|Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
2010, 26(3), 386-399.
Educational design of short, audio-only podcasts: The teacher and student experience
The University of Sydney
The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia
This paper reports the findings of an exploratory study on the use of podcasting in higher education. The study was conducted during 2007 and 2008 and involved students from 20 units of study. Research data was gathered by distributing an in-class survey to 4584 enrolled students, with 39% (1780) of students completing the survey. Qualitative data was gathered by conducting student focus groups, with a total of 158 students participating, and interviewing teaching staff on their podcasting experiences. The results identified three broad approaches to podcasting employed: re-framed podcasts, or content reproduced in multiple media (e.g., textbook chapters summarised as podcast episodes); complementary podcasts that added extra information to enhance the student learning experience; and supplementary podcasts that re-design and broadcast content previously presented in class.
In this paper we present a research study on the possible approaches that academics may take when using podcasting, a means of creating digital resources that is gaining momentum and usage in higher education. Podcasting provides teaching staff with a means to communicate with students by broadcasting a series (a podcast) of multimedia files (podcast episodes) via the Internet, to which students may subscribe. Using audio, or even multimedia, in learning and teaching is not a recent development (Gunn, Woodgate & O'Grady, 2005; Lee, McLoughlin & Chan, 2007; Schlosser & Burmeister, 2006). Nor is RSS (Really Simple Syndication), that which controls the connection of multiple podcast episodes into one subscription, as it has been in use for more than a decade and is broadly used by other Internet tools today (Ebner, Nagler & Saranti, 2007; Franklin & Zdonik, 1998). A podcast, then, is unique because it is a combination of these things: a multimedia file, a subscription service and a downloadable (and therefore potentially mobile) digital file. The podcasting process remains the same for most scenarios, whether the podcast is for a radio series, a regular community group announcement or an academic lecture series. Podcasting is therefore a process that can be applied to a variety of situations with many different approaches.
To determine the effectiveness of differing podcasting approaches used by teaching staff participating in this research, we gathered data on the perceived impact of podcasting on the learning and teaching experience, focusing on four key research questions:
At the beginning of this project, many studies about the use of podcasting in higher education referred to lecture recording (for example, Aldrich, Bell & Batzel, 2006; Brittain, Glowacki, Ittersum & Johnson, 2006; Tynan & Colbran, 2006) and some podcasting studies focused on providing students with hardware (Belanger, 2005; Shannon, 2006). Putting material designed for the classroom onto a learning management system (e.g., recorded lectures, presentation slides, etc.) will not necessarily reap benefits for students or teaching staff because technology use and learning are not synonymous (Henry & Meadows, 2008). It is therefore important to think about how technologies are used to support or enhance learning and teaching. In light of this and with the limited information available about pedagogically-sound approaches to podcasting, and many local teaching staff's mistrust of lecture recording, the focus of this study became the use of short, audio-only podcasts. After discussions about potential podcasting approaches, coordinators of twenty units of study accepted an invitation to participate during four semesters in 2007-2008.
Studies involving short podcast episodes increased during the course of this study, as educators considered podcasting options other than lecture recording (for example, Bell, Cockburn, Wingkvist & Green, 2007; Calder, 2006; Chan, Lee & McLoughlin, 2006; Edirisingha & Salmon, 2007). In this study, teaching staff took different approaches to the type of podcast they created, based on a perceived pedagogical benefit they thought the medium could provide. For example, one lecturer podcast a series of short, 3-5 minute episodes that presented the context of the theories discussed in the next week's readings. This information was previously presented in the lecture, however the lecturer felt that students were too exhausted at the end of a three-hour seminar to concentrate on the new topic. The podcast meant that students could get the supplementary information as it suited them. These variations provided an opportunity to analyse the different approaches, in conjunction with student feedback, and in the context of the podcast's pedagogical purpose.
The number of students enrolled varied from 26 to 783 per unit of study, with a total of 4584 enrolled students. From the total number of enrolled students, 39% (1780) participated in the study (Table 1). Units of study ranged across six disciplines in the Faculty, and included both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The average number of episodes per podcast was 7, and the average length for each podcast episode was 11 minutes (Table 1).
|Average length of|
The instruments included paper surveys, focus groups and staff interviews. The surveys were distributed to all students present, along with ethics information sheets and consent forms, in the second or third last lecture of the semester. Prior to the survey, an announcement containing the time and location of the focus group was posted in each unit's Blackboard site (the Faculty's learning management system).
Survey data was collected on scannable forms that were scanned through a quiz-scanner and the results exported to Microsoft Excel. A worksheet showed total figures for each response, the number of answers to that question and a percentage. Because the surveys were wholly voluntary and anonymous, not all students answered all questions. The focus group discussions and interviews were audio recorded and transcribed by an independent company. Focus groups were kept to half an hour wherever possible, and each participant was given an incentive (movie tickets or a voucher) to participate. Interviews were done with the academic coordinators of the units of study. The academic coordinators of each unit of study chose the topic of their podcast and how they intended them to be used by students, based on their impressions of what was needed to complement the learning and teaching resources and activities in their unit of study. The researchers grouped the podcast approaches together based on those descriptions, prior to analysing students' perceptions about the podcasts.
