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Using podcasts in online learning

In this guest post, Miranda Melcher explores the potential of podcasts to provide students with a more diverse and inclusive learning experience.

Miranda has taught in a variety of environments, including as a graduate teaching assistant in the departments of War Studies and Defense Studies at King’s College London, a fellow at the Ecole de Guerre, a PhD tutor with widening participation initiative, the Brilliant Club, and through 1:1 tutoring for students with learning differences aged 13-70. She is a co-author on the forthcoming book, NVLD and Developmental Visual-Spatial Disorder in Children (Springer).

If you’d like to learn more about Miranda’s approach to online learning, check out her blog post about opportunities for creativity and inclusivity in asynchronous teaching.

An overlooked resource

Recreational podcast-listening has been enjoying quite a boom in the last few years. Now, though, it has taken on even more of a following, presumably because the pandemic lockdown has meant that our only link to the outside the world is often through a screen – meaning that podcasts have become even more important as a mechanism to learn information and experience stories without draining our eyes with more screen time.

One way in which podcasts have been underutilised, however, is in online education, specifically as alternative ways of imparting information to students. Podcasts are a great way for students to take in information for a variety of reasons.

  1. They require relatively low levels of internet and energy, making them accessible in a wide range of socio-economic and geographic locations.
  2. They are asynchronous and mobile, and so can be combined with caring responsibilities, commutes, exercise, and more.
  3. Hundreds of thousands of podcasts are also free, freeing up both student finances as well as institutional ones.
  4. Podcasts are already designed to be taken in at the students’ pace, with even built-in podcast apps including speeding up and slowing down functions, as well as pause buttons if breaks are needed.

Flexibility built-in

All these aspects together make podcasts an incredibly flexible method of imparting information to all kinds of students and learning environments, including many students with learning differences or disabilities.

For Deaf or hard of hearing students, many podcasts automatically provide transcripts and for those that do not, software to turn audio files into text transcripts are freely available to individuals and institutions.

Beyond flexibility for students, however, podcasts also offer some great benefits for teachers and professors looking to diversify ways of sharing information to students without sacrificing academic rigor.

Finding great content

On the fully academic side, the New Books Network has over 50 different podcast channels for different academic subjects. Their format is simple: each episode features an academic discussing their recently published book with another academic.

The interview usually covers the academic’s reason for writing the book, their main arguments, their methodologies, and more detail on the rest of their chapters. It is more in-depth than a standard journal book review, but also easier to understand and access given the conversational nature. They are a great substitute as well for guest lecturers, especially those beyond the reach of your course’s location or budget.

Additionally, as these interviews cover academics and topics from around the world, they offer great windows into different academic backgrounds, disciplines, and career paths. These interviews are all free and available through multiple podcast platforms and offer a great way for students to engage with high quality and traditionally academic content in a more approachable way.

Beyond academically focused podcasts, organisations like NPR and most major think tanks focus their podcasts on accessible and entertaining explainers of various events, trends, structures, and more. Some useful ones I have come across in my own teaching (which focuses on war and history) include: Tides of History, Global Dispatches, Getting Curious, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Hidden Histories, The History Chicks, Footnoting History, In Our Time, and so many more.

Given the breadth of higher education subject areas, I cannot list all of the excellent and free podcasts that I believe would be relevant to students – particularly since more are being released every day! The sheer variety in fact makes this type of resource a fun intellectual way for professors and teachers to engage with their content through fresh eyes.

Get involved

Thank you to Miranda for this blog post. Do you use podcasts in your teaching resources? Have you found a great voice transcription app? Share your experiences in our dedicated accessibility community.

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Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

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