Tuesday 7 July 2020

Creating Teaching Resources: Podcasts

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts looking at my experiences of developing online learning materials. Hopefully sharing these is helpful as people work to deliver online training at their own. As always, this blog post only represents my own views and experiences. A lot of people will be focused on creating video resources (for more on this area see the previous posts on webinars and making short videos) but you can also create other types of resource which are equally as effective. 

Podcasts and other audio formats are growing in popularity so we decided to tap into this with our training initiative. 

What is it?

Many people will be familiar with podcasts - audio recordings usually released in an episodic format. There are thousands of examples available from TED Talks and radio shows through to comedy chats and mystery solvers. Both podcasts and audio books have become popular in recent years as people seek to reduce screen time and/or multitask - people listen on the commute, when doing the ironing or whilst relaxing in the bath. Podcasts tend to be less formal than other communication methods and often work well as a chatty format with a couple of presenters and/or an interviewee. 

How are we using it?

At first glance this doesn't sound like the ideal way to offer library training but we have had some success with the format. I first started using it in a previous role as another way to provide access to video content. Although videos work well in certain situations they are not suitable for everyone. There are accessibility issues for those with certain disabilities but also practical issues such as people who are accessing content on handheld devices, in countries which block access to common video sharing sites or in areas where playing a video is impractical (yes, I'm looking at everyone who watches videos in public without headphones!). 

We offer video transcripts as standard but there is something about being able to hear a narration which is helpful for some people. There is also a theory that hearing terms spoken about can help learners to better understand the language of their discipline - something especially important in a terminology rich environment such as research support. To begin with we extracted the audio of a video and shared this separately in the form of a podcast but this had mixed success. We need to remember that narration of a video and a podcast are two different formats and what is appropriate for one can sound like the world's most boring audio book in another. There is also the problem of podcasts not coming with slides - something we take for granted when narrating a video. This means that in podcasts using the phrase 'as you see on the slide' is redundant so we found that we needed to adapt content to suit the new format. This led to us taking a more informal, chatty approach which was more suitable for a podcast. You can listen to some of the results via the (now defunct) OSC Podcast page.

How to...

There are many different tools you can use to record and share podcasts. Most smartphones and tablets come with some form of recording app which usually works pretty well to capture audio. We used Anchor.fm which is available as both a website and an app (the app version actually seems more stable). As always, users will need an account but this is free and gives access to most features the novice podcaster will need.

Anchor dashboard

Recording a podcast is very simple. Using the website or app you simply record your audio directly into the programme and save it. We recorded the audio in short sections within the episode and then divided these up with jingles (or transitions) which were available on Anchor. Then it was simply a case of drag and drop to position the content in the right order. We made sure to keep track of length so it wasn't getting too long-winded and tried to break up the content at natural points to keep the flow of discussion. Once we were happy we pressed publish and were guided through a very simple process. Anchor allows you to publish to some of the most popular podcast sharing sites including Spotify and iTunes at the click of a button. We created some graphics for the overall podcast and individual episodes (see earlier post about Canva) and we were ready to go. The podcasts weren't launched as a separate resource but placed alongside the videos as an alternative format. 

Anchor offers some useful FAQs for those wanting to know more.


The main advantage to us of using Anchor was it's simplicity. It was easy to use, easy to record audio and sharing was done at the touch of a button. Podcasting was an experiment and something we didn't have a lot of time to play with so it was great to find a tool which made things easier for us. It is quite simplistic but as novice podcasters who were not in it for the money it did everything we needed it to do.

The main advantage of podcasting was that it allowed us to reach out to a new audience with a different format. It also meant that we were making our content more accessible, something which is very important when you're involved in areas such as open access which are all about opening up knowledge to the many.


As mentioned above I found the Anchor web experience a little glitchy, even when using a stable connection. More than once I had to re-record audio which was a little frustrating and one of the main drivers which led to us recording in short segments rather than taking a longer recording and splitting it later. Although podcasting appealed to some, listener numbers were not off the charts. Although the lack of promotion had something to do with this it is an investment of time which needs to be balanced. Finally, we did have to spend time adapting the format of our presentations to podcasts and remembering that people couldn't see the slides. This required a lot of work with some episodes but less for others. It's important to remember that the chatty format of podcasts might not work for all content/audiences so you might need to really think about this beforehand.

Next steps

Podcasting is something I want to continue experimenting with as I settle more into my new role but adapting training in a pandemic has forced me to take a bit of a step back. I can see how the format will be useful going forward as we adapt to delivering socially distanced content and how useful it could be for getting a group discussion together to share knowledge. A feature of Anchor that I'm keen to explore is the Recording with Friends option which allows more than one presenter to contribute - something that could turn a recording from a single person drone into an interesting listening experience. 

Wednesday 1 July 2020

Creating Teaching Resources: Canva

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts looking at my experiences of developing online learning materials. Hopefully sharing these is helpful as people work to deliver online training at their own. As always, this blog post only represents my own views and experiences. A lot of people will be focused on creating video resources (for more on this area see the previous posts on webinars and making short videos) but you can also create other types of visual resource which are equally as effective. 

