How a podcasting program led instructors to creative new approaches to teaching

Introduction

Engage is a program offered through the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Division of Information Technology. Engage partners with members of the campus community to adapt, create, and integrate new and emerging information technologies in instruction. Podcasting was selected by the campus community of educational technology support staff as a theme for the Engage program, and during 2006-2007, Engage provided 90 instructors with a podcasting award. The award included funds to purchase equipment and consultations with educational technology support staff.

Podcasting was defined for instructors as a technology that allowed students to receive course materials through the convenient, RSS-based subscription mode and listen to them anywhere, anytime. The goal of the podcasting theme was to enable instructors to experiment with audio modes of learning. Audio has the power to capture and focus attention, helping learners acquire content and process complex information (Bishop, Amankwatia, and Cates, 2008). Furthermore, informal, personalized audio presentations are thought to create a feeling of social presence that helps learners integrate new information with their existing knowledge (Moreno and Mayer, 2004). A section of the program's website provided instructors with ideas for designing educational podcasts that capitalized on these benefits of audio.

Results

  1. Ease of podcasting

    Instructors found recording, editing, and publishing audio podcast episodes to be relatively easy.  Most used Audacity to record and edit audio and iTunes U (Apple Corporation) to publish their podcast.


    Students rated course podcasts as easy to use. However, counter to our expectations, most of them preferred to download podcast files one by one rather than use an RSS-based subscription method available to them. This trend has been noted at other universities (Hew, 2009 and Lee, Miller, Newnham, 2009).

  2. Creativity and rewards

    The novelty of podcasting as a way to reach students encouraged instructors to be creative with audio for learning.  Some instructors used podcasting as a way to provide recordings of lectures to students. However, many more experimented with podcasting as a way to expose students to additional course content in engaging formats.  They created course podcasts that were mock radio programs, case studies, and interviews with national and international figures.  Still others used podcasting as a method for delivering course audio files or assigned students to create podcast presentations for their class. These varied pedagogical strategies were used by instructors across all disciplines.

Table 1: Types of Podcasts
Type Description Number of courses
Lecture Supplements Instructor-created materials (audio, video, enhanced audio) that extend topics covered in lecture. These include mock-radio shows, case studies, interviews with experts, introduction or elaboration of concepts covered in lecture. 48
Lectures Audio or video recordings of in-class lectures or video, audio, or enhanced virtual lectures delivered outside class time 15
Sounds Audio recordings of bird songs, lung/heart sounds, orchestra rehearsals, musical performance 11
Student Presentations Audio or enhanced presentations created and recorded by students 5
Other Other types of audio files delivered as a course podcast 10

     

     

    An unanticipated reward for instructors came in the form of publicity. The program attracted attention from the news reporters who were interested in the innovative ways podcasting was being used by instructors. Numerous articles and reports about the program, including several by local television stations and newspapers, added to excitement about podcasting on campus and brought recognition for instructors.

  1. Impact on teaching and learning

    Most students reported that using their course podcasts enhanced their learning. Students used them in a variety of ways, from studying for exams to satisfying curiosity, but most often to clarify and review what was covered in class, a finding similar to that noted by others (McKinney, Dyck, and Luber, 2009).


    Some instructors found evidence of learning gains by students who used the course podcast, which encouraged them to continue with their podcasting efforts. Others found that podcasting enabled them to provide course materials in formats that were a good match with students' learning styles and study habits at home and out in the field, in the case of students in an ornithology class.

    At the end of the second year of the Engage podcasting program, we ramped down financial support for instructors. However, the expertise gained by technology consultants in the program allowed them to continue to provide instructional and technical support to instructors interested in podcasting.

    The impact of the podcasting program on instructors exceeded our expectations. Two to three years following their participation in the program, over 40% of instructors indicated that they were still using podcasting and that it had changed the way they teach.  These transformations included allowing them to shift from lectures to more participatory formats during class, to create new types of assignments, and to use other types of technology more effectively.  Several continued to add new episodes to their existing podcast, creating an "archive" of course materials for re-use each semester. Nearly 30% indicated they had communicated about the pedagogical benefits of podcasting in publications and presentations to peers.

Conclusions

Our podcasting program had transformative effects on teaching and learning across a spectrum of courses and disciplines.  We believe this occurred because three key factors aligned:

  1. technologies (principally Audacity and iTunes U) with relatively low barriers for both instructors and students that harnessed the power of audio for teaching and learning
  2. support for instructors by a group of technology consultants who provided help with both technology and pedagogical approaches  
  3. motivations and rewards, such as  funds for equipment and unanticipated attention from news media, that drove instructors to innovate with podcasting even beyond the scope of the awards program.

The Engage program's model for sustainability is to support instructors in their teaching and also to develop the resources within the IT support community on campus to provide long-term support for instructors.  While funding for the podcasting awards was only for two years, instructors are still leveraging these IT resources and the support community to develop new podcasts for instruction. The Engage program has moved on to fund projects in collaborative technologies for group learning and games and simulations for learning, and is now looking at supporting a program on student generated content.

References

Bishop, MJ, Amankwatia, TB, and Cates, WM (2008) Sound’s Use in Instructional Software to Enhance Learning: A Theory-to-Practice Content Analysis. Educational Technology Research & Development, 56, 467-486.

Hew, KF (2009) Use of Audio Podcast in K-12 and Higher Education: A Review of Research Topics and Methodologies. Education Technology Research and Development, 57, 333-357.

Lee, MJW, Miller, C, and Newnham, L (2009) Podcasting Syndication Services and University Students: Why Don’t They Subscribe?  Internet and Higher Education, 12, 53-59.

McKinney, D, Dyck, JL, and Luber, ES (2009) iTunes University and the Classroom: Can Podcasts Replace Professors? Computers and Education, 52, 617-613.

Moreno, R and Mayer, RE (2004) Personalized Messages That Promote Science Learning in Virtual Environments. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(1), 165-173.