Studies are underway at podcast-friendly campuses such as Stanford and Duke to determine the validity of this method and we support these investigations. However, when a biology professor, who has forgone his first-year microbiology lectures completely for podcasts, argues that dropping live lectures “saves about 25 percent of [his] time,” the question arises as to whether this approach to teaching is more concerned with a Taylorist sense of efficiency than any ethical standards of good pedagogical practice (Stothart 1). Providing lectures as podcast supplements to live classroom delivery may assist some students in comprehending and retaining the material, but podcasting as the sole means of content delivery may prove to be a significantly less useful pedagogical strategy for other students.
Podcasting and Active Learning
While recording lectures is a common application of podcasting and digital audio production in general, we feel that more effective uses of the technology contribute to an active learning pedagogy. Since the pedagogical revolution that resulted from the exposure to Paulo Freire's problem-posing approach to teaching, active-learning pedagogy has long been a paradigm of composition studies. Alternately known as experiential learning, discovery learning, or problem-solving learning, the benefits of an active learning in composition instruction is a well-documented subject. In fact, the University of South Florida's Center for Twenty-First Century Teaching Excellence has an extensive bibliography of sources on various active learning topics in composition and communication studies located here. As proponents of active learning, we maintain that students comprehend and retain far more information when they actually participate in the learning process. This is to say that instead of just listening to a straight lecture from an instructor that delivers a monologue and ends class (perhaps leaving time for questions to which a one-dimensional answer is provided), student comprehension and retention of material is greatly enhanced by participating in active, lively discourse and performing applied exercises, particularly in small groups. In this way, it is essential to engage students in a reflective, open situation in which questions are welcomed and discussed. Classes should largely be interactive, collaborative, and promote critical thinking, respect, inquiry, and problem-solving skills that extend beyond the classroom. Moreover, active learning pedagogy invites the opportunity for students to experience firsthand how an audience, comprised of classmates, the instructor, and in some cases people outside of the classroom, responds to the texts they produce.
Acknowledging Audience in Podcasting Assignments
Dickie Selfe, Senior Instructional Technology Consultant for the Humanities Information Systems (HIS) at The Ohio State University, uses podcasting in class assignments, most recently in a professional writing course, where he had students compose their own audio podcasts. Selfe sees a very specific advantage to using podcasts over other forms of digital audio, one that foregrounds the situational expectations established between the podcaster and his or her audience. Further, he draws connections that move outside of the somewhat artificial environment of the classroom and into wider venues, including the potential of podcasting as a legitimate vehicle for scholarship. When asked what Selfe sees as the pedagogical advantage of incorporating podcasting technology into a class assignment—as opposed to other methods of conveying digital audio compositions to an audience (i.e., links to files on a static website, streaming audio, or copies of CDs distributed to students)—he responded:
The primary value of podcasting seems to be the commitment to systematically broadcast media over time. One has to plan carefully enough to take advantage of what [OSU College of Humanities Assistant Dean] Louie Ulman calls "serial writing" or in this case, serial composing. To imagine yourself as the author or one of the authors of a podcast, you have to think about projects that deserve a serial and long-term organization and the commitment that goes along with it. I can see this process, particularly if it involves 'publishing' academic material (theory and practice), making it all that more difficult for tenure and promotion candidates and committees. How might a serious and influential set of podcasts, and the ongoing work and commitment they require, rank in the hierarchy of publications? How will we rank this work as we have students engage in these serial compositions?
Another value of podcasts, as I imagine them, is that they are a combination of push/pull technologies. You push out notice that new content is available and still have the advantage of collecting and archiving that material in one place.
Selfe's comments foreground an essential component to making class-based podcasting an effective and engaging pedagogical tool. Inserting the component of audience into pocasting assignments helps to render the product more real for students and teacher alike, in effect creating a more authentic motivation for composing podcasts other than instructor evaluation. Instructors, rather than using podcasts as a record of, or even a replacement for, live lectures might instead see the technology as an opportunity to sustain their audience beyond the confines of the classroom by providing them with supplemental material not covered in class. This might take the form of afterthoughts or reflections on in-class discussions, suggestions for further reading and web-based resources, or recorded interviews with professional colleagues on topics germane to the class. Alternately, student-produced podcasting assignments that rely on peer feedback or that are made available to a broader public can help dramatically illustrate the rhetorical context surrounding sound-based digital production and serve as a vivid reminder that their communication, whatever the mode or medium, is received by an audience. Students might create a series of audio ethnographies, for example, documenting literacy practices in their local community, or students could be responsible for providing audio responses to the class discussion for a given week. They might also produce public service announcements addressing a pertinent social issue, an assignment that might work well in a course with a service-learning component (For a more thorough description and examples of sample assignments, please refer to the links in the sidebar on this page). Podcasting applications such as these help to build the collaborative, interactive environment necessary for a successful active-learning classroom. Also, they help foster a more dynamic and less abstract model of audience that better reflects a real-world context, thereby positioning students to become critical consumers and producers of media products in the future.