Podcasting Update – One Week Later

February 23, 2008 at 8:15 am (podcasting)

I came across another article this week called There’s Something in the Air: Podcasting in Education (2005) by Gardner Campbell which gave me pause for thought.  I decided to quote and reflect or respond to some parts as it provided a new and different perspective on what I learned about podcasting last week. 

Campbell’s article opens with a description of a student using podcasts in her school day, to prepare for class as well as present.  It reviews the history of podcasting as well as some of the basics of how to do it.  In discussing the place of podcasting in schools, Campbell says:

“There are many good reasons for acquiring at least rudimentary skills in “rich media” (or “multimedia”) authoring.  More and more students come to school with these skills.  This is a langauge they not only understand but use, often on a daily basis.  Some of them have been blogging, shooting and editing video, creating Flash animations, mainipulating photographs, and recording digital audio for years.  These are the tools of their native expressiveness, and with the right guidance and assignments, they can use these tools to create powerful analytical and synthetic work.  Yet even such digitally fluent students need to learn to manipulate their multimedia languages well, with conceptual and critical acumen, and we in higher education do them a disservice if we exclude their creative digital tools from their education.”

Even though Campbell’s focus is on post-secondary education, I still believe that is is relevent to primary and secondary schools.  I can’t help but think of all the people I see “plugged-in” to their iPods or other personal music players or multimedia devices.  This isn’t just at my school but people of all ages everywhere I go, at the university or riding the LRT to Teachers’ Convention or even grocery shopping at Sobey’s.  There are many possibilities for students to use podcasts to demonstrate critical literacy and learning, however, this must be modelled for them.  They can’t be expected to do it without instruction.  Campbell goes on to discuss just how powerful podcasting audio can be. 

Consciousness is most persuasively and intimately communicated via voice. . . . Photographs are undeniably powerful, and perhaps a picture is worth a thousand words, but a few words uttered by a dear voice may be worth the most of all.   

Podcasting is made even more powerful because  “. . . the persistence of content is potentially greater (yesterday’s podcast may be more worth preserving than yesterday’s newspaper) . . .”.  Further, quoting from Philadelphia Daily News, “Podcasting, done the right way, can . . . make newspaper sound like a human being.”  Students and teachers communicate their passions from their heart, “stressing the affective dimension” (my emphasis).  This can’t help but make me thing about reflection as the centre of inquiry

One of my blog posts I entitled “Podcast Consumer” not becasue I came across it in my reading and research but because I had been talking about producers and consumers with my social class.  Campbell provided some food for thought regarding this post’s title. 

“Many writers call podcast listeners “consumers” and speak of the activity as “comsuming content,” but that metaphor denies the delicate, responsive human interaction that characterizes the best communication, indeed the best listening and reading.”

When I was referring to podcast listeners as consumers I thought of it in the sense of active and critical listening of the podcast, participating by responding in one’s mind to what is heard, commenting or emailing.  I didn’t consider how this label or title could be misinterpreted or require further explanation.  I just assumed it was a given. 

My students and I were reading a book together this week, one that had illustrations with captions.  One student said she would rather not have the pictures as she likes the pictures in her mind better.  Our discussion reminded me of how Campbell describes the abilty of “a voice [to] create a theater of the mind [that] can connect with the listener on a profound level.  The theatre of the mind can be both compelling and transformative, often far more than anything witnessed visually.”  While I love this description, it implies that students see the images which may not be the case.  I think it also somewhat under estimates the power of pictures for those who are visual learners.  We can’t paint everyone with the same brush, thinking that audio will be as beneficial for everyone.  We all have different learning styles and preferences.  What works for one may not work as well for another which is why differentiation is important.  To focus on audio would be to the exclusion of other media types to suit different learners. 

The podcast is also influenced by the relationship with the person creating it and the quality of the voice.

“There’s also considerable value in what I call “the explaining voice,” the voice that performs understanding.  The explaining voice doesn’t just convey information; it shapes, out of a shared atmosphere, an intimate drama of cognitive action in time.  The explaining voice conveys microcues of hesitation, pacing, and inflection that demonstrate both cognition and metacognition.  When we hear someone read with understanding, we participate in that understanding, almost as if the voice is enacting our own comprehension.  In other words, the explaining voice trains the ear to listen not just for meaning but for evidence of the thought that generates meaning.”

This passage describes the benefits of the nuances of audio but it is dependent on active listening.  If the person is hearing but not listening, this will not happen.  Further, because the person is reading the text, they are demonstrating the skills of a good reader to phrase, pause and add inflection which I believe to be different from lecturing from an outline. 

