2 Producing Podcasts as an Alternative Method of Student Assessment

Brittany Starkman

Abstract

This chapter explores the process of utilizing LinkedIn Learning to teach students how to create their own podcasts as an alternative method of student assessment. The research takes place within a blended graduate-level course where the faculty member wishes to incorporate a podcast assignment but lacks the time and proficiency to teach the audio technical skills effectively. The hope is for LinkedIn Learning to bridge the knowledge gaps and act as an efficient training tool. The findings present a vast increase in student understanding of podcasting. The case concludes that LinkedIn Learning, when complemented by hands-on collaborative practice, is an effective resource in teaching students the skills necessary to produce their own podcasts. Both the students and the faculty member report the process of producing a podcast as being valuable for developing new skills and expressing their research in innovative forms.

Key Words

multimedia, podcasting, alternative assessment, higher education, York University, Audacity, blended learning

Introduction

University courses often include communication skills as an integral component of course learning outcomes, yet students are rarely provided with opportunities to express their understanding of the course materials outside of the conventional essay or in-person presentation. For many faculty members, the challenge is not in creating other forms of assessment but rather in the technical knowledge required to support students in producing knowledge differently. One example of this is the production of a podcast. This case explores the incorporation of LinkedIn Learning as a co-curricular tool to support faculty members who aspire to include podcasting as an alternative form of student assessment within their courses. This chapter will discuss the process of implementing LinkedIn Learning, exemplary practices when introducing a student-produced podcast assignment, the learning outcomes, and both student and faculty perspectives of the experience.

Background

Within the Teaching Commons at York University, I lead workshops on educational technologies for faculty members, staff, and teaching assistants. I ran several workshops and webinars on Podcasting for Teaching and Research. The workshops and webinars provided faculty with an overview of how to use audio production software, discussions of how podcasting can be used within higher education courses, and suggestions about how to use podcasting as an alternative assessment to written assignments.

As a result, faculty members were inspired to design podcasting assignments for their own students. One faculty member, who was teaching a blended graduate-level course, expressed explicit interest in replacing her research essay assignment with a podcast assignment. However, her class only met a handful of times face-to-face and her knowledge of audio production was introductory. Therefore, the incorporation of LinkedIn Learning as a teaching tool was the perfect solution to teach the necessary audio technical skills. I assisted this faculty member by integrating LinkedIn Learning into her coursework as a training tool to provide students with the knowledge required to create their own podcasts.

The LinkedIn Learning course we provided students was titled Learning Audacity by Garrick Chow (2016). Audacity is a free, open-source audio production software that is accessible for download on any computer platform. In comparison to other introductory audio tools, Audacity is very simple to navigate. For these reasons, it was an effective choice for novice audio producers. By engaging with the LinkedIn Learning course students would learn how to record, edit, import and export audio using Audacity. These are all necessary skills to understand in order to produce a podcast. It is important to note that the instructor for the Learning Audacity series refers to podcasting briefly within the videos as an example of what can be recorded, however the instructor does not address how to produce a podcast explicitly. Therefore, further guidance of what makes a strong podcast was needed in order for students to successfully develop this assignment. An overview of this process will be explained within this chapter.

Incorporating LinkedIn Learning as a teaching tool was expected to alleviated reliance on face-to-face training during class time. Instead, students would be offered on-demand, just-in-time technical training on a variety of podcasting-related topics that could not all be covered in a single synchronous session. This was especially helpful for this blended style course as each face-to-face session was prioritized on debriefing course material. In addition, as the faculty member was relatively new to podcasting, the Learning Audacity series would fill the knowledge gaps. Therefore, both the students and the faculty member would be able to learn from LinkedIn Learning and improve their skills collaboratively through this assignment.

The Podcast Assignment

During one face-to-face session of the class students brainstormed themes within the course content to be potential topics for podcast episodes.

In groups of three, students were responsible for choosing one of these topics to address and develop into one audio-based podcast episode from start to finish. Small groups were beneficial for this style of assignment as students could work collaboratively to develop their new skills as audio producers. The final podcast was to be approximately 10 minutes in length. The students were responsible for collecting research on their topic, developing a script, conducting interviews, recording voice-overs, and editing their podcast together using Audacity.

In order to encourage student-directed learning, the faculty member chose to leave the tasks open-ended. The results were interesting: some students divided their work evenly among the group members, while others chose a particular task they felt a passion for. For example, some students preferred to record and conduct interviews with subjects within Audacity, while others preferred to focus strictly on audio editing. Once the podcasts were fully produced, they would be played in class and, with student permission, shared with the wider York University community.

