Audio feedforward for distance-learning assessment support

Recently my BDRA colleague Ming Nie posted an item about the use of audio files or podcasts for feedforward. This was based on work with distance-learning psychology students in the DUCKLING research project, providing dissertation and module assignment support. She highlighted two key benefits in terms of encouraging students to ‘think ahead’ and also providing them with reassurance about being ‘on the right track’.

For the past six months, I have been an online module tutor on a distance-learning course supporting master’s-level management students. As a relative novice in the podcasting arena, this provided a good opportunity to see how audio files could be used to support students’ work on their assignments, coupled with the VLE Discussion Board for assignment and other questions related to the course materials. Some students have access to local tutor support, but others do not. However, for distance learners the assignment is always a potential source of anxiety. So providing resources to complement both the assignment brief and the facility to post discussion board questions seemed likely to be received positively.

The approach comprised three separate audio files, one on assignment process issues and one on each of two assignment questions. At 10 to 14 minutes in length, these would be classified as ‘long’ using the 10-factor model for podcast development (1) derived from the IMPALA research project. However, given the ‘distance’ aspect involved and likely levels of discussion board traffic, providing fewer if longer audio files was a ‘justified compromise’.

It is still early days, but the following observations can be made:

  • The relevance of audio files for non-native English-speaking/English as a study language students, who are able to ‘rewind’ and listen repeatedly to help develop their understanding of the language and of the assessment requirements.
  • The ability to ‘start-stop’ and make notes while listening and then to refer back and use the notes as a reference source or checklist when developing the assignment.
  • The more personal nature of listening to a spoken commentary, compared with reading course materials or asynchronous discussion board Q&A episodes, thus increasing the diversity of teaching media available to students.
  • Students identifying aspects of academic research and writing that their professional background and previous work experience have not highlighted, thus cultivating a different outlook and learning from the study experience rather than from the course materials as such.
  • The use of audio files as vehicles for student discussion in locally-based face-to-face study groups or via ‘closed’ social networking sites set-up by students at the start of the course.

To date, the investment made in interpreting the assignment brief and reflecting on what might be helpful for students seems warranted. Conceptually, this feels no different from preparing personal notes in advance for a class or workshop teaching session where assignment questions might arise, but instead recording the thoughts for wider distribution and remote access.

Roger Dence / 20th November 2009

(1) Edirisingha P, Salmon G and Nie M (2008) “Developing pedagogical podcasts” in Salmon G and Edirisingha P (eds) (2008) Podcasting for learning in universities, SRHE and Open University Press/McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead, 222pp.

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1 Comment

  1. Sue Murrin-Bailey

     /  December 10, 2009


    I too have been using a feed forward mechanism with some full time and part time undergraduate students. The way in which I used it was to revisit a Lecture which unpicked a complex Business Model.

    What I then did was using a handheld audio device re-recorded myself doing the Lecture (in the comfort of my office) and embedded the sound-file at the beginning of the accompanying Powerpoint slide show. This was then loaded onto the Module area of the VLE for the students to revisit and use at their leisure.

    I am currently doing some research which my students to evaluate if this has been of use to them as they draw near writing a summative assessment piece.

    I would be interested in talking to people who are involved with use of feed forward to see what we can identify, in particular, the pedagogical rationale for using it.




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