A step-by-step guide to podcasting as a teaching and learning intervention in Higher Education
Podcasts present the UK with one of the main growth trends in the media sector in 2023, according to a new report from market research and analytics firm YouGov (2022). This is confirmed by insight from similar agencies, such as Ofcom (2022), Statista (2022), and Edison Research (2021), who all see the popularity of podcasts as far from having peaked.
What has podcasting got to do with teaching and learning in Higher Education? It is about engagement, supporting self-directed investigation, creating long shelf-life content, and reflecting the needs and wants of our audience – the learner (Drew, 2017). According to YouGov’s Global Media Outlook Report 2022, people aged between 18 and 24 years are expected to further increase their consumption of digital media in 2023. Nearly half of young people who have maintained their level of streaming audio(-visual) content and interaction with social media in 2022, stated that they are likely to increase their online activities even more in 2023 (YouGov, 2022). Over the past decade, podcasts have become one of the most popular forms of (audio) entertainment in the UK. According to Edison Research’s Infinite Dial 2021 Report (2021), which included an analysis of the UK’s consumption for the first time, four out of ten people in the UK listen to a podcast once a month, 25% listen to one weekly, and 70% are familiar with the format. The report also found that 59% of listeners are aged 16 years and over. Using a podcast as a teaching tool, either in conveying and engaging students with learning content, or as a method in other relevant projects (research, industry or creative work) is worth considering in a 21 st century HE teaching environment (Turner, 2015). For many, this can almost be seen as a way of enhancing and/or extending the flipped classroom (AdvanceHE, 2017) – a pedagogical approach with which most educators in Higher Education will probably be familiar.
Using audio recording practices within the context of Higher Education is certainly nothing new (Berry, 2016; Bonini, 2015). Since the pandemic, who hasn’t added an audio to their lecture slides at some point? At most universities, it has become part of good practice to record in-person lectures and make these available via the institution’s virtual learning environment (VLE), thus increasing the accessibility of learning content and accommodating students’ various styles of learning (Marchisio et al., 2022.)
While lecture recordings might lend themselves to the distribution of some forms of learning content, they are certainly not the only audio recording practice at our disposal, and might even not be the ideal solution for practice-based teaching and learning scenarios that occur in many courses across the country. A question that every good educator ought to ask themselves when planning and designing interventions is: how can we really engage, excite and support our students? One way is to give students a unique experience which is different from face-to-face delivery, but still supports self-directed participation ( Kaplan, Verma & Sargsyan, 2020).
In his article Podcasting: Considering the evolution of the medium and its association with Radio , Berry (2016) suggests that content published in podcast format is distinctly different from radio. Therefore, as a podcast is not broadcast across airwaves but transferred as a digital media file, it is free from many formal broadcast regulations, such as Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code in the UK. This gives podcasters freedom to format, to choose content, and to talk to audiences in their own way. For the listener this can be the main attraction of a podcast – the informality of construction combined with self-direction. Listeners can schedule their interaction in their own time and control its delivery i.e., play, rewind, fast forward (McClung & Johnson, 2010). This underpins one of our main goals as educators: to encourage and develop confident self-directed learners. Podcasts can become part of an educators’ arsenal of content for asynchronous learning, thus playing a part in promoting investigation (Madson & Potts, 2015), providing students with a concentrated burst of reinforcing content and aiding in the consolidation of knowledge. Indeed, Adbous, Facer and Yen (2017) believe podcasts to be a dynamic way to extend course materials and student experiences, a statement with which I agree entirely. In my experience, podcasting is not a replacement for in-class teaching, but a means to provide content that allows students to further reflect and engage with the topic at hand, as part of asynchronous learning activities. It spaces out the learning process, blends the formal with the informal and empowers students.
So, what steps should you take to get your podcast started?
Why a podcast and why this topic?
It is easy to give in to puffery, so ask yourself what would best support your subject area/course/department? Do you need to share information; is it a teaching and learning intervention to extend the flipped classroom; is it to boost student engagement? Your choice of topic and angle should be driven by a genuine need. This might be some niche in your specific field; it could be about employability in your sector; or it could be about sector ethical practice, for example.
