Podcast Design Strategies: Student Use of Audio in Online Classes

Author Information
Judy Oskam, Ed.D.
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
School of Journalism and Mass Communication - Texas State University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Audio podcasting provides an easy, effective way for faculty to connect with students. Faculty can record short lectures, reviews or assignment summaries so students in online classes have access to material anytime, anywhere. Based on student feedback, effective strategies for designing audio podcasts for online classes are presented.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 
Depending on the class, audio segments may include: weekly lectures, a review of the syllabus, a summary of assignments and exam reviews.   Learning units can include pre-recorded audio lectures along with PowerPoint slides, downloadable handouts or worksheets. 
 Where and how do students listen to audio podcasts?
 Students listen to audio podcasts at home, at their workplace and on the go. A total of forty students in two summer 2011 online mass communication classes responded to open ended questions about how and where they listened to the podcasts.  They were also asked if they would listen to audio lectures/podcasts in other online or traditional classes if available. Each student received 5 points extra credit as an incentive for completing the questionnaire. The students were a mix of traditional and non-traditional students majoring in a variety of subjects.
       The majority of the students reported they listened to the audio podcasts on their computer, usually at home. A couple of students downloaded the audio segments to their phone and iPod and listened in the car.
     One student wrote, “I find them very useful in understanding the lessons and they can be mobile. “
     Another commented,” For the most part, I listened to the podcasts on my computer. It was simply easier because I was at a desk in order to take notes as I listened.   However, I did like the option to put it on my iPod. There were a few times I was stuck in traffic and would listen to a lecture.”
     When asked if students would listen to audio lectures/podcasts in other online or traditional classes if available – most students said yes. 
One student wrote, “ I would do it (listen to audio podcasts in other classes) because of the ease of use, I can listen when I want, how I want, and where I want. I can pause and come back to it if I need to as well.” 
Audio Format
   Faculty should consider how and where students access audio podcasts before they create them. Designing the appropriate format for the class is key to developing an effective teaching tool. Determining a standard template for each audio segment makes it easier for students and faculty. For example, each segment could begin by introducing the chapter or topic. The professor could then discuss the content and close with a review of key points for quizzes or assignments. For the classes in the study, most weekly lectures were scripted in advance and were under 20 minutes in length. Additional audio interviews with professionals covered important concepts in class. Interviews are recorded on the phone or in the field with a digital audio recorder. These clips varied in length but were all under 10 minutes. 
    One student commented, “The length of them (audio podcast segments) should not be too long; it’s hard to stay focused after about 30 or 40 minutes. The voice of the podcast should be considered too, nobody wants to listen to a monotone voice for an hour or so.” 
 Personal Connection
Audio is an intimate medium. For example, good radio programs are personal with a conversational and direct approach.   Audio podcasts can provide a sense of connection between the student and the professor.  
      Another student commented, “ I think it (audio) is helpful because it is like having a mini-lecture, which I do miss from having online classes. Also, if it is an online class it gives the student a sense of connection to his/her professor. I felt like I actually have met you.
      A non-traditional student wrote, “I sometimes get tired of just reading and watching videos. I take a lot of my classes online, and it helps you feel like you are in a classroom. I am a note taker, always have been, even if I print everything off the online class. I still like to hand-write notes with a pen in a spiral. I am old-school. I like to listen to the podcast and take notes.“
Scripts & Transcriptions
Scripting audio segments in advance insures the instructor hits his or her key points while providing a transcript for faculty records and student use. Posting the transcript might offer another tool for students who prefer to read along while listening to the audio.    When writing for audio, sentences should be short and conversional. Faculty should emphasize important information so students understand the significance of the content.


 Weekly audio segments covering textbook chapters encourage students to connect with the book and the content. Finding a reliable textbook is especially important for an online course. 

 In order to extend the life of audio podcasts beyond the current semester, faculty should develop lectures or segments on course fundamentals. These undated, evergreen materials help lay the foundation for the class and can be recycled from term to term.

When scripting audio podcasts, faculty should not refer to due dates or deadlines, as they will change each term. Instructors might also change the assignment point values from one semester to another so it’s important not to include grading details in audio segments. The professor can always create an audio clip discussing the grading rubric for major assignments. 

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Student participants responding to this voluntary questionnaire provided valuable feedback about audio podcasts.  In addition, site statistics from our learning management system (Sakai) showed that students did access course podcasts.  In one summer class, podcasts were among the top ten most accessed files within the course site. 

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

This effective practice relates directly to the learning effectiveness pillar because audio podcasts provide both the course content and a connection between the student and the professor. 

Content+ connection= learning. 

One student commented, "I would listen to audio lectures or podcasts in my other classes if they were available.  It is a terrific way to refresh information before an exam.  When taking notes in a fast paced course it is easy to miss something the professor said, but having a recording allows you to pause or rewind to catch something important.  It is a great tool in case someone misses class in a traditional class setting.  It serves as a great learning tool for online classes." 

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

Audio lectures can be recorded with a built in or external microphone on a laptop or desktop computer.  Field interviews can be conducted with a digital voice recorder (such as Olympus or Zoom.)  Garageband (Mac) or Audicity are simple audio editing programs.  In addition, faculty should consider how they will distribute their audio segments within their learning management system. 

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Costs are minimal.  Faculty, however, will need to invest considerable time up-front to plan, script and record materials. 

References, supporting documents: 

The following articles provide additional information about podcasting in education. 

 Robinson, S., and Ritzko, J. (2009) Podcasts in Education: What, Why and How? Proceedings of the Academy of Educational Leadership, Volume 14, Number 1. 
McGarr, O. (2009) A review of podcasting in higher education: Its influence on the traditional lecture. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 2009, 25(3), 309-321. 
The Learning to Teach Online Project in the College of Fine Arts (COFA), The University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia has some excellent resources on audio podcasting and learning to teach online. The site can be accessed here


Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Judy Oskam, Ed.D.
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