Learning while cleaning the house: Some reflections on using podcasts in teaching
By Patrick Bijsmans & Andreea Nǎstase
Podcasts are rapidly becoming an important medium, with over 400 million podcast listeners worldwide projected for this year. Search for “podcast higher education” in Spotify and you’ll find yourself scrolling for quite a while until you reach the end of the list. But it isn’t that long ago that podcasts were still a relatively unknown medium.
Indeed, in their still rather recent 2010 article on using podcasting in teaching and learning, Jason Ralph, Naomi Head, and Simon Lightfoot start of by explaining that “The term ‘Podcast’ is derived from ‘iPod’ (which is the portable multimedia player from Apple) and ‘broadcast’ (Lim, 2006).” Since then, researchers have investigated many aspects of using podcasts in teaching and learning. Lucy Taylor and colleagues have for instance looked at how podcasts might support self-study in active learning environments. And avid teaching and learning bloggers such as Alexandra Mihai and Simon Usherwood have discussed the pros & cons and do’s & don’ts of podcasting.
We have both only recently started to use podcasts. Patrick started podcasting in late 2020, in the BA European Studies course ‘Working with Research Problems’. The aim of this podcast is, in the words of Mihai, to “shape and sustain the overall narrative of the course”. Since early 2021 Patrick makes podcasts to accompany the deadlines for the BA European Studies thesis. Here the focus us rather on “providing instruction and guidance” (again, dixit Mihai). Andreea has been using podcasts since early 2022, in the BA European Studies course ‘Constructing Europe’. The aim of this podcasts series – which has been produced with the support of an EDLAB Education Innovation Grant – is in line with Taylor and colleagues, namely to bring in experts and add additional context to the course.
Based on our experience, here are a couple of things to consider when you want to start producing podcasts for your course.
To keep students’ attention it is important to consider the length of your episodes. Except for a few episodes, most of Patrick’s podcasts are between 5 and 10 minutes in length. Given that the aim is usually not a detailed discussion of a concept, idea or topic, this makes sense. Andreea’s on average last 30-40 minutes, but her episodes consist of conversations with experts in (regularly contemporary) topics related to European integration. As such, content and presentation are quite different and more engaging.
Andreea records her podcasts using a mobile phone app or Zoom (depending on whether she could meet face-to-face with the guest experts) and publishes them on the UM media site. Patrick records his podcasts using a mic and mobile phone on a tripod and publishes them on podcasting platform Anchor.fm and Spotify. Such apps may offer easier access and a more flexible use that the UM media site, which, as it turns out, is not really built for podcast hosting. Indeed, we have had students comment that they’d rather listen to a podcast on Spotify. We’ve also had some confessing they were listening to the podcast while cleaning the house – which is actually sort of the point: podcasts get people off their computer screens and can be streamed at any time and a variety of situations.
Complementarity to other course resources
One of the issues to consider is whether your podcast will directly engage with course content, as in Patrick’s cases, or is meant to add additional insights, as is the case for Andreea’s series. We both have had the experience that the more motivated students – those who also browse through course manuals, attend lectures, etc. – tend to be the ones that keep on listening. As such, a podcast may not replace material, but it can be used to present it in a different way for students who might prefer this over a course manual, or to add an additional element to the course which can help students to achieve a better grade.
Some students may not be able to listen to a podcast due to disabilities or for practical reasons. Therefore we are both considering accompanying future episodes with transcripts. The question is how to do so, particularly when the podcast consists of conversations with others that do not follow a strict script and set text – and no, unfortunately the Zoom auto-captioning feature does not keep up with live dialogue.
We’ve both enjoyed working with podcasts and on average the feedback has been positive. So, we would definitely advise you to consider using podcasts too. Perhaps we could do a podcasts series at programme or faculty level as a means to discuss contemporary developments and/or promote our research?
In any case, if you would like to find out more about podcasting, please note that Andreea will be sharing her experience during the FASoS Teaching & Learning Festival on 16 June 2022.
About the authors
Patrick Bijsmans is Associate Professor in Teaching and Learning European Studies. Andreea is Assistant Professor in European Public Policy. They both teach European Studies at BA and MA level and are members of the FASoS Taskforce Technology-Enhanced Learning. Patrick also coordinates the Continuing Professional Development programme.