What is it?

Canva describes itself as a 'graphic design platform' which allows you to create a range of visual materials including presentation slides, social media graphics, certificates and more. This selection of formats has grown over the years and now includes content such as websites, t-shirt prints, videos and worksheets. Canva offers templates for all of these formats meaning that you don't have to possess any great design skills to create something which looks professional and eye-catching. It also includes several images and fonts which you can use to customise the templates as needed. As with most sites there are free and paid for versions but you can do most things with the free version. It offers access to almost every feature although you will have to pay a small amount to use some elements (usually around 99p a time). However it's easy to upload images to the site if needed which usually helps to avoid the need to pay.

At a time when visual social media sites are rising in popularity and it is increasingly hard to capture our users' attention, creating visual resources which are easy to share online is a definite plus to using Canva.

How are we using it?

We've used Canva for nearly all of our training formats over the last year or so. We have made presentation slides, social media graphics, session handouts and posters - and that's just for a start! The two projects we've had the biggest success with have been our Moore About Guides and our Instagram Stories.

The Moore About Guides are short, four page booklets which can be printed out or viewed online. Each one covers the essentials of a topic our users need to know about such as data management or avoiding plagiarism. They are designed to be both useful and visually attractive so we needed a design that would work for both. As I have no innate design skills (everything I make myself looks worryingly like a 1990s PowerPoint presentation) Canva was really useful here for providing ready made templates. I chose a template for a flyer that I thought would fit and changed some of the elements to make it more appealing and on brand for our library such as the font and colour. Then it was simply a matter of adding the appropriate images and text to complete the guide. The hardest part of putting the guides together is making sure that we balance the amount of text with the amount of images whilst still getting across the information we need to. We have intentionally made the resources quite visual so we didn't want to overwhelm this with text. At the same time we are talking about complex topics like copyright and referencing so we need to make sure that we don't simplify things so much that they become confusing or misleading. Given that the guides have proved really popular with both users and other librarians we think we've managed to strike the right balance! You can see an example of a guide in the GIF below:


Our other main use for Canva is to create graphics for Instagram. This is a relatively new area for us but we were keen to reach out to a new audience who might not otherwise engage with our training materials. Given the rise in popularity of image based sites like Instagram we have had to rethink how we present our resources and Canva has really helped with this. We have created a series of simple images overlaid with text which form a mini-slideshow which shares top tips on topics as a way to advertise our other resources. 

These stories are really simple but have proven to be quite effective. Using Canva makes the whole process much less hassle than using other image software and the hardest part is writing the text to overlay the images since, as with the guides, this needs to be both concise and informative. We try and use these graphics to signpost people towards our other resources which have room to expand on the topic in more detail. 

How to...

The good news is that Canva is really simple to use but makes it look like you have lots of skills in the design department! You will need an account (which is free) but once logged in you will be presented with a range of format options depending on what you create. The list of available formats has grown a lot recently but there is a useful search option where you can find the format you're after (presentation, Twitter graphic, newsletter - the choice is endless). There is also the option to specify a custom size but this can be a bit hit and miss. 

Once you have chosen your format you are presented with a blank page and a range of options in the on-screen menu. These include a range of templates (very useful for inspiration), photos, text, videos and background. The most interesting item on the menu is the Elements option which contains all of the images and layout elements that you might need to create your masterpiece. There is also an Uploads tab if you want to add your own images or other elements. Once you have found what you want it's a simple matter of drag and drop onto your blank document. Everything is very easy to position, resize and delete as needed. One word of warning - some elements within the free account are paid for options and those with a crown on are for professional accounts only.

Canva offers an extensive Design School with several courses on everything you could want to know. As well as learning how to use Canva, the lessons here around branding and social media marketing are transferable to other platforms so are worth a look.


There are several good points to Canva, the main one being that it is so easy to create professional looking graphics. It offers just about every format you could want and you can always add your own sizing if needed. I also find the templates great for inspiration (even if I do end up moving some things around!). One really handy thing about these formats and templates is that they automatically resize for social media   - something I have spent hours trying to do in the past. You can also share many of your graphics straight to social media once you link the accounts, another timesaver.


As always with these sites there are also some negatives. An increasing amount of content such as images and photographs have moved to become paid for over the last few years and I've noticed that this is happening with fonts as well. Although there is usually something else to use or the option to upload your own content this does take away from the simplicity of using Canva - its main selling point. The site does offer the option to purchase individual elements at a temptingly low price but this does begin to add up after a while, something I can't help but feel is a trick designed to lure you into a subscription....

Next steps

Canva is definitely a tool that we will keep using, especially as social media moves towards image heavy posts to attract attention. We want to keep experimenting with the new options that are being offered such as animated slides and social media graphics to try and make our content more engaging. However, we have to balance this with the need to stay on brand and keep everything to a certain look so it's recognisable for our users. As long as Canva keeps it looking like I have design skills beyond my secondary school experiments with PowerPoint I'll keep using it!