Go out and tell our story.
Let it echo far and wide.
Make them hear you,
Make them hear you.
Make Them Hear You, from the musical Ragtime. Performed by Dwayne A. Thomas
Looking Back … my voyage as a learner who was seeking her voice
My personal learning process with podcasting
I have to admit that I have never attempted to podcast, but based on my previous history as a professional lurker, this should not surprise readers of this blog. Once again, I am forced into unknown territory, but I figured it should be pretty straightforward. I started involving students in voice recording years ago to help them build their fluency as readers, learn how to slow down and articulate when working on oral presentations, and provide audio for performances.
I love working on puppetry with students as it is a personal passion that kids also really enjoy. However, when they are performing with puppets, the quality of their vocal performance tends to suffer as they are focused on manipulating the puppets. We had created intricate shadow puppets, and I decided to have the students create the backdrops using Powerpoint, rather than the standard white screen. As the students worked on their backdrop, they started putting in scene changes and animations, and that’s when I had a moment of clarity – they could record each scene using a microphone directly into Powerpoint, and with the audio and scenes all taken care of, the kids did a much better job of handling the puppets. We were also able to set up the computer speakers to allow for everyone in the audience to hear clearly. Success!
After that, I was set on using audio recording to support students. They scripted and storyboarded, easily learned how to stop and start. We didn’t do anything with editing – just recorded, stopped, and recorded again.
Since I felt comfortable with having students record, I thought that creating my own podcast was going to be a few simple clicks – after all, setting up the blog just took a few clicks, and social bookmarking was just as easy. Podcasting must be just as simple, right?!
I turned to Richardson, Berger & Trexler, and Fontichiaro for initial guidance, thinking it would be a few steps to becoming a published podcaster. What I found is that there are multiple options for creating a podcast, uploading and hosting a podcast, and embedding a podcast into your blog, and each option takes time to figure out. I’m usually pretty quick at this kind of thing, but admittedly found myself stumped on more than one occasion. (I’m blaming it on setting up two new libraries … fatigue and tendonitis have taken over my body and brain!)
As I moved into exploring tools, I decided to look at two different options for creating podcasts: Audacity, which is a free download and allows for editing and multiple track recording, and Audioboo, which is a web-based services that is quick and easy to record on but does not allow for any editing except for re-recording.
The “Audacity” of Hope
I knew of Audacity from colleagues who had used it in the classroom, but having been in consulting for four years I have not had the opportunity to try it with students myself. It was a quick download, and the LAME extension required to convert the Audacity files to mp3 was also easily installed. So then I proceeded to try out the software. I started with recording using my own laptop microphone and was not happy with the tinny quality of my voice and the background noise. I applied the noise removal effect, but still found a distant quality to my voice. I decided to purchase a good quality microphone, as admittedly I became rather spoiled by the professional recording microphone I had available to me in my last teaching assignment. Our techy guy was adamant that the netbooks at school had great built-in mikes and I would not need an external microphone, and after some discussion back and forth I decided to try out the netbook. The microphone is not bad, but it doesn’t help me when I am unable to download Audacity onto the netbook due to permissions being locked by IT. Back to the drawing board!
So, the microphone was purchased and I proceeded to try again. Voice recording, importing audio files, cutting, copying, pasting, fade in and out … all easily done. As with the movie editing software I have used, I could see how all the different options could become very time-consuming as you play and tweak things. So I decided to export the file to mP3 and begin the next stage of investigation … how do I get this podcast to my blog post?
Back to the books. Apparently I need to host my podcast on a web server or host site – I wasn’t prepared for this. I guess I thought that with all the great tools and widgets in WordPress, I would be able to upload an mp3 just as easily as a YouTube clip … not possible with the free account I have. Being cheap, I had to look for other options. I explored further and found a number of host sites, some of which are no longer accepting new postings. I finally settled on Podbean as it seemed pretty straightforward, uses tags to mark podcasts, and is a free service. After subscribing, I had a few glitches but finally ended up with a post and my podcast uploaded to that post. It looks very similar in style to my WordPress blog, meaning I can not only post podcasts, but also write blog posts and have comments as well. I’m now thinking about this as a possibility for a dedicated podcast site linked to the main library site, where the podcasts can be embedded.
Well, if the embedding were simple, that is. This is where I hit a series of roadblocks … I started to record a podcast of what I was doing on my iPhone.
I stopped recording before it got PG-13!
Finally, I found a rather detailed, somewhat confusing, but eventually helpful post on the WordPress help site that showed me what to do, and I successfully embedded. I tried it again with the voice memo recorded on the iPhone, emailed to myself, imported into Audacity (oops … needed another plug-in to deal with mp4 files!), exported to mP3, uploaded to Podbean, embedded in WordPress. Phew! That’s a lot of steps!
So posting podcasts to a blog requires more than I thought. I then moved on to Audioboo, hoping things might be simpler. It required signing up for the free account, and then recording was very simple – record, stop, re-record as needed. I could then post my boo, and although editing is not possible, the simplicity might be just what is needed for student podcasts where they are simply scripting and reporting (such as with a book talk). I tried out a weekly library update podcast and it was as fast as could be:
Library update Boo
Embedding in my blog required the same HTML code trick, but now that I have done it a few times … no problem!
So simplicity counts when time is short, meaning Audioboo may be the main tool for my library club kids to start out with. However, I personally would like them to move into working with voice and music for their book talks and reviews, so I will most likely teach them how to use Audacity. As for how these podcasts will be hosted – stay tuned. I’m still deciding on my platform for my library web presence (blog, Weebly, other …)
Podcasting in my own personal life and learning
I don’t listen to learn – without something to look at, I am quickly distracted. In fact, now that I have a PVR for my television, I find myself wanting to rewind everything I hear to catch it again. Really is a problem in the morning when the clock radio comes on!
