How Can We Use Podcasts In Schools?

February 17, 2008 at 3:36 pm (podcasting)

In SLJ article “iDream…stuDreams…with podcasting” (March, 2006), Amy Bowllan provides many ideas for podcasting in school.  The ideas she shares actually come from Georgia College & State University students or iDreamers.  My favorites are student created tours, library orientations, library how-tos, places to see and things to do in your community and oral histories, including school alumni, enhanced with images or video.  We want to start small so that it is manageable, however, it is okay to dream big. 

In Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, Will Richarson builds on some of these ideas suggesting recording on location using an MP3 player with recording capability on a field trip.  This way students can demonstrate their learning in real time complete with their reactions and reflections.  Students could also conduct interviews or reenactments on location or back at school.  Teachers or students could record their narration of a lab or disection for students who were absent to hear or for other students to review or relive later.  Evening band concerts could be podcasted for those who cannot attend.   

Just like the adults in their life, students can be both consumers and producers of podcasts.  They could listen to Nancy Keane’s booktalks or create their own.  I like Will Richarson’s ideas of having staff and students talking about their favorite books, featured library books, new additions, author interviews or discussions with people in other locations (think authors or students) using Skype.  I’m going to think about where I can put an MP3 player booktalk station like the listening stations at HMV that are always lined up with young people waiting to listen. 

I know these ideas work because Lisa Parisi talks about them in “A Little Help From My Friends.”  In addition to podcasting book reviews, monthly newsletter of class events, guest speakers, student fieldtrip commentaries and class discussions, Parisi talks about how beneficial it has been for special needs students who may take the lead in a group.  Further Parisi say’s that podcasts “[demonstrate] the brilliance of children when given the chance to speak into a mic.  Editing is not of the utmost importance….Just raw talent.”  As suggested in Topic 2: Professional Development “learning from reading about the experiences of others is very powerful.”  For me, the examples of others are very convincing that the benefits of providing students with the opportunity to create and share for real far-reaching audience outweigh the costs, particularly the initial time investement required to learn how to podcast.  Now that I know how, I’m sure it would be much quicker and I would be able to teach others quickly as well. 

I love Brian Kenney’s suggestion to podcast poetry.  Students could share a favorite poem or their original poetry.  Each student’s short audio recording would be a great way to start before taking on something larger.  Students could also reflect on why the poem is a favorite or what inspired them to write.  We could have a virutal poetry cafe or virtual writers’ cafe, sharing pieces created during Writers Workshop.  Mr Mayo’s podcast page, part of a larger Brandon Online Magazine, provides ideas and a suggestion for podcast sharing and archiving.  Bob Sprankle has a similar podcast page.  From what I’ve read, Typepad appears to be the only blogging tool that allows you to embed audio effortlessly for free.  I wish I’d known that earlier!  In this case, according to Will Richarson the blog RSS feed and audio RSS feed are one in the same. 

I loved learning about volcanos at Radio Willowweb Willowcast and I’m sure the students did too, while creating it, listening to it, reviewing information and sharing with friends and family from near and far.  This is only one example of a student produced Willowcast radio show that includes a did you know, poetry corner and vocabulary theatre segment all on the same topic.  Students are very articulate communicators, using the vocabularly of a radio broadcast and incorporating transitional music.  This movie shows students from a different school describing how they create their podcast.  Watching it is a learning experience in itself.  My favorite part was seeing the student walking around the classroom with an MP3 player.  I wonder what he was listening to?  This image from Ontario resource Podcasts in Education demonstrates some of items students could podcast or combine into an online radio show.

There are so many skills and process used when creating a podcast or an online radio show.  Students use writing process when brainstorming, revising and editing their outline or script.  The audience needs must be considered.  What will the audience find interesting?  How can we present our learning in the most interesting way?  What does the audience need to know to be able to understand?  How should it be organized?  How can we use transitions to unify our presentation?  Writing process is intimately intertwined with the reading process as the script is added to and rearranged while students engage in group processing of providing suggestions, feedback and involve everyone in their group.

It only makes sense to broadcast online rather than expensive traditional radio shows because it provides the benefit of time shift – selecting and listening any place, any time – which can only serve to increase listenership.  If your students really get into it, it would be worth investing in a podcast utility such as iPodcast Producer.  I like the script utility which allows you to import a text or rtf file that will appear on the screen as a teleprompter!  You can also see the students using sound boards in the movie I mentioned above.  The part I wonder about is how much time their teacher spends putting it all together which was alluded to with his coffee drinking late nights.       

Benefits of Podcasting (in no particular order)
1. Time Shifting – Podcasts can be selected by users around the clock to download to a computer or a portable device.  They can be used for review (“studycasts“) or to catch up.  (As Jess said, she’ll never miss another episode of “Sounds Like Canada” on CBC Radio again . . . unless it infringes on copyright and they aren’t able to post it!)
2.  Differentiation – Podcasts allow us to differentiate as they can engage students who prefer to learn by listening.  Students could also follow along in text or images.  Image or video enhanced podcasts also engage visual learners. 
3. Audience – Podcasts allow listeners or producers to listen to or share locally or globally.
4.  Variety of Purposes – Podcasts can be informal or formal, for learning or for teaching, for fun or for academics
5. Diversity of Topics – Podcasts can be found for every school subject area or personal interest.  There are also podcasts geared towards young people.  They can be school related like these Audio Notes from Mrs. Oakes’ (mp3) student reflections (or self-interview – I’ve never heard that one before) on a standardized test.  Students learned how to use GarageBand and reflected all in 45 minutes.  (I think there is a political agenda in this example but it is still interesting to listen.)
6. Motivation and Empowerment – Because students are podcasting for a wide audience, it is motivating and empowering (Braun, L.W. (2007).  Teens, technology and literacy; Or, why bad grammar isn’t always bad.) 

Podcast Drawbacks 
1. Time Commitment – Unlike text which you can skim and scan, you must listen to it to see if it is what you are looking for.
2. Pace – might be too fast or too slow. 
3. Tone – may not be to your tastes.
4. Accents – may interfere with understanding, particularly for students who are not used to it.
5. Quality – there is a wide range of quality; “Cracks and pops, obscure music, and “ums” and “ahs” are all part of the podcast genre….Try not to let production value overwhelm what might be really interesting content” (Will Richardon (2006), Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts).
6. Attendance – while some thought attendance would decrease as university lectures became available online, this has not been the case. In some cases students are less likely to drop out because they are able to keep up (PodcuateMe).

Important Things to Remember
1.  Podcasts can be used to engage students in a new topic, build prior knowledge, introduce concepts, review or provide enrichment and extension of the curriculum (Adam and Mowers). 
2. Podcasting, like other web 2.0 tools, are just that: tools to help us do something better or do something we couldn’t do before. 
3. Podcasts do not replace good teaching. 
4. As Diane Chen says, podcasts can be “a way to involve students in higher level thinking skills to assess their own process and products while communicating with others.”
5. “Even today, do not assume that your students already know how to download and listen to podcasts.  If you’re going to use the medium in your classroom, always provide written instructions to students describing what a podcast is and how they can obtain them.”
6.  Model and teach students about the ethics of information and the different types of copyright when using and creating podcasts. 


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