Covid-19 has, indefinitely, altered HE landscapes and has both cast questions on as well as opened new doors for the future of HE curricula. Designing and delivering HE curricula has never been more challenging than it has been since March 2020. Prior to Covid-19, several questions were already being raised over the fitness for purpose of traditional pedagogies, with the continuing emergence of new phrases such as learning ‘on demand’, ‘Uberisation’ and ‘edutainment’.
The Covid-19 pandemic, undoubtedly, forced a shift in delivery method from traditional face-to-face towards a hybrid, blended, approach. A ‘hybrid approach’ is one that utilises a range of multimodal technologies and a mix of face-to-face and independent study supported by technological platforms such as VLEs, websites and (more recently) Microsoft Teams or Zoom to design and deliver content to students in both face-to-face and online environments in ways that are flexible for the student. Students have grown up watching Netflix or streaming Spotify when they want to. Our current generation of students want to get from A to B quickly, in a way that works for them, and entering the current HE system can be a shock for that generation who have grown up at a time where so many things are available as and when required. Post-pandemic curricula really ought to meet this head on – enter the Podcast!
Podcast: noun a digital audio file made available on the internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new instalments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.
A few years ago, a student of mine made an off-the-cuff comment that she wished that she could listen to lectures and journal articles on her drive into the university, “a little bit like Spotify” she mulled. The next week I recorded a series of 3min ‘lecture recap’ podcasts narrating the key points or theories from the lecture that could be listened to in the car on the way into university. Analysis of view statistics revealed that engagement with full lecture recordings was incredibly low (often zero), but podcasts offered a different form (mode) of lecture ‘recap’. The feedback from students was extremely encouraging. Matthew commented the podcasts “were a lifesaver, especially before the exam”.
I revisited podcasting in March 2020 when the pandemic forced us to reconsider our teaching and delivery methods. At Newcastle Business School we are very proud of our innovative teaching design, and colleagues regularly share best practices and learn from one another to allow our students to have the best experience possible. An approach that I specifically used was recording two podcast series: first an “Insights” series consisting of interviews with external practitioners and, second, content recorded in audio form by me. Using podcasts as learning tool can take one of three forms – podcasts created by others, created by the teacher, or created by the students.
The move to online delivery meant that my specific students were no longer able to engage in the traditional approaches to in-classroom collaborative, peer, learning. This meant a different approach was required to present similar learning opportunities, albeit remotely. Podcasts can be used for acquiring new and supplemental knowledge from expert sources and to mimic (or, rather, re-imagine) this I created a series of 12 podcasts to provide insights from other practitioners on the topics that students were studying. I recorded them via Zoom and used the audio recording as the podcast. To present them, I created an interactive Genially (https://www.genial.ly) so students could click on a specific practitioner and listen to their podcast, an audio hosted on OneDrive and linked via URL.
HR Insights Series: A Podcast Series created for students to acquire new and supplemental knowledge from expert practitioners, and hosted on Genially
Moreover, I wanted to avoid using pre-recorded lectures every week for the basis of content learning. Both experience and research tell me that students will disengage with the monotony of pre-recordings after a while, so some weeks I created podcasts and hosted them on Microsoft Sway. With five podcasts to choose from, students were given the option to listen to two that they felt interested them the most. Providing students with choice can be a powerful means of supporting student engagement. Students were formatively assessed and asked to identify the key points they took from the podcasts, how they apply to their own professional context and to research an academic article that links to the topic and to comment on it.
Interestingly, or perhaps surprisingly, most students listened to all five podcasts and remarked that they enjoyed that week as it was a different way of learning and engaging. One student commented “I get bored when I have to do the same thing over again, so this week was great for me”.
Contemporary Trends Podcast Series: Podcasts recorded by the teacher as 10 min snapshots of key topics. Created and hosted on Microsoft Sway
There are multiple ways that you could use podcasts, aside from the three approaches I have mentioned here. You can use them to narrate complex journal articles, which can be helpful in getting students to engage with scholarly content and reduce the barriers students often put up when they perceive articles to be ‘too complex’, or ‘too long’. You could provide overviews of key texts, chapters, or even case studies as short ‘snippets’ of practice. Flipped, you could ask students to create podcasts in reply to a task or review a journal. This is a skill they may very well require in the modern workplace. The possibilities are endless, and not limited by subject.
So, you are probably thinking that you need some technical know-how and a hosting platform? Not necessarily! All you really need is a simple record function. You can record audio over one PowerPoint slide and export it as a (static) video. You can host an audio recording in a cloud (Panopto, or OneDrive). You could use Microsoft technologies: Microsoft Stream (the advantage of this is that it auto captions, and you can very easily add to a Teams area/specific group), Microsoft Sway (here you can track the views/listens and have a podcast series) or Flipgrid (which now has an audio only function, accessible with captions). Alternatively, you can simply record it on your phone and add the link to the recording as a URL. If you want a more professional platform, then something like Anchor (https://anchor.fm) enables free and unlimited hosting, and automatic distribution to all major listening apps such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts, as well as offering insights and analytics.
Along the way I have learned several lessons which might be useful to those considering podcasts. The most important – it does not have to be perfect! Academics are not Youtubers, nor podcasters, and we are not expected to be. Simply trying a basic version of a podcast is likely to get students engaged because it is ‘different’ from the norm, and applications like MS Teams really support their creating as new recordings can be received automatically by members. Initially, I would re-record my podcasts if I felt they didn’t flow. I soon learned that this was neither efficient nor desired – students will listen to an ‘unpolished’ podcast as much as a ‘perfect’ one and the amount of time wasted editing detracts from the intention of them. Finally, keep it simple: you don’t need a professional application or recording device. Sometimes a good old narration over a PowerPoint slide, with an image of a microphone on, does that same job!
What, then, is the future for podcasts in the post-pandemic university? I hope that they will be integrated much more within hybrid learning design. Post-pandemic we have an opportunity to be more creative; we should no longer be relying on the traditional lecture (or even seminar) anymore. We ought to consider more ‘on demand’ learning experiences that flexibly fit around our students’ diverse needs and expectations. For want of a better phrase we need to get with the times and, instead, use vital classroom time for activities such as collaborative learning and identity building: aspects that, arguably, are much more difficult to replicate in remote environments. Podcasts can be used as a teaching resource by lecturers and academics, as well as a learning resource by students. One thing is certain, hybrid pedagogies and the creation of tools such as podcasts can help facilitate the design of curricula that is both effective and fit for purpose in the post-pandemic university.
Dr Emma Thirkell is a Senior Lecturer at Newcastle Business School (Northumbria University) within the department of Leadership & Human Resource Management. She is actively involved in pedagogical research and has won awards for her approaches to teaching design and delivery. She is also a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, which recognizes the innovations in teaching.