One of my son’s favourite books when he was younger was Gordon Korman’s Radio Fifth Grade. His grade 5 teacher read the book to his class and then he insisted we buy the book so he could read it again….and again….and again… well, you know how kids are when they find a great book! There must have been something very intriguing to my son about a boy his age being able to star in his own radio show. Not only did the students in the story get to star in their own radio broadcast but they got to decide what to include on the weekly show and what was said, as well. The only drawback was that someone else owned the radio station and was always threatening to take the show off the air.

Fast forward to 2008, a mere nineteen years after Radio Fifth Grade was first published. It appears that the desire to write and produce your own radio show has not disappeared. In fact, self-producing audio shows known as “podcasting” has become so popular that in 2005, the New Oxford American Dictionary named it the “Word of the Year.” There are actually more podcasts today than radio stations (Podcasting in the classroom, p. 7). Eash, in “Podcasting 101 for K-12 librarians” refers to podcasting as a “communication revolution” since a mere twelve months earlier, only twenty-four results would have resulted in a Google search of “podcast” (p. 1).

But would the students of today such as those from Willowdale Elementary (if you haven’t listened to the podcasts of the little ones from this school, you simply must) or the Madrid Young Learners who have their own delightful and informative “radio” shows have to worry about being taken off the air like those from Centennial Park School from Radio Fifth Grade? Certainly not. What has changed in audio broadcasting in the past fifteen years has been who can write and produce audiocasts, how audiocasts are shared with others and when these same audiocasts are listened to (turning them into true “podcasts).”

Instead of the air waves being controlled by a select few, new and relatively inexpensive technology has emerged that has allowed anyone who owns a computer, a microphone and has access to the Internet to create their own digital recordings and share them with the world (Podcasts in Plain English). It is this sharing with others, at a time convenient for others that sets radio shows from the past apart from podcasts of today.

When podcasts are combined with numerous podcast sharing sites (many which are free), school and companies servers and RSS feeds, consumers no longer have to wait around for a specific time to hear a specific show but can subscribe to their favourite podcasts, have their podcast aggregator collect them while they’re sleeping (if so desired) and have them downloaded to their computer or MP3 player automatically so they can listen to them when they’re ready (Doe, p. 27). As early as 2004, Doc Searls of IT Garage predicted that “Podcasting will shift much of our time away from an old medium where we wait for what we might want to hear to a new medium where we choose what we want to hear, when we want to hear it, and how we want to give everybody else the option to listen to it. (p. 1).

Podcasts in Today’s Classrooms

If Radio Fifth Grade had been written today, not only would the students write and star in their own audio show, but they would record it, produce it, and host it right in their classroom, as well. They could record their audio using their iPods or other digital recording devices including a free computer software program like Audacity which also allows users to edit and enhance the audio with music and special effects. Various podcast editing software products can also be purchased although I found that Audacity did the job for my podcasting debut quite nicely and it was easy to use, as well (for a complete list of podcast products see: “The podcasting phenomenon,” p. 27-30). These audio files would then be shared with others on their classroom or individual blogs or numerous podasting sharing sites like podomatic.com or even on their own school or divisional servers.

What better way to get students thinking creatively and involved in writing authentic pieces than to challenge them to come up with their own weekly audio show? I can’t imagine any student not “having a ball” mixing music and special effects into their podcasts and then sharing their creations with others. (I know I did). With a potential audience of millions, students will be motivated to put their best work forward. (I know I was motivated not to come across as a complete fool). While having fun making their podcasts, podcast creation will be engaging students on a variety of levels and improving a host of 21st century information literacy skills including research, writing, editing, public speaking, communication, collaboration, time management and problem-solving skills (Podcasting in the Schools, p. 8 & Borja, p. 2).

Such a weekly podcast show could highlight class or school events, include interviews, discussions of concepts learned and what’s coming up next. These podcasts could then be shared with parents and other interested parties on classroom blogs or podcast sharing sites. These “interested parties” could be students in the next class or students around the world. Can you imagine the learning potential created by being able to share their learning, thoughts and insights with students in a different city, province or country??? And these podcasts can also be archived for future generation of students, as well. Wow!!

