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Graham Davies

Podcasts

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I'm raising this topic because it has just come up in two discussion lists for teachers of modern foreign languages. What do people think of podcasts and the ways in which they might be exploited in different subjects across the curriculum? The technology is fascinating but, as usual, the key question of the usefulness of this new technology hinges on pedagogy and methodology.

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Funny you should mention this, Graham. We're in the active stages of planning the use of podcasts on one of our courses in the autumn. I'm also participating in a Marratech meeting about podcasting and related phenomena on 1st June at 4.00 pm CET (in English). If anyone else wants to join, get in touch and I'll let you know what you have to do.

I've been cooperating with Dr Bryan Carter from Central Missouri State University for a while now. Last spring we started a Composition Course partnership scheme for students of his in USA and students of mine here in Sweden (interesting seeing what problems native speakers have expressing themselves in writing). This spring we've been running a team blog on the subject of Race, Gender and Culture in the USA … and now we're moving on to audio.

Podcasting, by the way, is a sort of 'broadcasting on the web', where you use some free software to identify and download the latest .mp3 file which the podcaster has placed on the podcasting server. There basically isn't any limit on size - most of the ones I listen to are around 30 minutes. When you've downloaded the .mp3 file, you can either listen to it directly on your computer or transfer it to your .mp3 player (or iPod … hence 'podcasting') and listen to it at your leisure.

Then there's audioblogging, which is like a text-based blog (web log, or collection of shorter or longer thoughts on the web), except that the inputs are in the form of speech, rather than writing. Audioblog inputs can be uploaded as sound files, recorded directly onto the audioblog's host server using their software tool, or phoned in (at the moment to a number in USA) from an ordinary telephone. They're limited to a maximum of 5 minutes.

Finally, there's Internet radio, which involves making more sophisticated programmes available over the web, which can be listened to directly from a web browser (rather than downloaded and played on iTunes or Windows Media Player).

The logistical problem with podcasting is storage. Ordinary speech uses about 1Mb per minute, but the size of the files jumps dramatically as soon as you have music involved. (There are lots of potential copyright problems with music too …). Actually producing the sound files is fairly easy (I've got both Sound Studio and Apple's Garage Band, on which I can record high-quality spoken sound files even using the built-in microphone on my Mac).

The pedagogical questions for me are all about what kinds of sounds do you want to make available, when, why and how.

What we're looking at in the autumn is a podcast called "The Bryan and David Academic Writing Course", which will be a series of 10 mini-lectures about how to organise your ideas and then get them down on paper. We could, of course, just record them all in advance and circulate them on CD … but would the students actually listen to them? We think that you can introduce a much better sense of dynamism if the students get a new 'programme' each week.

We're going to suggest that the students themselves should use audioblogging for making their own inputs, and Internet radio for the more ambitious projects. Bryan's thinking of using the production of Internet radio programmes part of the assessment for his students on one of the courses we collaborate on in the autumn.

One of the things we think we'll gain from podcasting is ease of distribution. At the moment, the distribution of sound files (such as recorded lectures, conversations about books, etc) is a pain. We've got a networked of extremely well-equipped study centres in Sweden, so they provide us with a technical threshold - i.e. the students don't need to be masters of the medium, because the study centre technicians are.

Active student participation is going to be more and more important. However, we've already got a lot of tools at our disposal (Marratech, studio video conferences … and the humble telephone). One of the key issues in student production is the integrity of the person making the sound inputs. You put yourself in an exposed position when you dare to speak a foreign language in front of your peers, so we still think that it's better that student production should by default take place in a more controlled environment (i.e. one where there can be fairly instant feedback and support). However, this situation changes the more cohesive the group becomes and the more confident the group members become.

We're in the process of setting up a podcasting server here in Kalmar, which will be restricted to fairly simple sound files from the start (Bryan's full of ideas for a Quicktime server … but I think we need to walk before we can run). There'll also probably be an article in it somewhere (Bryan works in a system where you have to keep publishing in order to keep your job). If anyone's got any hints and tips, or would like to take a closer look at what we're up to, then feel free to get in touch directly. I'll be monitoring this thread too … and you're welcome to take part on 1st June.

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Thanks for a very informative reply, David. The Partners in Excellence project in Scotland has started creating its own podcasts (PiECasts):

http://www.pie.org.uk

See also

http://www.ipodder.org

and

http://ipodder.sourceforge.net/

See the Languages ICT Forum for recent contributions on PodCasts:

http://www.mailbase.org.uk/lists/languagesict-forum

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Some more information about a Marratech meeting we're holding about podcasting, amongst other things.

