To podcast or to not podcast

I’m back on the ‘podcast’ bandwagon as I continue to refresh my awareness of current literature on the subject of educational podcasting in higher education. I’m trying to get a feel for ‘where we have got to’ and where we might be headed.
As with anything you begin to research it seems there’s not a lot going on and then you delve and find glimpses of intense hotspots of activity. What I should do is map this against Everett Roger’s Diffusuon of Innovation model or the Gartner Hype Cycle.
In terms of the former I feel were are still fixed amongst the Innovators, though aspects of this evolving phenomenon have broken out to Early Adopters – specifically media-enhanced feedback practice (e.g. models of audio and screencast feedback) where if feels like the right kinds of educational question have always been present in the evolution of these approaches. The other strong contender is institutional lecture recording, which has never thrilled me as in general it uses an unwieldy, supplementary pedagogic model that easily dominates thinking and compounds a default (deficit even) mode of teacher-centred pedagogy. As an apparently innovative teaching tool it is remarkable in that it often promotes passivity in an age that should relish interactivity. One significant and notable exception to this is where similar media learning objects are used as the basis for Flipped Classroom pedagogy. iTunesU might be another contender in the emerging world of what we often to refer to as educational podcasting. However, it is hard to bring this neatly into a pedagogically focused discussion as it is essentially pedagogically neutral being a container of content. In the main the content found on iTunesU is typically recorded monologues by lecturers and so in this sense the approach lacks transformative ambition.
Amongst the Early Adopters there continue to be real gems – Digital Storytelling and student media-enhanced group work assignments, for example. Audio and screencast revision notes, especially when produced as audio summaries by students, also surface in accounts of innovation. Of the few areas in which I am currently active at the moment student-generated Digital Posters and student peer-generated Video Reflections I hope demonstrate a more transformative ambition – albeit on a small scale with groups of about 70 Business students.
In terms of the Gartner Hype Cycle it feels like we’re in the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ at the moment. This is the phase in which interest wanes even amongst Innovators and Early Adopters. This feels to be about the right assessment of the situation: we have had the hype, the early adopters have done their thing and now we need to refocus and re-energise. In this area of academic innovation, however, we have seen something unusual in a story like this: the core technologies have changed. As predicted and discussed in Digital Voices, the interest in RSS as a delivery mechanism has been superseded by the ease of access to using, producing and distributing media due to changes in connectivity and user hardware (especially personal smart mobile technologies). This technical shift has confused the innovation path.However, we’re still mostly on the way down into the trough in terms of what is being reported in the academic literature. Most papers still seem to be asking either the wrong questions or questions that are too parochial.
My optimism lies in a couple of exception papers, notably Abdous et al.(2012) and McGarr (2009) .
The former compare the academic benefits of integrating podcasts into the curriculum with using podcasts as a supplemental instructional material. The idea of integrated podcasts was set out in a brief taxonomy by Harris and Park (2008).

  • Augmenting teaching
  • Student assignment
  • Supplementing research publication

McGarr (2009) proposes three categories: substantial podcasts (used mainly as a substitute for classroom teaching), supplementary podcasting (used to provide a classroom summary or additional materials), and creative podcasts (produced by the learner).
In Digital Voices I have used another taxonomy which I call Media Interventions. It is derived from an analysis of audio application scenarios and describes approaches in terms of Learner Orientation, Motivation, Challenge, and Reflection. Note this taxonomy is student-centred, rather than teacher or content-centred.
To get out of the ‘trough’ in the innovation curve we need to somehow move on from the small scale innovators and their students who are cautiously circling the technology and instead look at the changing dynamics of the learning environment. This is where for me discussions about supplemental models of innovation are frequently red herrings at this stage of an innovation journey. Instead our focus must be on models of pedagogic integration and disruption, especially where the teacher’s relationship with their students is transformed.
I hope the release of Digital Voices as a free volume will help us to discover the Hype Cycle’s ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ in which more instances of innovation start to crystallise the real pedagogic potential. And from there we head for the Plateau of Productivity! – mainstream adoption!

(Source: Wikipedia
The Gartner Hype Cycle works to some extent here, but this point about mainstream adoption paints a simple picture that I am not sure is something we should aspire to. If all we’re talking about is emerging technologies, the the model works fine (that’s what it is really designed to do). But the aspiration of the educational digital voice is that it is all about being adaptable to context. Models provide inspirational starting points but what we see in adoption is difference in the actual implementation.

The SAMR model also helps us think about where we are and what we can do and where we need to be:

SAMR model (about disruptive innovation)

  • Substitution – direct tool substitute (Enhancement)
  • Augmentation – direct substitute with functional improvement – (assessment observation of placement students) (Enhancement)
  • Modification – (Transformation)
  • Redefinition – (Transformation)

20140320-212548.jpg from Puentedera (2014)

If we apply SAMR to McGarr’s taxonomy we see that pedagogically:

  • Substantial podcasts = Augmentation (minor enhancement)
  • Supplementary podcasting = Augmentation (minor enhancement also)

If we do the same for Harris and Park’s (2008) taxonomy using SAMR we get,

  • Augmenting teaching = Augmentation (minor enhancement)
  • Student assignment = Redefinition – (potentially significant transformation)
  • Supplementing research publication (Enquiry-based Learning) = Redefinition – (potentially significant transformation)

There are probably too many things going on in this article, but I hope I have indicated why perhaps we appear to be in a state of inactivity in terms of real pedagogic progress with educational podcasting and associated approaches.
However, I hope I have also indicated how the future remains full of potential for the good use of the recorded voice, especially where it transforms the nature of learning. In my view the killer app remains audio feedback as it is so damn useful due to its immediacy, personal connectivity and semantic clarity. It our appreciation of feedback itself and this gives us some insight to what we should look for as educators: innovation that changes our very understanding of teaching and learning.
Abdous, M., Facer, B.R., and Yen, C.-J. (2012). Academic effectiveness of podcasting: A comparative study of integrated versus supplemental use of podcasting in second language classes. Computers & Education, 58, pp.43-52.
Harris, H. & Park, S. (2008). Educational usages of podcasting. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(3), 548-551.
McGarr, O. (2009). A review of podcasting in higher education: its influence on the traditional lecture. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(3), 309–321.
Puentedera, R. (2009). As we may teach: educational technology, from theory into practice. Online blogpost at:
Puentedura, R. (2014). SAMR: A Contextualized Introduction. Online at:


About amiddlet50

Educational developer working in academic innovation in higher education in the UK
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One Response to To podcast or to not podcast

  1. Pingback: Not everyone likes this new thing | Tactile

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