Podcasts could also be used at the individual level, as well. Students could create their own audio personal histories, learning logs and share their stories and poems. They could demonstrate their learning on virtually any topic by responding orally to questions about a lesson or concept or put into their own words what specific lessons meant to them. Podcasts would be an ideal assessment tool for students who do not perform well on written tests (Gordon, p. 16). or just to keep groups on task during literature circle discussions. In my school, teachers could access these podcasts through a shared student folder or depending on the project their podcasts could be attached to the class’ blog or individual student blogs.

Teachers could use podcasts to record their lessons, prepare additional lessons for those experiencing difficulties and those who have missed school. In “Podcasting for schools – the basics,” author Jimmy Leach writes the podcasts offer teachers “the chance to provide lessons and learning opportunities in a way more likely to engage students than more traditional methods and can help reach children outside the classroom (for whatever reasons).” History According to Bob” is an excellent example of how teachers can engage their students on a different level using podcasts. Or, teachers could find pre-existing podcasts to share with their classes. According to Rhea Borja in “Podcasting craze comes to k-12 school,” “podcasts exist on just about any subject under the sun” (p. 2). Teachers can look for educational podcasts in iTunes, Podcast Alley, Podcast Central, odeo, The Education Podcast Network or The Podcast Network.

I think podcasts have great potential in courses that teach a second language. Will Richardson writes how language teachers could record and publish their daily lessons so that students could listen to them at home (p. 117). Many students have MP3 players so I can see that this has great potential – so much so that I’ve already talked to our English as an Additional Language teacher about trying this out in my own school. Check out “ESL Teacher Talk” for more ideas on how to use podcasts in EAL classes.

My First Podcast Experience

As I put together my own podcast for this class, I was amazed at how hard I had to think, not just about the software I was going to use and how it worked but figuring out what I wanted to say, why it mattered what I had to say and who my intended audience was. Talk about stepping up my thinking and decision-making skills a notch or two! Inspired by the site, “Just One More Book!!” which contains podcasts about children’s books, illustrators and authors, I decided to create a podcast that I could use in the library – an author talk! I have visions of one day having a library blog in my school library that will contain podcasts created by my students about their favourite books, illustrators and authors. Other students could use these to find great books in our library.

 

As luck would have it, young adult author, Eric Walters, was just about to visit our school so I decided to record one of the talks I had with my students in a library class about his life and work to prepare them for his visit. I had intended on interviewing Mr. Walters when he was at our school to add to my podcast at a later date but unfortunately, the fire alarm went off (not a real fire fortunately) so I ran out of time. How disappointing!

I found the actual recording part of the podcast the easiest. This surprised me because I thought I was going to feel really nervous and awkward through the entire recording session but I got over that pretty fast. I used Audacity to record my author talk as it is installed in all our school computers. The key for me was coming to the recording session well prepared – I knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. If I was to create a class podcast or have students create their own podcasts, this is the stage I would spend the most time on – deciding the purpose of the podcast and conducting research or thinking about what they wanted to say. I can imagine that my students would be as motivated as I was not to sound like a complete fool so they would take the preparation part seriously.

I decided not to write out a script for my podcast. Although there needs to be an overall plan, I think that the little slips that occur during a “live” production are part of the charm of podcasts. It found it easy to cut my really big slip-ups with Audacity since the program is really easy to use (I’ve used other digital recording devices as a band teacher and I’d have to say Audacity was far more user-friendly). I had a blast finding and attaching music to my podcast (I used http://freeplaymusic.com/ to find copyright-free music). I’m sure kids would enjoy doing the same. At my previous school as part of our Industrial Arts program, all students are taught how to create their own digital music using programs called CakeWalk , Acid Pro and GarageBand. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful learning experience for students to create their own podcasts (on any imaginable subject or writing piece), add their own music and then place them on either their own blogs or classroom blogs for everyone to hear???

