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

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

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.

Saying goodbye to our new Finnish friends

Ale wrote several days ago about our ten visitors from Finland. At that stage, we were mid way through  their four-day schedule, which finished officially yesterday afternoon, but unofficially yesterday evening after a pleasant meal in a local pub.

As this was the first time I’d taken part in such a visit  – which included a  two-day Carpe Diem –  in my new role as Keeper of the Media Zoo, I thought it useful to reflect on the experience.

Overall, I believe it was a success for both sides. Our Finnish colleagues assured us that they took away with them a clear idea of what Beyond Distance does, and they certainly seemed to be fizzing with the way they could incorporate what they learned about podcasts, OERs and learning design.

There were also highly appreciative of and complimentary about the project presentations made on Day 1 and Day 4, espcially those by our institutional partners in Psychology and Education.

And as Ale said, we certainly were impressed with both their understanding of pedagogy and what works in teaching, and their comfort with technology. (Within five minutes of opening their laptops on Monday, all ten were happily eating up our wireless network bandwidth with no help from myself or Terese.) It also appears that Finnish HE students are similar to ours in one important respect: they don’t read any of the printed handouts either!

Our new physical Media Zoo stood up well to the task. At one point, it held 18 people very comfortably, with all interaction at a conversational level. The new murals – inspired by the graphics in the Second Life Media Zoo Island – drew warm praise.

But we will be rethinking our proposed layout and the positioning of the technical equipment. In a sense, we were very fortunate to have such a rigorous test of the room prior to any major purchasing decisions being made.

And of course, we made some great new friends. So cheerio for now to Eva, Kristina, Matti, Ritva, Taina, Tuula, Elina, Tiina, TK and of course Irma, who organised the trip so effeciently.

Simon Kear
Keeper of the Media Zoo
13 November 09

What is considered beneficial of using podcasts from staff’s point of view?

In my recent blog, I discussed the findings regarding the impact of podcasts produced by the psychology team, as part of DUCKLING intervention on student experience from students’ perspectives.  In this blog, I discuss the benefits of using podcasts from the staff’s perspective.

  • Reduced traffic on Blackboard

Psychology tutors observed that 80-90% of the postings on BB relate to assignments and the common questions keep coming back. After providing podcasts explaining assignments, the tutors have noticed a very significant reduction in the postings requesting help on assignments.

  • Improved retention rate

Initial findings suggest that podcasts have had a positive effect on progression and retention. Figures from the October 2008 cohort (with access to podcasts) show a high progression rate to their 2nd year (89%), compared to an average of 67% in previous cohorts.

  • Benefits to staff

The tutors who produced the podcasts also reflected on benefits to staff in using podcasts. For example, podcasting is quicker in delivering message than writing. It is effective in providing explanation, guidance and feedback.  The tutors are motivated to produce more podcasts as they found that students are more engaged with the podcasts.

  • Other expected benefits to the experience of students and staff

The tutors are collecting and marking student dissertation drafts at the moment. It was expected that the overall quality will be improved as a result of podcasts providing guidance on the dissertation process.

Currently, the tutors are providing assessment feedback to students in both audio and written formats. It is expected that with the support of ‘Dragon’ (the speech recognition software), tutors will be able to get a transcript of the audio feedback automatically, and the time invested in producing feedback could be dramatically reduced.

These findings are encouraging, however only indicative at the moment. As the podcasts were gradually made available through BB from April 2009, it is too soon to claim that all these initial findings will hold. The research continues.


Ming Nie              06 August 2009

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