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Planning your Educational Podcast for an Online Course: Four genres to consider

By Christopher Drew / July 2019

TYPE: EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES
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2019 marked 15 years since the term “podcast” first emerged [1]. Since then, podcast design has become an increasingly mainstream media format in both popular culture and university learning.

Podcasts have been very useful for learning and teaching. They have primarily been employed as review materials for students prior to exams or lecture recordings for online students [2]. However, emerging studies are also showing the value of student-developed podcasting for promoting students’ voice and storytelling [3, 4]. There is also evidence that podcasts are a valuable tool for online learning [5], and may be able to address high attrition rates seen in online courses. Many students withdraw from online courses due to a lack of personal connection to their studies [6]. In response to this, podcasts can offer an opportunity for teachers to develop content that humanizes and personalizes the online experience [7].

Podcasts offer unique affordances that differentiate them from other media used for teaching and learning such as written text and videos. Written text is long critiqued for turning students away from learning [8]. Embeddable videos in learning scenarios offer a solution to this challenge and allow students to learn in a more visually appealing way. However, podcasts offer a unique input to digitized learning given their versatility. They can be consumed on the move and in non-traditional learning spaces, such as during bus rides and on walks, offering flexibility and mobility beyond text and video-based media [9].

Through podcasts, students hear the teacher’s voice and listen to their stories in a way that gives students a sense that their teacher is a real person. For example, current use of podcasts in education highlights that listening to human inflection in explanations can correspond with better understanding and decreased confusion compared to text-based descriptions [10]. Teachers can also personalize podcast content by mentioning students by name, giving students a sense that the teacher is engaging in direct conversation with them.

In this article, I outline some challenges of using podcasts in online classes. I then introduce four popular genres [10] of podcast and how they might each be integrated into online courses. Each genre has its own strengths for supporting student learning. While the intention is to stimulate thought about how educators might employ these genres in the design curation of their own podcasts, it is also possible you may like to assign relevant existing podcasts from these genres in your course’s resource lists.

Podcasting for Learning

I came the idea of integrating podcasts into my online classes as a result of students’ lack of inspiration from text-based courses, and my own passion for learning Spanish through the “Coffee Break Spanish” podcast series hosted by the charismatic Scotsman Mark. I began experimenting with podcasting in 2015 in my own classes, mainly copying the style of the Mark who walked me from learning how to order a coffee in season 1 through to listening to sitcom telenovelas in season 4.

My foray into educational podcasting was largely an exercise in copying the professionals. Throughout my podcast immersion, I was learning what I loved about a good podcast and tried out those methods for my own teaching.

The literature on podcasting in education was also informative in walking me through steps for my own podcast design. It taught me challenges students face:

  • Boredom [with longer podcasts [8, 11]
  • Distractedness due to poor quality audio
  • A desire for summaries and reviews [8] of content

Ironically, some of the tips from academic literature on good education podcast design contradicted with some of the top-rated, best-selling podcasts online. While most literature on educational podcasting recommends 5 to 10 minutes per podcast [8], the famed “Hardcore History” podcast can span more than three hours per episode and remains one of the most downloaded podcasts of all time. This contradiction highlights how little is currently known about what makes a “good” educational podcast [11].

For my students, what works depends on a great deal of factors. The lists of top-rated education podcasts on podcast aggregation apps such as iTunes and Stitcher show there is a great variety of podcasting styles out there—and many of the “rules” [11] about podcast length or structure are continually debunked by the viral podcasts that rise to the top of the charts.

Tuning In

Below are some of the more common podcast genres and a summary of their applicability to education. There may not be a correct form of podcast for educators to develop, but an understanding of the different forms may allow educators to reflect on which sort of podcast genre they would like to employ depending upon their students’ needs.

1. The Chat Show

The chat show format is characterized by a panel of experts coming together to discuss a topic. Borrowing from the genres of television shows such as “The View,” chat show podcasts are characterized by a collection of opinionated and often adversarial panel members examining a concept from all sides.

Scientific podcasts “Infinite Monkey Cage” and “Star Talk” are two of the most well-known podcasts of this genre. These podcasts provide fascinating critiques of topics from great minds including Neil deGrasse Tyson and Professor Bryan Cox.

One of the great benefits of chat show style podcasts is they expose students to some of the top minds within the topic area of the podcast and give students the opportunity to hear their competing perspectives on complex topics. Such podcasts are therefore valuable for their capacity to model higher-order skills such as critical analysis and debate [9].

One chat show style podcast created by a university professor that I recommend checking out for an idea of how this could be applied is the “what’s New in APE?” podcast by Scott McNamara.

2. The Narrative

Popularized by the viral podcast “Serial,” the narrative podcast is one of the most recognizable forms of podcast on the market. Narrative podcasts tend to involve one presenter who regales the listener with stories from within their niche.

While “Serial” is by no means an educational podcast, this genre has been embraced largely within the history podcasting subject area to provide deep dives into moments in history. The “British History Podcast and the “History of Rome” podcast are just two podcasts from this genre that boast sizable fan bases.

Characteristic of the narrative podcast is its storytelling style [9], whereby listeners immerse themselves into a story that presents nuanced contextual data. These podcasts therefore paint a rich picture of the topic area. Applying Bloom’s Taxonomy [12], such podcasts could enable students to move beyond “remembering” and “understanding” toward the “analysis” and “evaluation” of events based on a rich understanding of the content.

3. The Tutorial

The podcast that originally inspired me, “Coffee Break Spanish” is the quintessential tutorial-style podcast. In tutorial podcasts, the intention is to directly educate the listener through a scaffolded lesson on a topic.

