By Gerson Moreno-Riano, January 7, 2009 in Pedagogy and Teaching
Matthew Roberts, a professor at Hope College, wrote an important piece entitled "Adventures in Podcasting" in the July 2008 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics. Roberts' article was the result of his experience using podcasting in some of his political science courses. The reasoning behind his use of podcasts is itself somewhat funny (readers will have to engage Roberts' article for this bit of information). But the article and the study and data he presents offers important insights in the use of the new technologies for teaching in today's university classrooms. I myself was interested since I have used podcasting technology once before. So as a fellow podcaster I thought I could learn from an expert.
Roberts used podcasts for two of his courses (an introductory American politics course and a methods in political analysis course). More specifically, he "podcasted" (notice how the word can now be used as a verb, gerund, etc.) every lecture in both courses. He admits that this is a basic use of the technology but, frankly, it is quite admirable that he did all of this! In the article he reports on what he learned through the use of such podcasts. His conclusions are important for us to consider.
Conclusion 1: Content is more important than the "WOW" factor
Roberts found that while students are usually in awe of using iPods and podcasting in higher learning environments their awe is temporary and succumbs to their need and desire for academic content. Students are interested in being educated and look for strong educational and academic leadership. Roberts' research validates what I have noticed in my own courses. Students do want to learn and technology provides a medium through which to provide good, sound content. The WOW factor is important if only to pierce through the veil and couch strong content as "cool" and "up to date with the times." Frankly, I have no problem doing this if in the end I am able to get into the minds and hands of students the type of content that will educate them to be good thinkers and good citizens.
Conclusion 2: Context matters
Roberts suggests that his research demonstrates that podcasting is very useful in upper level courses and not just lower level courses. Most podcasting courses or content are deployed in large enrollment courses suggesting a "bang for the buck" approach. Roberts argues that professors should not overlook upper level courses. Here, I would suggest, Roberts may want to reconsider his criterion. Perhaps it is smaller courses that are more appropriate for podcasting than larger courses. Obviously, in larger courses the content net is spread over larger waters. But as in traditional face to face teaching, smaller courses are always richer and more robust. So too with podcasting. My own experience allowed me to create an iPod course using iTunes U. Students would then register for free with iTunes and arrive at a portal for my university. Once there they would find my course page and down load each weekly podcast. The class was a small one and I was even able to video record lectures and place them as podcasts. The small class size and the strong content of the podcasts allowed them to be highly favored and used by students. And, in turn, the class size also allowed for rich discussions as well.
Conclusion 3: Sound is not enough
As mentioned before, in my own experience, I not only used sound podcasts but also video ones. Roberts concludes that this is very important as well. Sound should also be augmented when possible with video. In my own podcasting I found that students really engaged the video podcasts and used them frequently to study and review for examinations and other assessments. Depending on the IT department at one's university or one's own computer, creating short videos is not very difficult or time consuming. And there are numerous online videos that one can link to in a podcast or video podcast that serve to enrich one's teaching.
Conclusion 4: Podcasting alone does not improve instruction
The danger with podcasting alone is that professors could make learning entirely passive. Roberts is right to suggest that podcasting should be used strategically to augment good teaching and not to replace it. Podcasts are a way to enrich already good teaching and are never meant to replace it. They can be use to provide content to students that prepares them for strong Socratic dialogue and discussion. They can also be used to provide auxiliary content and suggested content to enrich their learning. Podcasts should never be the sole method of instruction and/or content delivery.
As Roberts suggests, "podcasting is not for everyone." But he goes a long way to demonstrate that there are some important benefits to its use. As a podcaster myself, I wholeheartedly agree.