Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Best Uses of Educational Podcasts: Vote Now

Educational podcasts are bigger than ever. It seems that downloadable, automatically updated audio content fits the lifestyle of learners who are taking courses in traditional face-to-face settings as well as via the Internet or mobile devices.

With iTunesU and the debut of the iPhone, the number of individuals who download lectures and other educational audio to mobile devices has skyrocketed. iTunesU, which started rather modestly in 2006, now hosts educational content for dozens of colleges and universities. At this point, more than 10 million downloads have been tracked (iTunesU, 2007). This fall, when most people go to class, the number is expected to reach an all-time high, for those attending face-to-face classes and also those who are taking online courses.

Just how are people using the audio content they download? What is the best use? Now you can weigh in by voting in a poll: http://elearnqueen.blogspot.com/

You'll see the poll if you scroll down the right-hand column. Here are the possible responses to the question, What are the best uses of educational podcasts?

Just-in-time content before test


Listen while driving


Refresh key points, concepts, schema


Entertain with stories, examples, case studies


Podcasts have demonstrated themselves to be very useful for educational purposes because, as opposed to traditional audio files that are accessed from a password-protected website, podcasts allow you to subscribe to the feed and to receive updates and new content automatically.

Professor lecture notes: For large lecture courses in a traditional face-to-face environment, having the ability to download the lecture notes and listen to them again can be quite helpful. For students taking the course at a distance, lecture notes can be invaluable supplements to the text and other instructional materials. The only possible downside is that the audio quality may not be studio-grade, given that the lectures are being recorded in a lecture hall, and there could be ambient noise and variable sound levels.



Textbook supplements: Having podcasts that cover textbook content appeals to students who are audio learners and who remember items and organize them most effectively when they hear them. According to the split-attention principle, the most effective way to deliver audio content is to somehow reinforce it with a complementary image. In this case, one could include graphics or images that could be viewed while listening to the podcast. For example, if the lecture is about the situation in the Middle East, the audio lecture could be accompanied by maps, photographs, and other useful and relevant visual information.

Course topic / related content: What are the goals of the course? What are students expected to do with the information? Ideally, the students learn critical thinking skills and, most importantly, how to apply the information being presented. So, it can be very useful to prepare audio files / podcasts that incorporate current events, case studies, and up-to-date information that relates to the core course information.

Research paper / term paper-related content: Even if students have taken research and writing courses, it is always helpful to guide the way and demonstrate how to be effective with online research, how to write an annotated bibliography, when to look for additional sources, and which citation styles should be used. Having an audio guide can help alleviate anxiety and provide reassurance to help students overcome writer’s block.

Student podcasts: Students often enjoy recording and posting audio in addition to text. It is a perfect opportunity to rehumanize the e-learning space, and posting audio is a way to develop a sense of community.

There are several ways to listen to the content. The way that you use content depends on your equipment, connectivity, and learning preferences.

Just-in-time downloads: Students can download content before a test or class discussion. It helps reinforce knowledge and leads to effective use of short-term or working memory.

Category or Schema-builders: Some podcasts are organized around key concepts and they are very useful because they guide students and help them develop categories for organizing knowledge.

Elaboration: Audio and podcasts often include stories and narratives organized in a way that help students develop an in-depth understanding of the concepts.

Problem-solving: Podcasts that provide examples of how the information is used to solve problems, and which may include analogies or extended metaphors help students make connections. They can then use the information to solve problems or apply the information to experiential learning.

Podcasts accompanied by images (either stills or video) can also be used in training in order to demonstrate procedures or in the identification of a condition, person, place, or thing. Some examples can be found in a new resource, available in August from Charles C. Thomas publishers. Entitled Excellence in College Teaching and Learning, the new arrival is one of the few books available that covers both traditional and online teaching and learning.

The full potential of educational podcasts has not even begun to be tapped, and the advent of new technologies as well as enhanced infrastructure and bandwidth minimizing programs will also contribute to the popularity of the form. Video (via vodcasts) through youtube, google.video and other services continues to push the envelope and encourage students to collaborate on projects and share ideas.

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