Ina S Gray
Hochschule Wismar University of Applied Sciences
The podcast project gives students an inspiring and challenging hands-on experience with audio-visual production. Practical involvement and personally and professionally relevant scenarios lead to augmented learning processes. Students are motivated further by the fact that their podcasts will serve as learning material for future students.
In June 2012, students of the international master’s programme Architectural Lighting Design at Wismar University were the first to use the university’s film studio in the new production centre for e-learning applications (Produktionsstätte für e-Learning-Anwendungen, PELA). The aim of the project was to produce video podcasts as part of their course requirement in the Technical English module.
Since then over 50 students from degree programmes such as business law, architecture and architectural lighting design have used the PELA for assessed coursework in the English language module.
Groups of two to four students prepare a podcast of seven to ten minutes. The topic presented should feature vocabulary relevant to their studies (English for Specific Purposes, ESP) and at least one (business) skill practised in the course, such as diplomatic business English, managing discussions, negotiating, job interviews etc. Students are free to choose the format of the podcast: whether they create news or talk shows, role-plays or educational lectures, the podcast must be both educational and creative.
Students who choose to create their podcast in the PELA write a storyboard, decide on background images, props and any extras they may need or want. The information is provided to the PELA staff ahead of their 60-minute recording slot. Often, staff assists in or carries out the post-production process. Finished podcasts are uploaded to the university’s streaming server, where they can be accessed by the lecturer and, with a password, by the students.
It should be noted that students do not have to use the PELA but are welcome to produce their podcasts with simple technical means such as the video function on smart phones. Some students have managed to produce excellent podcasts with very simple technology.
As a last step, students are asked to reflect on the result by either analysing their own podcast and/or giving feedback on those of their peers.
Podcasts are graded on the following aspects (in decreasing order of importance): educational/informational value, coverage of important vocabulary, level of language, level of creativity. A combination of group and individual marks is applied.
Benefits and potentials
The podcast production process requires and develops several competencies. Students need to gather and organise information on a topic of their choice, which is then transferred to and applied in a specific scenario. They need media competence in the production stage. Importantly, in the feedback or analysis stage students are asked to develop/employ reflective competencies.
Students’ feedback has been very positive. They enjoy the group work throughout the process and value the competences they gain. They also believe the learning is successful and sustainable since they have been very actively involved in creating their product.
Students also report great motivation for the project since the enjoyment in the production process and the feeling of achievement triggered by the end-result outweigh the time and effort that need to be invested. This sense of achievement is further enhanced by the knowledge that (some of) the podcasts will serve as future teaching material in the respective areas of ESP and business skills.
This latter aspect is of great benefit to the lecturer too. There are many potential use-cases for podcasts as teaching/learning material: transcriptions, linguistic analysis, extracting information for new scenarios, etc.
This project is based on a constructivist approach to learning. This embraces the idea of learning as a self-referential process that cannot be regulated from the outside, and of autonomous learners who have to take responsibility for their learning process (Candin et al 1997). The teachers’ task is to support and optimise the students’ learning processes. This means that generating genuine interest in and a positive emotional response to the topic and task at hand are vitally important (Faulstich, Zeuner 2008). The more pronounced the interest and emotional response, the more willing students are to engage in learning and to actively foster their own learning process (v. Saldern in: Arnold 1996). Contextualisation of both topic and task are essential also. Are they relevant to the students‘ present and/or future interests, motivations and challenges?
Since, according to research by the American Audiovisual Society, we remember 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see and 80% of what we actively experience ourselves (Arnold 1996), task- and activity-oriented learning are additional concepts at the heart of this project.
The podcast project addresses students as autonomous learners who are to a great extent responsible for the end-result of their product and who have the freedom to be guided by their own interests with respect to the choice of topic, skill and podcast format.
Assessing group work and creative work are both notoriously difficult. The teachers’ challenge is further complicated by the fact that the autonomous, cooperative and task-oriented learning resulting from this project means that they have to support diverging individual learning processes simultaneously. These diverging processes cannot result in uniform learning outcomes. Assessment therefore needs to be individualised yet comparable. Transparency and peer feedback may well be valid answers to this challenge.