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Some Literature on Podcasting in Higher Ed January 10, 2010

Posted by electrifiedchalk in Design, Resources Review.
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This post summarises a mini-review on recent literature on podcasting and learning in the higher education context. Along with the journal article title, a brief annotation is provided. I have previously written about Gilly Salmon’s wonderful book Podcasting for Learning in Universities” which has lots of examples on implementation of podcasting in practice. The purpose of this article is to probe a little deeper and look at the primary research on podcasting. It seems to be an area of research about to explode, and it will be interesting to watch how 2010 develops.

The main findings across the series of papers surveyed below are that podcasts are very beneficial to students who view them as useful revision aids. Their flexibility allows them to review materials at their own pace and as many times as they want. However, good principles in podcast design should be considered, so that it stimulates learning, and is not seen as a passive learning resource to supplement/replace lecture/reading material. It has been found that in the main, students access podcasts in dedicated study time, rather than ‘on the go’.

A review of podcasting in higher education: Its influence on the traditional lecture

O. McGarr, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 2009, 25(3), 309-321: a nice review on the impact of podcasting on the traditional lecture. Some studies of students use of podcasts are described. Students tend to access podcasts during designated study time, and view them predominantly as a review/revision tool rather than replacement. Podcast production should be careful not to reinforce passivity and seek to stimulate learners.

What better way to start a mini-review than with a review! In this case, this is a nice paper by a fellow Irishman, Oliver McGarr at the University of Limerick. He identifies three types of podcasts, those which replay the content of a lecture for review and revision (substitutional), those which provide additional material to aid students’ understanding (supplemental) and those which are student created (creative). The paper reviews whether/how the implementation of podcasts in higher education affects the value of the traditional lecture, considering the value of the podcast itself. A nice analogy is drawn between the rise of the podcast with the mass availability of textbooks in the late 1960’s (Fitzgerald, 1968). There are of course advantages to lectures; the lecturer can provide context, personal experience and expertise and enthuse students, although it is argued that in the main, lectures are passive experiences (Black, 2005). The review summarises a range of studies described in the literature. Some interesting findings are:

  • that students did not listen to podcasts ‘on the go’, preferring instead to listen to them at a computer during designated study time:  a study of 18/39 respondents, Lee and Chan, 2007; a study of 196 business students, 80% listened on a PC, Evans, 2008, 91% of 209/249 journalism students listened during study time, Huntsberger and Stavitsky, 2007;
  • students may use podcasts to replace text reading :40% of the students in the Huntsberger and Stavitsky study, above, used podcasts as a replacement rather than a supplement to textbooks;
  • podcasting seen as predominantly for revision and review rather than replacement: 71% of 1074 Australian students used them as a tool for review and revision, Willams and Fardon 2007; 283 students in science(UK), tended (no number given) to use podcasts for review and revision, Copley, 2007. Copley also mentions the download tines, immediately afer lecture and immediately before exams were peak times, with a steady low-level demand in between. A study of 164/246 US students found that podcasts did not affect student attendance, Bongey, Cizadlo and Kalnbach, 2006.

McGarr then addresses the various themes in his review. Regarding the educational use of podcasts, he sounds a warning about reinforcing the passive nature of lectures, by just having podcasts of a recording of the lecture, or podcasts of summaries of materials, as students may just use these summaries rather than summarise themselves! Using podcasts to provide stimulating supplemental materials may be beneficial. The other end of the spectrum is to allow students to create the podcasts themselves (see project at Dublin Institute of Technology on this concept). This clearly moves students from being passive observers to active creators. Additionally, the notion of m-learning in the sense of learning while doing something else seems to be a myth, based on the above research. Students tended to access the materials during designated study time.

iTunes University and the classroom: Can podcasts replace Professors?

D. McKinney, J. L. Dyck, E. S. Luber, Computers & Education , 2009, 52, 617–623: aims to examine how students would do if they missed a lecture and had to make it up by reviewing a podcast. Found that students who reviewed lecture by podcast performed better in a test, although limited conclusions bounded by the scale and scope of the study are drawn from this.

What a great title. I imagine university professors everywhere uncomfortably shifting in their seats wondering what bronze pea moulds have to do with their profession. This is another paper with a similar theme to that covered in McGarr’s review, above. As academics, can we critically identify what our role is if lecture material is available in other sources than just coming to lectures. The paper summarises a study on two groups of psychology students (poor them, they always seem to be the ones who are subjected to these studies!). One group (32 students) was given a 25 minute lecture with Powerpoint handouts and the second group (34 students) was given a podcast with Powerpoint handouts. One week later, both students took a test, and it was found that students in the podcast group performed significantly better than those in the in-lecture group (t(64) = 2.12, p < .05). (A bead of sweat forms on Prof. McNult’s brow…)

A nice aspect of the study though is that the researchers looked at the quality of the notes taken by each set of students and assigned it to four categories: no notes, minimal notes, average notes, extensive notes. While a large number (12/34) of the podcast group took no notes (compared to 0/32 for in-class), 4/34 of the podcast group took extensive notes, compared to 0/32 for the in-class group. The authors attribute this to the fact that the students were not given any instructions on what to do with the podcasts, but that those who wanted to take extensive notes had the opportunities afforded by playback (22/34 students listened to the podcast more than once). The authors conclude from this small scale study that while podcasts may provide alternatives to students who miss class, and the advantages of podcast playback are useful, the purpose of the study was to examine this either/or scenario (either go to lecture or listen to podcast). They acknowledge this was the subject of much debate among their peers. I think important conclusions on how to produce podcasts that could enhance lectures will be a worthwhile next step in this study. (Prof McNult dabbs his forehead as he enters his lecture hall…)

The effectiveness of m-learning in the form of podcast revision lectures in higher education

C. Evans, Computers & Education, 2008, 50, 491–498: An interesting study teasing out the perceived value students place on podcasts in the spectrum of learning materials available. Students value them more than text books but not significantly more than lecture notes for revision. Access found that students viewed these materials in dedicated study time. Some good grounding here for teachers/lecturers considering podcasts for revision materials.

