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.

Pros

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.

Cons

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. 

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