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June 11, 2020
Vol. 15
No. 19

Handing Students the Mic: Podcasting to Increase Engagement

A recent LinkedIn study identified the top 10 skills employers are currently looking for in their interns and new hires (Hess, 2019). I looked through it all, and nowhere was there a reference to test-taking ability. What was at the top of the list were soft skills like collaboration, time management, and creativity and hard skills like analytical reasoning and people management. I try to intentionally incorporate these skills into my high school classroom, but getting my learners to internalize the information, take ownership of their learning, and branch out into new ways of demonstrating that learning proves more difficult.
Over the last couple of years, I have met several teachers who use podcasting in their classroom and are seeing success with their content. High school English teacher Anthony Stirpe has his learners create podcast episodes of their work and says their verbal-only presentations force a new level of expression and thoroughness. Students come up with a fully developed story and engage in high levels of research, preparation, and reflection.
In the elementary school classroom, Felecity Treptow created the I-Kid-a-Pod podcast that covered the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race every year to acclaim. Some of the youngest students arranged interviews with participants in and spectators of the annual race and developed advanced public speaking and communication skills. To produce the episodes on time, students also developed time management skills—some of the same skills employers will value years down the road. Treptow's work is a great example of leveraging podcasts to develop student ownership of learning. Seeing successes like these piqued my curiosity to try podcasting with my students.

An Introduction to the Podcasting Sphere

My learners created a publicly published podcast related to their course and released a 10- to 15-minute episode every week. In my senior engineering class, students used their podcast to inform younger students interested in engineering about our program and opportunities within the STEM fields. In my introductory cyber security course, they increased their peers' awareness of cyber security issues and to how to keep themselves safer in digital environments. Many of my learners are very comfortable with content but have difficulty relating that content to curricular areas. Learning to verbally share content with an unseen audience boosts deeper understanding and communication skills (Hasan, 2013).
Creating a podcast is a pretty straightforward process without a lot of equipment. Our learners have access to both iPads and MacBooks in our school, so using the GarageBand app was a natural starting point. Students can create royalty-free audio for intros, outros, and transitions. There are several free or low-cost hosting sites you can use to publish podcasts, and the Wired Educator, Life Hacker, and Buzzsprout all have great tips for beginners. We use Anchor.fm as our host and publish the episodes on Apple Podcasts. Through the process, students learn about marketing as they promote their shows to the students and local community through posters, campus announcements, and social media.

The Necessary Skills

To create our first podcast, my students organized themselves into podcasting teams and had several weeks to work on each episode. We looked at the roles needed to produce the show—from researchers to hosts to editors—and made sure that each team had a mix of talents. All students had to have some role on the team. Their challenge was to include everyone in an equitable way. Though individual differences, desires, and personalities sometimes complicated the process, a simple project management tool went a long way in keeping everyone on track. We used a podcasting template found in Airtable as a way for learners to see the production process and submit their work.
Over the course of the project, students honed their problem-solving skills. Computational thinking, a problem-solving method that is most often associated with programming and computer science, was on full display as learners broke down all the components of a podcast—selecting topics, researching, recording, editing, advertising—into individual tasks (Wing, 2006).
As we move forward, this project continues to open up new worlds of learning. Students demonstrate their mastery of the course content through their own voices. Podcasting provides learners opportunities to expand the audience with whom they demonstrate their content learning and develops the skills that will help them be more successful in their classes and in future work.

Hasan, M. (2013, January). Podcast application in language learning: A review of recent studies. English Language Teaching, 6(2), 128–132. DOI: 10.5539/elt.v6n2p128

Hess, A. (2019, January 6). The 10 most in-demand skills of 2019, according to LinkedIn. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/04/the-30-most-in-demand-skills-in-2019-according-to-linkedin-.html

Treptow, F. (2019). I-KID-A-POD. Podcast retrieved from https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/i-kid-a-pod/id1083627744

Wing, J. (2006, March). Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 49(3), 33–35. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/1118178.1118215

Mike Yakubovsky has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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