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    Using Audio more

    Teaching has always had an oral tradition, teachers have spoken, learners have listened, conversations take place and learning happens.

    I suspect in most classrooms, lecture theatres and seminar rooms across the UK (and the world) there are people speaking and people listening.

    Though at this time I don’t want to get into a huge debate about the merits of lectures, that is something for a different time. The ability for learners to be able to access a recording of a lecture and listen to it again is something that can support learning.

    Students generally used podcasts to review lecture content, especially when they had difficulty with understanding lectures or new terminology.

    Scutter et al (2010)

    Yes there is another school of thought that says about lecture capture, as Mark Smithers notes:

    ..the large scale implementation of lecture capture is probably one of the costliest and strategically misguided educational technologies that an institution can adopt.

    Smithers (2011)

    One of the issues that I have with lecture capture though is that in isolation an audio recording of a lecture is insufficent in meeting the needs of the learners, as Scutter et al (2010) found.

    Students generally listened to the recordings whilst viewing the lecture PowerPoint presentations on a home computer.

    And as Smithers (2011) recognises

    The technology does nothing to engage the student who instead of sitting passively in a lecture theatre checking their text messages will now sit passively in front of a screen at home checking their text messages.

    Students will be “forced” to listen to the lecture recordings through a computer as the recording would not be enough to be of benefit without access to other resources such as Powerpoint presentations or handouts. Though is making available an audio recording of a lecture better than not giving the recording? There was an unconvincing study that said podcast lectures were “better” than real lectures. So though there are issues with lecture recordings, we shouldn’t as a result dismiss the usefulness of audio though for enhancing teaching and learning.

    Podcasts needn’t be just a recording of a lecture, they can be in a variety of formats. Podcasts are an effective mechanism to support learning. Due to the audio format, learners can download and listen to them on an mp3 player (such as the iPod) as they walk to college, or catch the bus. Likewise mp3 files can be burnt to CD and a learner could listen to them in their car, or on their home music system. Though portable, learners can also access podcasts direct through a computer and listen to them via the computer speakers (or headphones).

    Podcasts can be listened to more than once, enabling a learning objective to be reinforced or for revision purposes. Podcasts do not need to be length affairs, ten to fifteen minutes is more than ample for more educationally orientated podcasts.

    One way of creating podcasts easily is using a tool such as Audioboo that to put it simply it is an App on your iPhone that allows you to record an audio recording, add your location, a picture, tags and upload the lot to a website.

    Of course a podcast implies a regular series of broadcasts, you don’t have to do this to use audio for learning. One off audio recordings are also a good idea and can be used for a range of topics or activities.

    In terms of format, the simple monologue is quite difficult to carry off well, where it can work is in describing what is required for an assignment brief. The learner would listen to the recording as they go through a web or paper based assessment for example. I know one lecturer who uses audio recordings of himself asking questions that he plays back both via the VLE and in the classroom.

    Conversations, either one on one or small group are one way of making audio recordings more interesting. Panel discussions on topics by staff (or by learners) can be useful for learners and more engaging then a monologue on the subject. Discussions can be formal, informal, light-hearted or confrontational.

    Radio type shows with a combination of different formats certainly will work with learners, but require a lot more planning, editing and production. These could include external interviews, outside broadcasts or field recordings.

    “Professional” or external audio recordings can be more complex due to rights issues and copyright. However with the right licences (ERA for BBC radio broadcasts) or using statuory rights, it is possible to play back recorded radio programmes and and other commercial recordings in the classroom or lecture theatre for the purpose of instruction.

    Audio has possibilities with assessment in terms of giving feedback to learners, the JISC Sounds Good project found that:

    Using audio for assessment feedback has proved popular with students and staff. It is probably fair to say most UK higher education lecturers would find it worth giving audio feedback an extended trial with at least with some of their assessment work.

    Most of the focus in this blog post has been on practitioners using audio, of course learners using audio is another way to enhance learning.

    Learners could use tools such as Audioboo to create a reflective audio learning journal, or create a podcast for their course that demonstrates their understanding of the subject for their peers.

    Audio assessment is often used in languages, but why has the tradition died out in other subjects? Yes there are issues with assessing audio recordings, but if we are really interested in personalisation and inclusion, audio assessment can be one way of ticking that box. Also technology can be used to speed the process up, it is possible now to digitally speed up recordings in a way that doesn’t distort voices so that they sound like chipmunks! This can speed up the marking process.

    Technology allows us to change where and when we listen. Technology allows us to listen again. Technology allows us to be heard too. There are many ways that audio technology and recordings can be used to enhance and enrich teaching and learning.

    References

    Bob Rotheram. (2009). Sounds Good: Quicker, better assessment using audio feedback. Available: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/usersandinnovation/soundsgood.aspx. Last accessed 16th March 2011.

    Scutter, S., Stupans, I., Sawyer, T. & King, S. (2010) How do students use podcasts to support learning? Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(2), 180-191. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/scutter.pdf

    Smithers, M. (2011). Is lecture capture the worst educational technology?. Available: http://www.masmithers.com/2011/03/11/is-lecture-capture-the-worst-educational-technology/. Last accessed 16th March 2011.

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