The title is:

"Old Wine in New Bottles:

A conversation between Dr Bryan Carter, Central Missouri State University, and David Richardson, Högskolan i Kalmar, about introducing some of the new technologies available on existing courses, focussing particularly on blogs, audioblogs, podcasting and Internet radio."

We'll be looking at some of the things we've done so far, and what our plans are for the future in a very practical way. The practicality is not so much in how to make podcasts work technically, but more in how you make them a pedagogically-justified part of a course.

It takes place on Wednesday, 1st June at 16.00 CET (one hour ahead of UK summer time).

Get in touch, either on this forum, or via e-mail to get the exact details of how to take part.

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I think people on the Internet have conflated two different ideas into 'podcasting'. For example, until recently, the BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time offered MP3 downloads of each show after it was recorded. These were sometimes referred to as 'podcasts'.

However, real podcasting is a melding of making something available in digital audio format and 'pushing' it to recipients automatically via RSS. People who wish to 'subscribe' to the podcasts need to do so in various software programs.

For more on RSS, click here.

:ph34r: Doug

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Doug writes:

However, real podcasting is a melding of making something available in digital audio format and 'pushing' it to recipients automatically via RSS. People who wish to 'subscribe' to the podcasts need to do so in various software programs.

Exactly, it's the 'pushing' or 'pacing' of the delivery of the broadcasts to a registered audience that makes podcasts different,. This the feature on which the pedagogical issues regarding the pros and cons of podcasts in a distance learning environment hinge. The PiE project, which focuses on modern foreign languages, is exploring these issues. Audio material is obviously an important aspect of technological aids in modern foreign languages, and always has been for as long as I can remember, dating back to my own learning experiences with a reel-to-reel tape recorder in the 1950s - which I found extremely useful for listening to recordings by native speakers and recording myself to hear what I sounded like.

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I'm back at work now after the lovely long Swedish summer holidays and we've just set up a podcasting server which I'm going to use on a course this autumn.

If you want to hear my first amateurish effort at podcasting for a group of new students in the south of Sweden, the stream URL is:

http://www.humsam.hik.se/distans/podcasts/a1podcasts.xml

(If you select 'Open Stream' on iPodder, iTunes or Window Media Player and put in that URL, it should start playing a 15 minute programme for my students.)

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There are now three podcasts available on my English 1-10p course (beware of the Course Launch podcast, though - it's got about 7 minutes of Swedish in the middle of it, when I interviewed a representative of the Student Union about what they could do for distance students).

I've now organised it like this. If you go to the Course Home Page:

http://www.humsam.hik.se/distans/existstud/a1/a1homepage.htm

one of the links is Podcasts. Click on that, and you're able to click on each podcast in turn to listen to it on screen … or you can copy the direct link for each live podcast and paste it in to the Open Stream dialogue box in Windows Media Player or iTunes … or you can download the instructions for subscribing to the podcast in iTunes.

You can see what the full extent of the podcasts on this course is likely to be by looking at all the links (both active and not-yet-active). Among some of them which will come later will be interviews with various native speakers who have interesting dialects (like Oklahoma and Orkney!).

I screwed up the podcast xml document the first time I added something. I was in a hurry and I'd clearly put some kind of extra line in somewhere. Our IT department actually managed to fix it (thanks to me visiting them personally and intimidating them by speaking English to them!). I've just managed to update the document again by copying the last <item> </item> bit and changing the wording a little. I had a problem knowing how long the podcast was in bits, but I just wrote it down from the screen as Dreamweaver uploaded the actual .mp3 file.

The 'production line' goes like this:

I sit in front of my Mac and just talk to it (I do this a lot anyway!) with Sound Studio open and recording (could do it in GarageBand too, but I haven't had time to work out how it works yet).

I save that file as .aiff (native Mac format for sound files) and then convert it to .mp3 in iTunes.

I move the .mp3 file over to the podcasts folder on the course site in Dreamweaver, and copy it over to the live site, using the Mac Terminal programme (the IT department also fixed me what I think they call a tunnel to the 'distans' folder on the live site, which I can use both from home and from work).

I then copy the last <item> to </item> bit of the xml document and change the relevant bits (like the date, which is important for getting the files in the right order in iTunes) and update the live site with the new .xml document.

Finally, I go into the podcasts page on the Course web site and make the latest link live.

I'm doing this again this morning with three more, short, podcasts, which are basically mini-lectures about phonetics, grammar and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I expect it to take me an hour to broadcast three 15-minute lectures.

