Tom Langston

Header image used under Creative Commons Licence. Taken by Jonas Smith from Flickr

Podcasts are episodic audio files that can be automatically downloaded when they are publicly made available. The most familiar podcast congregator is iTunes. However, there are many other sites and apps that provide access to a vast range of podcasts. For iOS there is Overcast, Castro or paid options like Pocket Casts and iCatcher. On Android there is Podcast Republic and Player.fm both of which are free and very customisable.

Photo used under Creative Commons Licence. Taken by Kreg Steppe from Flickr

The wonderful thing about podcasts are that no matter what your interests are you are bound to find lots of podcasts that talk about them. You can listen to more common topics such as comedy, technology, sport and education to more specific podcasts that talk about the Arts and Activism!

Podcast are free but the big ones are subsidised through advertising and sponsorship. This can get annoying at times but is easily skipped or ignored until the program starts and keeps the rest of the process all free which is, I think, the key to what makes podcasts great.

Full disclosure… I have not actually listened to any of the podcasts I am about to list but using “education” as a search term using player.fm (an android and web-based podcast site) I find podcasts from named sources such as ‘Times Higher Education’ , ‘TED Talks’ and ‘The Microsoft Innovate Educator Spotlight Series’. However, there are also series produced by unknown individuals and groups who are just passionate about their subject.

Podcasts are a great source of opinion and discussion that you might not meet your normal sphere of work or study. The joy and fear of the internet reign with the ability for anyone to have a voice. Anyone can, but actually very few maintain the content but when they do it can be interesting to hear the evolution of a podcast from when they first start to what they release now.

It is also a great outlet to produce material around subjects you are passionate about. Podcasts (unlike vodcasts or video channels) can be produced on the smallest of scales. A microphone like the Snowball by Blue can be bought for £60 and used to produce high-quality audio recordings. On a Mac, the free program GarageBand allows simple quick recording and editing features, the same can be had on a Windows machine with Audacity.  The biggest commitment is that of the time to record your ideas and producing it as a continuing series. This can be daily, weekly or monthly but requires that regular input to provide content to those that might want to listen.

The choice of listener or producer is easy to start with. Start with just listening and it can give you that idea of how you want to produce or present a podcast you are planning. It may just be a passive activity providing you with ideas and thoughts to investigate that might help enhance your work.

With the relative ease that a podcast can be produced, it can easily be used to develop your learning and teaching practices. A feed from the podcast can be added as a block to a Moodle unit. This gives your site a dynamic content section that is always updating and progressing as you produce the resources for the podcast.

Working with podcasts around your subject matter could help contextualise problematic topics that slow down learning with some students. It can be used to talk broadly about your subject and bring in other areas of interest you don’t have time to cover in the traditional teaching avenues. This can then help develop the reading and activities a student has to engage with. A reading list is essential on every unit but with a potentially long list to try to get through an apathy could occur where it feels like there is too much, but through a book review section of a podcast or developing ideas citing your sources (that are all on the reading list), the student can engage with your enthusiasm towards the material and subject matter.

Considering the effort that can go into a podcast, it is a valid concern to as why should I bother producing anything at all, recent figures show that 1.7% of the time Americans spend listening to audio is devoted to podcasts. In late 2014, the BBC (a large producer of Podcasts in the UK) announced record figures for podcast downloads of its programmes. People are now able to listen on the go and are not limited by the technology anymore. With phones able to do what once expensive MP3 players could do, the limitation of where you listen has vanished. For students on a commute to university it might be a good chance for them to get into a learning mindset before they arrive, and as a podcast rather than a vodcast it can be listened to while driving as well as walking or getting public transport.