January 25, 2010, by Teaching at Nottingham
Podcasts and student learning in the humanities
William Bowden: “The use of podcasts (downloadable audio files) is becoming increasingly common in higher education. At Nottingham members of staff are increasingly using them to make elements of their teaching available to students via WebCT.
“Thus far, with a single exception, the use of podcasts has not been adopted by staff members in the School of Humanities, often due to fears that attendance will decline if too much material is made available online. Although the original intention of this project was to explicitly address this issue, the project was refined to focus on students’ perceptions of podcasts in order to understand how and why students use additional audio material.
“The project focused on a year 1 lecture course involving a total of 136 students. All 16 lectures in the series were recorded and made available immediately after the lecture via WebCt. No editing was undertaken. Questionnaires were distributed on the penultimate session of the course asking about student use of the podcasts and the utility of podcasts as a learning resource. Responses were compared with data derived from the tracking facility on WebCt the day after the final course examination.
“Of the 59 respondents to the questionnaire half (30) had accessed the MP3 files prior to the completion of the taught component of the course, while the remaining 29 had not yet done so. All of the latter, however, expected to use the audio files as a revision aid. The use of the files peaked in the week before the exam.
“Although all respondents viewed the availability of the podcasts very positively, it is notable that the lecture PowerPoint files saw far greater use (accessed 1905 times as opposed to the 1099 times that the audio files were accessed). Relatively few students (around 10%) accessed all the lecture audio files, with the majority focusing on particular topics suggesting that they were accessing lectures that they had missed or topics that were seen as particularly important. A significant number of respondents (25%) saw the audio files as “genuine substitutes for missed lectures” and it is likely that this number would have risen had the opinions of those absent been available.
“In conclusion, unmodified audio files of lectures have considerable utility as a revision tool and as a means to ‘catch up’ on missed lectures (particularly given the ease with which they can be created by the module convenor). However, the fact that relatively few students accessed all the audio material suggests the wider use of podcasts within the curriculum requires more structured audio material (such as 5 minute summaries of key topics), as the ultimate aim must be to enhance the learning of all students rather than solely those who fail to attend lectures.
“A particular weakness of the study was the need to poll students significantly in advance of the exam in order to gain the maximum number of responses, which meant that only a relatively small number had used the resource. Consequently, while student use of the audio files is clear, their reasons for using them and their opinions of them could be yet better understood.”
Paper presented at the University’s Sixteenth Learning & Teaching conference January, 2010. Produced July 2009.
Prof William Bowden
Associate Professor in Roman Archaeology
School of Humanities
This article was originally published as part of PESL’s Teaching at Nottingham collection.
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