Podcasting for student ears

October 17, 2006

UW–Madison faculty are providing educational materials to students in the form of podcasts — multimedia files (audio or visual or both) that can be played back on portable devices such as iPods or on personal computers.

Anja Wanner, an associate professor in the Department of English, produced her podcasts with the help of a grant from the Division of Information Technology and production support from Learning Support Services in the College of Letters and Science.

For her Structure of English course, Wanner developed “Linguistic Voices on Campus,” a series of podcasts in which faculty discuss common beliefs about language from the perspective of their own research (see http://mendota.english.wisc.edu/

Wanner interviewed scholars on such topics as American dialects and the characteristics of Shakespeare’s grammar.

From the raw material of 30- to 60-minute interviews, Wanner generated 20- to 25-minute podcasts that found an audience beyond the students in her class. “I’ve heard from people who found them on iTunes and really liked them.”

At first Wanner’s podcasts were available only through the Learn@UW course management system, but that changed.

“People are interested in language,” Wanner says, “so why would I hide the podcasts on a course Web site? I want to share this with others.”

Tom Purnell, assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics, used podcasts to provide instructional content and to expose his students to the everyday work of the researcher. His podcasts (available at http://csumc.wisc.edu/WiscEng/) include Madison minstrels Peter and Lou Berryman, editors of the Dictionary of American Regional English and a comedian talking about English, especially as spoken in Wisconsin.

“For the students, it’s more than me just lecturing,” says Purnell. “They can see what’s going on in this area of research and how researchers collect and edit their data. It whets students’ appetite for the material.”

In his Marketing 300 class this summer, Victor Barger took a different approach by asking his 28 students to create podcasts. “In the past, students typically chose a topic and gave a class presentation,” Barger says, “but with only a four-week session in the summer, the presentations took up valuable lecture time.”

Teams of four students created podcasts as if they were producing training materials in a professional organization. Classmates then listened to the podcasts outside of class.

“Students had a lot of fun with it,” Barger says. “On course evaluations, students mentioned the podcasting activity and said they appreciated having more time for lecture.”