Effectiveness of Using Podcasting in Curriculum Delivery

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Effectiveness of Using Podcasting in Curriculum Delivery
Effectiveness of Using Podcasting in Curriculum Delivery
                                           Shawn McCombs, M. Ed.
                                             Youmei Liu, Ed. D.
                                            University of Houston

         iPods have become a cultural phenomenon. Not only do they serve as a mechanism by which to identify
the Net-Geners, Millennials, and now post-Millennials (nicknames given to today’s students), but they also hold
valuable promise as a means by which to reach students bombarded by fragmented learning environments,
multitasking, and a world in which people are always connected. This paper discusses the research results and
analysis on using Podcasting in curriculum delivery and focus on two issues, 1) the impact of Podcasting technology
on student learning, and 2) course design issues involved in instructional delivery via Podcasting.


          Finding innovative methods to reach students is becoming increasingly difficult and even challenging.
Today’s students, aptly dubbed the “Net-Gener” by leading scholars, are inherently more sophisticated than we were
at their ages and have pushed the “convergence” catchphrase to the limits of its very definition – the coming
together of various media types. In the Fall of 2005, various units within the University of Houston (hence UH)
joined forces to begin a thorough research study investigating the benefits of Podcasting in the distribution of
curricular content and understanding the efficacy of such tool in the modern classroom. This research project was
based largely on the feasibility that iPod can be an effective portable learning tool to enhance student learning.
Capable of on-demand media delivery, Podcasting made the connection between education and students via this
portable learning device.

                                                      The Study

          A survey method was used to conduct this study for the purpose of analyzing student perception and
behavior associated with instructional delivery via Podcasting. Phase I of the study found four classes participating:
one section was delivered completely online; the remaining sections utilized WebCT Vista as an online course
management system. The total enrollment in these four classes was 200. Nearly 80% (N=165) of the students
participated in the study. Instructors used Podcasting to deliver course lecture materials or supplement materials as
alternative channel to facilitate student learning. The study specifically investigated the areas discussed below
related to Podcasting of course content materials and use of portable devices as leaning tools.

          There is no question that iPods have become as commonplace as the cell phone in our student’s lives. In
fact, the simple exercise of observing students walking between classes or sitting outside on benches or in other
social areas across campus reveals little white ear buds everywhere – an obvious sign of the time. In addition to
offering students an efficient method for listening to music, podcasting allows educators a unique opportunity to
meet students in their own, comfortable environments. And these opportunities do not only exist in the various types
of lecture and/or addendum content that we can make available, but also exists in three basic categories of podcasts
as well.

           The success of phase I of the UH Podcasting pilot and research study yielded valuable data surrounding
student’s use of iPods, Podcasts, and perceptions associated with usage. Looking closely at both functional and
ritualistic applications of iPod use, students at the School of Communication at UH generally preferred iPod over
other MMDs, and though the ratio of iPod to other MMD use was nearly three to one, there was no significant
difference in how students used the various devices to consume podcasting content, as well as music and other
media types.

Effectiveness of Using Podcasting in Curriculum Delivery
Using iPods and other MMDs to Access Instructional Materials

          iPod users clearly dominate the sample. Student reported using iPod more than other MMDs, with 69% of
them preferring iPod to other MMDs. While generic mp3 players comprised in insignificant proportion of the
overall MMD population, it is important to note that, of the 69% of the students who had iPods, that the type of iPod
used by students varied to some degree (Table 1); there was no real winner, though it was impressive to note that a
fair amount of them had 5th Generation video iPods, which helped in the analysis of Vodcast (video podcast) use in
instructional delivery.

