The Power of Podcasting Redux

It’s no secret that technology continues to transform the way educators teach and the way students learn. Increasingly, students want to be able to learn on their own terms–that is, they want to be able to study whenever, wherever, and however they choose, and they expect institutions and faculty to be accommodating. We’ve likely all had students who for one misguided reason or another believed that their professors–particularly those teaching online—were available around the clock to answer questions, provide feedback, and generally just be there if needed. As unrealistic as this belief is, wouldn’t it be nice if instructors could approximate being available 24/7? Well, you can—sort of—through the power of podcasting.

Podcasting is the transmission of regularly occurring or thematically connected media (audio, still images, and/or video) across the Internet. Research has shown that students respond favorably to podcasts (Chester, Buntine, Hammond, & Atkinson, 2011) in that they see value in and will listen to such content. Although podcasting has experienced its share of peaks and valleys in popularity, it is still a technology that educators should not overlook, as podcasting is an excellent tool instructors can use to meet the needs of today’s students.

For starters, podcasting allows educators to reach students around the clock. Once students have access to the podcast (via a Web link or direct download), they are free to listen to it on their own terms and as many times as they like. So, if it’s 2:00 a.m. and a student wants to, say, revisit an instructor’s thoughts on the three appeals of argumentative writing, he or she can. In addition, students will listen to shorter podcasts (five to 12 minutes) more than once (Jalali, Leddy, Gauthier, Sun, Hincke, & Carnegie, 2011; Luna & Cullen, 2011), not to mention the fact that students can click “pause” so that they can think and reflect and maybe even take notes before barreling forward. Students can also rewind and replay segments as much as they want, or they can listen to the entire podcast again.

There’s also something comforting about hearing an instructor’s voice. The way an instructor presents himself or herself goes a long way in revealing personality as well as establishing the tone and mood for the learning community. In addition, with just the right amount of enthusiasm and conviction (I am not suggesting putting on a dog and pony show), an instructor can, for example, help students realize just how important the use of the Oxford comma actually is in clear writing. The instructor’s enthusiasm for the topic can be infectious and generate interest in students that may not have existed before.

In the online world, podcasts can help the instructor develop presence—the sense that the person leading the course is a real live human being. While students cannot connect with a physical person, they can connect to an aspect of the instructor—the instructor’s voice–and perhaps other media, and thus gain a better sense of the instructor as a multidimensional being and not a flat computer icon. With regular podcasts, students come to anticipate new episodes at particular times and are drawn to the learning community to the point where the mediated space becomes increasingly transparent. Podcasts can serve the same function in face-to-face class settings and extend the learning community beyond a specific time and place. Podcasts can fill the gaps between opportunities of live interaction.

Podcasts have great flexibility and can serve a multitude of educational purposes, including but not limited to the following:

  • Introducing new material
  • Providing an overview of key concepts
  • Conveying course information and policies
  • Archiving FAQs
  • Addressing issues as needed
  • Capturing interviews

What’s great about creating podcasts is that they can be used over and over again. And if editing or updating is needed, it’s relatively easy to make such changes to the existing podcast without the need to start from scratch. In this sense, while initially creating podcasts might require extra time, once they’re created, they actually save faculty time.

Perhaps the biggest plus for podcasts is the ease with which they can be created. Podcasting is not any more complicated than the old cassette recorder in which the user pressed “record” and “play” to start recording. Not only is the process of recording content simple and straightforward, but the software is likely already on your device or available free online.

For faculty who use Macs, GarageBand is an easy-to-use application that is included free with the Mac. GarageBand has a clean interface and more than enough editing functionality for the average educational podcaster. Faculty can also use Audacity (available for both the Mac and PC platforms) to record podcasts. Audacity is a good, basic recording option with decent editing capabilities. And if your computer happens to be a dinosaur, then you can use a smartphone.

Chester, A., Buntine, A., Hammond, K., & Atkinson, L. (2011). Podcasting in education: Student attitudes, behaviour and self-efficacy. Educational Technology & Society, 14(2), 236-247. Retrieved from ERIC.

Jalali, A., Leddy, J., Gauthier, M., Sun, R., Hinke, M., & Carnegie, J. (2011). Use of podcasting as an innovative asynchronous e-learning tool for students. Online Submission, US-China Education Review, A(6), 741-748. Retrieved from ERIC.

Luna, G., & Cullen, D. (2011). Podcasting as complement to graduate teaching: Does it accommodate adult learning theories? International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 23(1), 40-47. Retrieved from ERIC.

Kurtis C. Clements is an assistant chair in the School of General Education at Kaplan University.