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iPodology: The new kid on the block

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Abstract

Podcasting, which originated as a technology to create and distribute personal radio shows on the Internet, is now becoming a technology to support learning in many educational contexts. In this paper, we introduce podcasting as a learning technology, and discuss four approaches to using podcasting to support formal higher education, a key stage of an individual’s lifelong learning process. These podcasting approaches have been developed to support: transition from school to university; acquiring good learning and study skills; online and independent learning, and; learning at a distance. Following a brief overview of the definitions of podcasting as they apply in educational contexts, and a review of the current use of podcasting for learning, this paper outlines the methodology for developing podcasting approaches. It then briefly describes the four approaches to support student learning. Each approach has been developed to address a specific teaching and learning challenge. We invite practitioners to adopt these approaches and develop their own podcasts to address similar or different teaching and learning challenges. No full text available on the LRA.
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES SUPPORTING LIFELONG LEARNING
LIFELONG LEARNING IN EUROPE 3 | 2009 153
iPodology: The
new kid
on the
block
Palitha Edirisingha and Gilly Salmon
Podcasting, which originated as a technology to create and
distribute personal radio shows on the Internet, is now becoming
a technology to support learning in many educational contexts.
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES SUPPORTING LIFELONG LEARNING
154 LIFELONG LEARNING IN EUROPE 3 | 2009
In this article, we introduce pod-
casting as a learning technol-
ogy, and discuss four
approaches to using podcasting
to support formal higher education, a
key stage of an individual’s lifelong
learning process. These podcasting
approaches have been developed to
support: transition from school to uni-
versity; acquiring good learning and
study skills; online and independent
learning, and; learning at a distance.
Following a brief overview of the defi-
nitions of podcasting as they apply in
educational contexts, and a review of
the current use of podcasting for learn-
ing, this article outlines the methodol-
ogy for developing podcasting
approaches. It then briefly describes the
four approaches to support student
learning. Each approach has been
developed to address a specific teaching
and learning challenge. We invite prac-
titioners to adopt these approaches and
develop their own podcasts to address
similar or different teaching and learn-
ing challenges.
INTRODUCTION AND DEFINITIONS
Increasing numbers of research papers
published on podcasting and formation
of practitioner groups to explore the
potential of podcasting for learning in-
dicate the increased interest from teach-
ers and technologists on the potential
of podcasting for learning. The Pod-
casting for Pedagogical Purposes group
(podcastingforpp.pbwiki.com), IMPA-
LA (www.impala.ac.uk), and the Poda-
gogy Research Group (wlv.ac.uk) are
examples of UK-based communities of
researchers and practitioners interested
in the pedagogical applications of pod-
casting. In the UK, the Higher Educa-
tion Academy (HEA) and the Joint In-
formation Systems Committee (JISC)
have funded a number of research and
development projects to examine pod-
casting for learning.
Salmon et al (2008) regard podcasts
and podcasting as new practices that
are still evolving. According to their
definition, a podcast:
• is a digital media file that plays
sound, and sound and vision
• is made available from a website
• can be opened and/or downloaded
and played on a computer, and/or
• is downloaded from a website to
be played on a portable digital play-
er (such as a mobile phone or a ded-
icated player such as an iPod or mp3
player).
Those who prefer a more technical ap-
proach to podcasting would disagree
with the above definitions. It is true
that technically speaking what distin-
guishes podcasts from other forms of
digital media is that the technology
that underpins podcasts enables digital
media files to be delivered on the Inter-
net using syndication feeds; podcasts,
then, can be downloaded automatically
through a subscription service to play-
back on a suitable digital media player,
such as a dedicated MP3 or MP4 play-
er or a computer. This process enables
the content to be “automatically deliv-
ered to [a user’s] computer as soon as
‘new content’ is posted on the web”
(BBC, 2005). Subscription-based access
makes podcasts a ‘pull’ technology
rather than a ‘push’ technology – the
user does not have to seek and down-
load new content manually (Campbell,
2005).