Table 1 Frequency Table of Different Models of iPod Owned by Students

                iPod Model                  Frequency       Percent       Cumulative Percent

 Fifth Generation iPod                              23           23.2                    23.2
 iPod nano                                          25           25.3                    48.5
 iPod with color display                             2            2.0                    50.5
 iPod photo                                          2            2.0                    52.5
 iPod shuffle                                       11           11.1                    63.6
 iPod click wheel                                    4            4.0                    67.7
 iPod mini                                          17           17.2                    84.8
 iPod touch wheel                                   13           13.1                    98.0
 iPod scroll wheel                                   2            2.0                   100.0
 Total                                              99          100.0

Student iPod / MMD Usage per Week

         Most of the students in the pilot reported that they used their iPods and MMDs 20 hours per week or less,
with almost 37% using iPod just five hours per week, nearly 19% using theirs between five and ten hours per week,
and 24% between 10 and 20 hours per week respectively. The preferred time and location that students used iPod
was almost as varied as the number of options available for them to identify. The data indicate that students found a
wide variety of opportunities to use their iPods: whether at home, driving in the car, or exercising, students were
almost evenly split when it comes to preference (Figure 1). This suggests that their podcasting use in education
could leverage the benefits of the device’s mobility with the habits of use by students.

Figure 1 Student preferred time to use iPod (in percentage)

          At home     Driving in the   Walking or   In public     Traveling
                           car          jogging     location

Effectiveness of Using Podcasting in Curriculum Delivery
Preferred Activities with iPod / MMDs

          Listening to music is the major use of iPod among students. But, let us not forget the original intent for the
little devices: they were, after all, originally conceived for music organization and mobile listening. Technology has
advanced enough in just five short years to allow the viewing of both images and now video – a major advancement
in mobile media device delivery. Though most certainly the best is yet to come, one cannot ignore the amazing
potential that iPod brings to the classroom and lecture hall. While only 7.5% of those surveyed reported they
preferred using their MMDs for academic content delivery, the fact that most still preferred using them for music is
not surprising or even unexpected.

                                             Podcasting Course Materials

After reviewing student preferences with respect to overall use of iPod and MMDs, we can now examine the
academic use of podcasting and student perceptions and behaviors surrounding such use.

Methods for Podcasting Playback and Consumption

          Whether at the gym or on the beach, there are no real clear-cut winners in the various activities where
students use their iPods or MMDs. However, when students are using iPods or MMDs for academic purposes, it is
clear that podcasting makes contribution in the manner in which students are studying. Though viewing podcasts
and other curriculum materials on the computer represented the majority of consumption methods, downloading
academic podcasts to MMDs became an increasingly popular activity over 31% of the time (Table 2).

Table 2 Methods Students Used to View Podcast Course Materials

           Methods to View Podcasts                Frequency        Percent

 Viewed materials on a computer                             108           62.8
 Downloaded materials to iPod                                54           31.4
 Downloaded materials to other MP3 player                       6          3.5
 Burned materials to CD for playback
                                                                4          2.3
 on a portable CD player
 Total                                                      172          100.0

Time Spent Using iPod or MMD with Academic Podcasts

         Though students preferred using iPod and other MMDs primarily for music, they overwhelmingly
supported using these devices for consuming academic podcasts and other class materials. Even with general
approval, it is interesting to note that more than 75% of those who used podcasting content on their iPods did so for
five hours or less per week. This would suggest that students reviewed and consumed podcasting content primarily
on the computer, but used the iPod as a means to review or consume on the go, offering mobility as an option for
extending the delivery channel from the constraints of the computer.

         Of the 127 students who said they used the iPod or MMD for reviewing or consuming academic podcasting
content, over 17% did so between five and ten hours per week. This is a significant number which suggests that a
large segment of the population found the additional delivery channel to be an effective resource in lecture or
addendum content delivery. Additionally, less than 5% of those who used the iPod for this purpose did so ten or
more hours per week, with nearly 1% doing so between 20 and 30 hours weekly. While this may seem extreme,
those who commute via public transportation (or other methods) could easily find that time period optimum for use.

