PODCASTING: LEARNING IN YOUR POCKET
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Podcasting integrates audio, video, graphics and text into a user—controlled, multimodal learning tool uniquely suited to the special needs of students with learning disabilities.
What Is Podcasting?
Podcasting as a word is obviously a combination of the words iPod and broadcast which suggests listening to a broadcast on an iPod. This is sort of true but oversimplified and a bit misleading. Podcasting is one of the hottest ways to deliver and to access media today. However, as we’ll see, it is not really so new but mainly is really a repackaging of older ways of distributing and accessing media content.
Radio distributed content to broad audiences, and the Walkman let an individual take that broadcast with him or her where they went. Using headphones to listen to it helped personalize the experience. When the Walkman was also a tape or CD player, the individual could make a personal selection of what to listen to rather than being compelled to listen to a broadcast. For more than a decade, the Web has been used to transmit multimedia and the descriptive word was reshaped to reflect that. It became known as a Webcast. This content could either be listened to in real time like a broadcast, or it could be downloaded to a computer and played later without a live Internet connection. Soon the Walkman was transformed to play digitized content instead of analog media. This could be a portable digital device like a PDA, an MP3 player or now even a cell phone. Apple did a masterful job of marketing its version of an MP3 player and called it an iPod, and now when we download multimedia to be played on a portable, personalized player, we have come to call it Podcasting.
There are at least 2 major differences between a Walkman and an iPod or MP3 player. The Walkman was limited to about an hour’s content if it was a tape player and, if it played a CD, that usually had a dozen or so songs on it. The new players can have far, far more content on them than that. The other difference is that the user is not limited to a set of songs preselected by someone else. The choices on, the net also includes hours and hours of programming that is available free.
The iPod and similar MP3 players rapidly gained popularity as devices that would let individuals select scores and scores of favorite music, store it, carry it in a pocket and listen to any of their favorites any time and anywhere. The Internet was flooded with file sharing systems permitting hundreds and hundreds of people to share their favorite songs with one another. These systems have largely been defined by the courts as in violation of copyright laws and either shut down or forced to reach some way to satisfy the demands of the music companies. Next, Apple and other companies put thousands of songs online which could be purchased and downloaded at moderate prices. Bloggers began to put what amounted to personalized talk show type audio moving Podcasting beyond music to include voice audio. Many radio broadcasters also began to put some of their broadcasts on the Web in a Podcast format. Listeners who missed a program could download it and listen to it later. These included talk shows, interview programs, comedy shows, political commentary and debate as well as newscasts. Besides being a music player, these devices became a kind of "radio to go".
In the last couple of years, a very few universities have experimented with providing recordings of some lectures as Podcasts for students. These could be used for a student who missed a lecture or for a student wanting to hear a lecture a second time for further review. Schools had provided taped recordings in a library media room, but the Podcast is more portable and permit the student more flexibility in controlling the listening experience.
The jury is still out on how successful this format is for teaching and learning. We need to know how much students like this format and how effective it is an a learning aid.
The most recent addition tà Podcasting is integrating it with video. When playing a Podcast while connected to the Internet, most of the players have the ability to play both audio and video. Now, the latest iPods and MP3 players are integrating the ability to display video as well. Actually the player is now often playing an MP4 file). The newer cell phones can also display both video and audio. While this opens interesting possibilities for entertainment, it holds intriguing potential for enhanced learning experiences.
A lecture can permit the student to hear the lecture but also watch the professor using PowerPoint, a white board or other kinds of visuals as part of the presentation.
Podcasting and Students With Learning Disabilities:
Some s students with learning disabilities are primarily auditory learner, and others learn best using visual content. Multimedia has the advantage of providing both. For many, having content in redundant sensory modes is even better.
These students do well when they can set their own pace of work. The Podcast gives them full control of pausing, resuming, jumping backwards and skipping forward in contrast to a classroom where everyone is locked into whatever pace is set by the lecturer.
Designing Podcasts for the Needs of Students With Learning Disabilities:
While some of the multimedia features inherent in Podcasting are congenial to the needs of students with learning disabilities, there are other design considerations which will make the Podcast even better for these students.
Any visuals used in the Podcast should avoid ‘eye candy”. Include only visuals that contribute to the content. Visuals that are interesting but not part of the content itself are distracting. Color contrast could be very good to make separating the content from the background very easy. Any text should be a clean font, and it should be large enough to make it very easy to read. Similarly, avoid having a lot of background noise behind the actual audio content. Avoid distractions and make every element contribute to the main point being communicated.
The Podcasts should be modularized and short. It is better to have several short modules than one long lecture.
Actually, the design issues mentioned here are really excellent universal design concepts rather than special features for users with disabilities.
The educational value of Podcasts for the general student population has not yet been adequately tested. The same is true of its potential worth for students with disabilities. Its multimodal format does provide the basis for designing it to be accessible for students with disabilities. In particular, the use of redundant, multimedia content with individualized, flexible control appears to be a design well suited to students with learning disabilities. We hope that this brief paper will encourage educational institutions to test the usefulness of Pod castings 3 learning aid for students with learning disabilities.