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 ScienceSauceOnline.com/edtechsauce, 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.

If you haven’t already subscribed, please do so to keep up to date with new episode. All links to download, share, subscribe, follow, and all that jazz can be found at sciencesauceonline.com/edtechsauce. Thanks for listening and have a great week everyone!

7 ways to make your education videos look more professional

Hundreds of thousands of educators are out there every day making learning and revision videos for students, and all are making those videos using different styles and to varying levels of professionalism. By professionalism, I’m talking about that perceived production value (I say “perceived” because higher production value doesn’t necessarily cost any money).

A lot of educators watch someone else’s video and want to know how to give their videos that extra polished touch, how they can make them look more attractive and interesting for their students, and possibly others around the world.

Before you delve into these steps, just ask yourself, “What is my goal for my videos?”

If your goal is to share your videos online and grow a global audience over time, then you should definitely implement the seven steps recommended here. If you’re making videos that you hope will be re-usable for years to come every time you repeat your courses with new classes, then it’s also probably worth making them as polished as possible. If you intend to make hundreds of videos over the next year or so, then setting out on the right footing, using these recommendations, is definitely the right thing to do. Of course, if you’re making videos that will probably just be a one-off piece for a class, then perhaps focusing on the quality of the instruction (rather than the perceived production value) should be your priority.

If you are committed that you want to give your videos that extra polish, then here are some great steps to achieving that.

1. Get an external microphone

This is consistently overlooked and there is a reason I’m putting this at number one. This truly is the most important step you can take in improving your videos. The paradox is that most people don’t notice good audio quality, but they do notice bad audio. And there is no getting around it: the little microphone on your laptop is low quality.

The rule in video is simple: if no-one notices the audio, then the audio must be really good. A good microphone reproduces the sound of your voice more accurately, meaning the viewer can focus on the words being said, rather than getting distracted with how (bad) it sounds.

Before I make recommendations about which microphones, a word of warning. Be wary about what you search for online. If you type something like, “which microphone is best for me”, you’ll need a serious budget for the recommendations you’ll get. Honestly, professional audio is a VERY expensive world where most people who make recommendations consider anything less than professional studio quality to be virtually unusable. Professional microphones sell for thousands of pounds (and into tens of thousands), so when people refer to a microphone as “affordable”, they’re probably using the term differently to the way you and I might.

Recommendations

A lavalier (or “lapel”) microphone

The main benefit of an external microphone is that you can get close to it. The closer you are to it, the louder your voice will be relative to any background noise (including that nasty echo/reverb sound of the room). If you’re trying to do this on a near-zero budget, then consider getting a headset with a microphone attached (airline pilot style). Alternatively, you could get something called a lavalier microphone, which is the type that newscasters use clipped onto their lapel. You could choose either one of these options for about 20 pounds, 30USD, on Amazon. Of the two, a lavalier microphone will probably provide the best results in terms of audio quality – some of the headsets tend to have a bit of a telephone sound to them, though it really does depend on the brand. Also keep in mind that if you are filming yourself in your videos, the lavalier mic is tiny and goes virtually unnoticed, while the headset really stands out.

A dynamic microphone

If you’re willing to spend a little bit more money, you’ll get a big jump in quality if you’re willing to spend around 60 to 100 pounds. For this price you can buy a basic dynamic microphone that plugs directly into your laptop via USB (note: only specific models of mic have a USB connection – check the specs while shopping). If you go down this line, you will definitely be impressed with the improvement in sound. The most common dynamic microphones you get are the basic handheld ones you see pop stars holding on stage. Dynamic microphones are good at focusing on the thing right in front of them (i.e. your voice) and eliminating the other sounds around the room (i.e. echoes, fans, people outside the room…).

A condenser microphone

There are also condenser microphones which are the slightly bigger ones, usually silver coloured, that you see if you’ve ever seen someone singing in a recording studio. Condenser microphones usually require more accessories (which adds to the price), and they pick up more background noise. If you research it some people might describe condenser microphones as being better quality, but just be aware that it depends on their purpose. Big condenser microphones do tend to capture sounds more accurately, but they will capture everything, including more of the background noise in the room you’re in.

Personally, I’d recommend the dynamic microphone if you can afford it and the lavalier if you want to keep it cheap (and portable). Only go for a condenser mic if you’ve spoken to someone in-the-know about these things who has recommended it for you personally.

If you still want more info, try searching online for something like, “Best microphone for beginner podcasters.” The types of microphones made for that purpose are generally appropriate for narrating presentations, and they tend to be more budget-friendly.

2. Photograph and film everything

You may intend to create educational videos that involve filming someone or something, or you may intend to just make a PowerPoint/Keynote presentations and narrate those. Either way, having supplementary footage really adds to the character of your videos.

As a Biology and Environmental subjects teacher, I focus a lot on nature and wildlife footage. I don’t start out with a plan for which video I’ll use the footage for, but I will store it on my laptop and maybe bring it out months later when the right topic comes up. I was in London a while back and I took some random footage of the crowds walking across a bridge, and a few months later I was making a video that discussed overpopulation. That footage with a crowd on it was the perfect way to illustrate what I was saying.

Don’t get too fixated on what you film or photograph, just shoot anything that looks interesting. You’d be amazed how often seemingly random shots can turn out to be very relevant in future. And don’t get fixated on expensive cameras: modern smartphones do a really good job for this and the best thing is, you usually always have one with you.

