Denise Foley is a full-time biology instructor at SCC. She is one of the first instructors at SCC who supplements instruction with podcasts—a popular multimedia tool among college students.
This is what Scott James, SCC’s Alternate Media Specialist, had to say about his experience working with Denise: “When Denise joined the Multimedia Club, she told me that she was interested in creating Podcasts and videos to enhance her traditional lecture courses. Since then, Denise has created several Podcasts and is working on authoring videos to help her students understand complex concepts. I believe that Denise’s multimedia materials give her students an opportunity to pick from a diverse set of instructional materials, which may lead to better understanding of the often complex world of Biology.”
I interviewed Denise last semester and asked her about her experience creating podcasts. I wanted to know more about the steps involved in creating a podcast and its effectiveness in the classroom. It seems like a surprisingly easy process. Read on. Denise might inspires you to try something new.
Q: How did you get started with podcasts?
I decided to use podcasts as a supplement to my traditional Biology 109 lecture class to provide an extra tutorial that was accessible anytime for specific, especially challenging topics. This idea was formulated after taking the Flex Week seminar hosted by Scott James.
Q: What are the podcasts like that you have created? When we talked last, it was my understanding that you didn't just record your lecture, but you made some supplemental audios. It seems like some lecture material would be better than others for this medium. Can you give some examples?
Podcasts are audio files. I have uploaded mine in the recommended MP3 format. The podcasts are short explanations, usually about five minutes, of a concept that typically is confusing or difficult to grasp. The concept would have been discussed in lecture, but this is a re-iteration of the important points. So far I have six different podcasts on various topics such as “the atom,” “biomolecules,” and “glycolysis.”
Q: How do you accommodate hearing impaired students?
As recommended by Scott, they include the text, or script of the audio in the lyrics. This makes it accessible for the hearing impaired but can also be useful to all the students interested in reading the explanation.
Q: What was the objective of your podcast? Does it help your students understand difficult concepts better? Does a podcast help students memorize material better because of the repetition? What kinds of material make good podcasts?
I guess students could memorize by listening to something over and over if they wish. Concepts that can be explained in less than ten minutes are best. Five minutes seems to be a good target. As I already mentioned, I use podcasts for topics that are hard to understand.
Q: In terms of other software systems you have used, on a scale of one to ten, how easy is it to put a podcast together?
If one is as easy as sending an e-mail and ten is very difficult, I’d say this is around a three. It really is not difficult; it just takes some time. There are only a few tricks to master and steps to follow, and then you are off and running.
Q: How time consuming are podcasts? Suppose an instructor wanted to post his or her lecture each week. How much time would it take?
Well, I still don’t consider myself an expert with six podcasts under my belt, but from the start to the end, which includes writing a short script about five minutes in length and recording and editing the file and uploading to the course site, it takes me a little under 1.5 hours. I include a short intro and exit of appropriate music ("She Blinded Me With Science"—What else?!). Of course, if you are talking about an hour lecture—you would have more work to do. I’m not sure the podcast is the best medium for that long of an audio file. Short attention spans dictate shorter segments. Break the lecture up into a few components and record them separately if the entire lecture needs to be made available in this format. Other formats like Camtasia might be more appropriate for long lectures. As a side note—you really do need to upload the text/script of the talk to be compliant for hearing-impaired students, so you will need to type out what you want to say. Typing out an hour long lecture and recording it will be tedious!
Q: What hardware and software is needed to make a recording? Would an instructor have to buy anything?
Hardware is just your computer and a headset with a soundcard. The headsets are less than $40. The Software, Audacity, can be downloaded for free.
Q: After the podcast is created, how is it made available to students?
Contact Scott James. SCC has limited space for video and audio files, but he can handle this for you. From that point, you need only pass along the URL address to your students.
Q: What are your students' reaction to podcasts? What do they like about them? What percentage of your students take advantage of podcasts?
I have had a very positive reaction to the podcasts. Some students have made a point to tell me they really appreciate them and have put in requests for specific topics—which I have tried to accommodate! They like that they can play them on their computer at home or download them to their ipod or phone and listen and study anywhere. I really do not know what percentage use them since it is a voluntary activity, and I did not enable statistics tracking in Blackboard. My point was to make some extra help available to those who wanted it. Even if only a small percentage accessed them and found them helpful, I am satisfied. Other instructors could use them differently or require accessing them if they thought that was important.
Q: Have you been able to measure the success of podcasts in your biology class?
Well, I can’t just attribute it to the podcasts....I introduced podcasts AND homework assignments graded through blackboard (like a quiz) and I noticed an upward shift in the A category—6% A’s in fall 2008 and 4% A’s in spring 2009 compared to 14% A’s in fall 2009 when podcasts and homework were introduced. So I interpreted it as—students who wanted to do well were given more tools to help them do well.
Q: Do you think podcasting is an instructional tool that will become more popular in the next five years?
I can’t really predict, but it would not surprise me at all if it became very common. It is just one more techno-tool that instructors can use to reach their students.
Q: Suppose someone wanted to learn more about making podcasts. How would they get started? Do you have advice for a beginner?
If you want to learn—go to the Flex activity hosted by Scott James. He’ll show it all to you in a short period of time. That is all I did, and I knew nothing about podcasts before going! If you can’t wait for FLEX week, you could make it a point to watch Scott’s online tutorial and then come to the Multimedia club meetings. These are informal faculty gatherings where those interested in mastering some distance-ed-type technology get together in the library periodically (about once a month) and try to master some software.
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