One of Campbell’s colleagues is critical of the benefits of audio, “[insisting] that audio is a poor channel for conveying information to learners because the learner cannot control the pace.  The listener is at the mercy of the speaker’s tempo.”  Campbell counters with:

“Perhaps it is sometimes a good thing for the learner not to control the tempo, particularly if one wants to lead the learner away from habitual patterns of perception and cognition.  Perhaps listening attentively to the pace of another mind, revealed in voice, can help train the learner to be more attentive generally.  One can listen to a podcast with “half an ear” just as easily as one can skim a written text, but in the case of podcast, it is more difficult to believe that one has actually attended to the words.  Moreover, effective listening is no less crucial a skill than effective speaking, and even if the learner cannot control the tempo of the speaker’s delivery, with a podcast he or she can listen again and again, in whole or in part, and thereby grow more practiced in listening.  Listening is an activity.  No good listener is passive.”

To assist reluctant or struggling readers, we sometimes have them listen to audio books (to begin) or listen and follow along in the text (after getting comfortable with listening).  Some audio books come at a slower speed.  Once students are able to keep up with this slower pace, they move on to the ones that read at a quicker pace.  Students who previously read very slow aloud quicken their read aloud pace after having this practice which speaks to the creation of new habits to which Campbell alludes.  However, if something is read aloud too quickly, I know I tune out.  If I am persisting with a topic I will listen to it again but if it is not necessary I won’t bother.  While audio books aren’t quite the same as podcasts (although I wonder if you could subscribe to an author’s latest audio book though a site like audible.com), comparisons can be made since they are both dependent on the skill of listening.  


Campbell paints a much rosier picture of the use of iPods in schools than the one in the picture above.  At first I thought it was a student watching a vidcast/vodcast of a class that went along with the book reading.  When I read the description, I found out they were watching Arrested Development.  While I do agree that podcasts have great potential, I do wonder about the potential for misuse of the iPod technology in class and school.  Despite efforts to increase engagement, it could be a cover for inattention which highlights the importance of teaching students how the technology can be used to help them learn rather than isolate themselves and tune out. 

I came across another irony of podcasting – the comparison of an MP3 player to a transistor radio (Campbell quoting Udell) so I thought I would end with these images provides another example of how communication has chagned. 

transistorradio.jpg ipodlineup.jpg

Image Citations:
“Studying for class.” Jake Bourna. 6 Mar 2006. 23 Feb 2008 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jakebouma/109039319/.>
“Funk Machine.” Monocrome. 25 Oct 2005. 23 Feb 2008 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmonochrome/54715315/.>
“iPod Lineup.” Dan Taylor. 1 Nov 2005. 23 Feb 2008 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/dantaylor/58703002/.>



  1. Linda said,

    I liked the idea of giving the newspaper a human voice. And I empathize with the student who preferred her own visuals to the pictures books often supply…..I often prefer the pictures in my mind…..and the same thing holds true for me for audio. I listen to audio books alot and I love certain readers (Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain is a favorite) but really get turned off by other voices.

    Loved the juxtaposition of the radio and the MP3 – reminds me of rotary dial vs cell phones; one of my colleagues actually still uses a rotary dial phone in her home. She reports that some kids visiting her daughter have no idea how to use her phone!

  2. Val said,

    Hi Arlene:
    I am always inspired when reading and viewing your blog. Your knowledge, creativity and use of Web tools inspires, educates, and I must admit at times intimidates me. Thanks for heading me to “There’s something in the air, podcasting in education by Garnder Campbell, it was a thought provoking article.

  3. Ronda said,

    Hi Arlene,

    Your list of terminology (podcast lingo) is an important factor in demystifying podcasting. It is extremely helpful!

    Your extensive investigation into podcasting is revealed in some very insightful comments. I liked your first blog which pointed out the irony of this new technology likened to that of an “old time radio show.” But I really liked the quotation you included about how good podcasting can make newspaper sound like a human being. It is a powerful medium which has a greater impact than print alone!

    Great blogs!

  4. Jennifer said,

    I agree with your colleagues. You do inspire others with your details and thoughtfulness in each blog.

  5. elizabeth said,

    You have included so many interesting ideas in this blog and I know I will be back to visit it again and again. Thanks for the references to this article, it is very thought provoking. I like how you have pointed out how powerful listening can be but also how the auditory learning style is not for all learners. What an amazing tool we have in the MP3 player though, finally something to help us reach those auditory learners. I love your pictures, technology has come such a long way in a very short time.

  6. My Vision for VoiceThread Part 2 « InfoTech4Lrng said,

    […] experiences.  If I combine that experience with what I learned about the power of podcasting (see Podcasting Update – One Week Later) and our discussion about the changing nature of literacy to encompass digital, technological, […]

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