our words make worlds

Curriculum Innovation research: student podcasting

By Louise Curtin

This week draws to a close my fascinating experience working as a Curriculum Innovation Research Assistant at King’s College London. In Spanish and Digital Humanities, my colleagues Sophie Stevens and Renata Brandão have designed an exciting new module, Art and Activism in the Digital Age, which aims to promote innovation and creativity by incorporating a novel assessment in the form of student-generated podcasts. Over the past 10 weeks, I have been tasked with researching all things podcast-related in education. I now consider myself a mini-expert on the topic with arguably enough material to produce my own show.

Grand ideas aside, I have thoroughly enjoyed the fact-finding mission. My research led me down curious rabbit holes as I sought examples of learner-centred podcasting (as opposed to podcasting as a pedagogical tool, which has been more widely adopted). For example, I stumbled on a fantastic article about student podcasting in an ecology module at McGill University, which culminated with a genuinely inspiring podcast about orcas. At the magical sound of whale song, I was hooked. I was impressed by the possibilities of this medium; here was an engaging, informative and memorable academic report, which appeared to fulfil the same learning objectives as more traditional assignments. I could immediately imagine the diverse, creative responses of participants in the Art and Activism module and knew the coordinators were on to something.

Our fortnightly meetings – all conducted via Zoom because of the coronavirus lockdown – involved some lively discussions based on my findings. I was pleased to report that student podcasting appears to have overwhelmingly positive effects on the learning experience. We discussed the fact that podcasts have the potential to increase the motivation and confidence of students.[1] Young people are generally familiar with and enthusiastic about digital media and many perceive the assessment to be less nerve-wracking than a live in-class presentation. Several studies also suggest that students consider proficiency in podcasting software to be a useful and valuable skill, and one that is increasingly attractive to employers.[2]

We also explored the potential of podcasting to foster meaningful learning. Mastering a new skill is highly satisfying and students enjoy a sense of ownership by producing their own podcast, which can be very enriching and empowering. This is partly because students become ‘active participants’ in the learning process and ‘a conductor of their own knowledge’.[3] As a spoken-word exercise, podcasting facilitates authentic communication, perhaps due to the intimacy of recording one’s voice and the fact that a wider audience than a single examiner may access the product. The assessment also supports diversity and inclusion by enabling students who cannot attend the campus to participate remotely, as well as by appealing to students who struggle with academic discourse and traditional written assignments.

Notwithstanding these advantages, we also debated the practical challenges of introducing an activity that requires technical training. According to the literature, several adoptees of learner-centred podcasting reported that a large number of students initially voiced apprehension about the exercise. Interestingly, the students were not anxious about the technicalities (they conquered the software relatively easily) but rather about how the product would be assessed.[4] These tutors therefore emphasised the need to invest time in supporting students and to clearly explain the assessment criteria at the outset.

Indeed, it can be challenging to create a marking scheme for innovative assessments without precedents. I studied various marking criteria for podcasts, blogs and vlogs, which raised questions about the language of assessment. While some were based on existing criteria for presentations, others were designed especially for podcasts and included categories such as ‘creativity’ and ‘charisma’.[5] These qualities struck us as relevant to the podcast medium, which requires the host to deliver quality content in an engaging manner. We agreed that, in addition to typical criteria such as critical thinking, students should be rewarded for their creative and original approach to the assignment.

With these considerations in mind, the adoption of student-generated podcasts strikes me as highly appropriate for the proposed module, which will explore the ways in which women artists and activists, particularly from Latin America, make use of digital spaces. Crucially, the assignment offers students the opportunity to put theory into practice by developing their own ideas about a social justice issue of interest to them in a digital format. We also discussed how podcasts were an ideal format for incorporating an interview or oral testimony where relevant. While these activities might require additional ethics approval and GDPR protocol, such processes could be useful learning experiences for any budding researchers planning to embark on further study.

Overall, it seems there is endless potential for podcasting in the educational context. In my view, this type of interdisciplinary initiative is vital for attracting diverse students, especially in undersubscribed fields such as Modern Languages. Innovative assessments have the capacity to breathe new life into the university curriculum by offering exciting, modern and rewarding activities to students. My research suggests that they also make the marking process more enjoyable for tutors.[6]

As this research assignment comes to an end, I hope that my insights prove to be useful and that the plans for this brilliant module come to fruition. In the light of Covid-19, blended learning is set to be a part of the future and I trust that student podcasting will have a place in it. I for one am all ears.

[1] Birgit Phillips. ‘Student-Produced Podcasts in Language Learning – Exploring Student Perceptions of Podcast Activities’. IAFOR Journal of Education. Vol.5. No.3. 2017. p.160.

[2] ‘Factors influencing higher education students to adopt podcast: An empirical study’. Computers & Education. Vol. 83. 2015. pp.38-40.

[3] Marco Lazzari. ‘Creative use of podcasting in higher education and its effect on competitive agency’. Computers & Education, 52 (1) (2009), pp. 27-34.

[4] Benjamin Hunter. ‘Vlogging in student-led seminars’. https://blogs.kcl.ac.uk/aflkings/2018/11/12/vlogging-in-student-led-seminars/.

[5] Eva Philippaki. ‘Podcasting the findings of a Physics experiment’. https://blogs.kcl.ac.uk/aflkings/2019/10/01/podcasting-the-findings-of-a-physics-experiment/.

[6] Justine Kemp. ‘Student-Produced Podcasts as an Assessment Tool: An Example from Geomorphology’. Journal of Geography in Higher Education. Vol.36. 2012.