The American Oxford Dictionary
defines podcasts as ‘a digital recording
of a radio broadcast or similar pro-
gram, made available on the Internet
for downloading to a personal audio
player’. This also hints at the possibil-
ity of a non-subscription vision of pod-
casts, offering the teachers and students
the option of choosing the delivery and
access technology. Many academic
podcasters offer their podcasts as
downloadable files from a website or
an institutional Virtual Learning Envi-
ronment (VLE) (Lee, Miller & Newn-
ham, 2008). Empowered by the ‘low
threshold technology’ involved in pro-
ducing podcasts (Ramsden, 2007) and
benefiting form the institutionally
available VLEs, many teachers at uni-
versities, colleges and schools now de-
liver podcasts through their VLEs for
students as downloadable files. This
approach is close to the approaches
that we have recently documented (see
Salmon & Edirisingha, 2008). VLE-
based podcasting is a popular option in
academic contexts, given that both stu-
dents and staff are familiar and regular
users of institutional VLEs (Edirising-
ha, Salmon & Nie, 2008).
PODCASTING IN HIGHER
EDUCATION
A number of social and technological
trends work in favour of the increasing
uptake of podcasting in formal learning
contexts. Software for creating and dis-
tributing podcasts, and technical in-
structions on the use of software and
tools are freely available on the Inter-
net, making podcasting a ‘low thresh-
old technology’ (Ramsden, 2007). Sig-
nificant numbers of students taking HE
courses own one or more devices: iPods
and other brands; portable computers
with MP3 playback software; and mo-
bile phones (Melville et al., 2009;
Trinder et al., 2008). All of these can
be used to playback podcasts. Advice
on exemplar approaches to using pod-
casting to improve student learning,
and pedagogical models grounded in
research (e.g., Salmon & Edirisingha,
2008) also contribute to the uptake of
podcasting for learning.
A growing body of literature shows
how podcasts can support student
learning. Chan and Lee (2005) identi-
fied that informal short podcasts help
to address students’ anxieties and con-
cerns about the course content and to
increase the sense of belonging to a
learner community for distance learn-
ers. Lee, McLoughlin and Chan (2008)
showed that learners’ involvement in
podcast creation promoted collabora-
tive knowledge building. Chinnery
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES SUPPORTING LIFELONG LEARNING
LIFELONG LEARNING IN EUROPE 3 | 2009 155
IMPALA PODCASTING APPROACHES
In this article, we discuss four ap-
proaches to using podcasting to sup-
port formal higher education to: sup-
port transition from school to universi-
ty; help students acquire good learning
and study skills; help students’ online
and independent learning; and support
learning at a distance. The approaches
reported in this paper were generated
through the IMPALA research project
(and its friends) which examined the
way podcasts can bring the advantages
of digital audio (both tutor and student
generated) to facilitate learning in high-
er education (HE). The research was
carried out in five UK universities
(Leicester, Nottingham, Kingston,
Gloucestershire and the Royal Veteri-
nary College) across a range disciplines:
chemistry, engineering, English lan-
guage, human geography, physical ge-
ography, genetics, media and communi-
cation, physics, sociology and veteri-
nary sciences. IMPALA’s friends are in
Scotland (The University of Edin-
burgh), South Africa (The University of
Capetown); Australia (Charles Sturt
University and University of New Eng-
land), and Portugal (The University of
Minho).
The IMPALA podcast development
and research was initiated with a pilot
study at the University of Leicester
leading to the development of a set of
guidelines and a framework for peda-
gogical design and development of
podcast applications to address teach-
ing and learning challenges. IMPALA
partners from the above subject areas
developed podcasts and trialed their
use with students in undergraduate
courses. We studied the impact of pod-
casting on student learning through
qualitative and quantitative data collec-
tion and analysis (see Salmon and Ed-
irisingha (2008) for more on IMPALA
and the research findings). In this arti-
cle we outline four approaches relevant
to learning in HE: on-campus, online
and at a distance (see Table 1).