Technical Recommendations

In order to produce a podcast, it is important to understand what technology is required. Students must have access to a computer or laptop onto which they can download the Audacity software. Students will also need a microphone source to record their audio, access to headphones for production, and a quiet place to record.

Students have multiple options for microphones. The majority of computers and laptops feature a built-in microphone. Built-in microphones are appropriate for beginners as they are simple to use and easily accessible, but for a more professional sound, use of an external microphone is recommended. Alternatively, a smartphone recording application is a helpful option if students are required to record on-the-go interviews. Most smartphones have a recording application by default, but if not, there are many third-party applications available for download. Overall, it is completely up to the faculty member and the students to determine the best way to go about their recordings.

It is highly recommended that students have a pair of headphones available for use while working with Audacity. Recording and editing audio with headphones on will allow users to hear even the quietest of sounds within their recordings. These sounds may be missed while using the built-in speakers on a device. Lastly, when it comes time to record it is recommended that students find a quiet space with no, or very minimal, background noise. This will increase the likelihood of “clean” recordings and will ensure the sound is more consistent throughout the editing process.

Preparing to Use Audacity

Before the faculty member and I began implementing Learning Audacity into the course, we conducted a brief diagnostic assessment of student understanding. During one face-to-face class session we had a discussion with the students about their experiences with podcasting and using audio production software. Only one student had previous experience using audio production tools and a handful of students had previously listened to podcasts. This was important knowledge to keep in mind in order to understand how we could best support student learning.

Since students had minimal knowledge of podcast creation and production, it was critical to provide an introduction to podcasting and deliver precise assignment expectations. An effective way to begin this process was by giving students the opportunity to listen to multiple podcasts as examples. This could be done within class time or by hosting well-produced podcasts on the online course shell, making it a pre-lecture assignment or required listening. As this was a blended course, the faculty member gave the students the task of listening to the podcast examples between their face-to-face sessions.

As a recommendation, after students listen to the podcasts, it is wise for instructors to include enough time to debrief with the students on what they heard. This will ensure students become more familiar with the different formats and aesthetics of podcasting. For example, students should note that it is common for a podcast to feature an introduction and an “outro” in which the hosts introduce themselves and then conclude the episode. Students should also notice that between these elements there is opportunity for a wide range of segments. Some examples include a round-table discussion, studio interview, news segment and so forth. There is no direct rule about which segments are mandatory for a podcast. Therefore, students are encouraged to be creative within their productions. Music and sound effects are also common elements within podcast production. However, it is important to be cautious about copyright when importing these external audio files. Fortunately there are resources available online that host open-source music and sound effects.

By following the Learning Audacity videos on LinkedIn Learning, students can learn the skills necessary to import these elements into their podcast, record a variety of segments, and export their podcast into a shareable audio file. The aim is for students to also incorporate the ideas inspired by the podcast examples and classroom debrief to develop their own unique podcast productions.

Learning with LinkedIn Learning

In class, the students were guided on how to access LinkedIn Learning using their organization (York University) credentials in order to begin the Learning Audacity course. As it may have been their first time navigating a video-based learning tool, the faculty member and I presented a walk-through of the interface. It was important to point out the accessibility tools within LinkedIn Learning, such as closed captioning and transcription options. We also mentioned that LinkedIn Learning provides users with the ability to create notes within the interface that can be saved to a specific timestamp on the videos. This can be especially helpful for noting down the name of a particular editing tool or a handy keyboard shortcut. Students were encouraged to export this note as a PDF document to bring to class or to use it as a resource for reference while they work with Audacity. In turn, this process saved students time during the creation and production phase of the assignment.

The Learning Audacity course is quite thorough. This is due to the fact that viewers may be learning Audacity to create a variety of different audio productions. However, since the videos are divided into short topic-based segments, students can easily progress through their learning and choose which video they would like to watch. This also makes it simple for students to refer back to any aspect of Audacity they need to revisit for further clarification.

To ensure that the student podcasters did not feel overwhelmed by too much information, especially while learning through LinkedIn Learning independently outside of course hours, I assisted the faculty member in creating a resource that highlighted which videos were necessary for viewing and which may be optional. This resource can be found below. It also included hands-on activities to encourage students to practise using Audacity after watching a particular section in the Learning Audacity series. For example, after watching the videos on recording audio, students were encouraged to open a new Audacity session and begin a test recording of their own voice.

Below is the outline developed on Learning Audacity. Links to accessing LinkedIn Learning and the following outline were uploaded onto the online course shell for students to reference at any time.

