Using blogs and podcasts in the classroom

‘I like the fact that we are making stuff that people in Japan could read if they have a computer.  It’s like we’re making ourselves famous in our little, out-of-the-way town!’ — Megan, Age 10.

‘Our student is genuinely excited to come home and show us what’s going on at school. To read his own words and listen to his own voice on the Internet makes it all more real and fascinating for him. This knowledge will help him to better utilize these resources, increase his understanding and awareness of the technologies, and keep us parents in the loop :-)’—Jim, Parent

What are we doing?

In collaboration with my colleague Mike Hutchinson, I have begun to introduce the tools of the Read/Write web to my students. Specifically, my class is now blogging and podcasting. Blogging and podcasting has allowed me to create a forum where my students discuss current events connected to our social studies curriculum while developing language arts skills like critical thinking and persuasive dialogue. It has also given my students the opportunity to be creators—rather than simply consumers—of online content. Finally, blogging and podcasting have given my students an audience for their ideas, which has increased levels of interest and motivation.

How do we do it?

  • We used the book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools by Will Richardson as our technical manual.
  • We use a program called Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net) to record our students. Audacity allows users to covert recorded files into MP3s. It is a very simple program that our children are quickly beginning to master. We are also planning to switch to Gcast (http://www.gcast.com) or Gabcast (http://www.gabcast.com) for recordings in the future because they require nothing but a cell phone to make and post recordings online.
  • Once students have written a script for a podcast episode, production takes approximately 15-20 minutes. Much of this work is done during a school-wide “working lunch” period.
  • To protect their anonymity, students come up with pseudonyms for themselves. This is one of their favorite parts of podcasting. “Melvin the Chicken Hunter” and “Smokey the Cat” are quickly becoming stars in our digital universe!
  • When the MP3 has been recorded and saved, we post it—along with a written summary—on our classroom blog. To teach students about the importance of verifying online information, we require that each entry include a link to online source material—allowing listeners to form their own opinions about our topic of study.
  • We use Typepad (www.typepad.com)—a subscription service—to host our blogs because it allows for easy upload of MP3 files. Many free blogging services do not allow enclosures.

Why it matters?

  • Technology has provided students with a new audience for their ideas: All too often, the use of technology in classrooms is limited to presentation tools or document production. The collaboration and communication elements of the Read/Write web are often overlooked. Blogging and podcasting provides students with wide audiences for their ideas—we’ve had 50,000 page views from 123 countries in just over 15 months of writing)—and 98% of our students find it exciting that we are creating information that other people can read online. Allowing students to become a part of the dissemination of information in a new frontier is a valuable lesson for 21st Century learners.
  • Technology has generated increased interest in classroom content: In our digital world, it has become increasingly difficult to engage children in meaningful studies of content. Technology, however, has made that possible for us. 91% of our students agree that blogging and podcasting have made them more interested in current events and classroom content. Interestingly enough, podcasting has engaged children beyond our classrooms as well—100% of parents surveyed report that their children seem interested in online current events and 71% report that their children often explore their classroom blog and podcasts while at home.

Most importantly, podcasting matters because digital media and the tools of the 21st Century are rapidly becoming the primary method of communication and influence in the world. It is estimated that over 100,000 new blogs are created each day. Roughly 54,000 new articles are posted by bloggers each hour. Understanding how to become a contributing member and a critical consumer of information in this digital universe is essential to the success of our students.

As eSchool News recently wrote, “Educators, economists, and forecasters all agree on the growing importance of so-called “21st-century skills” in the workplace. While reading, writing, and arithmetic will always form the foundation of any solid education, digital communication and media literacy are on the verge of being elevated to the same level of importance. In addition to requiring advanced skills in reading and math, the employers of tomorrow are going to require a high degree of digital and multimedia fluency.”

Parent and Student Quotes about Podcasting:

Parents:

“I think it is so interesting and creative to hear each child’s discussion on current events with the podcasts. I enjoy hearing their opinions on different topics. They really seem to be having fun while learning so much, which I think is important.”

“I believe that podcasts are a great opportunity for the kids to share their work with others and broaden their horizons while learning more about technology. They are a good way to get the kids to interact with each other about class subjects they normally wouldn’t discuss. It is also a great way for the kids to retain what they have learned.”

“I believe these Internet tools are the way of the future, and that they are being incorporated into the classroom curricula is great. My child is very comfortable using the system and often asks us to check it out with him.”

“In today’s information age, it is very important to keep up with the ever changing technology to enhance our learning capabilities. I think your effort in guiding our children into the new world of high tech is encouraging.”

Students:

“I have never done anything in school with podcasts and wikis, and before this class, I didn’t even know what they were.  I think that it is one of the best resources I have ever used in a classroom, and it is very interesting and exciting that we can share it with other people. I think that I would be proudest of the podcasts, though, because anyone all over the world can look at our work, and hear our opinions.  Altogether, I think using technology in the classroom is a great, and fun idea.”

“I am proud about our wiki and podcasts.  They prove that kids can do work without getting asked and that is cool.  I like the podcasts the most though because you can hear what us, the kids, think about diffrent current events.”

“I think the most radical thing about the podcasts is that you put them on iTunes!! That is so cool! Then people can hear us on their MP3 player or I-pod. The other cool thing is that people can subscribe to us in our podcasting, so whenever we make a new podcast it can go directly to them! This makes me feel like we are teaching people.”