In the spirit of making the most out of the tools at hand, today’s savvy teachers create innovative, and often unexpected, applications for available technologies. Flatbed scanners become tools to record visual book reports. Cell phones are pressed into service as high-interest teaching and learning tools. iPods, those small, portable devices attached to more than 220 million ears across the globe, are no exception. Over the last decade, iPods have emerged as a tool for the development and delivery of central and supporting curricular content through the practice of podcasting.
Podcasting, a morph of the words “iPod” and “broadcast,” was first coined by U.K. journalist Ben Hammersley. (In fact, it was declared to be 2005’s Word of the Year by The New Oxford American Dictionary, edging out both “Sudoku” and “trans fat” for the philological nod.) The digital medium quickly found its way into the classroom, and why not? After all, it’s free, easy, and accessible, and it has the ability to power up education for students from kindergarten to college.
More Than Music
In 2001, Apple Computer announced the development of the iPod, a portable player and interface for downloading music. Commercial entities quickly saw the benefits of podcasting—there are no FCC regulations for podcasting, in contrast to the many restrictions tied to radio—and they began publishing podcasts as a sort of alternative channel. A podcasting culture quickly spread, and by 2003, it was entrenched in the culture of the educational community. Teachers were quick to realize that podcasting could be an important tool for delivering and receiving information. College professors began to publish their lectures via podcast, broadening “on-demand” education by making their class content mobile and easily accessible. Others in higher education published supplemental course content, providing an abundance of new material for their colleagues in the process. (In 2005, Stanford University became the first school to make its lectures and academic content accessible to the broad public through iTunes.) A new academic community began to interface via podcasts.
The initial focus of podcasts was on delivery of content. But what about the responsive and creative possibilities of the tool? In 2004, Duke University dove into a creative experiment designed to investigate that question. Each incoming freshman was given an iPod with recording abilities and the directive to explore ways to apply the iPod to the learning process. Then, they waited to see how the inclusion of this tool might affect the mix of educational delivery and dialogue.
Faculty and students discovered that iPods did indeed enhance learning in unanticipated ways; in addition to downloading lectures and supplemental materials, students used the digital tool to create their own content and supplemental materials, including field notes, study guides, and flashcards.
Helping Teachers Work Smarter
It wasn’t long before the K–12 community recognized the advantages of student podcasting in the classroom. The process is a nexus for traditional and 21st-century literacies, requiring discipline-based research, reading, and writing. Podcasting also calls for editing, oral reading, and presentation skills. This bonanza of traditional skills further interfaces with technology, problem solving, creativity, and collaboration.
Elementary podcasts such as Radio WillowWeb eloquently illustrate the multidimensional learning power of podcasting. Produced by students at Willowdale Elementary School in Omaha, Neb., Willowcasts, as the podcasts are called, cover topics from the properties of matter to art history. Some podcasts, such as Writing Traits, offer fellow students tips for powering up skills. Willowdale students advertise their podcasts as “broadcasting around the world.” And it’s true. A quick Google search of “WillowWeb” yields responses to the school’s broadcasts from students living on America’s West Coast to those residing in the U.K. You can subscribe to Willowcasts through iTunes or listen to them directly at http://millard.esu3.org/willow/radio/. The school has also developed a handbook that spells out the nuts and bolts of podcasting in the classroom. (You can download the handbook at http://learninginhand.com/podcasting/RadioWillowWeb.pdf.) WillowWeb is just one of many podcasts being produced for students by students. A podcast directory of both teacher- and student-generated work can be accessed at http://podcasting-in-education.wikispaces.com/Examples+of+Educational+Podcasts.
Podcasting Goes Multidimensional
When teachers take on a new technology tool, they tend to initiate the experience with tasks such as reading the directions, taking an online tutorial, and mulling over the educational possibilities with a colleague. This is not so for today’s students. Unbound from the imaginary restrictions of the central purpose of a digital device, they have no fear of diving right in. The end result is sometimes a more dimensional application, with more far-reaching benefits, than was initially envisioned. Consider the students enrolled in the language classes of Sebastian Dorok.
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