How to use Podcast as a Teaching Tool

by Dmitrijs Kravcenko

This post is about podcast as a platform and about how you can apply this platform to your teaching practice. While I will write from the perspective of a lecturer in a traditional University setting, I do believe that at least some of what I am going to say will be usable in other contexts and roles

If you spend enough time in a lecture theatre or a seminar room of a large University, a couple of things are likely to become fairly obvious. One is that neither the students nor their tutors, despite being present, really have to engage with anything that's going on and, Two, that the lecture theatre or seminar room where the class takes place can be a really awkward environment to learn in. In my experience, these two hold true regardless of whether you are a student or a teacher, and seem especially befitting in the case of Bachelor's degree candidates. I am certain we've all been there at least once - tutors reading from slides to an audience who'd rather be anywhere else (or a combination of either one).  

Of course, the exact opposite holds true as well - super engaging classes with super-star teachers (two of whom we'll have as guests for Episode 17!) who entertain, teach and mesmerize their students all at the same time. I am not one of these people, but neither am I someone who puts the class to sleep. Having worked with one of the aforementioned paragons of teaching practice I have jumped around the class playing games and doing plays with students, but found it to just not be my cup of tea - not least because I believe that the most rewarding and inclusive learning comes from the more or less autonomous solving of problems. Breaking paradigms on stage while adapting Shakespeare for management is great (it really is!), but there are other ways to unlock creativity and channel it towards learning outcomes too. I suspect that I am not alone in my disposition towards teaching so, for those of us who genuinely care about developing their students but do not want to put on a charade that is a forced "creative education" (i.e. if it does not come naturally - just don't do it), technology is here to help! 

And what a great help it can be! The Internet is an ultimate one-on-one form of communication - it is there just for you and you alone, and it will do (mostly) what you will ask of it. Podcasts are a manifestation of that as they are on-demand, always available anywhere, free and very pleasing to the ego (you basically have people tell you stories that you want to hear whenever and wherever - much like in the case with children). Apparently, learning via a podcast is called m-learning (m for mobile). M-learning is a form of E-learning, but only in a sense that it is through E that M is made possible. According to Saylor (2012), m-learning significantly boosts exam performance and cuts drop-out rates dramatically. In all honesty this seems about right, but for my money, the best aspect of m-learning is that it is easy and does not ask the learner to compromise their time - podcasts can be consumed while doing a myriad of other activities. My favourite time to consume podcasts is while driving, for example. So, to summarize, podcasts are great! Now, what can you do with them?

From my experience, there are two ways how you can infuse your teaching practice with this amazing resource. The first one is to give your students a selection of podcasts to listen to. This is probably most common and there are, indeed, great recordings of important lectures out there (especially on iTunes U). That being said, unless you are going to share Talking About Organizations with your students, please don't do this as it will almost certainly not work. Why not? Refer back to first paragraph where I spoke of engagement. This also applies to should you record some podcasts yourself (to supplement the lecture materials or similar). In any case, best not to.

The Second way of using podcasts for teaching is rather more exciting! You get students to produce their own podcasts as part of their assessment. Here is how this can be done with very minimal effort/disruption:

  1. Have part of the module assessment approved for groups presentations (usually can get up to 50% in the UK) - this will be the podcast. The rest can be done via exam or individual essay, or whatever else you need to do. In my experience, it is best to lead with the individual assessment in Term 1, and finish with the podcast in Term 2.
  2. Divide the module into groups of five-ish and assign different topics. It is important that they do not have repetition in their assignments.
  3. The task can be formulated as such: to produce a 15 or 21 minute podcast (15 minutes is approx a 3000-word script and 21 minutes is approx a 5000-word script, but encourage to record and include expert interviews or anything else) on the assigned topic/question. The content must include an overview of the topic, state the relevance, touch on the main debates and close with the implications. The podcast must display production value by delivering clear, understandable and engaging audio track as well as an opening and closing jingle music. 
  4. Students go away and do their research (more on this just below), record the podcast (anything that can record voice is sufficient), edit it with free software such as Audacity and submit either on the University server or literally anywhere else (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive). Just make sure the submissions are in .mp3 or the files will be just enormous.
  5. Now, the grading for this is two-stage. First, you grade as you would a presentation. Second, have the students grade each others podcasts (this is why they ought to be on different topics) on a scale of 0-5. Using 'stars' for this would be most familiar to them as this is how its usually done literally anywhere. 
  6. Calculate average student score for each podcast and apply the following weighing: 0 for Zero, 0.8 for One, 0.9 for Two, 1 for Three, 1.1 for Four, and 1.2 for Five. Then multiply the mark you have given during Stage one of the grading process by whatever is the student weighing the podcast achieved. For example, if your mark was 70% and the podcast achieved 4 stars, then the final mark will be 70 x 1.1 = 77% ! Done! Students will appreciate the novelty of the task and an element of peer assessment (or so they say!) and you have fewer marking to do none of which is monotonous.  

What do the students get out of this? Quite a lot, to be honest. In terms of mechanics of putting the recording together they would need to:

1) do the research on the topic, both superficial and more in-depth to identify debates and come up with implications; 

2) write a script, which will require them to come up with a story that is not only informative but also engaging (e.g. begin with formulating a problem, follow up with an illustrative case study/anecdote, give general background,  state main issues/criticisms/problems with the general theory, follow this by main debates and tie up by answering the initial problem and saying what the implications are);

3) record the script, which is an exercise in public speaking, diction and presentation;

4) edit the podcast, which develops technical skills and aesthetic sensitivity;  

5) listen to and grade all the other podcasts thus learning about the remaining topics.

In curriculum-speak this would translate as 1) (and also 5) developing in-depth knowledge of the subject area, 2) developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, 3) developing leadership and public speaking skills, 4) acquiring presentation skills. To make things more fun you can then actually post the podcast on iTunes every year for added impact/exposure. 

Podcasts are fun, simple, relevant and incredibly rewarding things to make! The same can no longer be said for traditional forms of assessment and/or module delivery. Did you know that something like 33% of all Americans have listened or are listening to a podcast (the survey was in 2012 I think)? How amazing is that?

Using podcasts for teaching also defeats the issue of engagement (simpler, more convenient and, as an assignment, frankly mandatory) and the space that it a lecture theatre or a seminar room (podcasts are produced in (home) studios, require problem solving and can be consumed anywhere and at any time). And it is incredibly easy for you, as a tutor, to incorporate them into your teaching practice! Try using podcast as a teaching tool and you will be giving your students a very tangible and relevant skill and an interesting final product they'd be able to share and show. Not to mention that you will significantly improve your quality of life during exam period!

*All this is based purely on my personal experiences of producing TAOP and applying exactly what I described above on two modules at the Warwick Business School, UK. With that in mind, please get in touch to tell me what you think of all this, whether you've tried something like this and to what effect, and if you'd like to discuss any of this in more detail.

Saylor, M. (2012). The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything. Perseus Books/Vanguard Press.