February 19th, 2013

Using Podcasts to Address Concepts Students Find Difficult


Whether you teach online, face-to-face, or blended/hybrid courses, podcasts can improve student learning, says Charles Morgan, chair of the mathematics department at Lock Haven University. Consider the following benefits:

  • Podcasts enable instructors to present content that enables students to work independently, which can free up class time for discussion and synthesis of ideas.
  • Podcasts can help the instructor to stay on schedule throughout the semester. The instructor can assign students podcasts to view outside of class and can make students responsible for keeping to the course schedule.
  • Podcasts give the students more confidence to participate in class discussions. “The typical lecture model asks a student to participate in a discussion while learning or very shortly after learning new material. Podcasts allow the student time to master fundamental material on his or her own time in a less intimidating environment. The student can play podcasts as often as necessary as he/she works to understand the material,” Morgan says. “Pairing a podcast with an online threaded discussion allows students to discuss the material outside class in a way that is more comfortable, since it allows a certain level of anonymity. Students seem more comfortable asking questions in the threaded discussions than they are in the classroom, and the podcast gives the class a starting point for the online discussion.”

Morgan uses the same podcasts for his face-to-face/hybrid and online courses, pairing them with threaded discussions. “For me as the professor, the only real difference is that the face-to-face/hybrid class requires far less of my participation in the threaded discussions and more of my participation in face-to-face discussions. The online course naturally requires me to engage far more diligently in the online discussions. Based upon participation in the threaded discussions, students in both types of classes find the podcasts equally valuable,” Morgan says.

Morgan suggests using threaded discussions as a starting point for podcasts. “Students are far more comfortable asking questions in the relative anonymity of the online environment. These questions shine light on the fundamentals that students are struggling to master. These questions are precisely where I get my material for my podcasts. The questions help me to focus each podcast on one major topic.

“Threaded discussions streamline the process of creating podcasts. The instructor can create podcasts that address students’ most pressing questions and avoid making podcasts that students do not really need at the moment.”

As for content, Morgan tends to focus his podcasts on fundamentals. “I choose one question for each podcast, and I discuss that question and its answer (solution). Students are usually alone when watching podcasts, so it is best to keep them brief and simple. A podcast with a complicated chain of topics or multiple topics can turn a student away and may not be watched. If a podcast is too long, students might not watch it in one sitting. The connections among ideas may then be lost, or students may not get the point of the podcast.”

Reprinted from Use Podcasts to Address Concepts Students Struggle With Online Classroom, (February 2012): 2.