Podcasts have come a long way since the advent of audio recordings made by teachers to help their pupils. Now it is becoming big business, offering ways of expanding the curriculum offer beyond the classroom – as well as a means of bringing outside organisations into the classroom.
Pupils too are taking up podcasts in a big way, making their own recordings for a wide audience of peers, friends and sometimes the internet. It is a sector that is expanding dramatically.
Teacher Marcus Cherrill, from the resources website I Can Teach explained: “The more simple the technology, the more innovative students and teachers can become.
“The potential for students to have control over their own podcasts leads to better engagement. Students can inject particular triggers to learning and memory such as humour, in-jokes, particular anecdotes that remind them of a particular scene, personal references to people and places and a familiar voice.
“Teachers can use podcasts as ‘flipped’ lessons so that students can listen at their own pace, and as many times as they wish, and then bring their ideas to class for ‘deeper learning’.”
Making podcasts is relatively easy as teachers can use the basic computer technology available in most schools together with software such as Audacity or Podium.
Podcast technology is easy enough for pupils to make their own. It enables them to practise teamwork, become enterprising and develop their own technical and communication skills.
Those with English as an additional language, slower learners or children with learning difficulties can also gain considerably from using podcasts. They can “re-listen” to a lesson or the lesson notes as often as they like, and without any distractions, to help them understand the concepts under discussion.
Lochaber High School in Fort William worked with Dyslexic Lochaber to produce podcasts containing revision materials for Higher and Standard Grade subjects.
A new website was set up, and students were able to download the material onto their chosen format – USB pens, mp3 players or CD – so that they could be listened to while out and about. The project proved immensely successful, not just for those with dyslexia but for all the students in the school.
Now podcasting is moving beyond audio formats into other formats such as film. Major organisations such as the National Gallery and the British Museum are using podcasts as a way of bringing their exhibitions to a much wider audience.
Tim Plyming, head of digital media and publishing at the British Museum, told SecEd: “We recognised that many school visitors cannot get down to London to visit the museum and our recent exhibition on the Treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum meets a lot of curriculum areas. We felt we needed to bring it direct to schools, so that they could see it where they were.”
As a result, the British Museum set up a special broadcast which would be shown live at cinemas nationwide. Schools only had to bring their pupils to their nearest cinema, rather than having to travel to London.
Mr Plyming continued: “A CBBC presenter took a group of pupils around the museum, meeting interpreters in costume and looking at the exhibition. A roving reporter undertook various activities outside the exhibition, such as recreating a volcanic eruption.
“The whole event was really popular. Some cinemas had to do a second showing. We intend to package up the film as a podcast for schools to use in the long term. There is no reason why we cannot do this for other areas and exhibitions in the museum.”
Industry specialists believe that, in the future, podcasts will become much more interactive, and provide greater links with other schools and organisations.
Teacher Barrie McDermid, from the website Podcast Revision, said: “I started this website in early 2007 to help my pupils revise for their English and English literature GCSEs.
“The idea was to get pupils to download mini-lessons that they could listen to on the go and no-one would even know they were revising. All my resources were freely downloadable and many teachers from all over the country began to use them.
“Video is definitely the way forward. YouTube and social media sites have some great podcasts which can be used. With so many schools buying in iPads and iPods, it has become even more popular. Some American universities are even putting degree courses online as podcasts.”
Schools wishing to use commercially produced podcasts have a massive choice. GCSEPod is among the most popular as it covers a wide range of subjects, guiding students through the main ingredients of each topic. All the material is linked to the appropriate exam board.
Teachers as well
It is not just pupils – teachers too have been able to benefit from the use of podcasts. It can provide teachers with the opportunity to interact and learn from experts without having to travel or take too much time away from the classroom.
For example, Music4Learning provides teachers with an opportunity to examine how music can enhance the learning experience, and its effects on performance and behaviour using sessions created by the Institute of Education at the University of London. Equally useful is TeacherTube, which covers many aspects of learning.
Jodie Lopez, from the Getting into Literacy project, explained: “Podcasting is one of the cheapest, quickest and easiest methods of communicating ideas to a wide audience on the web. With just a microphone and a free account, a school can be publishing daily without the usual e-safety concerns voiced around using videos and the like.
“Whether you do a professional, radio-show quality or a just a quick recording to sum up a bit of learning, podcasting is one of the most universal tools which can be used by all subjects, all age groups and all ability levels.”
What is clear is that any podcast does need to be well presented in order to be effective. Simply recording a lesson is not enough for a successful podcast – it needs to be properly planned and organised.
Schools have to have a clear aim in mind – is it to help teachers share lesson plans, to act as a revision aid or to share lessons with pupils? Some schools are using podcasts as a way of telling children and parents what is going on within the school environment.
As to the way forward – who knows? Certainly it is expected that schools will be able to talk to and interact with other schools during podcasts. The British Museum is already looking at ways of making future podcasts interactive, as Mr Plyming explained: “We believe that podcasts are an important part of the curriculum.
“This session on the Treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum will mark the start of a new relationship in which we can find out what schools want in terms of podcasts and exhibitions. Technology is enabling us to bring the museum into schools.”
Angela Youngman is a freelance education writer.