Sunday, October 17, 2010

Learning to Listen: Podcasting

Flickr by niclindh

I have never been a great listener. I pretend to listen and I always look like I have on my "listening ears" when I should but I usually come in and out of attending.  I like interaction so listening without conversation has always been hard for me.  I have attempted audio books and recording talks to listen to later I seem to lose focus rather quickly.  Needless to say, because of this, I have avoided learning about and utilizing podcasts.  There was nothing about podcasts that appealed to me.

Because of this, learning about podcasts seemed a little bit backwards to me. For most of the other Web 2.0 tools I've been learning about, I had used them as a consumer but not as a producer. But with podcasts it was the other way around. I have done a great deal with creating podcasts but have done very little with actually listening to podcasts.  So, much of my learning about podcasts has been about how they are used. I was really rather shocked with myself when I admitted how little knowledge I had about podcasts in general or how popular they are.

What Kinds of Podcasts Are Out There?
First I had to figure out the basics about podcasts. I was surprised to find out how new the concept of podcasting actually is.  According to Pew Internet article, "Podcasting Catches On" (April 3, 2005), "The term “podcasting” emerged in 2004, as people combined the words 'iPod' and 'broadcasting.'" What was more interesting to me from the Pew article was that more than 6 million American adults have downloaded a podcast. Because podcasts had only really only been around for a year at the time of the article, that number was amazing to me.

Adding Podcasts to My Life

My first challenge was to figure out what made podcasts so popular.   The more I read, the more I realized that podcasts were extremely popular.  I wanted to know what I was missing. How could I use them in my own life? I took Will Richardson's advice when he says, "The best place to start your podcasting indoctrination is to take some time to listen to a few shows.  But be prepared:  This is not the highly polished, professional radio you might be used to. Cracks and pops, obscure music, and 'ums' and 'ahs' are all a part of the podcast genre.  Remember, most podcasters are just average Jills and Joes, with day jobs and kids and responsibilities, and ideas that they want to share." (p. 113, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms).
I was surprised to discover how entertaining many of the podcasts were, even without visuals. They sounded more like talk radio shows and conversations  to me. The casualness appealed to me and many of the podcasters seemed to know what to do to keep listeners attentive. I found several podcast series that I enjoyed and will return to.

Because I am trying to live in a more balanced way (:-), I decided to find a few podcasts that had nothing to do with work, school, or education.  So I spent a great deal of time on the iTunes store site exploring what was available. I was thrilled to discover that not all podcasts were audio alone. Many contained video and photos.  Again, I was surprised at the variety of podcasts available.  I could subscribe to podcasts about comedy, news, parenting, and more.  I ended up subscribing to two podcasts-Etsy and The Cookie Jar.  I can't imagine listening to these from the computer so I will make sure to check my iPhone iTunes account more frequently to try to keep up with these two new subscriptions.

I also found many podcasts related to teaching and learning.  I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the podcast series I found and intend to do spend more time with many of the series I discovered.  My exploration allowed me to see the many different reasons for podcasts:

I had heard about Bob Sprankle's Seedlings Podcasts and spent some time listening to a few.  Bob and two colleagues discuss issues dealing mostly with education. They often interview guests and the shows connect to important topics in education.

Another part of Bob Sprankle's website has a series of podcasts called The Bobby Bucket Show. These podcasts are designed with kids and parents in mind and are intended to promote reading.

Bud the Teacher uses podcasting on his blog to share his thinking and record his thoughts. He often records podcasts in the car as he is reflecting on a meeting or some learning he is involved in.

Clip Podcast (Critical Literacy in Practice) deal with education issues. Along with the podcasts, there are several resources for creating your own podcasts. One of my favorite podcast projects from this site and one I want to spend more time with is the Literary Map which provide podcasts at various points on a map to share community information.

New York Times has a series of podcast shows dealing with books. Many of the podcasts are divided into several segments and packed with great content for book lovers. My favorite was the interview with Mo Willems and Jon Muth about their new book City Dog, Country Frog.

I had not previously realized that Tales 2 Go as a podcast but it is clearly a subscription of great audio stories.  The collection is filled with stories for kids of all ages. The subscription is yearlong and includes all audio files available.

Creating Podcasts
I have been spending the last 4-6 weeks really learning a great deal about creating podcasts.  I spent most of that  time learning about podcasting as a form of professional development. I've conducted several podcasts for Choice Literacy in which I interview literacy leaders about a specific topic related to their work.  An example of one podcast for literacy coaches can be found at Choice Literacy's website.

To create these podcasts I've used This is a great service that allows you to record conference calls and to then download them in mp3 format.  This is a great tool for interview and one that really expands the people who can converse on a podcast. Because more than one person can be part of the call, this is the perfect tool for conversations and interviews.

One of the most difficult parts of creating a podcast for me has been the editing.  The online recording tools make the recording piece easy but I had a lot to learn with GarageBand for editing. Many of my students use GarageBand for recording and creating music but we hadn't really dug into editing.  I have been using the very basic tools on GarageBand as I get comfortable with the whole idea of audio interviews.