Learning Audacity Outline

Part 1. Getting Started:

Watch all 4 of the videos within this chapter

    1. What is Audacity?
    2. Download and Install Audacity
    3. Import Audio
    4. Play Audio
      • Just a note that the LinkedIn Learning instructor goes into detail within the Play Audio video. Do not feel like you need to know all of the information. Simply understand how to use the play/stop button (using the space bar as a shortcut) and how to navigate the Audacity timeline.

ACTIVITY: After watching, try out the tools mentioned within the tutorial videos. Ex. Download Audacity, import an audio track (any audio file on your computer will do), and experiment with the playback and zoom tools highlighted within the videos so far.

Part 2. Recording:

Watch the first 4 videos within this chapter

    1. Set Up Your Hardware
    2. Create a New Project
      • Watch up until 0:35 (where the instructor goes over creating a new project) and fast forward to 05:40 (where the instructor highlights how to save your projects). Watching in between is optional.
    1. Record
    2. Add Tracks

ACTIVITY: Apply the new knowledge you have learned within this section and record your own audio track. Ex. Create a new project, set up your microphone and record a voice-over.

Part 3. Basic Editing:

Watch all 6 videos within this chapter

    1. Make Selections
    2. Cut, Copy and Paste
    3. Split Clips
    4. Adjust Volume Automatically
      • Watch up until 04:15
    1. Use Common Effects
      • Watch up until 03:23 (the rest is optional)
    1. Export Your Project

ACTIVITY: Apply what you have learned within this section by editing your audio and exporting the finished project into a shareable audio file.

Part 4. Common Tasks:

You only need to watch 1 video within this chapter. The rest are optional.

(As with any of the videos, read the title and watch whichever sounds helpful for your project)

    1. Installing the LAME MP3 Encoder (the name of a third-party application necessary to export an MP3 file in Audacity)

In this particular case, students were given several weeks to go over the Learning Audacity videos and complement their video-based learning with the hands-on activities indicated in the outline. During the next face-to-face session of the class, students brought in their notes on Audacity and met with their podcast groups. This in-class time was used for collaboration, brainstorming content for their podcast, and working together to practise their Audacity skills. Observations of students during class time confirmed how much they had learned simply by engaging with the Learning Audacity series. If one student had an issue while editing their audio, another peer had the answer. This decreased the reliance on the faculty member to be the ongoing technical support within the classroom.

Outcome

On the day the podcasts were due, there was a class listening showcase. Overall, the podcasts sounded excellent and each group addressed their topic in different ways. Some groups decided to record a round-table discussion, while others recorded interviews with members of the York University community. As an observer in the room, I could sense the students’ excitement. Besides a few giggles from those nervous to hear their own recorded voice played out loud, each group appeared to be very proud of the work they accomplished. The faculty member also participated in the learning and presentation by playing a podcast that she had been working on alongside the students. This truly reflected how LinkedIn Learning could encourage both faculty and students to become collaborative learners in the classroom. With LinkedIn Learning as a resource, faculty do not need to feel pressured to be the sole expert in the room. They can also be involved in the learning process.

After each group played their podcast for the rest of the class, the floor was open for constructive feedback. Students confidently provided their peers with advice on their podcast content, script, audio recording techniques, and editing execution. Hearing the students provide such thorough feedback demonstrated just how much knowledge was gained through this assignment. Students were then able to apply what they learned through the podcast showcase and resubmit their audio file for grading.

Student Perspectives

During the podcast listening showcase, one student commented that the podcast “helped us to put an idea together collaboratively, in a new way, and communicate it with the world.” Another student followed this comment by acknowledging that during a traditional essay she “puts in hours of work for only two eyes to see.” What is exceptional about the podcast is that the students are empowered to share their research with an audience. Many students also expressed their appreciation of developing new skills such as audio recording, editing, and the ability to piece together an impactful story.

The students were also given a short, anonymous questionnaire to provide feedback on their experiences using LinkedIn Learning after they produced their podcasts. The questionnaire indicated that students truly increased their understanding of audio production through their engagement with LinkedIn Learning. According to the survey, 54% of students agreed, and 31% of students strongly agreed, that LinkedIn Learning was successful in teaching them how to use Audacity. The other 15% selected neutral as their response, while no participants indicated that they disagreed or strongly disagreed. In addition, all students indicated that their understanding of audio production software improved greatly after engaging with LinkedIn Learning. Almost half of the class (47%) rated their previous understanding of audio production tools as 1 out of 10 (1 being no or very limited understanding and 10 being expert-level understanding). After training with LinkedIn Learning, the majority of students (38%) indicated their understanding to be 6 out of 10, while 30% indicated their understanding improved to 8 out of 10. This is a vast improvement.

