Learning and Teaching in Action: Open Issue

Group of students at a computer

 

The MMUBS Podcast Project

"Establishing the groundwork for a podosphere"

Nillan Fakira

Introduction 

The term podosphere was first coined by Gillmore (2008), to represent a podcasting social network or community. This technology, which is relatively new to the education sector, is becoming popular for use as a supportive and complementary tool in student learning. This paper reports on the groundwork taking place at the MMUBS for creating a podosphere community. The objectives are for staff to produce podcasts for delivery to students, to promote the wider use of podcasting, and to build resources that can be incorporated through WebCT into their courses.

I first became interested with the podcast project after a preliminary talk with Nick Scott, who is a Senior Learning and Teaching Fellow at MMUBS in the Department of Accounting and Finance (see LTiA volume 7). Nick had already written a proposal for submission for a Fellowship in Academic Practice (FAP) on widening the use of podcasts and was in the process of gathering an army of participants and support team who would be involved in introducing rich media to the Business School.

My initial thoughts on getting involved in this project were, to say the least, frightening: this project appeared to be such a huge undertaking in introducing this technology at campus level. Lots of questions were swirling in my head, around training and supporting staff in a variety of different applications and technologies, the extra resources needed, and different hardware and operating platforms to work with. MMUBS is a large faculty and is structured around five academic divisions and six Research Centres which reflect the full range of business and management studies. How would I cope?
 
Last year (Fakira, 2007) I used blog technology as a platform for research in communication, collaboration, and reflection in student learning so without much deliberation I decided to take the challenge and get on board with Nick and his vision on ‘The Industrialisation of Podcasting’. This was an opportunity for me to extend my research and be involved in applying the educational benefits of using podcasting in student learning in both a practical and innovative manner. This project would also help towards introducing many staff to new technologies such as Wikis, RSS, blog, etc. and give them a taster and an appreciation of the architecture behind web 2.0. The brainstorming by O’Reilly et al (2005) gave the differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. A further aim of the project was to take away some of the trepidation surrounding the buzz words associated with web 2.0.

Podcast as a supplementary tool in student learning.

The word ‘podcast’ is generalised terminology but in fact the understanding of its definition and how it can be used as an aid to student learning is much more, especially when it is referred to and used within the context of utilising this technology in a student learning environment. Some of the questions that need to be reflected on are: what are the end results of creating a podcast? What will students gain from the podcast? Is the podcast used as a supplementary learning tool or as an extension to the lecture? Can it be useful in their revision? Can a podcast be used as an interactive tool?

The basic ingredients of educational podcasting involve making available a recording of live/pre-recorded lectures, it can be PowerPoint slides, audios, animations and images for users to view and download onto different technological devices for viewing on demand. This can involve a series of episodes that are made available over a time period.
 
The new breed of students are already technologically savvy and this is dictating the learning environments in which they wish to study. This then gives rise to a ‘peer’ pressure effect, imposed by the students who already possess a high level of IT knowledge and its subsequent use in their daily lives. Prensky (2001) argues that our students are ‘Digital Native’ while we in the educational system are the ‘Digital immigrants’ such that

“today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach”.

MMU has a profusion of technology and IT systems in place for a managed learning environment (MLE) to meet and satisfy the needs of our fast-paced technology savvy students. From an early age students are exposed to Web 2.0 social networking architecture environments such as ‘Facebook’, ‘Youtube’ and ‘MySpace’. Thus, creating innovative ways for students to collaborate and providing communication ‘space’ can reach out to a more diverse student body, for example, to assist students with special needs, or non-native students whose first language is not English (Kaplan-Leiserson, 2008).

Operation

There is a huge scope and many potential educational and commercial benefits for the university in developing this project. Even at the initial stages of the project, there appears to be a considerable amount of interest shown from the Business School staff. Several MMUBS staff are currently active in using these technologies effectively and I hope to involve these staff in consultation and produce a workflow which would assist in their teaching.

 Technology sometimes is hard to master, get to know, use in the correct way and to deliver in the most efficient, and effective manner. Above all there is the time factor involved in learning the technology and producing the end result. My aim is to remove some of these obstacles and to help staff produce, publish and deliver a final rich media product and, in so doing, provide a rewarding experience for the user and emphasise the benefits of podcasting technology for both the staff and students (for example, for revision, catching-up on missed lectures, learning on demand).

