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Guide: Podcasts in teaching

Brief description

A podcast is a digital audio file that that can be accessed online through a digital service, either through a website or streaming platform such as iTunes or Spotify. Podcasts have a variety of themes and subjects, and both educators and students can benefit from using podcasts in teaching. However, there are some elements of podcasting to be aware of.

Motivation

Podcasts can help to improve students’ academic activity between lessons. For example, students can produce or listen to academic content themselves, and podcasting will offer a new genre in the context of learning that is already widespread among students.

From the students’ perspective, podcasting offers various possibilities depending on whether they are consumers or creators of the content.     

1. What is podcasting and why use it in teaching

The potentials of student production:

  • Students are engaged in academic work and can produce content regardless of their literacy or writing skills. 

  • Podcasting is a great exercise in dissemination, especially in a university context, since students can listen to their own production and immediately evaluate and improve their verbal communication skills.

  • Students can interview experts, primary sources, companies, organizations etc. thereby offering them a chance to have interactions externally, and use that in the context of learning and research.

  •  Podcasting allows the students to produce content for a larger audience outside the university, while at the same time being an exercise in communicating to a particular segment of listeners.

  • Podcasting offers a possibility for the students to contribute to lessons with content they have chosen themselves.

Bellow, you can find an example of a student podcast made in the context of the course formidlings-kultur på Aarhus Universitet, which is publicly available. In the podcast, the student starts by telling what the podcast is about. It considers the questions: “What is a town square and what is it used for?” and “What is particular to Fredens Square and how does it distinguish itself from other town squares in Aarhus?” 

https://soundcloud.com/fredenstorv

Benefits of students listening to podcasts:

  • Podcasts are always readily available regardless of time or place, and information can be repeated at the convenience of the students, for example in the context of exams or repetition.

  • Podcasts are accessible for students no matter the level of their literacy, and offers the possibility of listening to technical terminology through the voice of a teacher or another expert.

  •  Podcasts can be integrated as a part of the curriculum and add variation to lessons and coursework.

  • Podcasts can provide additional information, e.g. sounds from the recording location or sound effects. In the case of reading aloud poetry, it can also convey meaning through the intonation or modulation of the voice. The soundscape of a museum or the sounds of the location of a field study are contained in the recording itself, and add tangibility to experience of the content.

Benefits of producing podcasts as a teacher:

  • All the benefits listed above.

  • Podcasts are reusable

  • Students can listen to podcast as a part of their preparation, thereby freeing up time in lessons for in-class dialogue.

  • Podcasts can be used to link explanations to e.g. descriptions of written assignments. Likewise, it can be used to link recommendations to how the syllabus is expected to be read or used. I.e. explanations and recommendations that would be time-consuming to convey through writing.

However, one must be aware that podcasts are one-way communication. Podcasts should be used in a broader educational context that involves interaction and collaboration (Fibiger 2010: 12). Tools such as Soundcloud offers the possibility of adding a commentary that can be placed in the timeline.

Below, you can find an example of a teacher's production of a podcast in which the teacher is interviewed about her research area.

https://soundcloud.com/aarhusuniversity/rubina-raja

2. Choose your format after your subject

General rules for podcasting to be aware of:

  • Focus on one subject in every episode. This could be a time period or a single concept.
  • Try to establish how many podcast episodes your subject or class affords you.
  • Consider in advance how many episodes you or your students should make for the podcast (is it a weekly episode for 14 weeks or is it a one-off?)
  • Choose the appropriate format for your podcast (see below), which can be repeated for each episode. This provides an easily recognizable structure for the listener.

Podcast formats 

There are five basic formats in podcasts, all of which you can use in your teaching depending on what makes sense for the course and the subject. Choosing the appropriate format is important for how effective the subject is conveyed.

  • Solo podcasts without participants other than the speaker conveying the given content. It makes the format flexible in terms of time and appointments. However, since you are producing alone, you are challenged in terms of having to make the podcast interesting for the listener without having the opportunity to create a dynamic through conversations and dialogue.

