This month’s #Take5 post is brought to you by Dr Micky Ross and Dr Julia Bohlmann at the University of Glasgow. We asked them to contribute because we were blown away by their ScotHELD session on the way they had used podcasting as part of their repertoire of responses to Covid-19 and the rapid change that we all went through adjusting to online delivery of our provision.
Who we are and why we embraced the pod
We are Dr Micky Ross and Dr Julia Bohlmann – the International Team at the University of Glasgow’s Learning Enhancement and Academic Development Service (LEADS). We work with international students from all subject areas, so there is always a lot to do. Until last year we never quite got around to expanding our online provision. But the enforced transition to remote learning, while initially a challenge, gave us an opportunity to try out new ways of teaching. We decided to embrace the challenge and created podcasts that ran alongside our academic writing classes.
Maintaining a learning community
There are so many reasons to introduce podcasting to your teaching and learning practice. For us, the first reason was to maintain the learning community that we had established in the months before remote learning started due to lockdown in Scotland. A big concern for us was how we were going to keep our students engaged (Kahn et. al., 2017; Nordman et.al., 2020). We knew that the casual conversations that we had with students after lectures and workshops were important:
- to get to know and keeping in touch with our students, and
- informally provide solutions for students’ learning problems.
When we started podcasting, we did so with little idea about how it would go or what success we would have. It turned out to be a big success for us. And now that we have had a chance to reflect on the experience, we can see why. Podcasting as part of teaching and learning engages students because it brings a typically formal discourse into an informal setting. By doing this it brings a sense of authenticity to the content and this in turn works really well to reinforce key learning points after a week of provision.
Engaging with relevant pedagogy
We recorded our podcasts with a live and participating student audience. This meant that learners could bring questions and respond directly to the content. This participation allowed learners to direct the flow of the podcast, which, for us, spoke to so much of the fundamentals of what we are trying to achieve in terms of pedagogy. For example, our sessions are active and democratic (Dewey, 1916. 1939) and dialogic and problem-posing (Freire, 1993). Letting students take part in the podcasts was key as it underlined those principles.
To encourage students to take part, we created options to:
- simply listen,
- contribute by unmuting,
- contribute by posting a question publicly in the chat, or
- by contributing with a high level of anonymity by messaging us directly, during the live podcast.
Creating synchronous and asynchronous content
After the live podcast, we posted the recording of the session, with an audio-transcript, to our virtual learning environment, creating provision with synchronous and asynchronous content.
Enjoying our teaching practice
Another reason to start podcasting was that we really enjoyed it. In our experience, it was fun, informal, and collaborative. There were no slides dictating the direction of travel. The dialogue mirrored an academic debate and had the added benefit of decreasing the power distance between the students and us as teachers, something that is crucial in familiarising international students with the active and participatory academic culture in the UK.
The podcasts were not standalone events, but closely embedded into our provision in that they rounded up a week’s classes. As our provision typically lasts for 5 consecutive weeks at a time, we created a series of five podcasts. They aired on Zoom once a week on Thursdays and were 50-60 minutes long. We then posted the recording as audio or video file onto the relevant Moodle course. The podcast format itself combined scripted with unscripted conversation. Aiming for a good flow was important to us because we wanted the podcast to be relatively informal. The podcasts worked best when we had a guest speaker as it added variety and brought the debate to life.
While we aimed for flow, we created a rough plan for each episode. For instance, we decided who would chair the episode. That person would keep an eye on time and decide what questions to ask and when. We would start each episode with a brief reminder of the themes we had covered during the week and planned to discuss in the podcast. We then introduced our guest speaker and invited students to post questions in the chat. As we moved through the themes, we would pick up on related student questions and integrate them into the debate. Towards the end the main speakers would be asked to provide take home messages, summing up what has been said and the chair would announce the classes for the upcoming week.
