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Start talking at the back! How podcasting is making the classroom a richer place part 2


Andrew Middleton and Graham McElearney conclude their feature on the possibilitites of podcasting.

Voice before technology

Some of the best applications for digital audio have been implemented by teachers with no previous interest in learning technology. This can be seen in the development of audio feedback for example. Audio feedback techniques are varied, but common to them all is the idea of user-generated content; a concept often associated with sites such as YouTube where communities have grown around common interests because digital hardware like camcorders have made it so easy to post digital media to the world. By harnessing the same accessible 'red button' technologies (the red button for 'record' is all you have to understand), educators are able to respond personally, meaningfully and in timely fashion to student assignments. Used in combination with more objective assessment grids, for example, this digital audio tutor-student connectivity is not only easy to do, but a powerful tool for formative engagement. The recent 'A word in your ear' conference on audio feedback revealed how students and staff value the connectivity afforded by the recorded voice, noting that it re-established a tangible sense of caring that written feedback is not able to achieve.
"By harnessing the same accessible 'red button' technologies (the red button for 'record' is all you have to understand), educators are able to respond personally, meaningfully and in timely fashion to student assignments."
When the mp3 recorder is in the hands of the learner the technique of 'audio notes' reveals that the learner will seek out the voices that are significant to them. Studies at Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Sheffield found that students recorded formal situations such as lectures and tutorials, but also recorded less formal conversations. Impromptu 'corridor conversations', for example, were deemed as particularly significant, whilst recorders on bedside tables captured 'middle of the night ideas' for academic projects which may otherwise have vanished with the night. In more recent work, the same techniques are now being introduced by undergraduate students to school students in Sheffield. The use of audio summaries is a similar technique, in which student peer groups are asked to use the voice recording tools on their phones to record a summary conversation following lectures. These recordings are then shared with peers via email or with the whole cohort through the virtual learning environment.
A technique that originated in schools that has been embraced by colleges and universities is the idea of the student-generated podcast assignment. This group-based project recognises how the familiar radio programme structure creates an exciting and useful framework for presenting the results of project work. The breadth of the assignment engages those who enjoy making media, being responsible for technology, writing scripts, interviewing people and presenting. Collectively students in groups have responsibility for each other and to their other classmates too. As with other types of project work, students have something to show for their efforts, and that output inevitably involves a lot of humour somewhere along the way.

It's good to talk

These approaches, and many others, are possible because the technology is so accessible to all of us. Often there is not need for editing, so all that is required is the press of a red button to start and stop a recorder. Audio recorders are widely available too. Free audio software such as Audacity is all you need if planning to record or edit on a PC. Apple Macs come with Garageband pre-installed. Like Audacity, this has a simple interface allows you to record and layer tracks. This means it is easy to assemble various sources of audio, such as a collection of interview recordings and some title music for example.
Away from the PC, generally affordable mp3 recording devices are available allowing the act of recording to travel to where the act of learning is taking place. Perhaps the most important development in recent years is the availability of voice memo recording technology on mobile phones. Whilst the term 'voice memo' is targeted at the business user, the quality of such applications is often excellent, whether these digital audio recording devices are in the hands of staff or students.

Rights and wrongs: copyright and ethics

It's important to note that, as with the introduction of other digital technologies to the classroom, the advent of classroom podcasting brings some ethical and legal concerns. These will be clear to any responsible teacher, but it is worth noting that the development of digital literacy skills may be an initial unexpected outcome of any venture into educational podcasting. "What is copyright and where can you find suitable music to add to your project?" is a good topic for classroom discussion, as is "When is it not right to record someone or publish the recording to YouTube?" is a fantastic resource for those looking for music with a Creative Commons licence, and the EdTechRoundup podcast, produced by teachers from UK schools, is a good starting point for information on suitable release forms and ethics.

Designing educational podcasts

Educational podcasts are often opportunistic, making the most of available resources and situations. Visitors to the school, parents and friends, people from local industry or services can all be brought into the classroom in voice and spirit - even if they can't spare the time to attend in body.
"Developing skills and experience as a community can provide a useful strategy for underpinning more academic work. "
But sometimes a more designed approach needs to be taken. Student podcast projects, for example, may benefit from the use of a planning tool that requires them to come up with a title, a description and format, the sources they will use in their research and a list of the voices they will use. They may even be expected to plan out their use of equipment and come up with a skills development strategy and plan.
For teachers, it can be useful to design podcasts together to come up with ideas that will excite the listener and to give each other support, especially in the early days. Developing skills and experience as a community can provide a useful strategy for underpinning more academic work. An ideal way to go about this is to establish a school podcast channel. Not only can this provide a safe place to learn, but once you are up and running, it can provide a real focus on school activity inside school and for the community beyond if you wish.
You can read part 1 here

Andrew Middleton is a senior lecturer in creative development, part of the Learning & Teaching Institute at Sheffield Hallam University. Graham McElearney is a learning technologist at The University of Sheffield's department of Corporate Information and Computing Services. Both Andrew and Graham are leading members of the Media-Enhanced Learning Specific Interest Group, a UK network of academics and educational developers funded by the Higher Education Academy. Both are also active members of ALT, the Association for Learning Technology


A Word in Your Ear conference website
Audacity - The Free, Cross-Platform Sound Editor
Lee, M.J.W., McLoughlin, C. and Chan, A. (2008) Talk the talk: Learner-generated podcasts as catalysts for knowledge creation. British Journal of Educational Technology 39(3) pp.501–21
Oxford University Press (2005) 'Podcast" is the Word of the Year
Rossiter, A. Nortcliffe, A., Griffin, A., and Middleton, A. (2009) Using student generated audio to enhance learning.  Journal of the Higher Education Academy Engineering Subject Centre.
Sutton-Brady, C. , Scott, K. M. , Taylor, L., Carabetta, G. and Clark, S. (2009) The value of using short-format podcasts to enhance learning and teaching. ALT-J, 17(3) pp.219 — 232

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