My biggest challenge using Audacity was putting voice and music together but once I figured out how to use the “time shifter,” things went a lot smoother. I didn’t try to add any special effects but I’m sure students would certainly like to add some (mind you, visions of bad PowerPoint presentations came into my head as I wrote that last bit – you too??? Can you just see them adding all kinds of crazy effects to the detriment of the project as a whole?)

As you can tell, I enjoyed the whole production piece of my podcast immensely. You can hear my podcast in it’s entirety by clicking on the podomatic link at the end of this post. Let me know what you think by leaving me a comment either the podomatic site or on my blog. Can you see this podcast being helpful in the library as a resource for students looking for great books and authors?

Podcast Challenges

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for podcasting as a teacher came to a roaring halt when I tried to share my podcast. At first, I tried to upload my podcast in a wav. format directly to my blog but in order to do that, I discovered that I’d have to upgrade to the Premier Package which I wasn’t prepared to do. (WordPress blogs only allow you to upload certain files types and wav. or wmp. files were not among my choices. I’ll be totally jealous of my blogger.com classmates this week who can do this). In Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, Will Richardson suggests readers use ourmedia.org to host their audio files so I gave this a try (p. 121). Unfortunately, my file size was too large so I was directed to use an affiliate of ourmedia called spinXpress. Trouble with this was I had to request an IT work order for spinXpress to be installed on my school computer. So I decided not to wait and loaded my file onto a jump drive and brought it home to upload. For a reason unknown to me, my file would not upload on spinXpress either so that began an Internet search for a podcasting sharing site that would allow me to upload my large file.

After much frustration, I eventually found a site called FileFactory. I thought it would take awhile, so I decided to upload my podcast at night. In the end, I think it took about an hour to upload but then I was rewarded with a URL that I could attach to my blog to share the podcast with everyone. However, I was completely devastated to find out that in order to watch my podcast, the viewer would have to download my file which would take at least a half an hour and my home email address was in full view.

This was simply not acceptable so my search continued for a better podcast-sharing site. After much searching, I finally came across a site called podomatic.com. It took me an hour to upload my file but I was rewarded with a link to embed my podcast on my blog that was easy to open by all. Thank heavens!!

Although I thought it was really cool in the end to hear my voice and music online, I was very concerned from an educational standpoint how many “hoops” I had to jump through to get it published. I thought it was going to be easier than it was. If I was going to pursue podcasting with my students, I’d definitely chose a blogger blog to host short podcasts or look into attaching our podcasts directly to our school server. I think the process needs to be as simple for teachers and students as possible if they are going to embrace this Web 2.0 tool. Now that I’ve been through the process of creating a podcast, I will be in a much better position to lessen the obstacles that teachers and students might have creating their own podcasts.

References

Anonymous. (Mar., 2008). Podcasting in the classroom. Techniques, 83(3), 7-8. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2008, from the Proquest Database.

Borja, R.R. (2005). Podcasting craze comes to K-12 schools. Education Week, 25(14), 8. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2008, from the Ebscohost Database.

Doe, C. (Nov./Dec., 2007). The podcasting phenomenon. MulitMedia & Internet@Schools. Medford: 14(6), 27. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2008, from the Proquest Database.

Eash, E.K. (2006). Podcasting 101 for K-12 librarians. Retrieved Oct. 8, 2008, from http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/apr06/Eash.shtml

Gordon, A-M. (Sept., 2007). Sound Off! The Possibilities of Podcasting. Book Links, 17(1), 16. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2008, from the Proquest Database.

Korman, G. (1989). Radio fifth grade. New York: Scholastic.

Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin Press.

Searls, D. (Sept. 28, 2004). DIY radio with PODcasting. Doc Searls’ IT Garage. Retrieved Oct. 8, 2008, from http://www.itgarage.com/node/462

 

Please listen to my first podcast: Eric Walters Book Talk

add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!Add to Blinkslistadd to furladd to ma.gnoliaadd to simpyseed the vineTailRank

Advertisements