I did explore some bloggers who podcast, such as Will Richardson, but found my attention quickly wandered and I could not stay on track. As an add-on to my online professional learning network, I’m afraid podcasting is in the same place as audio books … great for other people, but utterly frustrating for me! Give me text that I can interact with and I’m a happy camper.
That being said, I do listen to audio storytelling. A story of 5-10 minutes where I can get absorbed in the lives of someone else is quite engrossing with the right storyteller. Some of my favorites are This American Life on WBEZ, This I Believe on CBC and StoryCorps on PBS. My favorite podcast is a conversation between a mother and her son, which I found especially relevant as a teacher of students with special needs:
In early 2006, 12-year-old Joshua Littman, who has Asperger’s syndrome, interviewed his mother, Sarah, at StoryCorps. Their one-of-a-kind conversation covered everything from cockroaches to Sarah’s feelings about Joshua as a son.
(If you really want a good cry, go to the other animated podcasts and watch “Danny and Annie”)
There are numerous educational podcasts available for both educators and students, and in my role as a teacher-librarian I do need to understand what is available for both. Although I struggle with the format, I am trying to explore further what might be available to support others. Admittedly, I’m not listening to entire podcasts, but I am scanning and bookmarking (courtesy of Diigo) sites that may be of interest to teachers and students.
Podcasting to support teaching and learning
Richardson (2009) states podcasting is “the creation and distribution of amateur radio … and it’s the distribution piece that’s important.” (p. 110). When considering the value of podcasting in supporting teaching and learning, I am drawn to his blog post of October 12, 2010 titled Better Learning or Better Learners? , in which he states that our focus on knowledge and learning is “right answering our kids to death”. In his post, he asks: But what if the emphasis was on learners, not learning? … the “learning skills” piece, the self-direction, critical thinking, “patient problem solving” piece are deemed “unimportant” in comparison to the grade on any given assignment … measuring creativity, passion, and innovation are difficult to do, much less teach.”
As we consider the possible ways that podcasting can support teaching and learning in the classroom, I want to consider how podcasting can support the learner by incorporating critical and creative thinking skills. Even simple reporting incorporates higher-order thinking, as students synthesize information and organize it to communicate effectively with their audience.
Podcasting to promote the library
As I posted above, I plan on creating regular podcasts to share what is happening in the library (such as upcoming events, new books, inquiry questions), along with an RSS feed for students who are starting to use Google Reader, which is something I plan to introduce to all library club members first so that they will stay in touch with messages from me and begin to explore RSS.
Podcasting to share and review books
Students in the library club will be taking turns producing podcasts to promote and review great books in the library. They are already excited about this, as we have started by where they had to use critical and creative thinking skills to determine how best to promote their all-time favorite book to others.
Podcasting for personal expression
Buffy Hamilton, the Unquiet Librarian, had students write paragraphs about themselves and then create found poetry that was then podcast. She has this to say about the experience:
It goes without saying that no standardized test could come close to measuring the talent, creativity, and passion these students demonstrated today through their poetry. Perhaps “no child would be left behind” if more poetry readings were part of our daily classroom life instead of some ridiculous EOCT question! I will definitely be creating podcasts of poetry readings with my 10th and 11th grade night school students later this month. These magical experiences with words that I wish everyone could feel at least once in a lifetime. I feel that being able to capture those readings with podcasting is a way that we can all relive on some level that communion of human experience today and our witnessing of the power of words! (April 4, 2008)
Podcasting to support literacy development
I know that sharing how students can read a podcast and listen to themselves and others will resonate with teachers who are trying to build oral fluency in their students. Listening to podcasts can also support differentiation in the classroom, especially for our students who are struggling readers. Davis & McGrail (2009) also show how podcasting can be used to support student writing in the challenging stage of proofreading and revising – “a complex literacy task that requires practice with a real audience in an authentic writing context such as classroom blogging.” When asked, a student “summarized the entire podcasting experience with her realization that reading her writing aloud had caused her to notice how it sounded to other readers unfamiliar with the text. The process resulted in her desire to be more careful and ensure that other readers could understand her writing. Students were proud of their new understandings and began to embrace the concept of proof-revising.” (p. 527)
Podcasting to share student learning
For division one students, I plan to share this classroom example of podcasting as an alternative to weekly Friday envelopes:
As a literacy teacher, I believe in using mentor texts and modelling think-aloud to guide students in their learning. These two examples show how a teacher helps students to critically examining podcasts to determine the best way to structure and assess their own podcast:
(image credit Langwitches.org)
Podcasting Power a blog post showing how students examine podcasts and generated criteria for their own podcasts
For our grades 6-9 students, I want to show how podcasting can be used to find a voice and influence social change:
Concluding question to ponder
As with any Web 2.0 tool, we must be aware of the pedagogy behind the effective use of it in the classroom. Otherwise, podcasting may become yet another Powerpoint, where facts are regurgitated and no demonstration of understanding is taking place. In Judy O’Connell’s blog post Teaching Naked – without Powerpoint,
“The idea is that we should challenge thinking, inspire creativity, and stir up discussion with a Powerpoint presentation – not present a series of dry facts … There is so much that we can get involved in if we want to in schools – whether it’s podcasting or ‘powerpointing’ – its about driving deep learning through deep investigation and discussion.” (August 3, 2009).
In addition, it’s not only the thinking and communication skills that need to be considered with podcasting, but also the distribution. As a radio broadcast, we have to consider: How will student’s voices be heard?