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Podcasts and the Classroom

Chances are, even if you’ve never listened to a podcast before, you’ve heard about one. Podcasts bring old-time radio programs into the 21st century, and, thanks to their in-depth topic exploration and episodic nature, they’re downright addictive for listeners; the popular true-crime podcast Serial, for example, has been downloaded over 5 million times.

The popularity of podcasts makes them a great learning tool in the classroom. In one classroom in Connecticut, podcasts have even taken the place of final papers and exams, much to the students’ delight. Beyond their popularity, podcasts can be a great way to engage different kinds of learners, disseminate information, and get students excited about out-of-the-box assignments. Here’s how 21st-century educators can harness the power of podcasts in the classroom:


How Podcasts Can Be Used in the Classroom

Podcasts can serve a variety of purposes for creative educators, leading to more learning and subject mastery from students. Since podcasts can be recorded and downloaded ahead of time, they’re an easy way for teachers to disseminate information that augments in-classroom learning. Once test time rolls around, podcasts are good tools for sharing revision materials or providing additional information for students. Sending students home with learning materials in the form of podcasts is especially great for auditory learners who absorb information best when they listen to it.

Under teacher guidance, students can also use podcasts in the place of more “traditional” assignments. For example, instead of having students submit a book report, they can record podcasts of their book summaries. Podcasts are also great for group assignments, since students can interview each other on podcasts — and for “camera shy” students, there’s plenty of work to be done behind the scenes as well, like researching, testing, and recording. Podcasts are also great tools for teaching the principles of storytelling, since podcasts need a compelling beginning, middle, and end to ensure the audience listens to the entire thing. What’s more, podcasts are perfect for getting students to practice their speaking skills without having to take up time in the classroom for presentations. It also helps students with stage fright. Students nervous about traditional public speaking may find practicing with podcasts easier, since there isn’t an immediate audience to fret over.

Keep in mind, though, that podcast usage doesn’t have to be limited to just English or language arts classrooms; they can be adapted to many school subjects. In math, students can record themselves working through equations out loud, then share their podcasts with other students who may have struggled with that particular problem. In science, students can record podcasts to explain scientific concepts. Teachers can also recommend that students listen to popular podcasts in different subjects; explore this curated selection of podcasts recommended by School Library Journal for teenage students to get an idea of popular educational podcast subject matter to share with students. Many students may prefer learning (and may learn better) from podcasts, instead of long reading assignments!


Tools and Strategies for Bringing Podcasts to Life

Podcasts can be an invaluable education tool, but first you have to master how to make them. Here are the steps involved in bringing a podcast to life. Follow these steps yourself to create a podcast to share with your students, or share the steps with your students so they can create their own.

  1. Research: Before you hit record, you’ll want to do your research on your topic. Have that research in front of you — or even consider creating a high-level outline of what you want to talk about — when you sit down to record your podcast. That way you’re never grasping for words or filling in the air with lots of “um”s and pauses.
  2. Record: When it comes time to record your podcast, ensure you conduct the recording in a quiet space with few distracting noises. You can record a podcast just using the built-in recorder on a laptop or computer, or you could invest in a few tools — like a high-quality microphone — to improve the sound quality of your podcasts.
  3. Edit: Once you’ve finished recording, you may want to edit your podcast in case there were any interruptions or funny noises in the background. This will make your podcast easier to understand for listeners. If you’re tech-savvy, you could even edit in special sound effects!
  4. Test: After editing, you’ll want to give your podcast a final “test” listen to make sure everything you’ve recorded is coming through crystal clear.
  5. Publish/Promote: Once you finish creating your podcast, you’ll want to make it easier for your students — and other potential listeners, if you so choose — to access it. First you’ll need to host your podcast on an RSS feed or your own website, if you have one. Then you can publish your podcasts on a variety of accessible platforms like iTunes and Stitcher.

Looking for tools to edit and adjust the quality of your podcast? If you have a Mac computer or laptop, you can use the built-in Garage Band application, which allows you to record and edit audio files. If you don’t have a Mac or the Garage Band app, consider using Audacity. The audio software is free to download for Microsoft, Mac, Linux, and other systems. One other popular option is Podiomatic. In addition to creating your own podcast, you can use Podiomatic to find new podcasts and promote your own.

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