Podcasts, profcasts – research in Higher Ed

I spent an engaging afternoon at the University of Leicester on Tuesday (11th July,2006) with Gilly Salmon and her team, Ming Nie & Palitha Edirisingha – thanks for your time guys!!!

For those of you who already know Gilly’s work with e-Moderating & e-Tivities, then you will be excited to find out what Gilly is currently researching with regard to podcasting in Higher Education!
Gilly & her team are part of the Impala project – stands for: Informal Mobile Podcasting and Learning Adaption – investigating the impact of podcasting on student learning and how the beneficial effects can be postively enhanced – in higher education.

Although the use of audio is not new to education, the integration of MP3 files that can be downloaded by students onto their existing devices (22.5% of adults 15-24 yrs have a MP3 player) could provide a new dimension for content delivery, student engagement and motivation.
According to Gilly, there are already at least 20 experiments with podcasting in the UK alone – with very scarce number of studies, mainly describing small trials and case studies. Including an Australian pilot study (Chan & Lee 2005 from Charles Sturt Uni) found that informal, short podcasts could assist in reducing students’ anxieties and concerns about content and assessment.

The research project questions really focus on ensuring the value of the podcast to the students’ learning:

1) How does students’ learning supported by podcasting differ from their learning through structured campus or e-Learning processes? Does podcasting assist with student motivation? Is their learning more flexible, easier or successful?
2) What kinds of pedagogical applications can be developed for podcasting through MP3 players for students’ informal use within formal HE modules that work to enhance their learning?
3) Can students switch from using MP3 players for entertainment to learning?
4) What are the psychological, social and institutional barriers to and advantages of more informal learning using podcasting?

The project’s wiki (in Plone) is a fabulous resource and will be a great place to keep up with the research findings as they are released!

Some of the Impala pilot study findings will be presented in an upcoming research workshop (EDEN 2006, in Spain 25-28 October), including a proposed pedagogical model for educators.
A couple of selected points I’ve found really interesting:

  • most students listened while not engaged with any other learning activities [ABB: great – so we can gain & maintain their attention!]
  • most (55%) listened to podcasts off campus!
    a comment was made that a static place for listening was required so notes could be taken – "…he doubted he could walk and listen effectively!"
    The implication here was that perhaps the mode of listening to educational podcast/profcasts should be different to the type of listening students are used to – say music on their MP3 players!

A recommendation that evovled from the study was that the podcasts should be no longer than 8 – 10 minutes – bases on the concept that music tracks are approximately 4 – 5 minutes and change frequently. [ABB: This will require some really careful planning and scripting to ensure the podcast gets the intended message across succintly and effectively in a tight time frame!]

Another aspect the pilot study identified was the informal perspective that the students responded positively to – and….the fun….the model recommends a fun finish with some kind of related joke or humourous story getting great feedback from the participants!

For me, as a practitioner, the challenges of podcasting currently focus on the technical aspects:

  1. mastering audio software (I’m using Audacity) and all the new audio-technician jargon – including how I effectively record phone interviews and transfer these into Audacity and produce a quality podcast that doesn’t sound like … crap! and
  2. learning to think like a broadcaster and an educator – short, sharp, to the point and of value – I think the Impala proposed model is partly on it’s way to assisting with this process.

Some questions I still have:
1) Can a podcast uploaded into Blackboard contain RSS enclosures that will allow the students to subscribe to the feed through, say iTunes?
If I expect students to go to Blackboard and regularly download files…well, you can lead a horse to water…. however, if I can get them to subscribe and receive automatic downloads….then perhaps I can force them to think about listening!
2) Content of the podcast – What will students find engaging? Useful? Add value to their learning? If we, as educators, don’t address these issues – then why would they bother to listen?
I have asked my students this question – what would they listen to? – and they’re still thinking about it! 🙂
I see value where the podcast can be a review of content (particularly for the international students that don’t have English as a first language and could gain from a revised/overview version of a class); an introduction to the next topic – related to their readings/research; as a supplement to the content – perhaps an interview with an expert; and as Ming suggested to me – as a review of the assessment task that includes FAQ or answers to their questions.

Interestinly – I also asked my students at the same time how they would respond to sms messages/alerts from me (their lecturer) – and….they were incensed that I would even consider invading their personal communication space with reminders about assignment deadlines or other matters related to their subjects….
Looks like podcasts might be acceptable – but I’m steering clear of sms for the moment! 🙂

Great afternoon – thanks Gilly & gang!