  • Multi-Host podcasts could be a discussion between two professors on a topic or a group of students debating on a theme. This format often ensures a better flow of communication as well as it offers more nuances in the conversation about a concept.

  • Interview Podcasts. Each episode consists of an interview between the host and one or more guests who can offer their expertise in any given subject, or can be the subject of the episode itself. The dialogue offers a dynamic and introduces multiple points of view of experts and academics, but it also requires more planning.

  • Narration podcasts are documentaries with a non-fictional or fictional subject told by a narrator. The format may contain recordings from interviews or soundbites, but the narrator leads the story. The production can be time consuming since a storyboard is needed, but the result is often very immersive for the listener.
  • Radio Dramas tell stories with several different participants acting in roles, where sound effects and music are also widely used. Here, the listener can sink into a specific time period or a tour of the museum with the narrators. However, this format is demanding and time consuming. 

3. Writing a manuscript

Writing a manuscript before recording can help you to structure your podcast. By preparing in this way you can avoid having to redo the entire podcast episode. The need for a manuscript, of course, depends on the format you choose; in some instances, following a script too closely will hinder a dynamic conversation. Instead, talking points may help you to structure a dialogue. If you are conducting an interview, the written questions will determine the structure of the recording. See the podcast manuscript template here.

Structure

A basic structure for a podcast episode could look like the following illustration:

Most podcasts have a beginning, a middle and an end. Depending on the format these can vary in length in relation to each other. The beginning often includes the following three things in no particular order: a short piece of music or collage of sound recordings that form the podcast’s jingle. A short story or description of an object, that may be picked up later, a snippet of the coming interview, something that either sets the mood, or something the listener’s attention is anchored to throughout the episode. Finally, we recommend an introduction to the episode’s content, a short overview of the themes, subjects or concepts, the episode will treat. The end of the episode may be structured in the same way.

It is no different from other verbal communication, except that you don’t have visual cues or props.

If the listener has no prior knowledge of the subject, it is a good idea to structure the episodes around single topics, and add either a written or recorded aid to the episode externally. This makes it easier for the listener to navigate in the podcast, and the podcast can to a greater extent be used as an academic resource for students to return to for one specific topic without listening to the entire episode. 

4. Ready to record

When you have chosen your format and written a manuscript or interview guide, you should consider what options you have for completing your concept. Below you will find a list of recommendations.

Equipment

There is a wide range of options available for recording a podcast. Therefore, it is important to spell out your needs beforehand and choose the appropriate equipment. If, for example, you only have access to one smartphone, you should avoid large productions with a cast of multiple persons, since the limited capabilities of the equipment will not support it. If you are using your smartphone for recording, you can follow the guide for using voice memos. If you are unable to meet in person with a participant, you can conduct a telephonic interview. In such case, the video service Skype offers the possibility of recording the call. See the guide on how to record on Skype.

Audacity offers a free recording and audio editing program that is good especially for beginners. Here is a guide on how to record in Audacity. If the podcast is intended to be used repeatedly, it is a good idea to focus on high quality sound by using better recording equipment.

You should always wear headphones when recording. The sound may cut out and leave you with holes in the recording, and if the microphone is too far from the source and background noise, it will ruin your recording. If you are wearing headphones, these things will be picked up and you can avoid useless material. 

Test your equipment before you record

Without prior experience you can easily take it for granted that the recordings will be as you expect. Therefore, you should always test your setup before starting the actual recordings. It might be tempting to not waste a person's time with setting your levels or moving the microphone about, but you risk having to record an entire interview again if the microphone is blowing out or if the recording is unintelligible.

By beginning by testing your equipment in the context in which it will be used, you minimize the risk of unforeseen technical problems. First of all, make sure that the microphone works and that the sound quality is as high as possible by playing it back to yourself in the testing phase. If you have a dictaphone or a recorder, check the optimal distance between the microphone and the source of the sound. Usually, the closer the better, but try to to avoid popping in the recording talk across the microphone, that is to say point the microphone at your mouth, not your mouth at the microphone.