My research interests are to introduce some of the other supportive tools available in MMU and show how they can be utilised to produce a true web 2.0 environment. This environment, consisting of blogging, discussion boards, wiki pages, document and content management can be seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Operation - Educational use of podcast in student learning

diagram showing place of podcasting in learing environment

The final part of the podcast project is centred on web-based application and the use of web feeds such as RSS (Really Simple Syndication). An RSS feed is created to inform users of updates on your site. The RSS feed can be read using a feed reader or also referred to as an aggregator. This software can be web-based or it can be installed on the client desktop. The user can also use software such as iTunes and subscribe to the feed. These aggregator softwares periodically check for sites you subscribe to and will automatically download the updates you have requested, such as. news, blogs, mp3 files, podcasts etc.

The podcast can be viewed online or downloaded to the user’s desktop, laptop or handheld devices such as ipod for later viewing. Depending on what it was created for and the type of targeted audience, the podcast can be used as a supplementary material, for revision or even as simple as a ‘catch-up’ for a missed lecture.

To manage student learning, a podcast can be used to pull the students and allow them to contribute to the content of the podcast, engaging the students by use of discussion boards, blogging and wikis for collaboration.

Figure 2 explains some of the logistics involved in production, publication and delivery. The podcast production is created using application software such as Camtasia studio for computers with Microsoft XP operating system installed or by using Podcast Capture software if you are an Apple Mac user. You can use various technological peripherals such as webcam and microphones towards producing your podcast. There are many other software and hardware products available to assist in producing a professional podcast. These podcasts can contain video, audio, animations, text and images. See an example.

Figure 2: Infrastructure

Infrastructure

MMUBS has invested for this project in an Apple Server, Mac OS X Leopard 10.5 server. The Apple server comes with its own Apple Podcast Producer software that has an automated workflow for deployment of a user’s podcast. The podcast (for apple Mac users) can be created using podcast capture software. This software offers a choice of creating an audio and video, recording screen activity or submitting a QuickTime movie. The server software, the Podcast Producer will produce a workflow and publish it onto the server in a predefined group.

For the Microsoft XP platform software called ‘Episode podcast’ has been purchased which would give a greater flexibility for compatibility with different operating systems and the ability to create and publish in many other file formats.

A further 90 Licences has been purchased for Camtasia Studio for staff. This software would give staff more control to produce customised podcasts.

MMUBS has also made available a dedicated recording room for staff and students. This recording room has a PC desktop computer with Camtasia software installed on it. It also has a webcam and other necessary software to create a podcast away from the office environment and its many distractions. Figure 2 represents the infrastructure and the resources available for use.

Echo 360 System

MMUBS has installed in one of its main lecture theatres an Echo360 System which offers a complete lecture capture solution. Staff will have the option of recording their lectures by a simple press of a button. The lecture will be processed and published and delivered by means of client software such as iTunes, web portals and RSS feeds.

Conclusion

The FAP bid was successful and the project is expected to start Sept. 2008.

MMUBS has abundant and excellent technological resources available to staff for producing basic podcasts quickly, requiring minimum effort when time is of essence. At the same time these resources have the capabilities to produce advanced and professional looking podcasts.

Over the next few weeks, the Apple server that will host the podcast files will be configured and tested before it is finally made available to users to upload their podcast. In the meantime recommendation for any hardware requirements will be highlighted and any short fall in its ability to deliver podcast will be researched into.

I will publish another article on the utilisation of this technology and report interesting findings as podcasts are uploaded for publication and delivery to the students here at the Business School.

References

Eva Kaplan-Leiserson (2008) Trend: Podcasting in Academic and Corporate Learning. [cited 15th May 2008].

Marc Prensky (2001) Digital native, Digital Immigrants, On the Horizon (NCB University Press). 9(5).

Nillan Fakira, (2007) Blog Technology at MMUBS [cited 12th May 2008].
 
O’Reilly, T. (2005) What is Web 2.0. [cited 10th November 2006].

Steve Gillmor (2008) Gesturesphere [cited 15th May 2008].

about the author

photo of Nillan Fakira

Nillan Fakira
Information and Communication Technology Services

e-mail: n.fakira@mmu.ac.uk
telephone: 0161 247 3801

Download this article as a .pdf file

Summer 2008
ISSN 1477-1241