Brief Talk about Using iPODS to Teach and to Learn

I’m not really covering new territory here–I have written a couple of posts about how I use iPODS in my classes (here and here), but in case someone might find this brief sketch useful, here’s the talk.

Exploring Pedagogies and Tools Series of Faculty Workshops at Middlebury College, June 9 2006

Teaching with Audio, iPODS and More Workshop and Presentation
Deb Ellis, Barbara Ganley, Gloria Gonzales-Zenteno and Jay West

BG’s Bit: Using iPODs to Teach and to Learn

With the digital natives coming to our doors plugged into their iPODS, why not use iPODS to listen to thought-provoking talk and to produce such talk about our subject matter?

A chemistry professor at Bryn Mawr podcasts her lectures and then puts them online on her blog, so students can listen whenever they like, downloading them through iTUNES

Colgate podcasts interviews with professors and administrators about their fields of research.

Many classrooms pull in audio, as Jay does, of music, historical speeches, writers reading from their own work, etc. to bring to life what was once an auditory experience, and to examine the role of sound and voice in expression.

That brings me to reasons to put the iPODS into the hands of the students themselves as a tool for research (as Deb has shown), for language learning (as Gloria has shown) and for developing skills of presentation and discussion, extending the process of generating ideas and critical thinking beyond the written word and group discussion, and for reflection as meta-learning.

Third-graders are podcasting shows and lessons grounded directly in the material they are covering for class, be it spelling lessons, science experiments, first ventures into history.: See Bob Sprankle’s classroom, for example.

Art history classes are going out into the museums and creating their own guided tours of collections.

Other classes are recording birdsongs, or scientific processes, debates, mock trials, all manner of formal and informal presentations.

In my writing classes, each student has an iPOD and iTALK to use however they want during that semester (I am all about integrating all parts of a student’s life instead of separating the formal learning experiences from the rest of life), but also to do specific things that will be embedded onto their blogs:
See this earlier post for an overview :

–Interviews as Research, and interviews of one another about their projects
–Talking about their ideas and listening back (precursor to dictating)
–Reflections on their own work and process (including reflections on their oral presentations)
–Lessons for the class recorded for future classes
–Summaries of the research—oral abstracts as ways to test the clarity of the thinking and the strength of a thesis. I have them do this privately and then publicly, recording both versions so they can see the difference between reading something aloud and having to memorize it or present it on the spot. (Not only does this help them develop their presenting skills, it underscores the importance of really knowing what they’re talking about, using examples, specific details, developing ideas in depth and then articulating them succinctly)
–Reading their work and that of others aloud to listen to how voice influences meaning.

I’m interested in students growing their skills as presenters and discussers; in examining the role of point of view and voice in their learning; in gaining an understanding and appreciation for levels and kinds of discourse; in seeing that learning is both a social act, as John Dewey and Paolo Freire tell us, and a solitary act –and how oral expression can be as helpful as writing to develop arguments.

That all of these files are archived on our course blog means that they can return again and again to their own recordings AND those of others ( the benefits of peer-to-peer learning), and they become archives for future classes to learn from as they prepare their own presentations and interviews and oral reflections. (Knowing that other people will listen to these files makes the learning relevant and real).

Some students have gone on to embed audio files right into their research papers, mostly in the form of digital stories or clips of the interviews as footnotes. My feeling is that students already know how to use iiPODS–all we need to do is tell them that like a pen or a computer, a paintbrush or a piano, this is another tool to use to help the learning process. I find that students will come up with ways more interesting and beneficial than you could have predicted–what you help them do is to dream, to ground the use of the tool within the course, to use it to reflect, and then to connect with one another by listening and responding.


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…

Podcasting for Student Poets, Explorers and Scholars

This semester I’ve started playing around with podcasting in my classes, taking it slow, thinking about how pulling sound into our blogs serves the learning experience. When people hear about this work and also discover that I’m not a foreign language teacher but a writing and literature teacher, they tend to be surprised. And some look at me wryly with that, “There she goes again playing around with the cool new tools because she’s determined to be out front and to be hip” expression.

And now that I’m hoping to have more than my personal iPOD to use with my students (at last!), and because yesterday I received an email from a writer at Edutopia working on a podcasting story, and because my students are about to move into another round of podcasting, it’s on my blogging mind again.