Perceived Quality and Preferred Podcasting Formats

          Perhaps one of the most often overlooked components of podcasting is the need to generate quality content
from the outset. Given that students will likely be consuming academic podcasts in a variety of settings, it is
imperative that they be produced in a manner that will allow for efficient delivery while preserving resources.
Because podcasts are actually downloaded to the users computer and ultimately to the iPod, file size and
compression can make the difference between a 5-minute download and a 25-minute download seem like an
eternity. One of the biggest challenges that those who encode and publish podcasting content face is trying to apply
the appropriate compression and encoding settings so that consumers find the minimal download time. One problem
with this, however, is that the greater the compression and encoding, the greater the degradation of the final product.
This is especially challenging for video playback and consumption, especially for academic content that involves
instructor examples, such as math, accounting, statistics, or other classes where it is important that the student be
able to see playback clearly.

Figure 2 Student perceived quality of podcasts in different format

   40                                                                          Audio
   30                                                                          Enhanced
   20                                                                          Video
         Excellent        Good        Poor          Bad          N/A

         It was extremely important in this pilot, from the beginning, that quality of content was addressed and
evaluated throughout the process – and, in most cases, before students were exposed to the content themselves. To
accommodate theses activities, a Quality Assurance team was included in the organizational structure of the pilot
with the primary responsibility of monitoring both publishing methodologies as well as playback quality of all
podcasting formats. Knowing, then, that we had quality product from the outset meant that we were able to focus on
unadulterated feedback from participants who might have otherwise been biased because of poor quality playback.

         Feedback from students suggests that audio-only podcasts were thought to have the highest quality, with
video coming in a close second. Enhanced casts rounded out the three, though all formats received relatively high
marks for quality. While the question posed was initially meant to gage their perception of the quality of the
product, it is worth mentioning that students may have associated quality of the podcasts with the preferred format
for consumption.

Clear and Effective Instructions

          One of the most important components to Podcasting is providing effective and adequate instructions for
consuming academic content through podcasting. These instructions should include, at the very least, the URL
(feed) for subscription to the podcasts, as well as alternate options for receiving the content. In addition, the
instructions should most certainly be made available electronically, through course management tools or other
electronic syllabi. Given that the medium is produced and consumed online, making the instructions for consuming
them available in the same medium is highly recommended. In this study, student feedback on the instructions given
was collected for effectiveness and future improvement (Figure 3 & 4).

Figure 3(left) The instructions to access the podcast course materials were clear
Figure 4(right) The instructions to access the podcast course materials were easy to follow

        The instructions used in phase I of the pilot were standardized for the most part, and students were given
the same instructions for each class, with only feed URL being customized for the instructor of record. The
overwhelming majority of those polled responded that the instructions by instructors were both easy to use and
understand, as well as extremely helpful in the subscription process.

Reasons for Using Academic Podcasting

         One of the greatest challenges we face as educators is ensuring that our students have equal access to
content, even when those students cannot always be in class. Podcasting can be a tool to help in this process,
providing a mechanism for students to gain access to materials when they otherwise would not be able to do so. Like
the times and places that students prefer to use iPods, the reasons that they used podcasts are almost as equally
universal. Having no clear preferred reason, students found benefits in all classifications made available to them for
selection (Figure 5).

Figure 5 Student reported reasons to view podcast course material

                               Student Perceptions and Experiences with Podcasting

         One of the important aspects investigated in this study was to find out student perceptions towards
educational use of Podcasting. The above-mentioned data indicated that majority of students are using iPods or
MMDs for entertainment. Delivery course material through Podcasting is still relatively new to students. Their first
podcasting experiences are very important for instructors to integrate this technology effectively. The following
group of data shows the effect of podcasting on student learning experiences from different perspective.
Podcasting and Learning Styles

Learning Style Theory has been considered as an important factor for developing effective teaching
strategies and methods. Since Podcasting can be presented to students in different formats, audio, enhanced, and
video, this technology can help instructors respond to student diverse learning styles by creating rich learning
environments that engage students with auditory as well as visual learning styles. In this study, the data indicate that
there are more than 43% of students self-reported as visual learners, and this group is followed closely by 41% of
tactile learners. Auditory learners take up 15% of the total number of students. When students were asked which
podcasting format best suits their personal learning style, video podcasting (visual learners) takes the lead with close
to 60% of respondents. The data provide valuable feedback for instructors on podcasting delivery format.