Podcasting for transition to university
This is the most recent podcasting ap-
proach being developed within the IM-
PALA project. The aim of this podcast-
ing approach is to support new under-
graduates’ transition from school or
college to university (www.impala.ac.
uk/impala4t/index.html). The project is
entitled IMPALA For Transition (IM-
PALA4T).
For many students, poor transition into
university life, and difficulties with its
academic and social demands, are key
contributors to underachievement and
possibly dropping out. An Ulster study
found that up to 20 per cent of new
students encountered difficulties in ad-
justing, managing their workload and
(2006) demonstrated the use of pod-
casts to bring authentic cultural experi-
ence to students learning foreign lan-
guages. Copley (2007) showed the ef-
fectiveness of video podcasts to deliver
supplementary lecture materials within
an undergraduate marine science
course, increasing students’ enthusiasm
for studies and support in revision and
preparation for assessments. Cebeci
and Tekdal (2006) demonstrated that
podcasting is an effective technology to
make learning material more accessible
to a wider diversity of learners. Baird
and Fischer (2006) and Ng’ambi
(2008) found that podcasts can be ef-
fective in enhancing student engage-
ment in course-related activities and re-
flection. These studies and others re-
ported in the literature on podcasting
in higher education show positive ben-
efits for learning. Students both sur-
veyed and interviewed have reported
that they valued the flexibility offered
by podcasts for accessing and using
learning material as well as the cogni-
tive and motivational benefits obtained
from listening.
The above results may not be too
surprising; long before podcast technol-
ogy was invented and became popular,
the benefits of audio for learning had
been identified through its predeces-
sors: radio, audio cassettes, and audio-
vision. The content medium of pod-
casting is recorded audio, which is not
a new medium in education. Dur-
bridge’s research (1984) at the UK’s
Open University has shown that audio
can influence cognition through clarity
of instruction, and emotional aspects of
learning; audio is effective in conveying
immediacy and connection with the
teachers. Woods and Keeler (2001) re-
ported that short audio recordings by
tutors embedded into emails have
helped increase student participation in
group activities, and added a sense of
online community and satisfaction with
the overall learning experience.
Purpose or teaching and
learning issue to be addressed
Specific example of an approach
to using podcasts
Supporting the transition from school or
college to university
Student-created podcasts to share
experience and provide advice on university
studies and life
Supporting online and independent
learning
Advice on time management, proposed
study schedules and feedback on e-tivities
Supporting learning at a distance Podcasts to address anxieties and other
emotional issues of distance learners
Supporting the development of learning
and study skills
Podcasts with advice on student
presentations and assessments
Table 1. Four approaches to using podcasts to address specific
teaching and learning objectives
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES SUPPORTING LIFELONG LEARNING
156 LIFELONG LEARNING IN EUROPE 3 | 2009
becoming independent learners, leading
to one in six withdrawing (Lowe &
Cook, 2003). Students’ preparedness
for and awareness of HE are critical
factors contributing to their successful
transition into HE (NAO, 2002; Boyle,
Carter & Clark, 2002). HE students’
age, ethnicity, socio-economic back-
ground and family HE history (Taylor,
Barr & Steele, 2002) all impact on
their preparedness for HE. New en-
trants may hold misconceptions and
many are inadequately prepared for the
university’s assessment procedures, the
relatively limited amount of face-to-
face contact, the requirements of inde-
pendent study, the large size of lecture
groups, and the choices to be made
among modular options (Byrne &
Flood, 2005; Robothom & Julian,
2006).
Preparation for HE should include
understanding HE and its ‘institutional
habitus’, meaning the values and prac-
tices of cultural or social groups that
are embedded in and mediated through
the culture of an institution (Reay,
David & Ball, 2001). A student who is
unprepared can feel like a ‘fish out of
water’ (Thomas, 2002, p. 431). Sup-
port for transition may bridge the gap
between ‘institutional habitus’ and a
person’s habitus, but HE institutions
typically respond by providing formal
courses in study skills (Hultberg et al.,
2008; Walker, Matthew & Black,
2004; Knox, 2005).
