Friday, 23 February 2007

Podcasting - what's the hype?

In the EUROCALL 2006 wiki a question was raised about the main benefits of podcasting, which attracted a few interesting comments, both positive and negative:
We mention podcasting in the following section of the ICT4LT website:
Section 3.5.2 of Module 2.3,
Exploiting World Wide Web resources online and offlineThere is also an entry in the ICT4LT Glossary:
My personal view about podcasting in the context of language learning and teaching is broadly in line with the view expressed by one of the contributors to the above wiki, namely that it’s a very efficient way of making digital sound recordings and distributing them to learners and teachers, but that we also need to take another look at audio learning.
As I pointed out in the above wiki, in the end a podcast is just a recording. It's the delivery medium that makes it different. Recordings live or die according to (1) the quality of their content, (2) what you do with them.
Simply making podcasts available to language students is not effective per se. Thinking back to my days as a language centre director, we had a similar experience when satellite TV first became available. "Wow! What a great resource!" we thought. But students, left to their own devices, did not get a lot out of watching TV. So we introduced generic worksheets into the satellite TV viewing room. We had one for recordings of news broadcasts. It was just one sheet of A4, which the students filled in and handed in to language centre staff. On the sheet were a few simple tasks, such as:
  • Write down the headlines of the main news items that you viewed in the broadcast.
  • Write down 10 new words or phrases that you learned. (Students usually borrowed a dictionary from the language centre at the same time as they borrowed the video recording, so they could look up new words and phrases.)
  • Write down a summary of the news item that interested you most and why.
The worksheets were not marked by language teaching staff. They were mainly intended to be a means of focusing students’ attention, but teaching staff would pick completed worksheets at random and offer feedback to students. This resulted in a marked improvement in the way students used satellite TV recordings. Perhaps we need something similar to enable students to get the most out of the increasing number of podcasts that are available on the Web. Reactions?


José Luis Cabello said...

First of all, let me welcome your new blog. ICT4LT is a reference for language teachers interested in CALL and this blog is an excellent complement to the site and a gift for all of us.

About podcasting, I want to say that, in my opinion, it is a tool that can be very useful for autonomous language learning and an opportunity for having authentic listening materials. With podcast search engines such as
we can look for topics or even expressions we are interested in.
Its usefulness in teaching depends on the tasks and activities that are planned, of course. The same happens with all the new social web tools. I think their pedagogical exploitation has not been developed yet.

Eric Baber said...

I agree Graham that just pointing students towards podcasts isn't going to do much good, but that they need tasks to perform while listening. Also, a major problem I've found with podcasts is quality - both in terms of presentation and content. Most home-grown podcasts are just plain not very good - the presentation style is often flat and dull, and the content not much better. Except for professionally produced podcasts I tend to stay away from them.

Anonymous said...

Since July we have been podcasting with students at Egglescliffe School. The students write their own scripts- with support for those of weaker ability, record and publish their work. The most enjoyable part for the students seems to be listening to their friends and leaving them commments as a form of peer assessment:
Podcasting in this way certainly gives them a REASON for writing speaking and listening in the TL and therefore also enhances motivation!
Sam Dernley, MFL Teacher, Egglescliffe School

Graham Davies said...

Nice contribution, Sam!

I've had a look at

There's some good work going on here. I recommend other readers of this blog to have a look too.

A couple of questions to Sam - which have been put to me personally by another secondary school teacher:

What evidence do you have of an improvement in second language acquisition by your pupils as a direct result of using podcasts? How do podcasts compare, say, with analogue recording and editing tools and older audio presentation and practice facilities such as the language lab?

I was a secondary school teacher in the 1960s when language labs were first introduced. Initially, they were hailed as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but they fell out of favour in the late 1970s when they failed to bring about the promised improvement in second language acquisition. Philip Ely's book "Bring the lab back to life" (Pergamon 1984) was full of good ideas that might have revived the language lab, but it came a bit too late. By this time the BBC Micro was attracting all the attention in schools, and language labs just gathered dust. Now we have digital language labs. Are they any better? See:

Davies G., Bangs P., Frisby R. & Walton E. (2005) Setting up effective digital language laboratories and multimedia ICT suites for Modern Foreign Languages, London: CILT:

Graham Davies said...

Has any seen this site?
Learn French by podcast

It's produced by a team in Co Cork, Ireland. It looks good to me. I feel I could actually learn something by using these materials

docsharp01 said...

This is a good post about satellite TV because it is future of broadcast communications.

Graham Davies said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Graham Davies said...

docsharp01 wrote:
"This is a good post about satellite TV because it is future of broadcast communications."

"Future"? Satellite TV is well established in the UK. In the area where I live every second house boasts a satellite TV dish. My university's language centre was using satellite TV in language learning and teaching around 20 years ago.

The immediate future in the UK appears to be digital TV, combined with online broadcasting (podcasts), e.g. as at the BBC and ITV websites.

Analogue TV broadcasts are gradually being phased out and replaced by digital broadcasts. Many (maybe most) homes already have a digibox attached to their older TV sets. Newly purchase TV sets are already set up for receiving digital and high definition broadcasts.