         It should be noted that even though Vodcasting is favored by students in this study, in reality, the
production and playback of Vodcasting have higher requirements for both instructors and students as compared to
audio podcasting. For instructors, it involves video taping, editing, and encoding, etc., it could be very time-
consuming process; and for students, they need portable devices that can display video images. The format selection
should be determined by the content analysis. If audio format can satisfy student learning, there will be no need for
instructors to go through the lengthy process. But the data are very good indications for future podcasting
development when technology are advanced to the point where requirements will not be so demanding for both
instructors and students.
Podcasting and Study Habits and Patterns

         The availability of technology affects people’s life. We can see people’s living habits and behavioral
patterns changing with the development and advancement of technologies. For example, since online education
became available, quite a few students no longer attend regular on-campus classes. They access learning content and
interact with their instructors and classmates virtually. Podcasting technology has created a new instructional
delivery channel. In this study, there are more than 32% of participants reported that the availability of course
material podcasts changed their study habits; and about 30% of students stated that podcasting changed their
behaviors outside of the classroom when studying for exams.

         The integration of podcasting for instructional delivery also affected student’s study time allocation. About
23% students reported that their study time decreased with the addition of podcast for content delivery. More than
30% of students reported that their reading time decreased with addition of podcasts. Since listening or watching
podcasts is individual learner-centered activity, more than 51% of students agreed that learning via podcasting
increased their study isolation and 31% of students reported that podcasting delivery decreased the involvement of
community of learning. One of the suggestions made by students is that podcasting should be integrated with other
learning activities. These data provide a very good guidance for the effective instructional design via podcasting.

Podcasting and Student Learning Experiences

Student enjoyment of the course is positively related to their learning attitudes and to their perceived value of the
course they take (Patti & Saroja, 2005). Learning enjoyment also has been explored to design game-based
instructional delivery to motivate and engage student learning. iPods and MMDs have been used for entertainment.
The study data indicate that most students’ primary use of their portable devices is to listen to music. Will the
enjoyable experiences transferable to their learning process? More than 53% (Figure 6) of students stated that
podcast course delivery format made their learning more enjoyable. Approximately the same amount of students,
52% (Figure 7) reported that podcast delivery format enhanced their learning experiences. The best types of
engagement stem from the learner’s enjoyment of a more effective learning experience, one that puts them in control
and encourages active participation, exploration, reflection and the individual construction of meaning (Galarneau,
2005). Podcasting is becoming a mutual communication tool instead of one-way delivery tool. Instructors can take
advantage of this delivery media to possibly improve student learning effectiveness.

Figure 6(left) Podcasting made learning more enjoyable
Figure 7(right) Podcasting enhanced student learning experience

Podcasting and Student Class Attendance

          The most valuable features that students found with podcasting were flexibility and mobility. The data
show that more than 83% of students favored with these two features because these features fit perfectly into their
living condition and dynamic life style. University of Houston is a large urban commuter school. Majority of
students have either full-time or part-time jobs. They spend a lot of time on the road driving to school and struggling
to find a parking spot. This is especially difficult for morning class students. Our study indicated that the students
who had morning class preferred podcasting to attending class lectures. When the morning class instructor started to
deliver the full class content via podcasting, more than 85% of students accessed podcasting material instead of
coming to class. For the other afternoon class, majority of students still attended class regularly. Besides, the
afternoon class used podcasts as supplementary materials to lecture content. This is the reason that the following
Figure 8 shows the percentage of students who preferred podcasting (40.52%) is almost the same as the students
who preferred lectures (39.87%). More than 65% of students preferred the combination of podcast content delivery
and face-to-face learning experiences.