Survey data was analysed using Microsoft Excel. The focus group and interview transcripts were imported into QSR NVivo and open coding was performed, following a grounded theory approach, to put phrases into descriptive nodes (Glaser, 1992, p. 39). Summaries of each unit of study were generated, and then grouped into the broad podcast approach the lecturer described. The qualitative and quantitative data were also re-grouped accordingly to allow comparison between approaches.
In terms of how the podcasts impacted students' learning, three questions from the survey addressed three important learning and teaching-related aspects: support or enhancement of learning, active engagement and feedback (Table 3).
|My lecturer's podcast supported/ enhanced my learning (N=1785)||Re-framed||59%||14%||27%|
|My lecturer's podcast helped me actively engage with the material and/or my class (N=1788)||Re-framed||55%||17%||28%|
|My lecturer's podcast provided feedback on my learning (N=1782)||Re-framed||36%||28%||36%|
Students were also asked whether they appreciate the flexibility of podcasting (Table 5), and most students (71%) agreed that they do. Comments from the focus group support this finding:
I'm from China and I'm an international student... Because I have an iPod, I can just download it, you can subscribe to the broadcast, and you don't have to worry about downloading because it will download automatically. And then you just use your iPod and can listen as many times as you want. Like, for us, if it's not easy to understand, we can listen many times.
|To prepare for class each week||7%||12%||9%||9%|
|To revise for exams||28%||14%||15%||18%|
|To replace lectures||6%||3%||3%||4%|
|To reinforce information for assessment||9%||21%||27%||22%|
|Because the content was complex||7%||8%||6%||7%|
|Because English is not my first language||11%||13%||11%||11%|
|Because I have difficulty hearing||6%||7%||5%||5%|
|To reinforce key points||26%||23%||24%||25%|
|Strongly agree and Agree||71%|
|Disagree and Strongly disagree||17%|
|Overall, I recommend that the lecturer keeps using short podcasts (N=1750)||Re-framed||76%||8%||16%|
|I would like to see podcasting used in other units of study (N=1774)||Re-framed||81%||6%||13%|
Easy to use
Regardless of how students defined podcasting or whatever misunderstandings they had, they found the technology easy to use. Despite a 'how to' guide being available, many students did not read it, and their experience was that "it just happened... it was very easy." Most students in the focus groups agreed that using podcasts was easy because "... it was pretty basic and well set out... I didn't really need any technical skills."
New users to the technology similarly seemed to not be affected by their lack of technical savvy: "This was my first experience, and I wasn't sure whether my computer set up at home or at work would actually do it. So I was really quite surprised at how easy it was to do it."
Having a range of learning and teaching resources available is important to students. Students from units using all three podcast types mentioned it in some way in the focus groups. For example, "I reckon it's just like when you have too much of one thing you want something else. So because we have so much reading to do that we want podcasts... I reckon you need a good balance" and "It's a nice change from having to just read, read, and read." Students also recognised that a balance between different media was important, warning that if one format dominated others, the appeal would diminish: "As long as it didn't become overused... because as soon as it becomes overused people just stop [using it]."
The focus group discussions highlighted the importance of voice. One of the re-framed content podcasts was recorded by a professional media presenter, rather than the lecturer (although it was scripted by the lecturer). This provoked some interesting responses from the students: "I think it's ... intimidating, ... a little scary"; "I would like to see the lecturer do it because it gives us the confidence. If someone else is doing it, you don't know how much you must trust it."
Discussions with students in the other podcast groups supported students' preference for their lecturer's informal tone:
I think you can say a good podcast isn't an audio book, a good podcast would be speaking to an audience... So as long as you're speaking to the audience and you're understanding that you've seen them face-to-face and you know how they think and how they can react you can speak to them. But if you're just reading notes, you may as well just give me the notes on paper and I'll read it to myself.This contradicts the lecturers' reasonable expectation that a professional recording would be better: "I think the professionally made ... [podcast episodes] are far better than anything that a lecturer can do. These people, that's their job... we're not professionals at doing that so we stay out of [it]."
Furthermore, students from the supplementary and re-framed content groups seemed to consider their lecturer's podcasts to be a very personal form of communication: "... with podcast, it is more personal, I think. You can literally speak to the student"; "... I found it really nice. It was like one on-one, kind of thing." This is feedback that was not anticipated, but could be both comforting to lecturers who are nervous about creating a podcast, while also being crucial to the success of using podcasting in higher education.
There is little consensus between students on what the ideal length of a podcast episode should be. Some felt that "the length of a song" would be ideal, while others found that the episodes that presented "concepts in ten, fifteen minutes ... (is what) kind of attracted me to it." None of the students in the group that had twenty-minute podcast episodes reported a problem with the length, while others thought "anything over 15 minutes is just pushing it a little bit." Some students listened because the episodes were short: "I listened to it because [the lecturer] was saying... how it's really short, and that kind of appealed to me because I'm from the science faculty, and the podcasts there were full lectures - it's like a whole hour and it's really intense - but here I get the intro concepts in ten, fifteen minutes, which kind of attracted me to it." No student reported that they wanted longer podcast episodes.
