During fall 2008, I decided to take the leap into podcasting with my two History courses—Introduction to Western Civilization I and From Baghdad to Burgos: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Medieval and Early Modern Mediterranean World. My primary motivation for experimenting with podcasting via iTunes U, which can be seamlessly integrated with BlackBoard, was to determine if it might provided a pedagogical edge when trying to intellectually engage our increasingly tech-focused student body. I would say that the results of my podcasting were definitely—mixed. Podcasting is not a panacea for connecting with students, and in some ways it does not play to the strengths of our Jesuit institution and its emphasis on cura personalis.
First, let me describe what is involved with preparing a podcast so that you might better understand the process. In order to podcast, you will need a digital voice recorder or another device to record your class sessions. In my case, I relied on two devices—a Livescribe Pen to record my audio from class and a external microphone that I could connect to my computer (the Snowflake) to record introductions for each finished podcast. After recording my class sessions with the Livescribe Pen, I downloaded the audio files to my computer so that I could edit them. If you want a professionally sounding podcast, then you will want to remove the first seconds, as well as the last seconds, of your class recordings. Otherwise, the beginning of your podcasts will contain extraneous sounds such as your students settling into their seats and the endings of your podcasts might contain confidential conservations that you conducted with students immediately after class. To efficiently remove these extraneous recordings I used Audacity, a free, cross-platform sound editor. With the edited, but raw, podcast completed, I next employed Apple’s GarageBand to produce the final podcast that could be uploaded to iTunes U. To produce a final podcast I typically recorded a brief introduction that reported the class title, the recording date, and a short description about the content of the podcast. Subsequently, I added custom-designed cover art for the podcast and then, finally, uploaded the file to iTunes U. For each course I taught, which meet three days a week, I prepared three podcasts per week. Although I became more efficient with generating podcasts over the fall semester, on average I dedicated about two hours each week to the process of publishing podcasts for each course that I taught. As you can imagine, over the course of the semester I spent a good deal of time each week preparing podcasts. I believe this is the true opportunity cost of podcasting—I could have utilized those two hours of weekly podcast preparation to improve my lectures, spend more time writing comments on students’ papers and tests, or any number of other tasks that would have directly impacted my students’ scholarship and learning.
Anecdotally, my former students report that in general they did listen to the podcasts, especially if they missed a class or when they chose to listen to my test review sessions. However, podcasting was not the perfect complement to my courses because I tend to use a mix of both lectures and in-class discussions and because my class sizes are relative small—15 to 35 students. Ideally, it seems that podcasting is best suited to straight lecture courses, as well as those with larger student enrollments (100+) such as those found at large public universities. Again, given that our university focuses on “concern for the individual student” and prizes small classes sizes, we enjoy a unique opportunity to bond with and take a personal interest in our students’ lives, scholarly goals, and career aspirations. Taking into consideration these communal values, it has become clear to me that podcasting is a useful tool for working with our students, but it does not enhance our connection with them. Rather, within the intimate environment of Saint Joseph’s University, I now see podcasting as a tool that I will utilize in the future to record specific types of class sessions such as test review sessions, very detail-laden class lectures, and student presentations that I might wish to record for evaluation purposes.
Lastly, I am currently conducting a brief online survey using BlackBoard so that I can garner a better understanding of how my former students used podcasts. I hope to share those results on this blog within two weeks.