One of the things I am beginning to understand is the clear need to be prepared for audio interviews. Editing audio for "ums" and "ahs" is not easy and the recording often sounds choppy if there is too much editing.  I have found that when I am prepared with written notes, I am more smooth in my talk and the editing does not get in the way for the listener.

Last week, I explored Yodio, a podcasting service whose name I love (you + audio, get it?). This service is similar to FreeConferenceCall in that you call a number and it creates a downloadable recording of your voice.  Then, you can add photos to complete the podcast.  I thought that this was an easy way to create quick pieces and it might be fun to talk about new books in this way. It takes some time to figure out how to create a podcast with multiple photos but the tool is easy to create and embed. Podcasts can be tagged and organized.

I also did a little bit of experimenting with a new microphone while working with GarageBand. (The Blue Snowball Condenser USB Microphone) Sometimes with all that is going on in the library, the sound doesn't work as well as we'd like. If I want to really commit to doing podcasts, I think having a few good microphones will be key and I want to find a few that work. For this podcast, I worked with my daughter to experiment with a book review. I would love to have students create these regularly for our library website.  Creating and publishing the podcast with a child was easier than I thought it would be. I am sure that our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders can create these on their own after a few demonstrations.  (Since Blogger doesn't yet allow mp3 embedding, I would have to convert this to an mp4 in iMovie to include it here on blogspot with the photo, but at school, I should be able to include the actual mp3.)
I have also re-explored Voicethread and Animoto tools that I looked at briefly last year.  I am not quite sure whether these are podcasting tools or not. But they do meet many of the same purposes. Animoto is very limiting unless you choose to upgrade and as with many of the Web 2.0 tools, educators can get a free upgraded account.  Without the educator account, Animoto projects are limited to 30 minutes.  Voicethread is a favorite tool of mine in that it allows others to comment so the audio piece (with visual) becomes more collaborative in nature.

What Does This Mean for Schools

I then went on to explore what it was that students were doing with podcasting in schools. Again, I was amazed at the variety of authentic projects I found and how many opportunities there are for podcasting. Before I begin podcasting with students, I have to think about the words of Pam Berger and Sally Trexler in 

when they say, 

"The literacies and skills students develop in using these tools make them valuable additions to your instructional toolbox. As students use them, create a library of student projects for others to view and learn from, "best practices" for students to analyze before they create their own presentation." (p. 128)   I believe strongly that if our kids are to create quality podcasts, they need to see/hear examples of others.

One of the things that I am realizing is that our students don't always have the experience with new media such as podcasts that we think they do.  Many of our students are more like me--students who can create a podcast with GarageBand but who have never really listened to a podcast.   We wouldn't ask our students to write a picture book without having had lots of experience reading and enjoying them. We certainly don't want our students creating podcasts without understanding what a podcast is and why people might listen to them. So, one of my big goals is to begin to build a library of podcasts to share with students. Below are a few of the podcasts I found that have been created by students.

R.A. Mitchell Elementary School Podcast Central has a good variety of podcasts by students. These podcasts provide a realistic view of what students could do once they understand the technology piece of podcasting.

Glenbrook Stars second graders created podcasts reading poetry aloud. These podcasts combine audio with student art.  The teacher states that the work was done to support reading with expression and I think there is so much that can be done with books, poetry and podcasting. For kids to have a large audience for their reading, the motivation would be high to share great stories in interesting ways.

This grade 2 class uses podcasting to reflect on their writing.  Used in this way, students can begin to see that podcasting isn't just about performance but that it can also be about reflection.

I was also thrilled to find Will Richardson's Wiki page --What Can You Do With Podcasts? The wiki page provides a great list of ideas for thinking about purposes for podcasting. I will continue to search the Internet for samples of some of the things Richardson discusses.   This list will give me a way to think outside of my own experiences with podcasting and to imagine more possibilities.

I know I still have a lot to learn when it comes to podcasting. I'd like to read the work of Kristin Fontiachiaro whose book Podcasting at School was mentioned in many of the things I read. I also know that I need to find more great examples of student created podcasts for my students so that they can begin envisioning what podcasts can be.  We have 20+ iPod Touches in our library that have been underutilized for the past year.  

I realized that podcasting is about more than listening.  It is a powerful way to share and gather information and it gives our students a new choice for creating. As Troy Hicks states in The Digital Writing Workshop

"Podcasts create an audio composing space that offers writers unique opportunities for expression." (p. 65) Podcasting provides another format for students to share with authentic audiences and to expand the things in which we ask them to share.  

My exploration of existing podcasts and podcasting tools has helped me see the possibilities I was missing when it comes to podcasting. 

Our students know the basics of using GarageBand as a music making and recording tool. My next challenge in the library will be to help them to see what is possible with podcasting. Now that I understand the power of podcasting, I can see that it can be a powerful tool for learning.

1 comment:

  1. Wow you have been busy I haven't even been down this road yet but this article is a great list of resources and super thinking. THANKS!