The podcasts are getting rave reviews from students - even though they're really primitive (just me talking). It gives them a feel of belonging …

Edited by David Richardson

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Podcasts are still getting rave reviews. Here's an unsolicited comment from Cecilia in Hong Kong:

"I've already downloaded the podcasts and I enjoyed most of them already. I must say that it's a very convenient way of studying, to be able to stop and rewind your teacher whenever you need to (or have the urge)."

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Podcasting has been mentioned several times in this forum. Here's a useful article on the topic:

Godwin-Jones R. (2005) "Skype and podcasting: disruptive technologies for language learning", Language Learning & Technology 9, 3: 9-12. Available on the Web at: http://llt.msu.edu/vol9num3/emerging/default.html

The term "disruptive technologies" in the title is interesting. It was coined by Clayton Christensen in 1997 and is defined as follows in Wikipedia:

"A disruptive technology is a new technological innovation, product, or service that eventually overturns the existing dominant technology in the market, despite the fact that the disruptive technology is both radically different from the leading technology and that it often initially performs worse than the leading technology according to existing measures of performance." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_technology

A point that I have often made in my writings is that innovative technologies often underperform in their early stages of development compared to their predecessors. For example, CD-ROMs were initially far worse in terms of performance than Philips-compatible interactive videodiscs (which offered very high-quality video compared to the tacky video on early CD-ROMs). Now CD-ROMs have caught up and DVDs outperform interactive videodiscs. Similarly, the Web still underperforms as an interactive medium compared to CD-ROMs and DVDs in terms of speed of access, reliability, flexibility and (again) video quality. As I have often pointed out, we are still waiting for the Web to deliver listen / respond / playback activities that compare favourably with those offered by the first AAC tape recorders in the 1960s.

"Low-end disruption occurs when the rate at which products improve exceeds the rate at which customers can learn and adopt the new performance." (v. Wikipedia again). I understand this only too well. I am still learning to use my new mobile phone that was upgraded from an earlier model two months ago, and I am still not 100% familiar with my TV digi-box. See my article in which I cite the humourist Alan Coren, who used the term "dynamic obsolescence" to describe this phenomenon: http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/coegdd1.htm

However, the term "disruptive technology" is not necessarily negative. As new products settle down and as their users become familiar with them their impact is generally positive. It appears the best strategy - and one that is adopted by astute businesses and educational institutions - is to watch out for new technologies, to treat them in their early phases with caution and to continue improving the applications of established technologies. In other words, a "wait and see" approach works best.

References:

Christensen C. (1997) The innovator's dilemma, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press.

Christensen C. & Raynor M. (2003) The innovator's solution, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press.

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I'm still investigating the options but am working on the idea... For AS/A2 English Language podcasting seems to have much potential for giving students better access to spoken language data, and for encouraging them to save and store the data they collect themselves in a format they can share more easily than with nasty cassette tape retro-tech.

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Here's something we're going to be doing this spring.

Bryan Carter, Kathy McCormack and I are all running 'composition courses' in the spring, me in Sweden and the other two in Missouri. We're going to be trying to get over the ideas that composition is a process, and that there are specific skills you need to develop to be good at it.

My students are already experienced users of podcasts (they notice when they're late, for example), and Bryan's and Kathy's students are young technophiles, so we don't anticipate any 'consumer resistance'.

Bryan and I use Macs, and we've got a whole new set of tools to use with the new system 10.4 (sometimes called 'Tiger'), including multi-party video conferencing on iChatAV, with extremely high audio and video quality. We've also got some third-party software called 'Conference Recorder' which allows you to make either audio or video/audio recordings of iChat AV sessions. Conference Recorder has a quick conversion feature to turn the audio recordings into .mp3 files.

So, the plan is to hold a series of transatlantic 'conversations' about composition (à la Open University embarrassing broadcasts by men with sideburns wearing bell bottoms and women wearing sensible clothes!) which will be published as podcasts from about February onwards.

Let me know if you want to listen in and I'll post the address when it's ready.

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I am experimenting with my first podcast tomorrow - my students will be researching and producing a podcast about the Black Death using software from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ It is unbelievably easy to use, it literally took me 5 minutes to make my first recording and export it to an MP3 file. Big up to Donald Cummings for directing me to the website.

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I have created my first podcast which, if you are in need of a serious laugh, you can hear here (scroll down to the bottom and it's called black death podcast)

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I have created my first podcast which, if you are in need of a serious laugh, you can hear here (scroll down to the bottom and it's called black death podcast)

I really don't know what to say :blink:B)

Perhaps you could encourage Donald to post his much awaited Gothenburg seminar as a podcast??

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