Podcasting should be contextual
Another issue raised by students in the focus group discussions suggests that podcasting cannot be generalised to suggest that the technology will benefit students, but that it depends on the need in the unit of study. When asked whether podcasting should be embedded in other units of study, one student replied that "It depends on the lecture and the way that it's conducted, but certainly for this type of one that we've just done." Similarly, another student recognised the need for the particular podcast that their lecturer began to produce part of the way into the semester:
[In the lecture] you're being told what this author is going to do and you don't know who the author is, you haven't printed off his reading, so you don't have it there to look at and you're supposed to be trying to remember this stuff so that you can look at it - it didn't work at all. It was only once you put the podcast up that I could actually make use of that information.Taking the context into account then, by acknowledging that it would be more beneficial for that resource to be podcast than approached in the face to face time, highlights the situated nature of learning and cognition.
Benefits for students from non-English speaking backgrounds
A number of non-English speaking background students mentioned benefits for them during the focus groups. Some said that being able to listen to their lecturer multiple times allowed them to understand words they otherwise might have missed: "I could listen to the podcasts for those sentences that I could not get twice or three times." Others said that they thought the podcast would help them develop their language skills: "It was also helpful to develop my listening skills in terms of English."
|Record the lecture||18%|
|Different information (to what's already in the lecture/text)||17%|
|Shorter, more concise podcast episodes||12%|
|Reiterate main points to the lecture||9%|
|More detail in new podcast episodes||8%|
|Different voice (less formal, not too fast)||6%|
|Slides and audio (enhanced) podcast||6%|
|Podcasts from industry people||4%|
|More frequent episode broadcasts||3%|
|Podcast frequently asked questions||3%|
|Podcast teaser episodes (for next lecture/whole unit of study)||2%|
|Re-record podcasts for each semester (i.e., don't re-use last semester's podcast)||2%|
|Podcast differences in content between streams/lectures||2%|
|Video and audio (vodcast)||1%|
|Better audio quality||1%|
|Transcripts or audio/text||1%|
I would like to think that the class time is too valuable for one person to be talking. It's time for people to apply and work together. So if you can take away that element of me standing there - because there's always a need for that, students want that, they want the guidance and they want the explanation - but then the class time can be used more effectively to apply the information. I think for that, I think podcasting is of great value.
Students were offered a guide and technical support during business hours for listening to podcasting, yet only a handful of students seemed to take advantage of either. At Graz University of Technology, Austria, researchers emphasised that for a resource to be effectively used by students it must be easy to use (Ebner, Holzinger & Maurer, 2007). Furthermore, eighty-five percent of participating students among all twenty units of study own an MP3 player. This is supported by the IMPALA pilot study in the UK which found that students owned some kind of device that played MP3 files (Edirisingha & Salmon, 2007). As suggested by this study, students have the appropriate equipment and confidence to be able to use podcasts, and podcasting is a reasonably easy thing to do.
If taking a constructivist approach to media (Jonassen, Campbell & Davidson, 1994), it is important for students to choose the physical (where) and mental (when, at what pace) context for their study, rather than be in a controlled learning environment such as a computer lab or lecture theatre. In providing a tool that is flexible enough to be used in a variety of ways, students are able to make decisions about, and be aware of, their own learning (Sawyer, 2006, p. 2). Flexible aspects of podcasting include how it might be used (such as alongside slides, video, readings and diagrams), and how the activity of using it can vary (such as considering the pace, and appropriate time and place to listen). Furthermore, it creates the possibility for the development of distributed intelligence, rather than a passive, transmission of knowledge medium (Jonassen et al., 1994; Lim, 2006). Podcasting allows students to make decisions holistically about the learning context that most suits them. More than being purely electronic or mobile, offering students the flexibility to construct their learning in this way (the importance of which is highlighted by Low & O'Connell, 2006) is a significant benefit.
Collis and Moonen (2002) suggest that the more flexible and active a resource is, the more likely it is to facilitate learning (that is, less versus more flexible, acquisition versus active contribution). In this study, the re-framed content podcasts were flexible, but they concerned the transmission and acquisition of knowledge. The complementary podcasts were similarly very flexible, but possibly a little further along toward being more active, as they helped students contextualise knowledge as well as confirm the acquisition of lecture material. The supplementary podcasts however, were flexible, but involved a great deal more action on students' part as they were linked with doing readings, preparing for assessment and understanding knowledge. Considering podcasting in light of Collis' and Moonen's flexibility-activity framework could be a useful way to consider future design of such resources.
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|Authors: Lucy Taylor, Acting Research and Quality Manager, Office of Learning and Teaching in Economics and Business (OLTEB), Faculty of Economics and Business, The University of Sydney. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Steve Clark, Educational Designer, The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia Surry Hills, NSW 2040, Australia. Email: email@example.com
Please cite as: Taylor, L. & Clark, S. (2010). Educational design of short, audio-only podcasts: The teacher and student experience. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(3), 386-399. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/taylor.html