When asked if students would use LinkedIn Learning again in the future, one student wrote, “I would use LinkedIn Learning in the future because it was user-friendly, and I appreciated how informative it was for beginners, like myself.” Another student, who works as a teacher outside of her studies, stated, “As a teacher, I would implement it into my classroom and show my students and other educators. LinkedIn Learning is very well organized and straightforward to use.” Other respondents mentioned they would use LinkedIn Learning in the future for “help on how to use software, or anything technical in nature” as well as expressing an appreciation of “how thorough and detailed the explanations were.”

Faculty Perspectives

As this was the first time the faculty member had incorporated LinkedIn Learning into her classroom, I conducted a short interview to gather her insight on the process after the podcasts were submitted. She commented that she felt LinkedIn Learning was “very helpful and well suited for people ready to start experimenting. I think LinkedIn Learning broke things down into nice, bite-sized pieces which made it easy to navigate.” While reflecting on the experience of the podcast assignment, she commented on the similarities between the podcast and a traditional essay assignment. She explained the skill set needed to conduct qualitative research and break the work down to a particular number of pages. She noted how this is extremely similar to the process needed to create a concise, informative, yet interesting podcast.

In regard to using LinkedIn Learning in the future, she said she would like to use it again in conjunction with additional resources and the hands-on work session in class. Her advice to educators who wish to incorporate LinkedIn Learning to teach podcasting is to “…practise with the tool on your own as well. What’s great about these kinds of assignments is that no one’s really the expert in the room. We could…struggle together and try to figure out how to do it…For me I had to do a little bit of that work beforehand, but it was really worth it.”

Pedagogical Considerations and Reflections

What is very exciting about this style of assignment is that developing a podcast is not vastly different from developing a well-written research essay. Both require pre-production (through planning and research), production (through the writing of the paper or recording of the audio) and post-production (through editing written work or editing audio). They both also take into account word choice, flow, and audience. In addition, students were given a platform to showcase their authentic voice while producing the podcast. They were encouraged to step in front of the microphone, conduct their own research, and show their personality. This is in contrast to the all-too-common regurgitation of facts and citations from other authors that is characteristic of the majority of higher education course work.

I definitely emphasize the importance of having the expectations for Learning Audacity, and for the assignment itself, to be as clear as possible for students to follow. Podcasting will likely be brand new to many students, so it is important to provide them with examples of well-produced podcasts as a learning resource. This will provide students with inspiration, a better sense of what a podcast includes, and an understanding of the capabilities they have to explore a research area in new and innovative ways.

It is also essential to encourage students to apply their learning by practising with Audacity as they navigate through the Learning Audacity video series. Providing students with the opportunity to work with their podcast groups, collaborate, ask questions, and develop their audio technical skills with their peers during class time is also extremely beneficial. Learning completely through LinkedIn Learning outside of class time is possible, but supplementing video-based learning with hands-on collaborative learning is certainly favourable.

Finally, it is critical to note that continuous feedback is instrumental for this assignment. It is important for educators to provide their students with appropriate feedback in order to continually grow their skills and confidence with this new form of expressing their research. In addition, encouraging students to hear each other’s work, provide constructive feedback to one another, and apply this feedback to their own project instills a deeper understanding. In the end, each learner will have an even stronger project because of it.

Conclusion

The use of LinkedIn Learning as a video-based training tool has proven to be extremely successful in teaching students and faculty the skills required to create their own podcasts. As first-time podcast producers, all learners were able to gather a thorough understanding through their engagement with Learning Audacity, complemented by hands-on practice to develop their own unique productions. This is truly a remarkable achievement and shows how effective learning through LinkedIn Learning can be. There was no need for the faculty member to act as the sole support or spend the majority of class time teaching students audio technical skills. Instead, there was opportunity for independent learning through a flipped classroom model. Students were able to engage with LinkedIn Learning outside of class time and bring their learning back into the classroom to work collaboratively and ask questions.

The incorporation of LinkedIn Learning within this case has provided students with the opportunity to grow their skill set beyond traditional research and writing skills. Students enhanced their 21st century and multimodal skills as they engaged with production software and adapted new ways to present information. While traditionally students often would spend hours conducting research, developing their citations, and perfecting their essays for an audience of one, opening up the doors to alternative assessments such as a podcast invites students to share their hard work with wider audiences.

The overall accessibility and approachability of LinkedIn Learning has the ability to empower educators to feel more confident in assigning alternative assignments to their students. With short, easy to digest videos on a plethora of software, and the ability to revisit concepts at any time, LinkedIn Learning is a user-friendly learning resource that can be easily incorporated into any classroom.

List of LinkedIn Learning Videos

Chow, G. (2016, December 2). Learning Audacity [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.lynda.com/Audacity-tutorials/Learning-Audacity/518687-2.html