As part of a recent project with the Higher Education Academy, I developed a set of audio podcasts looking at how students can create their own Professional Online Presence to aid in their employability.
During the time podcasting, I’ve come up with a set of six lessons which I think will help anyone looking to follow in my footsteps.
Lesson One – Podcasts should be developed as a series of short audios (10 to 20) minutes
I shied away from the idea of long audios or an open-ended series, since planning out a short sequence of podcasts is much easier. Each podcast can also serve a very clearly defined purpose, so this makes them simpler to record. Any extra ideas are better covered in an additional podcast, rather than making each one longer. Adapting a short section of a longer lecture can work well.
There are educational advantages to this too, since modern learners engage better with smaller chunks (and there is nothing to stop someone from choosing to listen to two or more podcasts together if they feel so inclined).
Lesson Two – Don’t just audio record lectures and assume that they will be “good enough”. Repurposing and rerecording parts of existing lecture notes works for some subjects
Much of the research I read suggested that just recording a lecture was a bad idea. My own experience of listening to recordings of live events concurs with this.
I think a podcast is much better thought of as a simplified version of a radio recording. Within education, this will often be without all the “bells and whistles” since this is often being developed for a small audience on one particular course (although trying to make things more widely useful is never a bad idea).
Lesson Three – Time needs to be allocated to produce podcasts to a high standard
This is one on the sticklers when using podcasts in an educational setting. Creating good online resources of any kind takes time and this is no different where podcasts are concerned. If these were just requested to be done on top of all other types of teaching, it’s very unlikely that much of use would ever be developed.
Some institutions get around this by just recording audio versions of lectures, which, as I’ve already discussed, I feel is undesirable. A separate time allowance to engage with podcasting and to learn the associated technical skills is needed.
Lesson Four – Focus on creating podcasts using information that works in a non-visual format
This was one of the biggest challenges with the set of materials I set to adapt, which were PowerPoint slides. By their very nature, Professional Online Presences are visual and tutorials on areas such as LinkedIn would have benefited from being able to show what the screens looked like. I got around this by keeping the material at a high level, which is probably sensible, since versions of social media sites such as LinkedIn do change rapidly and I didn’t want the podcasts to date.
Otherwise, careful consideration has to be made as to what materials are turned into podcasts. Some material does not require a display at all and so would be idea for podcasting. Highly technical presentations, by contrast, seem unlikely to be suitable source material for good podcasts (but alternatives, such as video presentations, could be considered).
Lesson Five – Podcasts do not have to be perfect. So long as the sound quality is good, slight wording errors and corrections are fine
I don’t think anyone expects an unscripted audio to be perfect. This is no more the case in a radio interview or anything that could be considered as an equivalent to podcasts to the masses. It is okay to make small mistakes and then just keep going, or add a small correction where needed.
This is an area that holds people back, but just like people barely notice a mistake in a conversation, it’s the same with podcasts. Even where are multiple mistakes, or you end up at a loss for words, the format of short podcasts as mentioned in Lesson One is also useful, as this means that there is only a relatively short amount of material that has to be recorded again.
Lesson Six – Audio recording is simple, but the technical challenge comes from making the podcasts available and getting them listed on iTunes
Although I’m a technical person, this is where I found the biggest challenge with the podcasts. Creating the audios was easy enough and once I had a proper plan to work from (essentially, an edited version of the PowerPoint slides) I was able to talk around them and record the audio. This is where it does help creating podcasts covering material that I’ve taught to multiple groups of students and to other academics.
The biggest technical challenge was getting the podcasts online, getting them working in an iTunes formatted RSS feed, and getting the feed submitted to iTunes. Even using a WordPress site and plugin, there were still parts that just wouldn’t work correctly and took a lot of hours searching for solutions. My considered opinion of this one is that every web host is set up slightly differently for podcasting. There are some paid solutions that will host podcasts and these might be better considered than trying the DIY approach like I did.
I hope that this set of lessons does provide some talking points and things to consider if you are thinking about podcasting. I think it’s very worthwhile, but just start off with a short series of podcasts like I did – and don’t worry too much if things go wrong. The second series of podcasts will be much better!