Secrets and Benefits of Creating a Student Podcast

So I started student podcasting a while back. I was working at a school in Shanghai at the time and needed to choose something for an extra-curricular activity. My students at the time were Key Stage 3 (that’s aged 11-14 for those who don’t know the British system) and mostly an enthusiastic bunch. I mulled over the idea for a while and eventually came to the decision to just give it a go. I framed as a sort of school news show, where students would report on the general happenings around the campus – like sports events, spelling bees etc.

It obviously wasn’t going to attract a big audience – only the students and teachers in school would download it. It was an international school and obviously they told their family overseas about it, but still, that only amounted to a really small audience. That didn’t matter though – the show was intended to be educational. Not educational for its listeners particularly, but educational for the students making it. I figured, they would learn how to write interview questions and gain some English skills which was really important in that job as most students were second language learners.

It wasn’t until I started that I realised just how much students stand to gain from creating a podcast show. I mean, seriously, this has to be one of the most under-used tools in EdTech. It’s not limited to English skills either (though it is great for those).

Today’s episode of EdTech Sauce is all about the secrets and benefits of creating a student podcast. Why are there any “secrets”? Well, these are things you just won’t know about unless you get started with running a student podcast. There are a plethora of reasons to set this up and I hope that in this episode I can reveal a few of them to you.

Creating a student podcast is something I’ve done a couple of times now with different groups, and, like I said, the benefits have been far greater in number than I expected before I started my first podcast group.

Obviously, if you’re listening to this, you know how podcasting works.

However, have you ever thought about running your own class or school podcast? I’ve got no doubt some people have thought about this idea, but perhaps never got round to starting it because of fears over all the technical side behind it, while others have maybe never really thought about doing it. It is becoming more common, but when you’re trying to come up with new ideas for teaching tools and integrating tech into your teaching, a podcast is not the first thing that usually comes to mind.

Trust me, students can get really excited by this idea. The very mention that they can get their own podcast listed on iTunes is enough to get any student enthused. And yes, anyone can get a podcast listed on iTunes. For free.

In this episode of EdTech Sauce I’m focusing on the ways you might use a class or school podcast. Next week, I’ll be discussing the technical side of podcasting, and explaining how to get started with it for free or very cheap, including how to get listed on iTunes. Getting on iTunes might not seem so important, but it is definitely a way to get the students excited about the idea.

I know some people will protest and say, “I can’t start a podcast, I don’t know anything about how that stuff works.” Well, don’t worry. All you need is something to record audio (a smartphone would do), some free audio editing software, and a computer with an Internet connection.

If you do your research on how to start a podcast, you will get bombarded with all sorts of advice about why you need a reliable web host, how to maximize your search engine optimization, types of feeds, which bitrate to export in… it gets really technical and really, most of that advice doesn’t apply to a teacher who wants to publish something for their class or school, and develop an audience of probably a hundred or less listeners.

But like I said, the technical side of how to publish a podcast is for next week. Here, I’m discussing the ways you might use podcasting in school, I’m just going to convince of why podcasting is useful for you and your students.

Please subscribe if you haven’t already to EdTech Sauce. That way you won’t miss next week’s episode on the technical side of how to start up a class podcast. For details visit, or search on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever your get your podcasts. Remember, it’s “sauce” as in ketchup.

In what ways might you use a class podcast?

Well, firstly you might use it for something subject specific. Maybe as a History teacher, you decide to launch a show where students have to write and narrate a biography for a historical figure they’ve studied. Perhaps as an English teacher, you want to create a journalism podcast as a way to practice certain language skills. There are endless subject specific examples and I’ve got no doubt that any creative teacher can come up with ways that this might be useful to them.

Another reason you might do this is as an extra-curricular activity. You could create a “podcast society”, or perhaps a “journalism club”, focusing on school news, where students have to interview other students or teachers on the latest school sports events, spelling bees, science fairs, that kind of thing.

And what is the reason for going to all the effort of creating a podcast? Well, in short, there are few class activities that have so many benefits in one project!

Lets examine the main benefits I’ve find when running student podcasts

  1. You get to approach your subject from a new angle
  2. Students gain communication skills
  3. Students have to do scheduling and gain organisation skills.
  4. It’s an opportunity to work with audio
  5. It involves publishing and modern-world concepts
  6. There’s student buy-in and wow factor

1. You get to approach your subject from a new angle

Remembering and understanding facts is great, but we all know that higher order application skills are more relevant targets in the grand scheme of things.

It seems to me very unlikely that any syllabus will require students to be able to create a spoken audio discussion on the topic at hand, so verbally covering the content for a podcast episode will require reformulating the information – as long you don’t allow the students to just read paragraphs from the textbook. There are lots of tasks you could set that require application skills.

Let’s say a History teacher has covered a chapter on the Romans, and wants to use podcasting as a project. The students do a biographical piece on the life and death of Julius Caesar. The students would need to pull together all of the necessary information on Julius Caesar that they’ve studied, and probably supplement it with additional research. They would also be expected to fill the story out as an interesting narrative by putting in a bunch of interesting anecdotes that surround the main story, including details of life in early Roman society. This is a great review of the unit content and beyond, but it also demands application skills.

Making sure all of this is achieved would require guidance, probably by giving students rubrics in advance of the task (even if you don’t intend to summatively assess this, I would still recommend giving a rubric to give direction).

This is also an opportunity to fully reformulate ideas taught in class. Imagine your students had to tell the story of the death of Caesar as a newspaper article. This is good quality cross-curricular stuff because it’s bringing in skills that the students should be picking up in English lessons, and applying them to another subject.