This post was briefly mentioned in the summary of McGarr’s review, above, but I think it is worth teasing out a little more here. The McKinney paper above looked at podcasts and their role in supplementing a lecture, whereas in this work, Evans particularly concentrates on the aspect of using podcasts for review. 200 first level students were given some revision podcasts in the run up to their examination session, after the course had been completed. I think this is an important study, as it strikes me as a very useful application, and is possibly the first step academics might take in developing podcasts, as they may fear that students won’t come to their lectures if they make them available during lecture time. The results throw up some interesting observations. Although over 70% of the students (based on pilot data) owned an iPod or equivalent, 80% listened to the podcasts on PC’s. A significant majority of the students thought that revising the materials via podcast was quicker than revising from notes, and more effective that revising from textbooks, and that they were more receptive to the materials delivered as podcasts than either revision classes or textbooks, although there was no difference on the effectiveness of podcasts for revision over lecture notes. The results again point to observations that despite the flexibility of podcasts, their use while multi-tasking is not observed. The point about students viewing podcasts as more effective than texts but not than notes is interesting, and to me points to a useful direction in offering a multimedia format of revision tools that may be more engaging and stimulating than a textbook.

Podcasting in higher education: What are the implications for teaching and learning?

S. Lonn, S. D. Teasley, Internet and Higher Education, 2009, 12, 88–92: Large scale study examining the usage and perceptions of students and staff for podcasts. Majority of students accessed materials at their PC, and felt that they were useful for revision/review. Some discrepancies between the responses of instructors and students regarding whether teaching practice actually changed as a result of the podcast.

This paper reports a large scale study on university professors and students in the American mid-west (I wonder where?!). Some interesting findings in the context of the work quoted above are reported. Regarding access, 76% of (879) students said that they accessed the materials on laptop/PC. Their reasons for downloading were to review material after attending class (63%), to make up for a missed class (22), or because they were interested in supplemental material (7%).  While instructors uploaded materials weekly, students tended to download less often, and usually just before quizzes or exams. An interesting point is made regarding the access methods, and that as mobile phone usage to access internet becomes more common place, these devices may be more significant players for students accessing educational materials – at the moment though students predominantly accessed via their PC. The point about what podcasts are actually for is brought up again. Instructors felt that their teaching style had improved because of the podcasts, but students did not. Only one of the 22 instructors said their teaching practice had changed. This really is a crucial issue, and again as academics we have to ask why we are doing podcasts if it is not going to enhance our module delivery? The authors conclude on an optimistic note in this regard; that podcasts may present fundamental topics to allow for more in-class discussion and other innovative teaching methods.

Creative use of podcasting in higher education and its effect on competitive agency

M. Lazzari, Computers & Education, 2009, 52, 27–34: This paper examines the use of podcasts with part-time an full time students in an Italian university. While significant improvements in the performance of part-time students were not observed, there were some improvements in exam results for full time students. Of interest here, some creative ideas for student-driven podcast creation are outlined.

I must confess to being a little confused by the title, but this paper clearly outlines the use of incorporating podcasting into teaching and examines any affect on student learning. I include it also because I think it has been misinterpreted in other literature, often cited as an example of work that demonstrates where podcasting that did not have an effect. While conclusions of the work show that the podcasting implementation did not improve performance of the student group as a whole, the author goes to some lengths to explain some confounding factors that may be attributed to lack of perceived benefit to part time students in the study, centred on a lack of awareness on their part.

A nice aspect of the work is the suggestion of how the podcasts were integrated into teaching. Here is a fine example of teaching methods that really changed with the implementation of podcasts. Students were required to complete a three stage creation of podcasts, involving audio editing to match lecturer questions and provided answers, audio recording tp give their own answers to lecturer questions and creation of knew knowledge to provide summaries of materials not yet covered.

In terms of relative merit of podcasts, textbooks and lecture notes, podcasts and notes were considered more useful in reviewing, whereas textbooks more useful in studying a subject, presumably for the first time. A conclusion regarding the relative merits for revision is vague, as the definition of revision may have confused students – in any case a good point is made about the limited use of a large audio file in final stage revision, where short notes would be favoured.

Quoted references cited by McGarr in his review quoted here are listed here for information:

  • Black, L. (2005). Dialogue in the lecture hall: Teacher-student communication and students’ perceptions of their learning. Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, 6(1), 31-40.
  • Bongey S., Cizadlo, G. & Kalnbach, L. (2006). Explorations in course-casting: Podcasts in higher education. Campus-Wide Information Systems, 23(5), 350-367.
  • Copley, J. (2007). Audio and video podcasts of lectures for campus-based students: Production and evaluation of student use. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 44(4), 387-399.
  • Evans, C. (2008). The effectiveness of m-learning in the form of podcast revision lectures in higher education. Computers & Education, 50, 491-498.
  • Fitzgerald, P. (1968). The lecture: An Arts view. In D. Layton (Ed.), University teaching in transition (pp. 11-17). UK: Robert Cunningham and Sons
  • Huntsberger, M. & Stavitsky, A. (2006). The new “podagogy”: Incorporating podcasting into journalism education. Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, 61(4), 397-410.
  • Lee, M. & Chan, A. (2007). Pervasive, lifestyle-integrated mobile learning for distance learners: An analysis and unexpected results from a podcasting study. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 22(3), 201-218
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