has the advantage that it is inherently more human than the more abstract form of communications which is writing.

The ability to use in teams or even to exchange podcasts on a global basis is something which could only be dreamt off in the past. The essence of Web 2 is the collaborative approach and cross-institutional collaboration can be made far easier and more effective. Thus a gradual move towards this form of communicative interaction will be far more cost effective and productive from the perspective of educational budgets.

The argument being put forward here is that even if none of the other uses of podcasting within education are considered the importance of being able to create a vast range of talks by large numbers of people with enthusiasm and expertise would dramatically widen the cultural milieu. It is therefore worth doing in its own right.

Another advantage of the system is that people not registered to courses would be able to gain access. They may be parents, prospective students etc. Thus openness and transparency would become embedded within the wider society and access to ideas and information would be easier and cheaper.


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