I’ve always had a problem with that “boxed” feeling that sometimes comes with education as we know it today. You know, “On Monday lesson 1 you’re writing an essay in History, but in lesson 2 you’re writing an English essay. Try to forget everything you’ve learned in History class because essays in English are different.” As if each lesson is in a different universe where different rules apply?!

The point I’m making is, podcasting is one step closer to bridging the gaps in different types of content.

It also goes a little further to cater for the range of student interests; it’s likely not every student is passionate about your subject. Not because there’s anything wrong with you or your subject it’s just… students have things they like and things they don’t. But maybe if they’re not mad about the subject being studied, maybe the journalism slant to the task does appeal to them. It gives a bit of incentive to get involved and caters for a bigger range of students.

2. Students gain communication skills

It’s amazing to see the skills that students develop when podcasting. I remember in my Extra Curricular school news podcast, students scheduled interviews with different people in the school about current school events. I honestly didn’t think about the kind of communication skills involved, but think about it: students have to learn to approach teachers and other student and request interviews, ask the right questions, they have to learn how to avoid one-word answers from interviewees, how to make people feel at ease, how to present their message in a way that comes across clearly…

When students hear themselves and their interviews back they get a little self-conscious, and this isn’t really a bad thing. It gives them a chance to gain some feedback on their own work and some incentive to work on their skills so that their next interview sounds better.

These interview-type skills are really valuable communication skills and there are few tasks that pull so much into one.

3. Students have to do scheduling and gain organisation skills.

This is another skill that I didn’t anticipate being so important but it really became apparent that some kids faced a steep learning curve when it came to organisation skills and scheduling. I basically let my students run the show with our podcast. I had a weekly meeting where we decided the topics to be worked on, but for the rest of the time I just gave the students the audio recorder when they needed it and let them take control.

First off, there was only one recorder, so they quickly learned that they couldn’t all borrow it on lunch time the day before deadline day. Second, they learned that some people are busy, and can’t be available for an interview at any given moment. They had to find a time that worked for everyone, and be on time. As adults we might take this stuff for granted, but everyone has to learn some time, and this was a great opportunity for that life lesson.

4. It’s an opportunity to work with audio

I don’t know how relevant this is to all of the students I’ve worked with on podcasting, but I do know that most students wouldn’t get an opportunity to work with audio and develop microphone skills if it weren’t for a podcasting. I mean, really, where do these skills fit in the curriculum of a school?

Students had to learn how to position microphones appropriately, not be too close or too far from it, how to choose an appropriate environment to avoid wind distortion, background echoes and all of those distracting elements. Some of my students worked really hard to make their interviews sound as close to professional quality as was possible with what they had. I was genuinely impressed with the quality of work submitted by some of the kids.

With podcast groups I’ve worked with in the past, the students have always been in young-ish students, and audio editing was something I just did myself. However, if your school has access to the sorts of tools to let students edit audio, and you’re students are in the right age group, then this is one of the few opportunities to let them develop editing skills. Your podcast might literally inspire a career in some of your students. We teachers like to talk a lot about providing a holistic education, but the truth is delivering that is not easy. Audio skills are another string to that bow, giving students a wider breadth of skills to leave school with.

By the way, there are free as well as very cheap options for editing audio, but I’ll go into that in a later episode.

5. It involves publishing and modern-world concepts

Media is part of modern life. Sharing your ideas in this day and age requires a certain amount of IT literacy. Honestly, most of what we do these days requires IT literacy.

It worries me sometimes that in my lessons and homework submissions there is maybe too much old-fashioned writing. Don’t get me wrong, writing with a pen is important, but we can’t ignore the fact that it’s not the only way students will get their message across in real-world scenarios. Honestly, compare the amount you type, to the amount you write by hand in your day-to-day life. Compare how much time you spend letter writing with the time spent talking on the phone or Skyping people. Creating opportunities for students to express themselves in some way other than writing on paper is really important, and probably more relevant in today’s world.

I try to use digital submission tools, I’m trying to integrate video work using Flipgrid into my homework, all sorts of ways to broaden the skills I expect on my courses.

Podcasting is another way to expand on your repertoire of learning and assessment techniques, and it’s a way that is perhaps more relevant to students. They know what smartphones and laptops are and most of them use one or both of those things every day, and they’re used to consuming media via them. Publishing your ideas online is part of the modern world, and podcasting can reach students in a way they can already relate to.

6. There’s student buy-in and wow factor

OK, so I didn’t expect this one to be quite so significant, but it is. Mention to your students that their recording is going to be searchable on iTunes…! There are few students that won’t be into that. And yes, you can get your podcast listed on iTunes, it’s not as big a thing as you might think. It certainly doesn’t cost any money.

When students get into this idea, they’re motivated towards the task. I’m a science teacher, and I respect the fact that some of my students are not studying my subject by choice and would much rather be doing something else. I personally find science to be a mind-blowing subject, and I honestly don’t know why everyone else isn’t fascinated by science. I can’t figure out why everyone doesn’t choose to study science. But, like I said, I respect the fact that, some people really aren’t into it.

So, if I can give my students some motivation to express their ideas in my subject, by letting them express their ideas as a science news podcast for example, then it seems like an opportunity to be a bit more inclusive of the whole group.

Wrap up

I’ve highlighted the main benefits of creating a student podcast that I’ve experienced, but there are more to discuss that I can’t cover in one episode, and these are waiting to be discovered. I urge you to give it a go and let your students reap the benefits.

If you’re put off by the technical details of creating and publishing a podcast, I’ll be covering how to create a podcast next week, and how to publish a podcast the week after.

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