The knowledge and experience of
students who have already made the
transition have rarely been exploited.
Such knowledge is considered ‘hot
knowledge’ (Ball & Vincent, 1998) that
identifies ‘the socially embedded’
knowledge prevailing in networks of
friends, family, relatives and neigh-
bours, the people who are generally
considered as ‘people like me’ (Hutch-
ing, 2003, p. 110). Studies on HE prep-
aration report that potential applicants
consider ‘hot knowledge’ to be more
trustworthy than communication
through ‘official’ sources (Hutchings,
2003).
Podcasting can capture this ‘hot
knowledge’ and make it available to
HE entrants and those studying at Lev-
el 1. The IMPALA4T approach uses
podcasting as an innovative way to
reach and address students on transi-
tion issues. IMPALA taps the knowl-
edge and experience of students who
recently made their own transition. IM-
PALA4T develops podcasts of two
types: Type A for the benefit of learners
about to start their first undergraduate
studies, and Type B for those well into
their first year (Level 1). Second- and
third-year students in the Department
of Biological Sciences at the University
of Leicester develop these podcasts
with a lecturer’s guidance.
Early results from interviews with
students suggest that they see the stu-
dent-created podcasts as helpful in
three areas of transition: social, aca-
demic and institutional. For each area
of transition they identified specific in-
formation needs that must be consid-
ered by academic institutions in sup-
porting new entrants. These include in-
formation and knowledge about serv-
ices available within the institution,
such as the library facilities, the VLE
platform and support services; infor-
mation about tutorials, assignment
submission procedures and communi-
cation with tutors; and developing rela-
tionships with peers and specific inter-
est groups.
Supporting online and independent
learning
Students enrolled in campus-based HE
institutions generally carry out the ma-
jority of their studies through face-to-
face methods such as lectures and semi-
nars. However, the availability of VLE
provides opportunities for lecturers and
tutors to offer some or most of the
teaching and learning activities online.
Professor John Fothergill at the Univer-
sity of Leicester took this opportunity,
and using the intuitional VLE Black-
board, he has been teaching his under-
graduate engineering module mostly
online since the early 2000.
While online learning offered the
students many advantages, for exam-
ple, the flexibility of learning at a pace,
time and at locations suitable to their
circumstances, it had its drawbacks.
Professor Fothergill felt that, although
the content of the course did not
change during the few years of running
the course, the repeated presentations
of recorded ‘e-lectures’ meant that over
time the course started ‘to lose life and
lack lustre’ (Fothergill, 2008). He felt
that even a well-designed course can
look static and lack the liveliness of a
course delivered using face-to-face
methods such as lectures and seminars.
He also felt that students needed sup-
port and guidance to structure their on-
line learning activities.
Fothergill was looking for a technol-
ogy that could help him support stu-
dents’ online learning and to ‘enliven’
the course, and he found the answer in
podcasting. He considered that pod-
casts would enable him to ‘talk to the
students’ regularly, to provide feedback
on their course work and performance
in group work, and comment on results
from assignments. For the majority of
students, learning and studying entirely
online was a new experience, therefore,
the professor wanted to use podcasts to
provide advice and guidance to stu-
dents on approaches to studying the
module.
Fothergill developed podcasts on a
weekly basis and made them available
on the module site of the VLE. His
model of podcasts contained an initial
item related to something that was re-
ported in the popular press related to
the subject, a middle and a substantial
section (about 6–7 minutes) dealing
with elements described above and a fi-
nal section with humour. More details
on the podcasts can be found in
Fothergill (2008, pp. 80–91).
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES SUPPORTING LIFELONG LEARNING
LIFELONG LEARNING IN EUROPE 3 | 2009 157
Student evaluations during four aca-
demic years have shown that the pod-
casts were popular amongst students;
podcasts have helped students carry
out their learning and studying online.