–For anyone wanting to find out more about podcasting, last December Brian Lamb of the University of British Columbia laid out an excellent introduction to podcasting, (he also gives a comprehensive overview of wikis in the Educause Review)–

I came to podcasting in a rather roundabout way, through digital storytelling, a time-intensive yet highly productive integration of multimedia narrative into the writing and literature classrooms. The most difficult (and the most crucial)part of the process comes with writing a compressed, lively script to record as a voiceover. The students did pretty well telling stories with images and music, but when it came time to pull in the recorded narrative, they balked. They didn’t like hearing their own voice, or they sensed that the story itself sounded strange out in the air.

This uneasiness with crafting the oral work prompted my decision this semester to take a break from the full digital story (while continuing to play with images in other ways)in my two writing classes and try out podcasting alone–several kinds of assignments designed to give students experience with oral presentations, oral narrative, and the pleasures of soundscapes. I want them to listen to the shapes of words, the structure of stories, the building of arguments.

In Writing Workshop II (the equivalent of a comp course), the first experiments consisted of a student reading an excerpt from an assigned reading and then commenting on it. The other students were invited to respond the podcast via written comments. Victoria’s podcast on a passage from Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge prompted responses not only from students in our class but from students in Hctor’s class. Victoria found the discussion stirred by her recording quite remarkable and rewarding, and she’s now eager to do more podcasting, to gain skill at articulating her thoughts about literature orally as well as in writing. Recording, publishing, listening, responding–together these steps provide an effective means of learning how to present ideas coherently and convincingly. Bowdoin College has posted a news item about their Oral Comunication Project that speaks to the growing need for college classrooms to teach public speaking. Podcasting, it seems to me, creates a magnificent opportunity for students to develop oral presentation skills without gobbling up an inordinate amount of class time. Granted, it is altogether a different experience recording readings and comments in the privacy of your own room than looking out at a crowd staring at you expectantly. And so, I aim to couple the podcasting commentaries with oral presentations of the same material. In a couple of weeks, the students will come into my office, record three-minute summaries of their research papers to be placed on the blog. Then in class they will have to give three-minute presentations (with notes but not written speeches) to the full group. I’m thinking of recording those, too, for comparative self-evaluative purposes.

In my creative writing class, as we move from fiction to poetry, we’ve been talking about the loss of the oral storytelling tradition and how helpful it is to both fiction writer and poet to HEAR language, and to speak words carefully, deliberately, one by one into the air. We’ve played around in class with making and telling stories on the spot; we’ve taken a sound walk and written (and then read aloud) poems of sounds, not words, and then translated them into language. On the blog, several students have been discussing the pleasures of listening to writers read their work aloud. They have grown to love my reading something aloud to them every class, and to hearing one another read from their own work in the workshops. And yet yesterday when I read aloud Seamus Heaney’s “The Singer’s House” and Eavan Boland’s “Quarantine” from a longer poem, and asked them what they had noticed about the forms and the speakers, they could not say. One student had “gotten lost” in the soundscape; another heard the lilt of a story and just felt its flow but not its actual words. The rest of them looked shocked that they had been lulled by lovely sounds but couldn’t speak to my questions. Since early childhood, most of them have had little experience being read to, and even less experience reading aloud.

Earlier in the semester each student podcasted one of their writings, and put them on the blog. Now they will podcast favorite published poems and their own poetry–knowing that the poems will not only live on text spaces of the blog but in the sound files as well may well have interesting effects on the work. Certainly the young poets will attend to the sounds of the language and to the rhythms of the lines in ways they probably haven’t, for the mostpart, up until now. Being able to return again and again to the recordings of the poems adds a dimension to the course; coupling this experience with the pleasures of the in-person one-time-only sharing of stories and poems in class extends our time together and deepens our commitment to their learning collaborative as well as to the work itself.

Finally, I am working on plans to send iPODS out into the world with the pilot-project Blogging the World bloggers next fall, encouraging the students to record their impressions of place and experience as well as to write them–letting their readers listen to the sounds of the places they visit and to the blogger’s commentary alongside the written, more reflective pieces.

The more I think about preparing our students for the world, the more I see how effective it is to pull the sound dimension into the classroom blogging as a means of teaching writing and critical thinking and community building.