Podcasts: a not-so-quiet revolution in academic practice?

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Jonny Johnston, Academic Practice, writes here about using podcasts to support teaching and learning.

Podcasts – effectively talk radio on demand-  have been a feature of the new media landscape for many years now, often used as a pleasant distraction during commuting. Many academics, including those at Trinity, use them for public engagement and to disseminate their research outside of the university (e.g. Prof Michelle D’Arcy’s ‘Common Threads’).  

Inside the academy, podcasts are also increasingly playing a role in support of teaching and learning in and across the disciplines (Gribbins, 2007; Lonn & Teasley, 2009; Prakash & Anand, 2017; Erdirisingha, Salmon, & Fotheringill 2007; Osklawski-Lopez & Kordsmeier, 2021). Indeed, in the early stages of the pandemic, lecture capture software highlighted the possibilities of preparing lecture materials for podcasts for colleagues who, perhaps, might not otherwise have thought about using podcasts in their teaching practice.

Podcasts in practice

Podcasts can be used in both a light-touch way (e.g. highlighting key ideas/challenges, introducing new themes) and as a more academic resource (e.g. used for revision, spotlighting specialism) in teaching. Using podcasts to support academic teaching can be as straightforward as recording video or audio files and sharing them through Blackboard – and as simple as taking a red pen to an existing lecture script and deciding which strands of the lecture go best together in 15-20 min standalone segments (Cosmini, Cho, & Espinoza, 2017).

Podcasts don’t need to be used as a ‘deep’ teaching tool. They can also be used to support community development and broaden engagement with peers working in similar areas across the context. Our own Academic Practice podcast, ‘Coffee & Cobblestones’, first launched during the Covid-19 pandemic, has been used to broaden engagement with our Centre and to connect our institutional educational development activity to national enhancement themes, strengthen linkages across the sector with peer Centres, and to showcase excellent practice at institutional level.

No matter how you intend to use them, one of the key challenges with podcasts, however, is that they are often used by listeners as background ‘filler’ – just like talk radio. Effective podcast use in teaching is like effective lecturing practice– for it to be more than content delivered at a student, articulating what you expect students to ‘do’ with the podcast content is important. Flagging specific podcast resources to learners explicitly as learning supports can encourage students to engage with them and listen more than once to a particular episode – perhaps making notes, coming up with questions, and summarising the content of an episode in their own words.

Finding listeners and getting them to tune in

Without a clear strategy for reaching a particular audience, podcasts can risk ‘broadcasting into the void’. As such, there is a clear need to identify appropriate target audiences and implement communication strategies to support their use (e.g. coherent Twitter campaigns, advertising via institutional mechanisms). If you’re thinking about using podcasts, these are good questions to get started with:

  • Who do you want to listen (e.g. who is the audience?) and how does that shape your podcast?
  • What do you want your podcast to include? (e.g. what is the content?)
  • Where will you host the podcast (e.g. on an open platform, inside the VLE?)
  • If you’re hosting your podcast externally, what are appropriate keywords for people to find you? (e.g. how identifiable is your podcast?)
  • Who might you want to have as ‘guest’ speakers (e.g. varying who your listeners listen to?)
  • What is/are the key messages you want people to take away from each episode of the podcast?

Some suggested podcasts to get started with:

  1. Coffee & Cobblestones – Academic Practice, Trinity College Dublin
  2. Teaching Matters, University of Edinburgh.
  3. Inside Education – A Podcast for Educators Interested in Teaching. Sean Delaney, Marino Institute of Education.
  4. Talking & LearningArena Centre for Teaching and Learning, UCL
  5. Dead Ideas in Teaching & Learning– Columbia University Centre for Teaching & Learning
  6. Leading Lines– Vanderbilt University Centre for Teaching and Learning

References:

  1. Gribbins, Michele, “THE PERCEIVED USEFULNESS OF PODCASTING IN HIGHER EDUCATION: A SURVEY OF STUDENTS’ ATTITUDES AND INTENTION TO USE” (2007). MWAIS 2007 Proceedings. 6. http://aisel.aisnet.org/mwais2007/
  2. Lonn, Steven, Teasley, Stephanie D. 2009. “Podcasting in Higher Education: What Are the Implications for Teaching and Learning?” Internet and Higher Education 12:2, 88–92.
  3. Prakash SS, Muthuraman N, Anand R. Short-duration podcasts as a supplementary learning tool: perceptions of medical students and impact on assessment performance. BMC Med Educ. 2017 Sep 18;17(1):167. doi: 10.1186/s12909-017-1001-5. PMID: 28923046; PMCID: PMC5604391.
  4. Edirisingha, P., Salmon, G. and Fothergill, J. (2007) Profcasting – a Pilot Study and Guidelines for Integrating Podcasts in a Blended Learning Environment, In U. Bernath and A. Sangrà (Eds.) Research on competence development in online distance education and e-learning (127-137). Oldenburg: BIS-Verlag.
  5. Oslawski-Lopez J, Kordsmeier G. “Being Able to Listen Makes Me Feel More Engaged”: Best Practices for Using Podcasts as Readings. Teaching Sociology. 2021;49(4):335-347. doi:10.1177/0092055X211017197
  6. Cosmini, M.; Cho, D.; Liley, F.; Espinoza, J. (2017). Podcasting in medical education: How long should an educational podcast be? Journal of Graduate Medical Education, 9(3): 388-389.
  7. Jalali A, Leddy J, Gauthier M, et al. . Use of podcasting as an innovative asynchronous e-learning tool for students. US-China Educ Rev. 2011; 6: 741– 748. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/98ba/6cc35942469946b52cef044d9cb050fe8329.pdf.