Podcasting – Five years on…

An ELKS Community seminar on the 14th of July 14.00 – 15.00hrs UK time

Podcasting has come a long way since the word ‘podcast’ became the Word of the Year in the New Oxford American Dictionary. Many teachers in universities, colleges and schools now use podcasts to support their students’ learning. There are many examples of students creating podcasts as part of course activity.

But what it is like for a university professor to podcast, year after year for five years? Especially if you are Pro-Vice-Chancellor and a leader of a world-class research group?

Take a bow, John Fothergill.

This professor of Engineering and former Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Leicester has been hitting the headlines in the national press since 2006 with his innovative uses of podcasting to make the learning of Engineering more effective.

Media coverage of his work has focused on improving teaching, how students learn, and how technology allows campus-based students to study on the move.

John’s use of rap in some of his podcasts is legion. Some of his international students began email his podcasts as sound files to their family and friends back home to share the joys of learning John’s course on ‘Optical Fiber Communication Systems’.

His course is unusual in that it is delivered entirely on-line using the University’s Blackboard VLE, with some face-to-face tutorial support. John used podcasts to help his students to develop good online learning and collaborative skills.

It would be an absolute treat to listen to John (on the 14th of July at 14.00hrs UK time) reflecting on his creation and use of podcasts with his students for the last 5 years.

John plans to share his experience of using learning technologies to address the challenges of teaching a subject like Engineering.

He will provide a convincing argument for incorporating low cost, high impact e-learning technologies such as podcasts into teaching and learning process to support student learning.

This is all possible, he will argue, no matter how busy you are as an academic – after all, John was a Pro Vice Chancellor at Leicester when he started to use podcasts!

In the seminar, John will outline the pedagogical model that he developed to design his course to integrate various e-learning approaches including podcasts and e-tivities.

And, no doubt John will share insights about how his students reacted to podcasts, including the ones who emailed John’s podcasts to their family!

For joining instructions, please visit the ELKS Community site (http://elkscommunity.wetpaint.com/). Look forward to meeting you online on 14th July.


Palitha Edirisingha, 15 June 2010

iPad: change or coalition?

It always amuses me; whenever “they” bring out a “cool” device, everybody immediately has to have one. Ok, not everybody, but enough people I know do want a new iPad to cause me major puzzlement.

Now, don’t let’s start with the wrong impression, I love good, useful, effective technology. But I love if for what it does, not what it is. The thing with computers is, they are intrinsically useless. It’s the software that’s useful – the device just supports the software. So, for example, I only bought a new computer when I wanted to run Second Life. Yes, it was state-of-the-art and all that, but I just stuck it under the table and actually looked at the new software it supported.

Back to the iPad then. Is it a sea-change in computer use, or just a coalition of old features? What new functionality does it support? Thus far, I haven’t heard of anything at all, let alone something that I will want to use. So to me, it’s useless. Ok, I could buy one in order to see if it’s useful, but isn’t that a bit like buying a new music download without listening to it first on the off-chance I would like it? (only much more expensive!)

It must be this kind of “sensible scepticism” that slows the adoption of technologies that do have clear benefits. Take Podcasting for example. Beyond Distance has plenty of evidence for its efficacy, and many people are beginning to use it, but there’s no stampede of new Podcasting academics. Getting the message across  is as important as having a good message.

For the iPad, either there’s no good message, or it has yet to reach me.

Time will tell . . .

Paul Rudman
Research Associate, SWIFT

Is the Pad a Fad?

The only Apple device I own and use (reluctantly) is a very old iPod. When my mobile phone contract expired last month, I spent a whole weekend researching alternatives to the ubiquitous to the iPhone, so popular in Beyond Distance. My post today, therefore, is not meant to add another voice to the chorus of adoration for Steve Jobs’ toys. Rather, it is about the technological promise for learning which his latest device, the oh-so-discussed iPad brought. The Economist dubbed it the Tablet of Hope, Twitter is teeming with jokes about its name. In the midst of it all I came across two accounts which felt like glimpses into a fortune teller’s crystal ball – the future….:

Here they are, two generations firmly outside the scope of formal learning, discovering new information, using it in novel ways, creating and communicating, in one word – learning. And learning intuitively, seamlessly and enthusiastically. Now when the learning technology for learning technophobes seems to have arrived, we need to create and adapt pedagogical frameworks which will make its use meaningful and efficient. As to what exactly the windows for learning opened up by the iPad might be, my guess is to do with tactile learning. After the revival of voice, brought in by podcasting, learning by touch may be another of the very primal and early ways in which human beings learn to be rediscovered as a learning technology. Tactile learning will be more object oriented, with smaller elements, with a closer blend of content and collaboration and increased use of video stories and images. The two and a half year-old and the ninety-nine year-old from the videos above are happy enough to learn using a tablet. When enough research evidence accumulates, perhaps academics will be happy to teach using a tablet. Only the future will tell…

Sandra Romenska, 04 May 2010

Podcasting to support transition to Higher Education

IMPALA4T (Informal Mobile Podcasting And Learning Adaptation For Transition) is one of the family of podcasting research projects at Beyond Distance.