Students valued the guidance received
from podcasts to structure their weekly
learning activities; being first-time e-
learners, they needed such guidance.
Supporting learning at a distance
Pre-conceptions and anxieties that stu-
dents bring to learning are barriers to
effective learning (Chan & Lee, 2005).
A small-scale trial of using podcasts
with a cohort of undergraduate on-
campus students at Charles Sturt Uni-
versity (CSU) in Australia proved that
short podcasts (about 5 minutes long)
were useful in helping students alleviate
their anxieties and to help them ad-
dress their misconceptions about the
subject matter (Chan & Lee, 2005).
Building on the success of the pilot
study, Chan, Lee and their colleagues
used podcasts with a range of under-
graduate and postgraduate students,
studying on-campus as well as off-cam-
pus at locations around Australia and
overseas.
The podcasts at CSU were about 5
minutes long. Groups of volunteer stu-
dents who had either completed the
course or who were not presently en-
rolled were involved in creating these
podcasts. They managed the complete
production process, from generating
ideas to making the final product avail-
able for students to listen to. Lee and
Tynan (2008, pp. 92–102) describe the
production process in detail. Podcasts
were produced by students in groups
with the minimal intervention by the
teaching staff. The student podcast
producers were able to exercise a high
degree of autonomy and creativity. The
format of the podcast was similar to a
talk-back radio programme where stu-
dent presenters hold discussions on
subject-related issues in a relaxed and
informal style. Occasionally, lecturers
and subject experts featured in these
podcasts offering insights into the more
difficult or complex issues and topics.
The material covered in these podcasts
was supplementary to formal content,
and involved no assessments.
Research carried out to identify how
podcasts helped student learning un-
earthed a number of beneficial effects.
The distance learners rated podcasts
highly: listening to podcasts has been
an effective use of their time. Students
improved their time-management skills,
thereby preventing them from falling
behind. Those who listened to podcasts
reported that they helped with their
motivation and engagement with their
studies, leading to enhanced learning
outcomes. Podcasts have contributed to
fostering a sense of community
amongst the distance learners who do
not generally get to meet their peers.
Supporting the development of
learning and study skills
Rothwell (2008) illustrates an ap-
proach to using podcasts to develop the
learning and study skills of first-year
undergraduate students. Rothwell
teaches a core module taken by stu-
dents who were from different fields of
study: all combining English language
with other subjects from humanities,
arts and social sciences. Students on
Rothwell’s module were assessed on a
portfolio that they had developed indi-
vidually during the semester, and their
group presentations. Students had little
contact with each other outside the
module, limiting the opportunities to
develop a cohort identity and for peer
support to develop study skills for as-
sessed work.
Rothwell used podcasts to help stu-
dents develop the range of study skills
required for learning the module, in-
cluding the core skills needed to devel-
op portfolios and presentations. The
podcasts that she developed were about
10 minutes long, and were made avail-
able fortnightly. They were designed to
enhance students’ understanding of the
core concepts and issues, build a sense
of cohort identity, encourage peer sup-
port for learning, and develop writing,
speaking and presentation skills. Each
aspect was covered by sound clips of 2–
3 minutes explaining key concepts cov-
ered in lectures and seminars, discus-
sions between students and staff on as-
sessment tasks, and senior students pro-
viding study tips. To develop student
collaboration, content for podcasts was
generated from interviews with current
and previous students, and student
mentors (senior students) who help with
level-one students at the faculty Aca-
demic Skills Development Centre (a
drop-in advice centre).
Rothwell reports a number of posi-
tive outcomes of her podcast approach.
Podcasts became a complementary re-
source for students to learn more about,
and clarify issues related to, how they
go about developing portfolios and pre-
paring for presentations. The views of,
and advice from, senior students on
learning and studying have been a valu-
able source of learning. Podcasts offered
them choices in terms of time, location
and sequencing of their learning.
REMARKS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
This article presented four approaches
to using podcasts to support formal
learning at the undergraduate level.
