Turning over the archives: iPods and Podcasting

I’m often asked to comment on how I use Web 2.0 technologies, including blogs, iPods and podcasting in my teaching and learning projects. I presented on the topic a few times this year at conferences and a phone call this week from someone I met at the AUC Create World conference in Brisbane in late November prompted a visit back to the archives. Here is a post from earlier this year on the topic.

It was a longish post, as is this …or as the blessed Stephen Fry might say, ‘a blessay.’ Sorry about the length, but it’s something of an update as well as a mull over my whole approach to podcasting and iPod use in developing learning materials. The original material in the italicised indented text appears alongside the updated comment. It’s been nearly a year since I wrote the original, and to my astonishment, when I do the math, 5 years since I started using iPods.

I’d like to be able to say that the much discussed Gen-Y took technology in their stride, with ease and enthusiasm. It wasn’t the case. For a while I was curious as to why they couldn’t see the benefits. Weren’t they almost hard-wired to their mobile phones and iPods? Didn’t they see how the technology could make learning more accessible and perhaps even more profound? Well no, as it happens. Sure, they are rarely without their mobile phones, know all about Google and the web, You Tube, Facebook and email … all the basics … but what eluded most was how to mash all of this into something useful, to see how it could assist… or in fact to see what it all had to do at all with their learning. Gentle persuasion by me as the facilitator … getting them used to the idea of using technology … had to become part of my approach.

This is what I discovered back in 2004 and subsequently wrote:

… many students are still not as tech savvy as is believed. Some needed persuading that “taking the lecture with you” wherever you go is a better way to absorb material than by a one hit in a lecture room with pages of often messy lecture notes. For all the students I see around the place plugged in to the ubiquitous earbuds, many were surprisingly conservative when it came to getting their heads and study habits around replacing the live lecture experience with a virtual one.

I prepared a podcast on how to use the technology, and did a fair amount of enthusing about the benefits of this approach to learning. And did they all then gallop to the website to download? Not a bit of it. External (often mature-aged) students enjoyed the convenience and ‘contact’ with me (albeit virtual) of the podcast, and the downloads came thick and fast for the entire cohort, internal and external during the pre-exam revision period.

But I don’t give up that easily. I continued developing podcast course materials throughout 2005 and 2006.

… The arrival of the Apple iLife suite has made production simpler and faster–faster being a bonus. I use an Olympus DM-20 digital recorder to capture my voice track. The Olympus is a little gem which has great sound quality. Downloading is a snap, and Garage Band is quick and easy to use. I enhanced episodes with my own photographs and produced slides in Keynote to accompany the soundtrack. I also used music supplied within Garage Band to create a theme to introduce and close each episode, and used little stingers to break up the voice track. These enhanced podcasts provided students with a vocal presentation along with lecture notes and images.

There is no doubt that producing a podcast with audio and video or slides in an ‘enhanced podcast’ via Garageband is labour-intensive. A quick and dirty dump of a lecture is an option, but not one I care for much. I’d much rather script my 60 minute lecture, record, edit and produce it into three 20 mins or so ‘episodes.’ This has proved to be a more acceptable format for students, and for me. It’s easier to access and negotiate content. I would rather have the student feel I was speaking to them rather than lecturing at them. There is a palpable difference. The more I work at this material, the more I’m convinced that thinking about a podcast as a simple recording of a lecture is to deny the potential of the medium. In fact I had begun to think about the content as a program rather than a lecture series. I called it Talking Theatre the podcast, and referred to it this way. Did it fool anyone? Don’t know, but I do know it’s content rich, personal, and sounds good … it’s easy to listen to … and like it or not, the student can take me along wherever s/he goes!

And that brings me to the use of what is surely the invention of the decade, the iPod.

I teach in a Theatre Department, and many of my students are professional actors in training. An actor’s daily routine includes learning lines, songs, and sourcing materials to assist them in creating roles. In some of the voice for performance courses I run, students are required to learn dialects and accents. The immersion method is one of the best methods for learning. Students work with a native speaker, observing and recording them (or using downloaded recordings of speakers). They then using constant playback to reinforce sound changes.

I used the first generation of iPods in this way back in 2002. We’re a few iPod generations on now, with the capability of recording, video playback, and with access to PC users built in. I see this immersion method being used more and more by students. They are listening to materials to learn, and to relax …

When the pressure builds, often in a production week, and in the lead up to show, actors “plug in” to their iPods to relax or to rev up for a performance. In all of these cases, I’ve found the portable mp3 player to be a perfect tool for this: light, portable and easy to “rewind,” unlike the old tape players of only a few years back. iPods and the like are also great fun to use, and this appeals to students, young and old. I’ve always believed that good design coupled with ease of use, as well as aesthetics–in other words, the total “cool” factor is important in attracting and then getting people to use things. Typical of the design philosophy behind all Apple products, the iPod is based on the beautifully simple and the intuitive action. The cool factor is very high.

And another under-appreciated bit of technical gear is the iPod HiFi which came into its own for us as a great sound system on tour.

In 2006, I developed and directed an education program which toured into local high schools. We needed a very portable, light and quick system to set up and strike in school halls or classrooms. The iPod coupled with the iPod HiFi system was perfect for our needs. The sound effects and music needed for the show sat on the iPod, and the Stage Manager was able to operate the HiFi via the remote. It was perfect. In another project, we experimented with an actor using the remote to play sound effects and music as part of her performance. We mused at the time about the day a remote might be built into a piece of costume, enabling the actor to “conduct” the soundtrack even more subtly. It’s probably not too far off!

And then in July this year I came across an iPod-enabled suit at Marks and Spencers in London. I knew it was just round the corner!

Along with my curiosity with Web 2.0 in learning, I continue to utilise podcasting as a course delivery mechanism. Of course, the programs I’ve developed during the past 2 or more years remain accessible as reference materials by currently enrolled students. Their use-by date won’t be up for some time, giving me the time to develop other approaches … including student-created content … to add to the mix.

Image: abkfenris

Author: Kate Wilson

Actor, director, teacher, dabbler with paint, serial traveller.

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