Funded by the Higher Education Academy, the project aimed to answer two questions:

  1. How can undergraduates’ informal knowledge and experience, captured and delivered through podcasts, support transition into Higher Education (HE)?
  2. Do students perceive that they benefit from podcasts, and if so how?

 You can read more about the background, the methodology and the results of the IMPALA4T research by downloading the final report from http://tinyurl.com/impala4t-finalreport.

An overview of the project and the results…

Positive transition into Higher Education (HE) has a direct impact on students’ later learning experiences. However, most interventions to support transition from school to university are institution-driven, such as courses on study skills.

We found that the knowledge and experience of students who have already made the transition have rarely been exploited. As Ball and Vincent (1998) called, such knowledge is considered to be ‘hot knowledge’. Studies of students’ preparation for HE report that potential applicants consider ‘hot knowledge’ to be more trustworthy than communication through ‘official’ sources (Hutchings, 2003).

 Our premise in the IMPALA4T project was that podcasting can capture this ‘hot knowledge’ and make it available. And IMPALA4T used podcasting to develop a new approach by tapping the knowledge and experience of current undergraduates.

The project consisted of:

  1. developing two sets of podcasts (Type A and B)
  2. making the podcasts available for students
  3. researching how podcasts supported the transition process; and
  4. disseminating project outcomes.

Type A podcasts aimed to address the transition issues facing students about to start their first HE course, while Type B were for those in their first year.

With second and third year undergraduates at the Department of Biological Sciences at Leicester, we developed 13 Type A podcasts, covering topics such as leaving home, making new friends, accommodation, managing money and differences between school and university. These podcasts were made available from July 2008 through an open website at www.startinguni.info to prospective HE applicants.

Type B podcasts were made available for first year students at the Department of Biological Sciences at Leicester during their first and second semesters of the first year. Twenty four Type B podcasts were made which aimed to address transition issues for students in their first year, for example, progressing from first to second semester and first to second year, coping with exams, choosing modules, lab work, library projects, and productive activities in summer vacation. These podcasts were made available from the module site on Blackboard Virtual Learning Environment.

Using qualitative interviews with students, we examined how podcasts helped with their transition issues. Eight students who had listened to Type A and a further eight who had listened to Type B volunteered for one-hour long interviews that were recorded for further analyses.

Interviews with students revealed that IMPALA4T podcasts addressed issues that were significant for them and challenging for the process of transition. These were areas where first year students faced making difficult decisions (ones that caused them anxiety), and they felt they lacked necessary information and guidance.

Our interviews showed that existing sources of information and guidance contained many flaws. Although most students had access to family ‘cultural capital’ (with at least one family member with HE experience), such sources would not be very useful in the specific environment of particular courses at a university. They said that other potential sources of advice were either not readily available or not well used by students: many could not identify a useful source of informal knowledge and advice to support their transition.

The students attributed particular legitimacy to the podcasts, as they helped them to hear the opinions of peers with firsthand knowledge and experience of the situations they described. Podcast technology therefore was successful in capturing informal knowledge and opinions drawn from experience.

Students believed that the hot knowledge contained in podcasts helped them by providing:

  • new information and perspectives
  • advice regarding positive behaviours
  • the reinforcement of existing knowledge and behaviours and
  • the provision of emotional reassurance.

Because the podcasts drew on other students’ direct experience, many students were willing to act on the information and advice.

Drawing on the evidence from Type A and Type B interviews, we developed a model of the HE transition process. The transition process consists of an initial phase in which students apply to universities and choose which to attend, through a middle phase in which they begin their courses, and a final phase where, following the initial settling in period, they attempt to engage further with what is required of them in the HE environment, especially as they advance into their second (and even third) year.

  1. The initial phase consists of two stages that we identify as ‘information seeking’ and ‘inspection’.
  2. The middle phase consists of a further two stages that we term ‘locating’ and ‘adjustment’. A new HE entrant goes through these transitory stages from school or college until they embark on an HE course.
  3. The final phase consists of two more stages – ‘re-adjustment’ and ‘structuring’ – where a new HE entrant begins a new social and academic life at the university.

