I’ve been thinking this school year may be the perfect time to introduce students to interactive ways to communicate knowledge to real audiences.  The landscape is bursting with new communication possibilities!

“In a sense we owe that to them,” said David F. Warlick, consultant and author and director of the Landmark Project.  “Most everything available to adult business world for producing compelling messages is available to students in the classroom.  We should trust students to create products that real people use for real purposes.”

Warlick and I discussed several new strategies for learning using new technologies including podcasting, which was, by the way, the hottest topic at the National Educational Computing Conference in Philadelphia this past June.

Podcasts allows students and teachers to publish audio to the Web, usually by uploading files as MP3s. A kind of merger of blogging and radio, the result is an internet “radio show” where teachers and students can create and share educational content.  Listeners access the files through a regular Web browser or through their iPods.. Your students’ voices could be heard by their grandparents in Florida and by classes and teachers around the world. 

Warlick sees podcasting as a way “turn a classroom inside out. Teachers could use it to inform parents about what kids are learning and how they are learning.”  Warlick described the groundbreaking work of Bob Sprankle whose combined 3rd and 4th grade class in Wells, Maine produces Room 208 (http://bobsprankle.com/blog/). The podcast is an exciting example of a classroom engaged in and reflecting on their learning. As they go through the course of the school day, a student might encounter an idea he or she is interested in reporting as a podcast. Sprankle assigns a couple of students to write, refine and rehearse the idea as a script and the students record the segment at end of week.  Room 208’s Student Updates involve groups of four students in writing a segment about learning over the course of the week.  Students meet each morning for project planning discussions. As producer, Sprankle splices the student segments together and creates a program.  Recent podcasts include literature circle discussions, a dress rehearsal for a class show, and a “sound seeing” tour of the junior high Sprankle’s students will be attending this school year.

In his own podcast interview with Warlick, Sprankle noted the activity that the work has made his classroom a better team.  Students are proud that they are using cutting edge technologies. Sprankle notes that the podcasts allow his students to publish to a global community and that motivates them as writers.  One a weekly basis, they create successful and purposeful pieces of writing. Sprankile sees his students as “sculptors” of the show and of their learning day. “They ask themselves questions. ‘Is this a podcasting moment? Do I want to share it? Is it meaningful?”  As an added benefit, Sprankle says the activity facilitates assessment and review. “I can clearly identify areas that need reteaching or individual attention.”

How can you engage your own class in podcasting?  Consider presenting student writing through a class radio drama or a poetry slam. Broadcast group discussions or musical recitals.  Produce historical reenactments, for instance, “you are there” at the Battle of Gettysburg or the discovery of electricity.  Podcast announcements to parents or a class trip. Enhance the school newspaper. Podcast tutorials for challenging concepts that require frequent review. For more ideas Warlick’s Education Podcast Network (http://epnweb.org/) presents examples of projects grade levels and content areas.

On a basic level, podcasts don’t require any sophisticated equipment.  Warlick explained that you could produce a podcast with your laptop and its internal microphone, but it might be better to buy a good one.  Warlick recommends downloading Audacity, a free, cross-platform sound editor, which will allow you to easily mix music and vocals together.  Export your audio file as an MP3 and upload onto your website.  Warlick, who enjoys incorporating music and sound effects into his programs in more sophisticated ways, uses Apple’s Garage Band, free for schools that have Mac OSX.  Over iTunes 4.9, content can be easily distributed over the iTunes network.

Podcasts are generally published as RSS (Really Simple Syndication) audio feeds. You can also choose to subscribe to podcasts and have the new shows you select downloaded automatically through RSS software, commonly used for delivering text newsfeeds. Once you select the feeds you’d like to subscribe to, an RSS aggregator downloads the feeds on a regular basis. Shows may be easily accessed using a Web browser or, using iPodder software, the listener can download or subscribe to podcasts onto their MP3 players. Subscriptions via Apple’s iTunes are a one-click experience.

Adults know that they learn when they have to accomplish real goals.  Warlick notes that students in the classroom often work to accomplish artificial goals, “to give the teacher what he is looking for rather than communicating. We need to teach student how to combine media into information products for real audiences and we need to give them the communication tools they need for that goal.  Students need to understand how to use media to communicate in the 21st century.“
Next posts:  Blogs and wikis as student projects

Podcast resources

Adapted from my Philadelphia Inquirer techlife@school column.

For more student project web resources visit: http://joycevalenza.com/podblogwiki.html