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Trend: Podcasting in Education

Trend: Podcasting in Education

The term podcasting is an amalgamation of two other words: iPod, the popular digital music player from Apple, and broadcasting. But the pod is a bit of a misnomer. Podcasts, digital audio programs that can be subscribed to and downloaded by listeners via RSS (Really Simple Syndication), can be accessed on a variety of digital audio devices, including a desktop computer.

Why is podcasting becoming such a hot trend? As blogger Dave Jennings wrote, it’s doing for audio what blogs did for text. The MP3 files generated by podcasters are relatively easy to create and don’t require high-priced equipment, allowing amateurs to record a program without a large investment of time or money. In addition, the RSS technology that downloads new blog entries automatically to an aggregator program, keeping readers from having to visit each individual site, enables automatic download of new podcasts as well (once listeners have subscribed to the “feed” source). Then the podcasts can be listened to on a computer or, more frequently, transferred to a portable digital audio player, Pocket PC, or mobile phone that can play audio files.

The portability and on-demand nature of podcasting are key components that allow listeners to catch up on audio content—whether entertainment, news, learning, or so forth—without having to sit at a computer and while completing other tasks. In that sense, podcasting can be viewed as another variant of mobile learning. Vodcasting, the video equivalent of podcasting, is an up-and-coming trend with few practitioners but future mobile learning potential.

Note: Simply posting recorded audio files on websites is not technically considered podcasting—the term indicates the use of RSS for automatic download of new files. However, in this writeup we’ve included examples without the RSS component when they demonstrate an important use of digital audio in learning and the RSS component could be easily added.)

Implications for learning

Listening to digital audio content won’t replace reading, listening to live presentations, or the multitude of other ways learners take in information, but it can augment those methods. The following are ways that podcasting can contribute to the learning process.

Assist auditory learners

Proponents of podcasting point out that the medium is perfect for learners who prefer to take in information aurally. Margaret Maag, an assistant professor at the University of San Francisco’s School of Nursing, has recorded her classroom lectures and posted them on a secure website since learning about podcasting from an Educause webinar in March 2005. She explains to students that the purpose is to help audio learners retain the information covered. Even though critics initially said students would stop attending classes, Maag found that attendance did not in fact decline, because students “didn’t want to miss what was going on.”

Provide another channel for material review

Listeners with other types of learning styles can benefit from podcasts as well. When material is delivered orally, as in university lectures, classroom-based training, or in-person presentations, podcasting can ease learner worries that they missed key information in their note-taking. The audio files can be reviewed at their leisure for understanding or before testing. In Maag’s end-of-course survey, this was a main reason students rated the recorded lectures as a strength of the course.

Assist non-native speakers

Learners who aren’t yet proficient in the language may struggle to keep up with lectures or presentations. Being able to review recordings of those events as many times as necessary for understanding can be of great benefit. Podcasting can also be an excellent technology for learning a language, not only for listening to speech and pronunciation but also, in combination with a recording device, for capturing a learner’s own speech for review by themselves or a teacher.

Provide feedback to learners

In addition to recording her lectures, Margaret Maag uses her MP3 player to record feedback on her students’ group presentations, creating a 3- to 4-minute file for upload. She says, “I think a professor’s voice adds to the feedback and it saved me a lot of time at the end of the semester.” This use can apply not only to instructors but also to learners, who could record and podcast peer feedback.

Enable instructors to review training or lectures

Another benefit of recording her lectures, Margaret Maag says, is that she can “critique them as a method of improving my teaching style.” Archived online learning events already provide this benefit to instructors. Now podcasting can offer the same advantages for classroom-based teaching and training. In addition, managers who want to review their staffs’ instruction could subscribe to the podcasts as well.

Replace full classroom or online sessions when content simply requires delivery

In many cases, learning requires interaction, questioning, practice, and so forth. But when what’s required is simple delivery of information, a full-fledged in-person or online course may not be necessary. Podcasting can alert learners that there is new material to be accessed and then allow them to access it whenever, wherever they want.

Provide supplementary content or be part of a blended solution.

When a full course is necessary, there may be occasions when supplementary material would be helpful to learners. Subject-matter-expert interviews are just one example of this type of content. The material could be available for access on a voluntary basis, or it could be a required component of a classroom or online course in a blended solution. In any case, the RSS technology allows instructors to make the material easily accessible to learners and to alert them when new content is in the pipeline.

Case Study: iPods at Duke

In 2004, Duke University gave all first-year students iPods along with voice recorders as part of an initiative “to encourage creative uses of technology in education.” Faculty were encouraged to submit proposals for academic iPod projects. In total, 15 fall courses and 33 spring courses incorporated the technology in some fashion.

The Duke iPod First-Year Experience, as the program was called, was evaluated by the university’s Center for Instructional Technology, which released a report in June of this year. The report found the iPods were used in the following ways:

Course content dissemination tool: portable access to content such as lectures, songs, historical speeches, and foreign language content distributed in various ways, including podcasting

Classroom recording tool: capturing lectures, class discussions, guest speakers, and verbal feedback

Field recording tool: capturing field notes, interviews, environmental sounds, and audio data

Study support tool: repeated listening and repetition of audio content.

Among the benefits of the iPod use that the report listed were the convenience of portable digital content, reduced dependence on physical materials and lab or library locations and hours, greater student engagement and interest, and enhanced support for individual learning preferences and needs.

There are many other possible uses for podcasting, and, eventually, vodcasting in learning. The ones listed in this article are just a beginning. As blogger Dave Jennings wrote, “When podcasting will get really interesting as a media form is when it breaks out of traditional…models and finds the unique things to which it’s suited.”

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