Podcasting: More Questions than Answers

I just read a great article yesterday about Podcasting, a Teaching with Technology White Paper published by Educause. Although I think I can define and describe what podcasting is to faculty members, this language from the first paragraph is really good:

“Podcasting is a means of publishing audio and video content on the web as a series of episodes with a common theme. These episodes are accompanied by a filed called a “feed” that allows listeners to subscribe to the series and receive new episodes automatically.”

Emphasizing that podcasts are differentiated from just posting audio/video files on the web by their subscription nature is an essential part of helping others understand what podcasts are and what they do.

Reading this article helped me better understand how and when an educator should use podcasts. For instance, if you are simply posting an audio and/or video file as a one-time, single-theme only file, then don’t waste your time creating it as a podcast. Simply compress the file for web delivery and publish it to a web server for access by the end user. The need to have it feed-enabled (so that someone can subscribe to it) is really not necessary. However, if you or your students are planning a series of audio/video files that have a common theme, then by all means create a podcast. That way, your users can subscribe to one feed and then be automatically notified when new episodes are available. They don’t have to really ever return to your website where you post the new episodes. Instead they can go to their feed service, such as iTunes, and download what they want to listen to/view.

While podcasting is big business in the corporate world (Think about it . . .if you can get people to WANT to subscribe to and listen to your content/advertising, wouldn’t this be a powerful medium?), podcasting is just beginning to be used in education. The most common use is the recording of lectures. While this is one of the easiest types of podcast to produce and deliver, questions are also attached to this form of podcasting. For instance, do students retain information better, perform better on tests, enjoy this type of delivery? Will this reduce the number of students who attend live lectures? Does the availability of podcast lectures “sacrifice important opportunities for students to learn practical lessons, like prioritization, organization, discipline, and personal responsibility?”

One of the many interesting findings from this research was that students view the recorded lectures as a review mechanism, not as a way to avoid having to attend classes. None of the studies reviewed reported a significant impact on overall attendance. Also, no studies to date have shown evidence of any effect, positive or negative, on student learning outcomes from listening to recorded lectures, even though students perceive that learning IS improved. Interesting.

Another fascinating finding was that most students did NOT listen to podcast lectures on a portable device, but rather on their own computers at home. At the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, for instance, 75% of students who downloaded media reported reviewing the files primarly from home on their computers. So, this insistence that podcasts can enable “mobile learning” might not be what is actually happening. Ironically, psychologists have discovered that “simultaneous processing,” or what we also call “multi-tasking,” diminishes performance with each additional task undertaken. There’s something else to consider when creating multimedia learning and how students access it. Hm . . .

There are some good examples of how podcasting has been used in educational settings, the most common being the recording of lectures, then the recording of pre-study materials before students attend a live lecture, the recording of auxiliary materials to assist learners with more difficult material, the recording of audio files as feedback to student work, and finally, student podcast production to complete assignments and/or to serve as assessments.

For example, students from a university English class on U.S. Fiction, 1945 to Present, were required to produce a “podcast pair” (2 five-minutes podcasts). In the first podcast, the student read a brief passage from a novel. In the second, the student was instructed to provide a discussion of that passage. All students were required to listen to several of their classmates’ podcasts related to the current reading assignment before coming to class. The instructors chose to use podcasts because they wanted to increase the dialog among students about cultural works, to engage the students in a dialogic interaction with their peers. Of course, embedded in this type of learning is the value of students developing technical competencies, listening and presentation skills, and “an understanding of how new media affect social and professional dialog.”

This article points to the necessity to increase our study of how podcasting affects teaching and learning. There just aren’t enough studies about the effects of podcasting to really know for sure what direction to take. As always, the instructional goals should be paramount in a teacher’s plan for learning. If the technology tool fits in with and enhances this goal, then it is probably valuable. How podcasting works best for education is still a work in progress.


2 thoughts on “Podcasting: More Questions than Answers

  1. Barbara, you are really right. And your title expresses my inner soul about podcasting. Surely all the fully phenomena and values but also problems and show stoppers will be delivered by time. But mentioning that ” How podcasting works best for education is still a work in progress.” hits the really point. Im my point of view one reason is, that it is hardly to explain how to construct a podcast-episode (show) as an part of an progress – and so hopely I got your title right: If i deliver just answers about a podcast, i will never earn participation and reactions. This is implicating a few things: First a view, that podcasting is more than the audio/video information delivery and thinking so: The whole technical environment is also associated to the podcast. This means the embedding Blog, perhaps an enriching WIKI also serves the podcasting structure.

    As a part of research i tried to visualize tis as a communication model here (http://www.uni-koblenz.de/~dkauwaer/blogline/wp-content/uploads/aspekte_der_kommunikation_3.pdf)

    with wishes from Koblenz, Germany
    Andreas Auwärter

    Perhaps additional: Recognizing that podcasting can be a part of progress and still work in progress opens a new field of how to handle (value) students results! There are new parameters coming up – waiting for being used, such like: How to participate in the process, how to communicate … 🙂
    And finally taking this point right to the truth: It frees students about repeating the wisdom and enables to transfer.


  2. You hit it right on. If you have one audio clip, don’t bother. There are tons of audio players (sonic memo, etc) that can put audio on the Internet. The hardest part of Podcasting is getting people to realize you do NOT need an ipod. I have people who burn my podcasts to CD to listen in their car. The power of Podcasting is the automatic delivery of content to your computer. Once on the computer the student can listen to it whenever they want (time shiftted is the buzz word), and if they do have a portable device – wherever they want.

    Dave Jackson


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