Starting with a clear pedagogical ration-
ale is critical for the success of a pod-
casting approach. All the four podcast-
ing approaches presented in this paper
share a common feature; they all have
been developed to address a particular
teaching and learning challenge. Re-
searching the impact of these approach-
es has shown positive benefits to stu-
dent learning.
As the approaches described in this
article demonstrated, you can involve
not only teachers and subject experts,
but also students and other stakeholders
in the podcast development process.
These approaches showed that content
generated from and by students have
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES SUPPORTING LIFELONG LEARNING
158 LIFELONG LEARNING IN EUROPE 3 | 2009
helped students to learn generic learn-
ing and study skills, to alleviate study-
related anxieties, and to develop reflec-
tive skills. Consider getting your stu-
dents’ active participation in develop-
ing podcasts.
The VLE is the main delivery plat-
form for all the podcasts described in
this article, and research carried out on
student use of podcasts showed that
students were able to access and use
them without technical issues. There-
fore, we can confidently say that VLE
based podcast delivery works well for
academic podcasts. If you use a sub-
scription-based approach to deliver
your podcasts, it is important to help
students understand how they can sub-
scribe to your podcasts in order to ac-
cess them.
Podcasting can support face-to-face
learning, online and on location, and it
can help to learn both conceptual top-
ics and practical subject matter. As this
article outlined, many social and tech-
nical trends are working in favour of
using podcasts for teaching and learn-
ing. So, please explore, experiment and
report back your stories of podcasting
for learning. You can find us on www.
impala.ac.uk.
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DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES SUPPORTING LIFELONG LEARNING
160 LIFELONG LEARNING IN EUROPE 3 | 2009
PALITHA EDIRISINGHA
is a Lecturer in E-Learning at the Beyond
Distance Research Alliance (BDRA),
University of Leicester in the UK. He holds
a PhD degree from Institute of Educational
Technology at the UK Open University
and a Masters degree in Education and the
Mass Media from Manchester University.
He obtained his first degree in Agriculture
from Sri Lanka. Edirisingha works on
a number of research projects at the
University of Leicester, including IMPALA
(podcasting), WoLF (mobile learning),
MOOSE (3D virtual worlds) and ELKS (an
e-learning community of practice project).
He also coordinates the BDRA’s visiting
researcher programme. His research
interests include the role of emerging
learning technologies (mobile, social web
services and tools) for facilitating informal
learning within academic contexts and for
creating social capital and communities
of practices amongst students to support
formal learning; and e-learning to provide
educational opportunities in developing
countries.
CONTACT
Dr Palitha Edirisingha
Lecturer in e-Learning
Beyond Distance Research Alliance
Room 1808, Floor 18
Attenborough Tower
University of Leicester
University Road
Leicester LE1 7RH
UK
Tel: +44 116 252 2177
Email: pe27@le.ac.uk
Website: http://www.le.ac.uk/beyonddistance/
GILLY SALMON
is Professor of E-learning and Learning
Technologies at the University of Leicester,
UK, and head of the Beyond Distance
Research Alliance and the Media Zoos (on
campus, online and in-world in Second Life).
Her research interests span strategies for
enhancing learning with and through new
technologies, the future for learning in
Higher Education and innovation through
learning design. She is a Senior Fellow of
the UK Higher Education Academy, and
a member of the Academy’s Council and
Board. Salmon has two research degrees
in change management and ICT and
pedagogy. Her book E-moderating (2004)
is considered seminal in the field of online
teaching. Other recent books include
E-tivities (2002) and Learning in Groups
(2006), with David Jacques. Podcasting for
Learning in Universities was published
in August 2008. She is currently writing
‘Learning Futures’.
CONTACT
Professor Gilly Salmon
Professor of E-learning and Learning
Technologies
Beyond Distance Research Alliance
Room 1813a
Attenborough Tower
University of Leicester
University Road
Leicester LE1 7RH
UK
Tel: +44 116 252 2440
Email: gilly.salmon@le.ac.uk
Website: http://www.le.ac.uk/beyonddistance/
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