What are podcasts, why might your students benefit from listening to them, and how might you go about using and producing them?
- What podcasting is
- Types of ELT podcasts
- Using podcasts in class and for homework
- How to subscribe
- Producing your own podcast
- What you need
What podcasting is
Podcasting (a portemanteau of the words iPod and broadcasting) is the name given to the publishing of audio (usually mp3 files) via the Internet, designed to be downloaded and listened to on a portable mp3 player of any type, or on a personal computer.
Podcasting has now become popular as an alternative way of providing 'radio' type content that can be listened to whenever, wherever and as many times as the listener wants. The idea that a podcast can be produced by just about anyone with access to the Internet has generated a lot of interest in educational circles. In ELT, the appeal is not only in providing additional listening input for students, but that students themselves can become involved in recording and producing the podcast.
Types of ELT podcasts
There are various types of podcasts you can use with your students:
- Authentic podcasts
Podcasts that are not aimed at ELT students can often be a rich source of listening. Most of these will only be suitable for use with higher level students, but others, such as Sushi Radio are made by non-native speakers of English and their length (5-10 minutes) make them ideal for use with classes.
- Teacher podcasts
Produced by teachers, often for their own classes, these podcasts are usually aimed at helping students learn by producing listening content that is not available elsewhere, or that gives a local flavour. The Daily Idiom and Madrid Young Learner podcasts are two very different types of teacher-produced podcast.
- Student podcasts
Produced by students, but often with teacher help, your students can listen to these and experience the culture and hear about the lives and interests of other students from around the world. English Conversations, for example is a podcast largely made by students for students. Another interesting example is the podcast created by the Fudan university high school students in China.
In addition to student podcasts, there are also others that can be useful for teacher professional development.
- Educator podcasts
Shows such as Comprehensible Input and Bit by Bit are reflective podcasts that cover methodological matters as well as podcasting for ELT teachers. Ed Tech Talk is a more general show about educational technology, which is recorded live (this is called webcasting) using free Internet telephony and then provided as a podcast.
More podcasts for students can be found by looking at directories such as Englishcaster, which is directed at students and teachers of English, or other more general directories such as Podcast Alley, which has a large educational section.
Using podcasts in class and for homework
Most podcasts use a weblog as their homepage. When you visit the blog you should see links to audio files. Podcasts can then be downloaded and transferred to a portable mp3 player, recorded to CD-ROM for use in class, or students can be directed to them for self-study purposes on the computer. In addition, many of the ELT podcasts come with transcripts to help understanding.
How to subscribe
Although you can download a podcast by clicking on the link to the audio file from a webpage, the easiest way to become a regular listener to a particular podcast is through RSS subscription to the podcast. Usually the link to this RSS subscription feed will be advertised through an orange button with the words 'RSS' or 'feed' on it. RSS stands for 'Really Simple Syndication'.
To do this, you simply copy and paste the address of the RSS feed into the your RSS reader programme. The advantage with subscribing is that the software automatically downloads the subscribed podcasts to your mp3 player or computer, without you having to go searching for updated content.
Producing your own podcast
Producing a radio show has long been a popular project choice, especially with young learners. In the past the audience for this show would have been the class members and the teacher. Now students have the opportunity to reach a wider audience by offering their radio show as a podcast on the World Wide Web.
One advantage of recording a show and uploading it to the Web is that your students will probably take more care with the preparation, knowing that it could be potentially listened to by people all over the world. After discussing and planning the contents, the learners should be involved in writing and rewriting scripts which they will revise with their classmates (and later their teacher) ensuring that the content is understandable and there are no mistakes. They will then rehearse the show before finally recording it.
Finally, the students can invite their family and friends to listen to it. The fact that they have a real audience for their show should act as a great motivator.
What you need
To be able to produce your own podcast, you require:
- A means of recording audio in the mp3 file format
You can do this on a PC equipped with speakers and a microphone. However, if you want to record students in your classroom, you will need a handheld mp3 player with recording facilities.
- Audio editing software
The program Audacity is a powerful free tool that is popular with many podcasters. Although you can simply record the show in order, using a tool such as Audacity allows you to edit out the mistakes, change the order of students and add music and sound effects, creating a more professional show. Don't worry, Audacity is remarkably easy to use.
- A weblog
This is your podcast's home on the Web. Here you can publish show notes to accompany the podcast.
- An RSS feed
A subscription feed that supports 'enclosures' is available free at Feedburner. Feedburner makes it very easy to produce the feed that people use to subscribe to podcasts. The feed is created by ticking checkboxes in a list.
- Space online to store the audio files
There are now some sites such as Our Media that offer this for free.
Like any authentic material, podcast audio or creating a podcast can be really motivating. It will take up a lot of your time though, but for your students the potential benefits can be huge.
The BBC and British Council are not responsible for the content of external web sites, neither do we endorse them. These are the recommendations of the writer.
You can join an email discussion list for ELT podcasters. Podcasting for ELT: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/podcasting_elt/
There is also an email discussion list for podcasting in general education: Podcasting-Education: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Podcasting-Education/
If you have any suggestions or tips for using podcasting in the class you would like to share on this site, contact us.
Graham Stanley, British Council, Barcelona
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