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Proving the power of podcasting

Can including podcasting in teaching and learning activities contribute to improved reading habits and literacy? E-Fellow Dorothy Burt went in search of the answer.

As teachers, one of the dilemmas we face in e-learning is that it can be time consuming, often costly, and there’s little research available showing the real impact on the student. Anecdotal evidence tells us they are engaged in their learning and consequently achieving, but it is very hard to ‘prove it’. This is further complicated because most schools have a variety of teaching programmes and interventions occurring simultaneously, and e-learning is just one part of the mix.

The opportunity to explore
I have been part of the e-learning team at Pt England School in Auckland for more than a decade. When I applied for an eFellowship, I saw it as an opportunity to be given the time to explore the impact of podcasting through one of the e-learning initiatives in the school, our Korero Pt England (KPE) podcast. It seemed the logical place to conduct research because not only was this initiative less complex than some others, but also I believed it delivered the key principles we value in e-learning:

  • raising student achievement;
  • motivating and engaging students through the technology ‘hook’;
  • developing personal voice;
  • providing an authentic audience;
  • and promoting students as content creators, not merely consumers.

I spent the year exploring the question: “In what ways can including podcasting with KPE in teaching and learning activities contribute to reading outcomes?” It would be a mistake to say that this was a research project into podcasting. The literacy cycle for KPE co-constructed by teachers at Pt England School encompasses all aspects of literacy, but the research was narrowed to exploring reading outcomes, which we defined further as:

  • reading habits;
  • attitude to reading;
  • reading fluency;
  • and reading ability (comprehension and decoding).

Improved reading habits – it’s official!
The project involved five classes in a team of Year 5 and 6 students and the sample group of 27 students was taken from among these. The details of how data was gathered and analysed can be found in my final report.

The study observed that the sample group involved in podcasting with KPE significantly improved their reading habits and their attitude to reading books. They also improved reading ability (accuracy, comprehension and fluency) as measured by standardised testing. Pupils, parents and teachers alike attributed much of this to the podcasting activities.

The conclusions I have been able to draw from the study backed up what we had been observing in the two years since KPE began: the opportunity to use the podcasting technology lured the students into participating in a literacy cycle strategically designed to improve reading outcomes. It was also encouraging to observe that, as a result of having regular access to a technology they enjoy using, underachieving and unmotivated students could become enthusiastic readers.

Technologies are emerging all the time, but the goal has remained the same: to engage students in the learning process through the use of compelling technology in order to raise student achievement outcomes. I believe that the results should give us confidence that using engaging technologies as a hook with students can be very effective if the pedagogical underpinnings have been strategically designed to improve student outcomes.

Dorothy Burt was awarded an E-learning Teacher Fellowship 2007. Her research report, The Lure of Podcasting, can be downloaded at: http://www.efellows.org.nz/?q=blog/30 or http://www.ptengland.school.nz/index.php?family=1,871,11746

ABOUT PODCASTING WITH KPE
Korero Pt England is a podcast about New Zealand fiction. It began in July 2005 and has been published weekly ever since. More than 150 episodes have been produced, 100+ students have been podcasters, and new subscribers last year alone came from more than 50 countries. Check it out at: http://www.ptengland.school.nz/index.php?family=1,871

The students record the podcast in Garage Band and take photos to enhance the podcast. Each episode is three to four minutes long. When it is edited it is uploaded onto iTunes music store and is available to the world as a free podcast to subscribe to. The students reflect on their podcasts through their blog at http://www.kpetv.blogspot.com

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