Six Lessons From The Development Of My First Set Of Podcasts

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.

The podcasts created are available here, and a blog detailing their production is also available.

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.

Overview of the lessons from developing podcasts for the Higher Education Academy

 

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!

Improving Student Motivation Using Technology Within The STEM Disciplines

One of the most interesting MSc Projects I’ve supervised recently involved me working with Richard Wilkinson, looking at the ways in which technology can be used to motivate learners.

We took some of the highlights from his research study at Coventry University College and made this into a paper for the HEA STEM Conference.

Here’s the slides I used for the talk (they are also available on my SlideShare account).

The session was well-received and led to plenty of discussion about the role that technology plays in education and why students did not seem particularly keen to engage with student media as part of this process. Definitely an area worthy of further exploration.

Working With The Higher Education Academy Changing The Learning Landscape Project

One of the projects I’ve been working on recently has been related to a Higher Education Academy project allowing academics to explore further use of social media within their teaching (and so benefit the experiences of their own students).

I’m already fairly social media aware, but I jumped upon this as an opportunity to explore podcasting, through a project turning some of the existing resources I’d created on Professional Online Presences into social media.

Here’s the slides from a short talk I put together at the start of the project (they are also available on my SlideShare account).

I’m further along with the project now, but I have been keeping a short blog about the project, the podcast development and the successes and frustrations coming along with it.

http://professionalonlinepresence.com/changingthelearninglandscape

Depending when you read this, there may still be more work to be done on the blog and the main site, but I hope it will provide another indication of the sort of podcast development and social media innovation which is possible within higher education. No doubt I will also write more about the project on this blog as well.

Five Key Findings From The Higher Education Academy Workshop on Using Vendor Resources To Enhance Student Employability

On 6 March, 2014, Birmingham City University was very proud to host a Higher Education Academy workshop on how vendor resources can be integrated into teaching to improve the employability prospects of students. The workshop particularly related to the Computing discipline and the work of the School of Computing, Telecommunications and Networks, but the general findings are relevant to a whole field of subjects and courses looking at helping their students to benefit from gainful employment.

For the uninitiated, vendor resources can be defined as the materials provided by major companies within the computing fields. Within computing at Birmingham City University, the school work closely with vendors like Cisco, Microsoft, SAS, Apple and Oracle. Many of these vendors provide training on their latest software, meaning that students who become proficient are immediately work ready to go and become employed with companies who are using these pieces of software.

Many vendors also offer certification opportunities. Birmingham City University students are able to take those certifications alongside their main degree. This means that these Birmingham City University students graduate with additional qualifications and skills on their CV and so they are immediately ready for work. Studies by the Head of School, Mak Sharma, have already shown that the use of such vendor resources and the subsequent qualifications position students directly towards the workplace and so enhance their prospects for employability.

This blog post presents five key findings from the workshop.

 

1. Using Vendor Resources Requires Trust

Presenters, including the keynote speaker Mak Sharma, spoke about the amount of time needed to convince computing vendors that they needed to be involved with education. Where universities had already been shown to be successful, this had been the result of many years of effort and building up connections. Universities looking to work with vendors need to do this slowly over a long-period of time. Birmingham City University has already carried out their hard work with many vendors, meaning that vendor resources are immediately available to be used with students. The university is also ready to quickly expand to work with other universities since it can carry forward the highly positive recommendation that it has gained from the vendors that it already works with.

2. Vendor Resources Help Students To Obtain A Better Job

In his keynote, Mak Sharma shared the early findings from his work towards his Master’s Degree In Education. Mak has surveyed current and former students about the benefits that they had found from using vendor resource. More than 80% of current students thought that their experience of vendor resources would help them to obtain a better job. This tied in closely with the results found from students who had graduated from the high quality Computing courses at Birmingham City University. More than 60% of students who responded confirmed that the use of vendor resources at Birmingham City University had helped them to obtain a better job than would otherwise have been made available for them.

3. Universities Need To Adapt Quickly To Skills Shortages Identified By Vendors

Bill Quinn of the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) attended the event. The LPI is quite unusual amongst vendors in that they provide subject certification that is not tied to a particular software solution. Bill cited comments from the Irish Government that current skills are needed in Big Data. This ties in closely with the MSc Business Intelligence course offered at Birmingham City University providing students with skills in data analytics. This course works closely with SAS and other vendors to ensure that students are immediately prepared to enter a highly paid profession which uses their statistical and mathematical skills.

4. Universities Have A Role To Play In Supporting Vendors To Develop Certification Opportunities That Are Suitable For Current Students

An opportunity was identified by academia to work more closely with vendors to make sure that the courses that they offer are suitably academic in nature. These is a big gap between current vendor certifications and academic qualifications in terms of how students and taught and assessed. Vendors were shown to not always understand that the academic requirements of a course need to be fulfilled first for students to obtain a degree. There were also issues identified with the way that questions set by vendors are phrased, since industrial questions are very different to academic questions. Stephen Murphy’s work with the Linux Professional Institute is leading the way in the higher education sector here. After negotiations with Steve, the LPI provides separate certification for students to that which is offered for professionals (although students can take the more advanced qualifications with a small amount of provided training). More vendors need to operate in this way, rather than having unrealistic expectations of whet universities can deliver.

5. Universities Should Improve Their Assessment Mechanisms Based On The Robust Processes Developed by Vendors

Many institutions are said to be behind the time with the way that they undertake student assessment. Vendor certification exams need to be particularly robust, since these are designed to be delivered over an extended time period at multiple training centres around the world. There are a lot of lessons that could be learned from the way that exams are set to assess how well students understand the use of vendor resources, as opposed to the way that these standard tests, assessments and examinations are currently being used within higher education institutions. Stephen Murphy’s work with the LPI, in terms of developing questions that can be repeatedly used worldwide, and which are particularly good at differentiating between students who can memorise a set of answers, and students who have practiced and have reached an advanced level of knowledge with a particular technical skill, are potential of much use here. It is hoped the Higher Education Academy and internal mechanisms at Birmingham City University can fund future research in this area.

More information about the HEA Vendor Resources Workshop in Computing, along with findings and presentations from the workshop, is available at http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/events/detail/2013/13_Feb_Computing_Vendor_Birmingham.

The Prevention And Detection Of Contract Cheating

This is the second of two talks I delivered on contract cheating at a Birmingham City University workshop funded by the Higher Education Academy.

The focus of this talk was on three areas for people considering what to do about contract cheating: prevention, detection and policy. Several of the slides are prompt led and this generated a lot of discussion.

The slides, also available on SlideShare account for Thomas Lancaster, are provided here.

Some universities do still struggle to keep their academic integrity policies up-to-date, or these are only reviewed every few years. Such an approach is dangerous in a world where technology can rapidly change the cheating landscape.

There is also the policy question about where contract cheating begins. Does this start when a student submits work that they have outsourced, or is the mere request to outsource work the starting point. Personally, I favour the latter point, but many policies require the student to have completed the process and submitted bespoke work created by another person, which can be challenging to prove.

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