 IMPALA4T podcasts covered all the stages of the process of transition that we have identified, except for inspection, which involved students actually visiting the HE institution.

Most interventions to support transition stops at the end of the middle phase. However, students who listened to Type B podcasts clearly described the existence of a far more extensive period of uncertainty and transition. The final stage involves continued adaptation to the learning environment after early assessments such as first essays and January exams and the critical reflection that the results bring, which is a re-adjustment. There is a restructuring for the future stages of the course, through module selection, planning for the summer, and towards final destination. IMPALA4T demonstrated that student-created podcasts could support the final stage of transition.

Hope you will enjoy reading the report available at http://tinyurl.com/impala4t-finalreport .

Thank you…

Palitha Edirisingha

28 April 2010, BDRA

Podcasting with Google Android phones in rural Africa…

We are working with the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in London on an exciting project to investigate how podcasting technology can be used to improve the veterinary and farming practices in rural Africa. The project leader is Nick Short at RVC, and although the project is only in its initial phase, I thought I should share this exciting news.

RVC has been working quite closely with Google and their Android platform to develop a device that can be used both as a surveillance tool and an ‘information source’ in rural Africa. The idea is to record podcasts on the farm and in the village straight onto large memory cards on the phone and to play back from the phone and distribute through other means such as iTunes U and various internet services. Podcasting technology has the advantage over other means of information gathering and delivery in countries and contexts where the literacy rate is low and where many languages are spoken. As an audio (and as video in the case of video podcasts) medium, podcasting can indeed benefit from a rich diversity of local languages.

As I write this, a group of Vet students and staff from RVC are on location in Zanzibar planning their podcast recordings with livestock farmers.

Watch this space for an update on the project.

Nick and I thought we could do with an animal name for the project! Any ideas please? …email me at pe27@le.ac.uk

Palitha Edirisingha
27 August 2009

The impact of Podcasting on the learning experience of distance learners

The psychology course team has produced podcasts as part of the DUCKLING intervention for their two distance learning programmes: MSc in Occupational Psychology and Psychology of Work. The course team developed podcasts in four categories: dissertation podcasts, assignment podcasts, research methods podcasts and feedback podcasts, and made them available through Blackboard since April 2009.

I recently collected evidence regarding student use of these podcasts. I interviewed several students, and I collected student feedback and comments from the Blackboard survey and discussion board. Here is an overview of what student say about using the podcasts.

 1. Overall, what did students think of the podcasts?

Overall, students appreciated the podcasts provided by the course team. They used words such as ‘excellent’, ‘helpful’, ‘useful’, ‘motivating’, ‘beneficial’, ‘reassuring’ and ‘I like it a lot’ to described their positive experience of using podcasts.

2.      How did students use the podcasts?

Some students downloaded the podcasts and listened to them from their mobile devices such as an MP3 player or iPhone, indicating that they recognized the possibility of podcasting in supporting their learning on the move. Some used the podcasts directly from the Blackboard, indicating that they might need further guidance on how to use the podcasts in a different way.

Some listened to the same podcast again and again until they fully understood. Sometimes they repeated listening to the same podcast for reassuring.

3.      What did students consider beneficial to their learning by using the podcasts?

Students identified a number of ways in which the podcasts particularly enhanced their learning experience:

  • Building tutor-student relationship

Students say that ‘listening to the tutor’s voice’ and ‘hearing the tones’ in a podcast resembles ‘direct communication’ or ‘getting their time’ and ‘having a conversation’. It makes their learning more lively and ‘personal’. Students feel more ‘interactive’, ‘connected’ and ‘closer to the tutor’ when listening to the podcasts.

  • Providing quality instruction and guidance

Students reported that podcasts are an effective way of delivering quality instruction and guidance. ‘Hearing the voice, tone, emphasis and pause’ helps ‘clarify’ things. It helps deliver ‘clearer instruction and guidance’ and provide more detailed information on specific points. It helps students ‘focus’ and ‘concentrate’ on certain points and ‘understand more of the content’. Students feel that the podcasts help with ‘consolidating’, ‘reconfirming’, ‘reassuring’, and they feel more ‘comfortable’ and ‘confident’ that they’re ‘on the right track’.

  • Increasing flexibility and mobility in learning

Students recognised the benefit of using podcasts in a car or on a bus, at work or at home whilst doing something else, indicating that they appreciate the potential of podcasting in increasing flexibility and mobility of their learning.