3. Edit

There’s no real way around this: if you want your videos to look good you need to get some editing software so you can cut and stick the right pieces of video in the right place. Even if you use only a narrated PowerPoint presentation with no additional footage, this is still a really useful skill to employ. First off, you need to remove that 1 or 2 seconds at the start and end of the video – you know, that bit where you pressed record, then waited to check it was working, or cleared your throat before speaking. What’s more, there might be little bits throughout the presentation where you possibly fumbled over the words a little, or left a long pause before continuing. Being able to remove these little sections will improve the quality of your content.

Once you know how to edit video, it’s really easy to start adding in those extra bits of footage I mentioned. You might not think it’s worth it, or maybe think it’s just making things more complicated, but it really doesn’t take long to add things in with good software.

A useful thing to note here is that there are places you can get stock video footage that’s copyright free, and free financially too! Check out Pexels.com – you can sign up for free and browse through a big selection of videos. There is a big collection of photos too – all free.

In terms of software, there is a lot to choose from and a lot of different price tags. For Mac, iMovie does the basics and, though it is very basic, it’s free. Filmora is a Windows movie editor, and I haven’t used it so I can’t speak for it, but it seems to have the basic features and it costs $40 USD per year or $60 as a lifetime fee.

If you want more full featured software that it will certainly cost you. Adobe Premiere Pro is one the industry standards and definitely something I would recommend if you plan to start taking video editing seriously. As a teacher you can get an education license for $20 USD per month, and that includes a bundle of apps including Photoshop and others.

When you start working with editing tools, you’ll probably find yourself experimenting with background music, sound effects, and even processing your voice to make it louder and clearer, but that’s all part of another discussion for another day. However, if you invest in more advanced editors, you’ll probably find yourself learning to use these more advanced tools as you go along.

One final point on editing: it allows you to easily add a logo and maybe even theme music to the start of each of your videos. Which leads us to point number 4:

4. Get some branding and identity

There are a lot of aspects to building a brand but the most important points, in my opinion, are getting a name, and a logo. I played around with a lot of names before I settled on Science Sauce, and I’m really happy with it. It’s got alliteration, and I like the play on words: Sauce is spelled like ketchup sauce, and it’s a “source” for flipped learning materials. It’s simple and catchy. A lot of teachers use their name in the title of their blog or Youtube channel. For example, a name like “Mrs Smith’s History Blog” is quite common. There’s nothing wrong with this; it says what it is. However, it’s not memorable. You don’t need to set out to make a memorable site or channel if you don’t want to, but if you hope to share your content beyond just your own students, you might want to consider something more catchy.

As for the logo, this is tricky. If you know graphic design, do your own. If you don’t, I recommend finding someone who does. I tried a few ideas and being quite inexperienced, I made some awful designs before I came up with the red and green circle design that I use now. Fortunately, I know my way around Photoshop, and I know the basic principles of design, so, although it took a few attempts, I was able to make my own.

If you are set that you want to do your own logo, I’ll be doing another post on tips on making your own at a later date, so check back for that or follow me on Twitter (@science_sauce) if you want to keep updated with new posts.

5. Choose a colour palette

This is hugely overlooked and makes a big difference to the look of your videos as a whole. If you choose a set of colours and stick with them, it will give a certain amount consistency within each presentation, and helps keep your videos looking recognizable if the same person watches several of them.

To choose your colours, start with any colour you want, perhaps just go with your favourite colour. Then use its complimentary colour. If you don’t know what that is, you can use a colour wheel to show you. Complimentary colours are just colours that go really well together. For example, if you’re favourite colour is blue, then you should aim to use orange with it. Purple looks good with yellow, green works well with red etc. If you use this method, you’ve got two good colours to stick with for the majority of texts, maybe textbox fill colours, slide backgrounds etc.

Next, choose an equivalent for white and black. You can simply use plan white and plain black, but in my opinion it looks better to use something slightly original, because it makes your work look a bit more original. A very dark grey is better than jet black, and a very, very light cream colour is better than white. You might not plan to use these light and dark colours in your presentations but you definitely will use them; often you have an image and you need a light colour to contrast against it, and your two main primary colours don’t work, so you would need your light colour. Sometimes you might use you main colour for a heading, its complimentary colour for the subheading, and then want something simple for the main body text – that’s where your black-ish colour would come in handy.

6. Choose fonts

Fonts, used consistently, add more character and originality to your presentations and the right choice will make your videos look more professional.

You have two choices with fonts. Choice one is to stick with something very, very basic like Calibri or Arial, something already installed on your computer. The second choice is to find something original online. The alternative to these, which I don’t consider an option, is to use other interesting fonts already on your laptop. Fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus, for example. These fonts are so over-used they’re cliché now, and using them is a sure-fire way to make your presentations look amateurish. Please steer clear of them.

If you’ve never downloaded and installed fonts yourself before, I recommend finding something via Google fonts (fonts.google.com). They have a relatively big range of fonts to choose from, and they’re open source, which means you don’t have to pay, and you can pretty much use them for whatever you want. They’re primarily designed for use on webpages using a little snippet of code, but if you look carefully you can see a little “download” button once you’ve selected a font, and it’ll install on your computer. From there you can choose them as a font in your presentation the way you would use any other font.

7. Practice

There is absolutely no substitute for practicing and gaining experience in making videos. The more you do it the more you’ll learn what works for you, because there is no “one-size-fits-all” for making good content.

Wrap Up

Remember that you don’t necessarily need to make your videos more professional – what you need to do is make them high quality, and that means high educational quality, rather than high perceived production value. As a professional educator, your videos are probably already of a very high educational quality. Nonetheless, if you do hope to give your videos that polished touch, these seven steps will certainly get you heading in the right direction, and help increase your global audience size if that’s a goal for your videos.