For podcasts like “Coffee Break Spanish” and related podcasts, including “Notes in Spanish,” there is often both a host and a learner. The host acts as the Vygotskian “more knowledgeable other” who walks the learner through tasks by breaking them down into bite-sized chunks and walking both the learner and listener through the task.

Typical pedagogical strategies used in tutorial podcasts include modelling, strategic pausing, and gradual removal of support as lessons progress. In “Coffee Break Spanish,” the host Mark will often break down a phrase into its syllables, ask the listener to repeat after him, then pause to allow the listener to speak into the silence. Then, Mark’s in-studio learner will repeat the phrase to model how the ideal student would have responded. As the lessons progress, simple phrases are no longer broken down into syllables, and more complex tasks involving comprehension are used instead. Here, scaffolding is gradually removed as students develop through the course content.

This genre of podcast has obvious benefits for learners. It enables distance learners to be guided through a learning experience akin to one they would have face-to-face with a tutor. While the example I gave above was for language learning, I often also employ tutorial-style strategies with quizzes at strategic points in my own podcasts. For example, I employ a ticking countdown clock noise to give students time to come up with answers to my questions before I provide the correct answer for them.

4. The Quick Burst

Lastly, the quick burst podcast is an effective style of podcast that can be quickly created for weekly wrap-ups of content or summaries provided to students prior to exams. These podcasts tend to follow the advice in educational podcasting literature that podcasts be short, upbeat, and to-the-point [5]. However, they lack the deep dive and critical analysis you may be able to achieve with the previous three genres.

Mignon Fogarty’s “Quick and Dirty Tips” podcast is one of the most watched educational podcasts of all time and is a quintessential podcast within this genre. Fogarty provides one-off tips on grammar such as the difference between effect and affect.

The quick burst podcast tends to be one to five minutes long and presents interesting snippets of facts for the listener who is time poor and on the run. The tips tend to be very actionable and new episodes can be released on a regular basis.

I find these podcasts to be a great type of podcast to re-engage students after a mid-semester break. My top recommendation for these podcasts is to drop them into an email or forum task at the start of a weekly discussion and conclude the podcast with a stimulating question for students to respond to in the weekly online forum. Their short, engaging, and upbeat style can be used to kick-start student engagement after a brief mid-semester lull.

Conclusion

Podcasting is an effective way to engage students online. Most entry-level computers tend to come with an inbuilt microphone that will suffice for a teacher-designed podcast, and simple podcast editing software such as Audacity is available free online.

While in this article I have offered some podcast styles to stimulate discussion about the podcast styles you might like to create for your students, you could also consider assigning podcast creation as an assessable task for students. Having students develop debates on topics or present narrative-style journalistic accounts of topics they are studying can offer an engaging and refreshing assessment alternative for your next course.

When considering podcast design, keep in mind whether you would like students to receive short, actionable tips (the quick burst), in-depth detail accounts of the nuances of topics or events (the narrative), scaffolded introductions to new information (the tutorial), or to hear competing perspectives on a topic (the chat show). By starting with the intended learning outcome, you can begin to envisage how you might want to design or select your next educational podcast to address the needs of your students.

References

[1] Hammersley, B. Audible revolution. The Guardian. February 12, 2004.

[2] Abdous, M., Facer, R., and Yen, C. Academic effectiveness of podcasting: A comparative study of integrated versus supplemental use of podcasting in second language classes. Computers & Education 58, 1 (2012), 43–52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2011.08.021

[3] Bolden, B. Learner-created podcasts: Students’ stories with music. Music Educators Journal 100, 1 (2013), 75-80. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0027432113493757

[4] Scardina, C. Aural language: podcasting as a tool of expression. Teacher Librarian 46, 1 (2018), 34-36.

[5] Forbes, D., and Khoo, E. Voice over distance: A case of podcasting for learning in online teacher education. Distance Education 36, 3 (2015), 335-350. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2015.1084074

[6] Drew, C. 33 pros and cons of online learning. Helpful Professor 17 February 17,  2019.

[7] Bolliger, D., Supanakorn, S., and Boggs, C. Impact of podcasting on student motivation in the online learning environment. Computers & Education 55, 2 (2010), 714-722.

[8] Kidd, W. Utilising podcasts for learning and teaching: A review and ways forward for e-learning cultures. Management in Education 26, 2 (2011), 52–57. https://doi.org/10.1177/0892020612438031

[9] Drew, C. Edutaining audio: An exploration of education podcast affordances. Educational Media International 54, 1 (2017), 48–62. https://doi.org/10.1080/09523987.2017.1324360

[10] Drew. C. Educational podcasts: A genre analysis. E-Learning and Digital Media 14, 4 (2017), 201–211. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042753017736177

[11] Hew, K. Use of audio podcast in K-12 and higher education: A review of research topics and methodologies. Educational Technology Research and Development 57, 3 (2009), 333–357. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-008-9108-3

[12] Bloom, B S. and Krathwohl, D. R. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The classification of educational goals, by a committee of college and university examiners. Longmans, New York, 1956.

About the Author

Dr. Chris Drew is an eLearning Advisor with Swinburne Online University. His research on podcasting has been published in journals including eLearning and Digital Media and Educational Media International. You can contact him on Twitter at @cpgdrew or his personal blog: https://helpfulprofessor.com.

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Comments

  • Fri, 04 Oct 2019
    Post by nikhil

    Great content ..keep writing!!

  • Sun, 29 Sep 2019
    Post by Israil Kurbaniyazov

    Much of the literature I have come across so far discusses how podcasts can enhance learning bringing up the benefits of this medium. This article is, however, rather unique for me as it doesn't limit itself to the previous research, but goes beyond that and offers practical ideas to bring podcasting into our teaching. Good read!