Check out the podcast landscape before you set your mind on a specific topic (use the search function on any popular podcast app and run some keyword searches matching your topic/angle). While it is natural wanting to experiment at the beginning to see whether something is a good fit for you and your students, it is advisable that the topic/angle that you choose not be too narrow, as building momentum and engaging audiences usually takes more than one episode. Based on my personal teaching experience, I would recommend a topic/angle to be one you can see delivering for at least three episodes and that potentially keeps you going for the long run, perhaps across modules.
Pick your podcast name
The name of your podcast will be what your audience sees first, even before they listen. If you have a recognisable brand, you may want to add ‘podcast’ or ‘show’ to the brand name. Or you could pick a name that resonates with your sector. For example if you teach Law, The bench, or de jure may be appropriate; in hospitality, names such a s Menu Masters, a la carte, or Covers may resonate; in Performing Arts : Turntables, or Ad-Lib; finally, in bio sciences and clinical pathways monikers such as mid-wif, or Forensis could work . Here, the title itself grounds the content in its discipline. This can also help with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – which might not help your podcast reach your own students, but in particular, if your longer-term aim is to build reputation or disseminate your project/research findings beyond your own class, SEO is crucial for reaching larger audiences. Lastly, you could opt for a name that may or may not have an industry connection. These can be successful, but may be harder in the education sphere. For example: Law Stuff , Techno , or The Surgery .
The Podcast Description
You need to tell your audience what your podcast is about, often in a single, short paragraph. In the context of Higher Education, this paragraph should follow the clear structure of a Learning Outcome. Make it clear what listening to the podcast will enable your students to do. Make sure this description engages immediately. Write for the person who you want to listen. Know who they are; what they want to know; and why they should stick around. The first line should start with something which matters to them.
The format, length and publishing
What style of show are you going for: interview-based with guests or solo – a single voice? There is no right answer. But for the podcast novice, an interview-based approach can help you get started. You can pull in one or two contributors (colleagues, experts from other departments, industry experts/employers), pooling information and entertaining stories in a single sitting. Solo shows can work too. Such shows can be good for a deep dive into a specific topic which may be complex and/or cannot be covered wholly in the same way in a seminar or lecture.
In terms of podcast length, both short and long form can work. The most popular podcasts are between 20 to 40 minutes. For a concentrated burst you can even split a long podcast into two or three 10-minute segments or less – this can help with consumption. For example, you can add chunks, or a whole podcast, to your VLE; share easily with colleagues; and augment distribution via social media, if your course, school or department wants to feature them.
Publishing a podcast in the context of Higher Education, first and foremost means publishing on your university’s VLE as part of your course or module. This is the easiest way for you to embed each podcast in the specific learning content that relates to it, thus highlighting the connection and relevance to your students. In addition, many podcasting sites allow publishing for free if you wish to cast a wider net for your audience, such as Vimeo.com, Soundcloud.com, Podbean.com and Google podcasts. With universities increasingly embracing digital content, your university’s website may also consider housing your podcast.
The good news is, there is no specialist equipment required to get your first podcast off the ground. However, professional recording equipment can help in producing more polished output. Many universities that offer humanities and arts programmes will probably have recording facilities available for students and academics. At the University of West London, we have a fully equipped Radio Studio located at St Mary’s Road, managed by the London School of Film, Media and Design. This is a professional audio environment where you can record a podcast, and which may be a good place to start your podcast journey.
Alternatively, you may want to invest in exploring podcasting yourself and invest in your own equipment. There are some great technical tutorials out there which are easy to follow and suitable for beginners wanting to know more about what equipment to use and how to use it:
If four out of ten people in the UK are already listening to podcasts, combined with increasing levels of digital consumption by 18 to 24 year olds, then producing a podcast should be considered a legitimate pedagogical objective.