We would definitely recommend that you book a guest speaker early on, ideally before the semester starts. We all know how quickly our diaries fill up. Make sure to plan out the session, but not too much. Write a short intro script if you need it. Identify the key themes that should be talked about. Add some visuals to your plan such as screenshots of slides. Think about how you might transition from one theme to the next.
Could there be a natural way to connect two themes, for example, when discussing literature reviews? It’s quite common to look for literature first before moving on to think about how you might structure the review. Or when discussing methods there is probably some overlap between gathering and analysing data which can provide a bridge into the conversation.
Note down some questions that you might want to ask, just in case the conversation isn’t flowing as well as you had hoped. Share your plan with the podcast contributors so they know what to expect. They might want to add some questions or points they definitely want to address. See below for an example plan:
The feedback we received from students was really encouraging and heart-warming:
- ‘I wanted to personally say I value your hard work and personal effort to keep the academic community together while delivering the sessions.’
- ‘Thank you so much for guiding and accompanying my journey.’
- ‘I just wanted to drop a line to say hello and thank you and Micky for the workshops. I find them not only helpful but caring and providing good company in the way you address them.’
- ‘Very enlightening stuff.’
- ‘It [the podcast] is the best part of my day.’
What the comments express is what we aimed to achieve with the podcast: to give students the feeling that they still belonged to our learning community at the University of Glasgow and for us all to come out of our prescribed roles as teachers and students, instead coming together simply as people having an informal conversation about learning.
The feedback that we received from guest speakers was very positive and underscored how enjoyable the teaching experience had been.
- “Doing the podcast with Micky and Julia was a really positive way of connecting with colleagues and sharing knowledge about a specific area we were interested in whilst, at the same time, passing on our shared knowledge to students. I didn’t know most of the participants before I started but, by the end, I felt like I had met new people in my field, learned from them and established connections which I feel I could maintain and develop. I’d never done podcasting before, but I would really recommend it. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.”
- “The Podcasts are such a great way to revisit topics in an informal way. The conversation-style lends itself to sharing organic stories about experiences with the topic instead of a prepared slide. The students enjoy the banter and benefit from multiple perspectives about each topic and question.”
The comments may also give an indication of how important coming together was during the lockdowns and teaching completely online.
The podcasts were a great way to build and maintain a learning and teaching community online and as the student feedback suggests, it had its desired effect. It was also great for us as teachers as they brought something fresh to our teaching practice. They also helped us to engage with the relevant pedagogy in a new way and in doing so, bringing a fresh perspective to ‘old’ ideas.
Going forward we are going to reflect on how to hone their delivery. We also want to ensure the podcasts continuity beyond lockdown. So, we need to think about now, how we blend this new (for us) online format with face-to-face classes, so we are prepared to bring the podcasts into a future on and not just off campus.
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan.
Dewey, J. (1939). Freedom and culture. New York: Kappa Delta Pi.
Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed (revised). New York: Continuum.
Kahn, P., Everington, L., Kelm, K., Reid, I. & Watkins, F. (2017). ‘Understanding student engagement in online learning environments: the role of reflexivity’, Educational technology research and development, vol. 65, no. 1, pp. 203-218.
Nordmann, E., Horlin, C., Hutchison, J., Murray, J., Robson, L., Seery, M.K. & MacKay, J.R.D. (2020). ‘Ten simple rules for supporting a temporary online pivot in higher education’, PLoS Computational Biology, vol. 16, no. 10, pp. e1008242-e1008242.
Micky Ross is a Learning Developer at the University of Glasgow where he teaches critical thinking, student academic citizenship, effective essay writing, effective reading and intercultural communication. He has a PhD in Education and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is committed to holistic approaches to learning and teaching, education for empowerment and social change, and innovative practice.
Julia Bohlmann is a Learning Developer at the University of Glasgow where she teaches effective reading and writing practices, exam techniques, plagiarism prevention, group work and intercultural communication. She has a PhD in Film Studies and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Julia has presented her work at conferences and written about international student development in the Journal of Academic Writing: https://publications.coventry.ac.uk/index.php/joaw/article/view/618.