The thing about podcasts is that they have the same familiarity, immediacy and immersion as the radio programs of bygone days. Ask any person over 40 and they’ll invariably remember the radio programs of their youth, whether they were dramatized adventure stories, discussion panels or game shows. There is something quite magical about listening and allowing the mind to fill in the visual details.
Podcasts, in my view, are underutilized in the blended learning environment, especially in light of some stratospheric successes the medium can have. This American Life, a weekly 1-hour radio show and podcast, is downloaded by 2,5 million people every week.
The advantages of podcasting
Here are a few reasons why I think every teacher should consider podcasting.
Easy to create
Making a podcast is as easy as turning on the microphone of your phone or computer, and talking. Naturally quite a bit of planning is involved in defining the content, ensuring the track is clear and flows well and adding sound effects. But essentially it is a very simple way to digitize your content without the hiccups and frustrations of perhaps other forms of media.
There are a number of reasons why we are more attentive when listening. One of them is called prosody: the carriage of meaning via tone and intonation that is impossible in text. Another reason is that sociologically we are “trained” to listen to a story or conversation to the end. When reading we can get easily distracted, however when we are listening, especially to a pre-recorded story we are more likely to listen to the end.
A student who is keen to review a previous module, or wants a basic introduction to the next yet who perhaps has some travelling to do, or is simply in the mood to get out of the house, can nonetheless take his lesson with him via his mobile phone using the myriad of very good podcast apps.
4 Tips to creating podcasts for your classroom
If you are contemplating starting a podcast for your class, consider some of these hints and tips.
Students can learn an incredible amount from constructing and creating their own podcasts. From research and interviewing styles, to the technicalities of recording and editing the files, podcasts offer students a great interdisciplinary project to practice a wide number of skills. There are a number of great online starter resources for ideas on how to kick off a “Maker podcast studio” in your classroom.
Ironically, teaching a language using primarily audio files has been shown to be less effective than text-based learning. So when contemplating podcasts in your language classes, consider using the format as a way for students to enhance their text-based studies, rather than as a primary tool. One module that perhaps uses a podcast story in the learned language that students need to understand and interpret, purely from the audio, would be a good way to assess their aural comprehension of the language.
Choose your subject well
Of course listening to content via audio should not replace reading in a learning environment, especially when it comes to technical subjects: can you imagine trying to puzzle out the structure of a cell via audio? However, there are a great many subjects where story-based content is key such as literature, current affairs and history. In lower grades podcasts can be used to teach comprehension, and assess a student's preferred learning style (visual, aural or experiential).
Try podcasting for PD
Consider the benefits of developing a staff-specific weekly podcast from administrators and guest teachers, to issue instead of or alongside the usual staff newsletters. Teachers in this way will be able to declutter their reading inboxes, and access important information on-the-go.
There are also a number of really good podcasts for almost every grade of teacher. Try some of these motivating and interesting teacher podcasts:
- Truth for Teachers - Angela Watson’s weekly inspiring and practical advice for teachers.
- Cult of Pedagogy - We’ve referenced Jennifer Gonzales’s work before on our blog, and her podcast is as insightful.
- House of #EdTech - Here Christopher Nesi examines how technology is impacting and changing classrooms, students and teachers.
- Teaching Matters: NPR, mavens of public broadcasting, have a special podcast every week, featuring different teachers talking through their professional challenges and offering advice on classroom management.
In today’s teaching environment, all but fizzing with new and innovative technologies, podcasts offer a form of digitally-enhanced quiet time, where students can find some downtime to listen and absorb content in a way that is less frenetic, goal-oriented or intrusive. In future posts we’ll continue to explore this unsung hero, and look at some case-based podcast lesson plans.