4.      In what ways did students think that the podcasts could be improved in future?

As the experience of using podcasts has been so positive, students expected that the podcasts could be incorporated extensively into the course through making available:

  • Podcasts for all modules
  • Podcasts for each unit of the module as a warm-up or summary
  • Podcasts explaining key units or concepts
  • Podcasts for each stage of the dissertation
  • Podcasts for e-library
  • Podcasts for recorded materials

 Ming      23 July 2009

Small Scale Experimental Machine

Almost three years to the day I took up a short-term contract with the Beyond Distance Research Alliance at the University of Leicester. I left a full-time, well paid job, moved my family from Sheffield to Leicester to take up the challenge of implementing what was then just the concept of the Media Zoo. What sold this position to me was not only the opportunity of working in a high class research-led institution; but more importantly for me was the idea of exploring the Exotics House and the future adoption of educational technologies for teaching and learning.

In my tenure as the Keeper of the Media Zoo I have been fortunate to be part of the explosion of podcasts in education, the use of hand-held mobile devices and more recently the immersion opportunities provided by Second Life. I have worked with some amazing people and organisations during this time which would take me too long to mention! I said recently at a conference in Poland that in the last three years I have learnt more than at any other point of my life – and I meant it! But where did this idea of technology futurism begin – well that is a debate for another day but maybe it started with the Baby?

60 years to the day the Small Scale Experimental Machine, or “Baby”, was the first computer to contain memory which could store a program. The room-sized computer’s ability to carry out different tasks, without having to be rebuilt, has led some to describe it as the “first modern PC”. Using just 128 bytes of memory, it successfully ran its first set of instructions to determine the highest factor of a number on 21 June 1948.

“We were extremely excited,” Geoff Tootill, one of the builders of Baby told BBC News. “We congratulated each other and then went and had lunch in the canteen.” I like their style!

It may be time for me to move onto pastures new, but I’m certain the Beyond Distance Research Alliance, the Media Zoo and the University of Leicester will continue to undertake cutting-edge, innovate research for the good of education. I’m just pleased to have played a small part in the process of innovating education through research.

Thank you to everyone I have had the pleasure of working with and I look forward to seeing you all on the circuit soon when I start my new job with Pebble Learning.


A meeting about podcasts

Encontro sobre podcasts  http://www.iep.uminho.pt/encontro.podcast/
8 – 9 July 2009, University of Minho, Braga, Portugal.

I was fortunate to attend a two-day conference on podcasting organised by my colleague Dr Ana Amelia Amorim Carvalho. There were more than 100 delegates from different parts of Portugal representing all areas of education – primary, secondary, higher, and non-formal educational institutions, all having different levels of expertise in podcasting and other web 2.0 technologies for learning.

The first day was devoted to presentations by delegates – teachers from schools and lecturers from universities – reporting their own experiences of developing podcasts, and their students’ experiences of creating (yes – students creating podcasts) and learning from podcasts. Thanks to Joanna, who translated the proceedings, I was able to understand most of the presentations and discussions at the conference.

The teachers’ and students’ approaches to podcasting deserve a longer, in-depth report, but here I’ll summarise some of the stories that I won’t forget.

  • Primary school children creating podcasts of the books that they studied with their parents. The teacher gives each child (6 year olds) a book to take home, and then parents read stories (from the book) to their child. The teacher gets groups of 3 children to create podcasts based on the stories that they learned at home. The children create podcasts themselves – that means, outlining what they are going to record, doing the actual recording, selecting which bits of recording to go into podcasts, and finally editing (with some help from the teacher).
  • High school students creating video podcasts related to literature classes. Students study literature texts and record what they learned and discussions as podcasts. These podcasts are made available on a public website where anyone can listen and view them and make comments.
  • High school children learning maths using podcasts. Their teacher was looking for a way of providing additional maths support for her students. She was delighted when she found out about podcasts. She has created a large number of podcasts describing various mathematical formulas and solving mathematical problems. Students report that they can now learn and revise at home as if the teacher were with them.

I sat through 11 presentations: each deserves a longer treatment. If you can read Portuguese, visit the conference website at: http://www.iep.uminho.pt/encontro.podcast/ to know more about the approaches to using podcasts.

Finally, thanks to Ana for inviting me to the conference and asking me to share our own experience of developing and researching podcasts at Leicester and at Impala (www.impala.ac.uk) partner institutions.

Palitha Edirisingha

What do students say about technologies?

