Podcasting as Part of the Learning Process

Preparing for my Talk on Tuesday at CET to the NITLE IT Leaders of the Mid-Atlantic Region

Here Are the Talk Notes

Yesterday over dinner with a friend and our daughters, she told us about a project an old friend of hers had embarked on–to bring radios and via them, children’s and educational programming to Africa. It sounds like a fabulous idea, I said, and one to be teamed up with the MIT Media Lab’s $100 computer initiative also aimed at children in developing countries. It’s terrific for children to have access to educational programming–but let them create that programming? Podcasting? Through Pierre Levy’s collective intelligence or George Siemens’constructivism, we can see the shifts to creating knowledge spaces through connecting to and collaborating with others, which requires a two-way means of communication.

Take the untapped potential of podcasting in the classroom, for example. Looking around the blogosphere, conference proceeedings, and the mainstream media lately, it’s clear that podcasting is all the rage, and for good reason–what a great way to save and archive talks, create radio shows, disseminate and recycle lectures. And with the new video iPODS increasing incentive to capture visuals, then we’ll have more snippets like the one of Nancy White on blogs or D’Arcy Norman on NMC 2005. What I don’t see much of –yet–is classroom use of podcasts beyond capturing lectures or presentations. Students are primarily listening to podcasts in language classes and lecture courses, or they are producers of full-fledged presentations or talk shows. I’m sure there are people using them in ways Peter Meng outlined last year (summarized by Robin Good), but they must be keeping these good works to themselves, behind firewalls. I’d like to see what other people are doing.

Just as I’ve been playing around with integrating digital storytelling and multimedia narrative into academic essays (see some of the ones my students made a couple of years ago in my first-year seminar, Contemporary Ireland through Fiction and Film : A project on language in the North, and one on Street Art in the North) and as a way for students to examine the writing process and the elements of an essay, especially the relationship of the parts to the whole (voice, image, pacing, structure, etc), I’ve been exploring ways of using iPODS as active tools in the hands of the writer, the presenter, THE LEARNER . I am interested in my students making podcasts in a variety of learning situations in addition to (or largely in lieu of) downloading podcasts others have made. Of course listening has its place, too, and I am all for that kind of podcast or webcast–but it is only a first step, one possibility among many and if not used carefully within a course, can smack of passive learning –students ingesting information and doing very little meaningful with it.

Last spring I experimented with creative writing students using my iPOD to record themselves reading their writing aloud and then someone else in the class reading it as well as a way to study their work, to examine the gaps between their understanding of their own poetry and someone else’s interpretation through voice and inflection, pauses and stresses. I also had my Writing Workshop II read short excerpts from the novels we were studying and respond to them, then have classmates listen to the podcasts and respond to them in writing. We talked in class about the differences between spoken and written language, between the kinds of ideas that are stirred up when we speak rather than write them. It’s one thing to discuss these concepts in class; it’s quite another thing altogether to hear and see the differences in one’s own work. I encouraged them to use iPODs, if they had them, to use when they felt stuck on an idea in a paper. I encouraged them to listen back to their papers read aloud. I encouraged them to play around with the iPOD as a learning device. Last April I blogged the experience.

Some examples from last spring’s experiments:
From the Writing Workshop: Victoria reads and responds to a passage from Terry Tempest Williams; her reading prompted a flurry of comments.
From the Creative Writing class: A discussion on the pleasures of reading aloud
Bradley reading his poem
Two students reading the same poem

This semester I’ve been lucky enough to have every student in my Writing Workshop class have use of an iPOD for the entire course. From the first week I had them use them in a variety of ways–to download whatever they wanted for their own listening pleasure (and this ties into my post on time yesterday in which I wrote about how social software helps me move fluidly, naturally between work and home, between class and writing, between all the calls upon my time. I figured that if the students used the iPODS for pleasure as well as for work, perhaps they would see the significance of being alert to learning in all the places of their lives–connecting, connecting); to read aloud excerpts from the assigned reading and then talk about why they chose those passages:

to record one-minute summaries of their research:

or to give brief summaries of the paper-in-progress as a way for them to test how well they can articulate their thinking on the topic:

to use them to record interviews for their research papers:
(Yina interviewing a local apple farmer–note the iPOD with iTALK in her hand);
to record reflections on the strengths and weaknesses of their essays–

to record talking ideas over with the teacher:

. At this, mid-point of the semester, they have done a good deal of recording and embedding onto the blogs and are now comfortable using the iPOD as a tool of expression, of idea capturing, of processing and reflecting. During the next half of the semester, they will start commenting on one another’s podcasts, noting the characteristics of each other’s speech versus writing and working on formal oral presentations. I’ve also encouraged them to use podcasting in their other classes, as ways to organize and study material, to practice speaking for their foreign language classes (then listening to themselves and making corrections). Embedding “drafts” of their oral presentations offers opportunities for peer feedback, for self-review. How do we know how we sound if we can never hear ourselves? It’s a meta-reflective practice as well as a way to generate ideas, enter into conversation and become more polished presenters of our ideas orally and in writing.

I see these intensive, small uses of podcasting as immensely useful as clips within their essays as well as through their writing and reflection process. They can embed excerpts of their interviews–or oral readings of a poem being analyzed–right into the Web-based documents, letting the reader hear the voices of the people interviewed or the sound of lines from a play, just as my student Suzie did years ago with video clips of an interview serving as hotlinked footnotes within her Web-based profile of a local artist (she has since taken the piece off the Web), just as my student Amanda did in her comparative analysis of poems by Irish poets, a multi-media essay that won her runner-up prize in Middlebury’s contest for first-year students. If we have the know-how to embed speech and video right into our papers, why hand onto the written quotation from our interviews? Why not get creative if the outcome is effective learning and enthusiastic students?

I guess this means I should, from time to time, when it makes sense to get out of my clack-clacking on the keyboard and into my speaking voice, try out a few podcasts on this here blog. And I plan to keep sniffing about the blogosphere for effective, innovative ways to use podcasting, webcasting in the classroom. Already I’d like to try skypecasting with my Abroad Bloggers from time to time, to talk about the experience in real time, with a chat room on the side, the way Dave and Jeff are doing with their edtechtalks.

The only trouble with all of this is trying to wrestle the iPODS away from my students in another month…