Podcasting and student-driven content

Writer(s): 
Hans von Dietze and Damon Brewster, J. F. Oberlin University, Tokyo

 

Podcasts are part of the user-generated content phenomenon that many are now familiar with. Geoghegan and Klass (2007), in their comprehensive book on this media format, describe podcasting as an exciting and disruptive technology that became widespread in 2005. Together with more recent technologies, such as Twitter, Nings, and Facebook, educators now have at their disposal a suite of tools to engage students in their learning. The challenge is harnessing this potential. In this article, we will introduce how podcasting is used at our university as a way to motivate students, to increase L2 proficiency,and to help student learning go beyond the classroom.

What is podcasting?

Podcasts are audio files uploaded to an internet server that uses RSS feeds to turn them into automatically downloadable and subscribable resources. Still now,too many people believe that podcasts are simply audio files from the Internet to be used as listening exercises. Whilst this is partially correct, it misses one of the main benefits of podcasting: the fact that the students themselves can generate the content. Students have control over the planning, recording, editing,and final publication of the audio. They also “own”the website where the audio is published and can post blogs and photos to support their audio files. Podcasting, therefore, becomes a completely student-centered language learning process.

Why use podcasts?

Podcasts and podcasting offer learners opportunities to improve their language skills, particularly listening, pronunciation, and the accuracy of their written work. Moreover, the process of creating the content is a vehicle for exploring, expressing, and sharing their opinions with a potentially worldwide audience. These factors make podcasts appealing to language teachers, especially as they are easy to create, only require easily accessible technologies and resources, and provide an automatic basis for a digital portfolio of students’ work.

What do you need? 

Put simply, you need a computer, a microphone, Internet access, and something to say. In our class, students use Macintosh laptops with free Garageband software for recording and editing audio, with additional portable digital microphones (M-Audio MicroTracks) for interviews and out-of-class recording. Most computers are now equipped with an internal mic, and mobile phones are increasingly able to record good quality audio, too. Our students also have access to a computer room with Windows-basedmachines—mainly used for researching on the Internet and preparing scripts with Word. If only Windows-based computers are available, then the freely downloadable open source Audacity (Dannenberg et al., 2010) can be used for editing audio. The students upload their podcasts and work to a website that we set up, separate from the university’s system. It was debated whether this should be password protected or not, but we decided that students were mature enough to have their work published on the Internet openly. However, students were told not to give their full names and private details in their posts and podcasts. While the website used has a small hosting fee of approximately ¥800 per month, free options such as Blogger are also available for hosting students’ podcasts.

Our class

Our elective class, based around creating and publishing podcasts, has been running for four semesters. Class sizes have ranged from 10 to 25 students and the students’ English proficiency levels have been mixed,from beginner to high intermediate. The class runs for 15 weeks with two 90-minute back-to-back classes each week. In class, students work on a variety of tasks, mainly in groups and pairs, but sometimes individually, with the aim of encouraging expression and communication between the students and sharing opinions with their family, friends,and the wider Internet community.

Types of tasks

There is much flexibility in the types of tasks students can be asked to do. However, starting with relatively non-challenging goals allows all students to get up to speed with using the technology. A recorded self-introduction allows students to get to know the microphones and Garageband before moving into more cognitively-challenging topics such as “I believe...”, and “What is happiness?” As students gain confidence we begin focusing on the content. Towards the second half of the course, students are required to make a “full” podcast including introductions, a feature report, and comment and reactions,along with their own choice of music, stingers,and interviews.

Feedback from students

Feedback collected through an online survey at the end of each semester has been overwhelmingly positive.

  • The results indicate that the overwhelming majority of students (95%) valued the class and the challenge of making podcasts as they felt it improved their English proficiency.
  • 85% of students said that the focus on pronunciation when recording the podcasts helped them improve their English.
  • The students’ awareness of podcasts as a listening resource for English learning was increased, with the number of students using English podcasts a little or a lot rising from 25% to 65%.

Teachers’ comments

Podcasting has changed the way teachers interact with students in the classroom.

  • No longer is the front of the room the focus of attention;ratherthe teacher acts as an assistant to the show that the students are producing.
  • Students are able to review their own work throughout the process and can re-record as often as they wish.
  • Students also have access to all the work that other class members have produced.
  • Using portable microphones introduced students to English outside of the classroom.

What’s next?

Podcasting is being used by universities worldwide in many different and creative ways. An online search will provide a growing wealth of materials and ideas for teachers. Although major media corporations, such as the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), are making material for language learning available online, where podcasting will go in EFL really depends on instructors and students as creators of their own media.

References

Dannenberg, R., Mazzoni, D., et al. (2010). Audacity (Version 1.2.6) [Software]. Available from <audacity.sourceforge.net>.

Geoghegan, M. W., & Klass, D. (2007). Podcast solutions: The complete guide to audio and video podcasting (2nd ed.). NY: Apress.

Damon Brewsterand Hans von Dietze have been teaching English in Japan for many years. They are interested in how to engage students positively with the increasing number of technologies available for language learners. To see some examples of their students’ podcasts visit <podspress.com/spring09>.

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