Every year the psychology course team at Leicester organizes a conference for their distance learning students studying MSc in Occupational Psychology or Psychology of Work. Usually the conference attracts 25-30 students; this year due to the credit crunch 15 students were able to attend.

This 3-day conference, held from 29 April to 1 May this year, offers a really good opportunity for distance learners to meet their tutors and other students on the same course. I met a student from Ireland who told me that last year she met another student from Ireland who’s studying on the same course. After they went back Ireland, they started having regular meetings to discuss the course and study.

This year gave us a chance to give out a survey about student access to and their insights on how to use three particular technologies: Podcasting, Second Life and e-book readers to enhance the delivery of the course. Ten students completed the survey; while the sample is small, however, the responses are quite indicative to Duckling research.

Basically, students commented on how the three technologies have or might have contributed to their learning as a distance learner in three key areas:

• Improving communication with tutors

Some students have already listened to the podcasts, although these podcasts were only made available on Blackboard in April. Their comments are really encouraging, particularly with respect to improving communication with their tutors. Some indicative comments are:

“It makes the course less impersonal – e.g. listening to lecturer’s voice on podcasts is a big improvement than reading notes.”

“Podcasting – since in many ways it resembles direct communication.”

“Podcasts allow you to hear the tones of the conversation, and it is more (feels more interactive). I think it helps bridge the gap in aspects of distance learning.”

• Increasing mobility and flexibility in learning

Both podcasts and e-book readers are identified by students as ways to increase mobility and flexibility in learning. For example:

“Podcasts are excellent to listen to on the bus, for example. And e-book readers make it easier to travel, (and) still have the resources I would need.”

“I would think the e-book reader to have so that you can take a lot of reading material with you when travelling or waiting for the dentist. I do not (from my knowledge) think that e-book reader should replace printed books, but think it would an excellent addition.”

• Increasing the relevance of the course to learners’ contexts

One of the students thinks that the three technologies all have potential to provide on-demand learning to suit a learner’s particular context.

There are suggestions or expectations on future use of these technologies. For example, one student recommended providing podcasts for all modules and also podcasts for e-library.

Although the results are collected from an initial small sample group, they are reassuring. The results confirm what has been identified by the course team as their main challenges in curriculum delivery: increasing flexibility and mobility; engaging time-poor students; enhancing student-student and teacher-student interaction; and improving the relevance of the content and activities to learners’ contexts. There are some points here, perhaps, of wider relevance and interest to all online teachers.


Ming Nie 09 May 2009

What does interactive mean to a distance learner?

Within the DUCKLING project, we collaborate with three distance learning Master’s courses in two disciplines: Psychology and Education at Leicester. Both course teams are faced with a similar challenge in curriculum delivery: how to make the course delivery more interactive.

I recently interviewed a student who near completion of her MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL course by distance at School of Education, Leicester. Interestingly, she brought up the same issue in her interview. “I would have benefitted from the more interactive delivery of the course”, she said. When I asked her about what she meant by ‘more interactive delivery’, she explained interactive delivery at three levels:

• Interactive within the course material
• Interactive with the tutor
• Interactive with other students on the same course

The student thought the material was a bit ‘dry’ and reading it a bit boring. She wanted more interactive activities. Duckling has already incorporated podcasting into a module entitled Language, Discourse and Society for the new student cohort. The podcasts are developed base on interviews with people whose first language aren’t English and talked about their experience on how English was taught in schools at their home countries. Structured e-tivities are also under consideration to make the course material more interactive.

The student enjoyed her interaction with her personal tutor. However, at the beginning of the course, she felt the tutor was ‘in such a high regard’ and she didn’t want to disturb her tutor by sending her a lot of questions via email. The student also felt that in emails, sometimes the meaning is lost. It takes a bit of time to understand how tutors work or what they mean. Well, the course team has already planned to use podcasting as part of the feedback provision process. Will students appreciate that? Will podcasting offer a way of getting to know tutors a bit more, and for students to feel more comfortable to ask questions of their tutors?

The next level is interaction with other students on the same course, which is the most significant one if we really want to make a difference to the learning experience of distance learner’s. The team has already taken some steps on this. For example we have starting a discussion forum on Blackboard, moderated by an e-moderator. Other ideas are under consideration and planning. For example, student-created podcasts to capture students’ experience and talk about study skills and time management and so on, and Second Life for role-playing activity for both students and tutors to participate in. Will these be solutions to improve learner to learner interaction? I’m sure that we will have some answers to these questions through Duckling research.

Ming 23 April 2009

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