Podcasts are syndicated audio files that can be used in a web 1.0 manner for information transmission or behaviourist drilling, or in a web 2.0 manner where students create their own podcasts. Podcasts were originally seen as associated with mobile learning, since students can load them onto mobile devices like iPods (which is where the term podcasting comes from) or other MP3 players, or nowadays smartphones, and listen to them while on the move. However, research has consistently shown that most students prefer to listen to educational podcasts and use associated materials when they are stationary, whether they are using a mobile device or, more likely, a laptop or desktop computer. This has the advantage of leaving them free to fully concentrate on the educational materials, to view supplementary visuals and handouts on the screen, and to easily make notes or attempt exercises.
Traditionally the term podcast refers to an audio file, potentially with accompanying texts (usually in PDF format), images (often in slide format) and even videos, which forms part of a series to which users can subscribe, downloading a new episode each time one becomes available. Such podcasts are distributed by syndication feeds like RSS, with new episodes being downloaded to a computer or other device using podcatcher software (with the best-known example being iTunes). Once you have subscribed to a podcast, your podcatcher software will prompt you to download additional episodes as they become available. It is important to note, however, that there has been considerable slippage in the use of the term over the past decade, and many people now use the term podcast to refer to any audio file online, whether or not it is syndicated (i.e., part of a series). In fact, this is now the dominant usage of the term.
Podcasts are used in two major ways in education:
- in a web 1.0 manner, with educators recording them and students simply being invited to listen: such podcasts can range from lecture-style presentations to intensive language learning lessons (where students might be asked to repeat words or phrases as part of language drills). This is referred to by Oliver McGarr as substitutional podcasting (if it replaces in-class delivery of material) or supplementary podcasting (if it contains additional material). The term coursecasting may also be used to refer to substitutional podcasting of lectures. Substitutional and supplementary podcasts offer many advantages in terms of recycling of material, whether that involves listening to a lecture a second or third time, or listening repeatedly to language learning materials. While videos are more commonly used to support a flipped approach, podcasts may also be used to deliver pre-class study materials to students. Because podcasts offer users the flexibility to engage in other activities while listening, they may have certain advantages over videos, which require users to watch as well as listen.
- in a web 2.0 manner, with students being asked to create their own podcasts, whether individually or collaboratively, often for publication to the web. This is referred to by Oliver McGarr and others as creative podcasting. Spoken language is foregrounded, thus helping to balance out the orientation towards written text typical of many other web 2.0 technologies.
There are many thousands of educational podcasts already available. The easiest way to access them is by downloading Apple’s free iTunes software. In the same way as music is indexed through iTunes, so too are podcasts; unlike music, however, podcasts are generally free to download. Many educational institutions now make podcasts available through their official pages on iTunes U. You can also search for podcasts at Podbean and PodOmatic. One option for hosting educational podcasts is Podbean for Education Podcasting, but if podcasts are not intended to be made accessible to the wider public, it is also possible for educators, and indeed students, to make them available through LMSs or a whole range of web 2.0 services.
More information about podcasting is available on the Publications on Mobile Learning page. Variations on podcasting generally involve introducing more visual elements like videos or animations; for more details of these kinds of options, see the videos page of this website.
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