Does Podcasting Have Any Inherent Value?


A colleague of mine emailed me the link to this online story by Paul McCloskey, "Consensus: Podcasting Has No 'Inherent' Pedagogic Value," Campus Technology, 7/9/2007. He knows that I'm involved in NJIT's podcasting efforts on campus, many of which are available within Apple's iTunes U.

"A bevy of recent studies on students' experience listening to recorded lectures via podcasts confirms what many lecturers already know: that the pedagogical value of podcasts depends almost entirely on student motivation and the learning "context" of the application.

In a comprehensive survey of the latest academic studies on the impact of podcasting on learning and teaching, Ashley Deal, a researcher in the Office of Technology for Education & the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence at Carnegie Mellon University, found that podcasting follows the pattern of many campus technology innovations.

"As with any educational technology, whether and how podcasting impacts the quality of the learning experience and/or educational outcomes depends largely upon how the technology is put to use," Deal wrote.

So, does podcasting enhance education? "The answer to that question depends entirely on the educational context, including goals and appropriate learning activities, and on how the tool is implemented," said Deal.

"Podcasting does not contain any inherent value. It is only valuable inasmuch as it helps the instructor and students reach their educational goals, by facilitating thoughtful, engaging learning activities that are designed to work in support of those goals."

Bill Reynolds at NJIT was copied on that original email and responded by taking the online story and replacing "podcast" with "book" and said that this was an "earlier version" of the story. How does this version read to you?

As with any educational technology, whether and how books impacts the quality of the learning experience and/or educational outcomes depends largely upon how the technology is put to use. So, do books enhance education? The answer to that question depends entirely on the educational context, including goals and appropriate learning activities, and on how the tool is implemented. Books do not contain any inherent value. It is only valuable inasmuch as it helps the instructor and students reach their educational goals, by facilitating thoughtful, engaging learning activities that are designed to work in support of those goals.

The point being that none of the tools we use with our students have any "inherent" value. Books, interactive whiteboards, laptops, student response systems, video and podcasting have no intrinsic educational value. Are we surprised by that?

The Educause Teaching With Technology White Paper, "Podcasting", that McCloskey cites is and is the source of the quote used in his story. It's a catchy and seemingly provocative title. I'm going to use it myself for this post, But the paper is about much more. It really is a comprehensive look at podcasting in education with a lot of information about podcasting tools and techniques.

"Is it just a passing trend, or is there genuine potential to improve the quality of the educational experience and learning outcomes?" is one podcasting question the report asks. It looks at 1) the creation and distribution of lecture archives for review, 2) the delivery of supplemental educational materials and content, and 3) assignments requiring students to produce and submit their own podcasts.

The first two -students as media consumers - is important, but that third area interests me the most. That's where the 2.0 (Web, learning, or school or whatever the 2.0 du jour is when you read this) of creating comes in.

An example cited is "Podcasting Literary Criticism" done by Peter Schmidt and Liz Evans at Swarthmore College. They created a series of podcast assignments for Schmidt’s course, "U.S. Fiction, 1945–Present."

Students were required to produce a "podcast pair" (two 5-minute podcasts). The first has the student read a brief passage from a novel and then in the second the student was instructed to provide “discussion of that passage: why the student chose it, what details were most important, what themes and issues the passage raised, and how the passage related to the rest of the novel."

All students were then required to listen to several of their classmates' podcasts related to the current reading assignment before coming to class.

Readers of this might ask: Why not just have them do written summaries and commentary?

Well, for Evans and Schmidt, their belief is that “thinking about cultural works is a collaborative process that happens in dialogue, not only in isolation. Cultural objects (including novels) are not static; they circulate, they are events."

Obviously, having students engaged in a dialogue was also a goal. So they used a new channel for critical discussion.

According to their study, students reported "that the readings brought the passages and the novels to life—and that when they heard passages aloud, they noticed many more things than when they just read an assignment before class."

As a case study, perhaps this shows that student-created podcasts can help develop technical competence, listening (audio), presentation (verbal) skills, and an understanding of how new media can affect dialogue.

Are we discovering similar things in having students blogging, using social bookmarking etc.?

Perhaps, there are actually some inherent values to podcasting, if you are really doing podcasting (and not just making audio files as we did with students using reel-to-reel or cassette tape recorders) with subscriptions (RSS) and posting them within an interactive framework such as a blog.

So my earlier statement was just a tease. The act of creating has inherent value. Using technologies that require creation and interaction to be successful have inherent value. Even that old favorite the book has a kind of "inherent" value in that it only works if the reader becomes engaged with it - and the more engaged you become with it, the more value you take from it.

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