Whether your school openly allows them or not, a lot of pupils rely on using Smartphones for many social aspects of their lives.
We’re all becoming ever-connected, and it can seems foolish that educators aren’t utilising the technology that absorbs the worlds of our pupils to benefit teaching and learning. Out of school, you only need to glance over at a teenager, and they’ll most likely have a pair of headphones hooked into their ears. So, combining our pupils desire to be glued to their smartphone, with the wish to look cool wearing a set of headphones seems a perfect opportunity to provide them with learning or revision opportunities – especially when it comes to important exams.
Technological advances have made modern-day Smartphones become mini-recording studios, and you don’t need to invest into much more to create audio recordings that become easily shareable as podcasts. Creating podcasts, and openly sharing the audio files, is a great way to help students retain, develop, or consolidate their learning, especially when exams are approaching, and there are a couple of methods this can be done:
1 – Test the audio in the room where you intend to record
So you’re not going to be broadcasting your episode on the BBC World Service, but improved audio quality will certainly help the listener maintain attention. Audio bounces around in most rooms, and microphones are incredibly sensitive in picking this up, so choose a small carpeted room, and record away from windows to minimise the your voice echo-ing back into the microphone. Create a short audio rehearsal and play it back (wearing a good set of headphones) to check how it sounds.
2 – Consider the commentary length
You may get carried away, and into the zone in a bid to get the key points across in the recording, but take serious consideration how long a podcast episode should be. If you are talking about a complex issue, then consider breaking it up into episodes, and aim to ensure that each episode does not exceed 20 minutes.
3 – Involve students, where possible
Unless you have a dramatic voice range similar to the late Robin Williams, having one person talking all the way through a podcast can be one of the most tedious ways of production. Get other people involved in your episodes. You could have a ’round-table’ discussion with colleagues from your subject to discuss key aspects of your topic. Another great idea is to involve students. As podcasts are audio-only, gaining permissions is less complicated, but ensure that students adhere to common sense policies, and only use first names when appropriate.
4 – Script
Ensure that everyone keeps on task and create a script – or bullet points – of the podcast episode. Creating a script for the podcast is actually a sneaky revision tool, as pupils will have to consider the key point before creating the episode, and then discuss the issues during the episode. If you and colleagues are discussing points for your discussion, then a bullet-point script is a great way of keeping people on task. It is obvious if you are reading a piece of text, so try to keep the podcast more discursive, as it will keep the vocal tones sounding more natural.
5 – Try to record in one-take
If the planning is done correctly, you should be good to record. Don’t worry about little vocal errors, as these sound natural and show that you’re human, and try to encourage everyone to avoid their monotonal voice – bring the recording to life. Ensure each person participating in the recording is near the microphone (otherwise it could sound as though they are in another room entirely), and if you are sharing a microphone or Smartphone, consider minimising the noise in the passing around process.
6 – Choose the right app
You have two options – you can record directly onto a computer, or directly onto a Smart device (such as a smartphone or tablet). Let’s explore these separately:
Computer – Whether a laptop, PC or Mac, one of the best freely available apps to download is Audacity – this is a piece of software that makes editing and producing audio files a breeze. You can live record with Audacity, or edit previously recorded files. Plug in your microphone (or upload your audio), and you’ll be good to go. Audacity also allows you to ‘export’ your files to versions that make the podcast available on most devices. To export mp3 files, you’ll need to also download an add-on Lame file, which is a small and simple file that make the whole process automated.
Smartphones – Most smartphones have in-built microphones and apps that make recoding audio simple enough, however you need to ensure that you can upload the files in a format that will be accessible to other devices afterwards. Check the versatility of the in-built ‘voice-memo’ app on your device, but if you want greater functionality, you may need to venture into your App Store. One favourite (for Apple devices) is ‘Just-press-record’, which will attempt to transcribe your episode (you may need to edit the text afterwards), allowing for greater accessibility if you are also publishing ‘show notes’ to accompany your episodes.
7 – Check and edit
You may consider checking and editting your episode before uploading. Audacity does the trick here, and it’s easy to delete those awkward moments of silence, the ‘erms’ and the sneezes that might have taken place during recording. You can also improve quiet voices by amplyfying sound snippets, and altogether ensure that the sound quality is consistent all the way through your episode. This whole process can be lengthy but, if facilities allow, you could get pupils to do this, as it makes them listen to the content within the episode (yay, they’re revising, and they don’t know it!).
8 – Upload
It is (or should be) simple enough to upload your episode directly to your school website, your professional blog, or onto one of the many services that can host audio files. A couple of favourites are Soundcloud or Podbean. These are both free services, unless you are planning on producing hours of content each week. If you are wanting your podcasts to be made available to the world, these services can also help you link up to iTunes, making your podcast episodes freely available and searchable to the world. Whichever route you choose, it is important that pupils can easily access the audio files on their devices, so you may consider asking them what services are available for their smartphone.
9 – Consider for all subjects
To be able to showcase complex formulas or methods, you may consider creating a screen-cast rather than a podcast – this may be more applicable to mathematics so that demonstrations of methods can be shown. If you consider that visual demonstrations are more applicable, there are many screen-casting services freely available online, and uploading the final video is simple enough – either your school website and/or YouTube. The same rules and tips apply here, and you could get students to create demonstrations using whiteboard app on iPad to showcase methods and formulas.
10 – Take your recordings to the next level
If you are wanting to improve the quality of your audio recordings, you may want to invest in some extra equipment. For big budgets, your school may wish to consider a sound-proofed room, but if budgets are more stretched (ie every school), then connecting your Apple device with an iRig microphone it a great option, or connecting microphones to a mixer deck, allowing you to target your audio subjects when it’s their turn to talk. You can then link the mixer deck to your computer or Apple device using an iRig connector. You could use sound clips (freely available online and copyright free), but be careful not to over-do this, otherwise it could all get quite comical, unless that is the intention. There are some great Apple apps, which work great on iPads, which also act as a podcast recording suite. Check out BossJock Studio and i-jingle.
One of the main issues encountered with making podcasts with students is that some of them will feel self-aware of their voice, and could be embarrassed by the whole process. It is important that all participants are comfortable with the process, and the role of the teacher is critical here. If you go on the journey with them, creating audio files, and listening back to them with the pupils, you can model that it is fun, and laughing at your own errors and mistakes will ease the pressure from them. If some pupils point-blank refuse to be part of the recording process, then you could involve them in the scripting and editing and publishing process, as they will still be involved in the content, and therefore the revision.
You know your subject, and you know how this could work with the subject matter, so consider podcasts seriously as a revision tool, and if you do produce episode, please let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share your work with our audience.