5. Editing your recording

In this phase, you have the opportunity to cut off all unnecessary parts of your material such as mistakes, irrelevant digressions or sound tests. You can also add music to the introduction, the ending and as short interludes in the episode, and you can change your sound levels, insert sound effects, soundbite or recordings (reallyde). 

These few tools and effects will help adding depth and give a more professional feel to the episode.

You can use Audacity to edit and cut your recordings. The program is free and provides the tools you need for the production of the podcast. Audacity works for both Mac and Windows. Follow the link below to download Audacity

Audacity for Windows: https://www.audacityteam.org/download/windows/

Audacity for Mac: https://www.audacityteam.org/download/mac/

Here’s a guide on how to edit in Audacity. This guide describes basic features of the program, how to use them and what the features are used for.

Use of music jingles and sound effects

An easy way to improve the production value of your podcast is by using jingles, drops or other sound effects that signal, for example, a transition from one topic to another. There are numerous websites that offer royalty-free sound effects, which means they are free to use. One of them is www.freesound.org.

Using quotes and soundbites

If you are covering a specific topic or subject that, as an example, is being covered in the media, including sound bites or direct quotes can be powerful, since it adds flow to the episode and dynamic between the narrator and the quote. Moreover, it lets you comment or reflect on the material presented. When using recorded quotes, always remember to specify your source.

Avoid volume fluctuations

Excessive fluctuation in audio levels can ruin the experience of your podcast. You should keep this in mind while recording your podcast. When editing your recordings afterwards, you can to some extent edit this in Audacity, but one should always keep in mind that the more you have to correct in post-production the more information you lose. In these cases, you can improve the audio levels of your recordings by using the normalizer and compression features. These functions adjust the sound to the desired level. This way you can avoid excessive fluctuations. These features are further reviewed in the Audacity Guide.

6. Distribution

The availability of the podcast episodes is traditionally an important part of the format. Most podcast users make use of podcast streaming platforms such as iTunes, Podbean and Spotify, which require some work to get into. One solution is to upload the podcast sections in Blackboard in the relevant course. Both teacher and student can do this. See the guide on how to upload audio for a blog on BlackBoard. In addition, you can publish your podcasts for free on platforms such as Soundcloud, which allows you to upload playlists of your podcast episodes. You can choose to make your podcasts public for anyone or unlisted. See the handout on how to distribute your podcasts via Soundcloud.

7. Possibilities and Varieties

Here are some suggestions on how podcasts can be used in teaching.

Podcasting as part of student course work:

  • Podcasting as a way of introducing students to concepts prior to reading a text.

  • The teacher frames the students' course- and group work by highlighting key concepts that are necessary for understanding an assignment, or underline key links between texts.

  • The students have the opportunity to meet up more well-prepared for a lecture and participate from an informed standpoint. 

Podcast as assignments for the students:

There are many options for student-produced podcasts. Below, there is a list of some of the frameworks in which they might work:

  • Interviewing an expert source.
  • Interview with a case-representative (using audio as material for analysis).
  • Make a multi-host podcast and discuss a concept or terminology. 
  • Podcast from one reading group at a time: a podcast series on theories or progress in a project, etc. Interview with teachers or other expert sources.
  • Dan Turell example: from description to audio images.
  • Language subjects: activated language in podcast.
  • First draft assignment and problem area recorded by students.

Worth considering

  • Consider whether you, as a teacher, want to produce a podcast or whether you want the students to do it. Also remember to use podcasts in a broader educational context that involves interaction and collaboration:
    • If you choose to produce podcasts for your students, they can listen to them in their preparation for the class. This can free up time for more dialogic activities with the students in class. Podcasts are available for students regardless of their reading skills and provide an opportunity to listen to teachers’ and other professionals’ academic dissemination of a subject.
    • If you choose to let your students produce the podcasts, they can practice dissemination of the academic subject and listen to their own presentation of the subject. This allows them to evaluate their own oral and communication skills. They can also interview experts, sources of experience, companies, organizations, etc. and thus have the opportunity to interact with people outside university.


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