Podcasting in Instruction: Moving Beyond the Obvious

The Educause Web site provides the following definition of podcasts:

Podcasting is a mobile technology. It is portable, either through personal computers or mobile devices (MP3 player, handheld, cell phone, or laptop). It also enables just-in-time, 24 x 7 access to information. Traditional podcasts deliver only audio, while enhanced podcasting may be multimedia, incorporating images or video.

Podcasts are increasingly used to deliver information and events for a variety of purposes and uses, including religious sermons, personal journals, tourist logs, and political campaigning, among others. Additionally, uses for instruction vary and include most commonly content delivery, such as lectures, discussions, debates, and research projects. Increasingly, podcasts are being integrated into personal and professional digital portfolios and can provide another method of authentic assessment for students in the form of personal journals, commentary segments, and presentations.

The challenge remains, however: Can more be achieved with podcasting in the context of student authorship and academic collaboration that would heighten student engagement and maximize knowledge building in instructional contexts? Can we move beyond the obvious in their use?

Certainly the mobile nature of this technology, when used in more innovative ways, has the potential of moving beyond familiar constraints of coursework and promoting a level of networking and input never seen before. Additionally, the potential collaborations beyond existing and immediate peers would mean that the application of learning could become immediately more profound and legitimate.

Student Engagement Through Authoring
In a 2005 article, I wrote the following about blogging:

The blog, however, provides a context in which personal voice can be "published" by the student, which means that attention is given to content, relevancy, and connection with learning outcomes to a higher degree than a traditional journal submission. The idea that more than one person will view the work is quite powerful in promoting a sense of ownership from the student.

The significance of this concept regarding podcasts is that with the mobility and compact nature of podcast technology, capturing and publishing student voice becomes even more powerful for students as a publicly accessible and multidimensional representation of that voice. The public nature is accentuated through the mobility in that student voice can now be heard by multiple users and within multiple contexts and it can both present a multimedia publication and receive multimedia and multi-user input. This is powerful for students and encourages their efforts to be prepared for a wider audience and to collaborate with more participants. Additionally, within these accessible contexts, students are more likely to welcome feedback and commentary on their work. It is exactly with the desired intention for feedback and peer affirmation or confrontation that today's students welcome this notion of authorship. For educators, then, what was once a huge challenge to encourage students to publish is more familiar and acceptable, as is the notion of negotiating their individual voice, opinion, or idea within the larger context of viewers, users, peers, and whoever happens across their work.

Student engagement also becomes more regular as students own the process from the outset. The whole publication becomes owned by students rather than a final stage in a project process. Additionally, providing more authentic assessment through the use of individual podcasts provides educators with concrete examples that can be assessed within the context of a course and can be evaluated by others in the course and outside the course as well.

An example from my own experience is using podcasting as a means to provide a continuous assessment opportunity based on real-life experience and individual voice within an overseas trip with a class of History and Culture students three years ago. The concept was that the students would begin the process before leaving for the trip, set up their podcast software and hardware items, design their podcast content based on the study sheets provided, and keep in mind that all of the podcasts would be made available for the entire university body upon returning to the campus. The students were totally responsible for their podcast design and the media used. Each student was also responsible to provide a written explanation of their project and their research plan and content development plan (interviews, video captures, images etc.). The benefit of this was that the students (as well as being excited about obtaining a new iPod for the trip) were focused on their "production" and the representation of their individual journey from the outset. They were also excited to know what their peers and others thought not only about their podcasts but about their journey.

Knowledge Building Through Collaboration
Often cooperation replaces collaboration in education (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1996). That is, when educators provide opportunities for students to work together in teams toward a project goal (cooperation), it does not always result in collaboration. The latter is a process by which participants work equally to exchange ideas and build on ideas toward an undetermined goal (new knowledge). Once new knowledge has been reached, however, those ideas can be applied to a real life situation or context within which the new ideas become understood. With the use of new technology that process can be more easily facilitated than in conventional classroom situations, however, it must be intentionally targeted by the instructional design and facilitation of a course. Such a process of collaboration can be facilitated through a variety of methods like individual reflection, concept mapping, discussion, and idea modification. Based on my own experience, usually more than one method must be used to achieve new knowledge.

The notion of collaborative knowledge building as delineated by Stahl (2000) supports the notion that collaboration requires various process stages involving both individual and social work. Therefore, knowledge building within a collaborative framework relies on a variety of interactions and " idea work,” not in any specific order, but nonetheless progressive.

Podcasting can provide a great way both to represent and to modify new ideas. Again, through individual or group authorship, ideas can be represented symbolically or realistically through the use of various media and published in a public space. Once the idea or ideas are made public (Scardamelia and Bareiter, 1996) they are not owned but can be modified by others through a process of collaboration. This requires educators to be both flexible and patient as they are committed to the entire process of collaborative knowledge building.

Legitimization in the Process
The notion that knowledge becomes legitimized through a community of knowledge and peer review is not new to academic contexts; however, conventional notions of legitimacy are being challenged through new technology, collective knowledge bases, and equality of access to authorship. In others words, new ideas of legitimacy are being explored as are new ideas in publication. Conventional notions of "expertise" are being challenged, as are notions of legitimate contribution to a field of study. What is essentially still held, however, is the notion that legitimacy necessarily involves some level of review, response, and either acceptance or integration. In other words, while new technology provides a greater access to voice for students, nonetheless those voices being heard within communities of practice, knowledge, or interest provide continuing opportunity for one's work to be viewed in relation to the work or ideas of others and evaluated as contribution accordingly.

Given the more public nature of this level of review and legitimacy, podcasting provides a useful way to "try out" one's individual work within the larger community of users and participants. Indeed because of the mobility of this technology, that community may be larger than ever before and provide a deeper level of scrutiny than ever before possible. Thus, it could be argued, legitimacy emerges as a global rather than immediate concept. This in turn challenges the student or educator from the outset to publish something worthy of that level of scrutiny and review. As a result the implications for learning are immense. Rather than my teacher being the one to impress, suddenly, I now become a participant in a larger process and a more in-depth review.

As with any new technology, challenges with its integration into instruction do not lie with the technology itself. Rather, educators are challenged in the areas of methods and design flexibility. Also like any new technology, the immediate uses of the technology often mimic existing methods but in new formats. So, early Internet-based distance education courses simply attempted to recreate the classroom experience online and simply opened its distribution to a wider and distant audience. Likewise, early uses of the podcasts in instruction often mimic in-class experiences of lectures and notes. The challenges to educators are to transition beyond this immediate and obvious use of the technology and develop new uses that are:

  • Representative of changes in teaching methods and learning outcomes;
  • More reflective of both the essence and capability of the technology itself; and
  • More appealing to the new, more diverse student.

Managing that transition is the challenge--how to move one's professional practice forward using new technology without causing chaos for oneself or one's students. One way of addressing this challenge is to think through the methods first and then integrate the technology. Therefore, in thinking through the importance of individual student voice and publication (authorship) and collaborative knowledge building, educators can then realize the potential of newer technologies in accomplishing those goals. Podcasting presents itself as having great potential for educators addressing these challenges.


Reynard, Ruth, "Blogs in Higher Ed: Personal Voice as Part of Learning," Campus Technology, 1/11/2005,

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1996). Computer support for knowledge-building communities. In T. Koschmann (Ed.), CSCL: Theory and practice of an emerging paradigm. Mahwah, NJ:Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Stahl, G. (2000). A Model of Collaborative Knowledge-Building. In B. Fishman & S. O'Connor-Divelbiss (Eds.), Fourth International Conference of the Learning Sciences (pp. 70-77). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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