The following are three good examples of podcasts that are produced by academics and used as part of their teaching and learning. Check them out, get inspired and start your own podcasting journey to benefit your teaching and engage your students.
The History of Philosophy, Without any Gaps.
Peter Adamson, Professor of Philosophy at King’s College London and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. This is a fascinating series of podcasts that takes you on a journey through the history of philosophy. The podcast looks at theories and ideas, as well as the lives and historical context of the major philosophers. Average episode length: 20 minutes.
The Naked Scientists
Dr Chris Smith is a medical consultant, specialising in clinical microbiology and virology at Cambridge University, who laid the foundations for The Naked Scientists back in 1999. There are other contributors and a wider audience outreach. The podcast series covers everything from the artificial pancreas, using magnetic bacteria to fight tumours, and what do we do with space junk. All is neatly packaged in bite-sized episodes, with an average episode length of 10 minutes.
Peace and Conflict: Understanding Our World
Academics from Queen’s University in Belfast share their experiences and reflections on conflict and peace-building around the world, from Afghanistan to Ireland, Colombia and South Africa to the Middle East. Average episode length: 30 minutes
Abdous, M., Facer, B. & Yen, C. (2017). Trends in Podcast Download Frequency Over Time, Podcast Use, and Digital Literacy in Foreign Language and Literature Courses. International Journal of Distance Education Technologies, 13, 15-33. https://doi.org/10.4018/IJDET.2015040102
Advanced HE (2023). HEA to Z Flipped Learning . https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/flipped-learning
Berry, R. (2016). Podcasting: Considering the evolution of the medium and its association with the word ‘radio’. Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media, 14, 7-22. https://doi.org/10.1386/rjao.14.1.7_1
Bonini, T. (2015). The ‘second age’ of podcasting: Reframing podcasting as a new digital mass medium. Quaderns Del CAC, 41(18), 21-30.
Drew, C. (2017). Educational podcasts: A genre analysis. E-Learning and Digital Media, 14(4), 201-211. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042753017736177
Edison Research (2021). Infinite Dial UK 2021 Report. https://www.edisonresearch.com/the-infinite-dial-2021-2/
Madsen, V. & Potts, P. (2010). Voice-cast: The distribution of the voice via podcasting. In: Neumark, N., Gibson, R., van Leeuwen, T. (eds.). Voice: Vocal Aesthetics in Digital Arts and Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 33-60. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/9780262013901.003.0003
Marchisio, M., Rabellino, S., Roman, F. & Sacchet, M. (2022). Valuable Features of Hybrid Teaching in a Higher Education Context. In: Väljataga, T., Laanpere, M. (eds) Shaping the Digital Transformation of the Education Ecosystem in Europe. EDEN 2022. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 1639. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-20518-7_2
McClung, S. & Johnson, K. (2010). Examining the motives of podcast users. Journal of Radio & Audio Media, 17(1), 82-95. https://doi.org/10.1080/19376521003719391
Ofcom (2022). The Ofcom Broadcasting Code. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-and-on-demand/broadcast-codes/broadcast-code
Scutter, S., Stupans, I., Sawyer, T. & King, S. (2010). How do students use podcasts to support learning? Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(2). 180-191. https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.1089
Statista (2022). Podcast reach in the United Kingdom (UK) 2017-2026. https://www.statista.com/forecasts/1147560/podcast-reach-uk.
Turner, Y. (2015). Last orders for the lecture theatre? Exploring blended learning approaches and accessibility for full-time international students. The International Journal of Management Education, 13(2), 163-169. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijme.2015.04.001
Yougov.com (2022). Global Media Outlook Report 2022. https://business.yougov.com/sectors/media-content/global-media-outlook-report-2022?gclid=Cj0KCQiA_bieBhDSARIsADU4zLccHltFkjILFPduKMeOcH9ra-D_OWeh-Auv64OSJcPrPU8PCvcq1BUaAmbVEALw_wcB
About the author:
Alison Hawkings is Senior Lecturer in Journalism at the London School of Film, Media and Design, University of West London.