Figure 8 Student preference of podcasting to attending lecture class

                                       Podcasting and Learning Effectiveness

           The ultimate goal of integrating podcasting in education is to provide a new instructional delivery channel
to facilitate student learning and to improve their learning outcome. The quality course design is not determined by
teaching or designing experts but by students, if they learn, how they learn and what they learn. Podcasting delivery
quality directly affects student learning quality. The following data reflect student’s perception towards podcasting
quality and their learning outcome.

Podcasting Design Quality

          Podcasting design quality was measured through content delivery accuracy and clarity, logical presentation,
as well as the integration with other content and activities. In this study, with four classes, more than 73% of
students reported that the podcast material content was clear and easy to understand. More than 71% of students
agreed that the podcasting content was presented in logic order. More than 72% of students reported that the
additional podcasting material was relevant to course content. More than 70% of students indicated that the podcasts
were well-integrated with other class activities. Those class activities included discussion board posting, hands-on
projects, group activities, and varieties of assessments.

Podcasting and Leaning Effectiveness

           In this pilot, Podcasting was used for both full course content delivery and supplementary to lecture content
to facilitate student learning. More than 66% of students reported that the addition of podcasting material was
helpful to the understanding of course content. More than 59% of students indicated that listening to podcasts helped
them better retain the content information.

Last but not the least, when students were asked if the use of podcasts improved their grades, more than 26% of
students reported positively. Figure 9 shows the grade comparison between the two fully online classes with same
content material and taught by same instructor. Fall 2005 class did not use podcasts, while Spring 2006 class used
podcast. There is a 12% increase with A students, and overall performance has been improved with the class using
podcasting. The comments from students in the survey are also very positive in using podcasting for instructional

Figure 9 Grade comparisons between two classes

                A                 B               C             D               F
                    Not Use Podcast (Fall 2005)          Use Podcast Spring 2006

                                   Podcasting Best Practice Generated from the Study

Here are several recommendations based on the data collected from the research study regarding relating to effective
integration of podcasting technology in instructional delivery.
1. Always have a back-up plan. Podcasting should not be the only delivery channel for instruction. You can
     implement it together with other delivery media, such as streaming, and CD/DVDs. Do not forget text, which is
     always the safest way to prevent any technical difficulties. The study results indicate that the students who had
     dial-up Internet connections had problems downloading large file size video podcasts; some students had
     limited storage space on their MP3 players for a full-length lecture podcast. Preparing material with different
     formats can satisfy different users and guarantee every student equal access to the course content.
2. Re-structure the content, and “cut” it to meaningful segments for effective delivery. Keep your podcast short,
     especially a video podcast (Vodcast). For an audio podcast, it should be under 30 minutes, for an enhanced
     podcast, under 20 minutes, and for Vodcast under 15 minutes. Several issues arise when using long podcasts. It
     takes longer a time to download the content; it takes up more space to store it, and some MP3 players have
     limited battery power.

3.   Incorporate other learning activities with podcasting content delivery. There are varieties of learning activities
     that can help recall the information delivered via podcast, such as discussion forums, assessments, projects, etc.
     Faculty members can also create learner-centered activities to improve students’ ability to apply knowledge
     application. They may also provide students opportunities to re-construct the information for better
     understanding, and strive to find out the best teaching pattern favorable to student learning.
4.   Make the Vodcast complimentary to the information rather than replication of the information. Effective use of
     the video images can greatly increase the stimuli of the information to the learner’s brain. Instead of showing a
     “talking head” on the screen, extra visual information related to the content can enhance the learning effect by
     triggering new focus and attention. Do not use technology for the sake of technology.
5.   Use the lowest format to achieve best results. Here, lowest format means an audio only podcast. When you
     analyze the content, start with the lowest format of delivery. An audio Podcast has a smaller file size and takes
     less time to download. In addition, you can reach more students. The study results from the UH School of
     Communication show that more than 65% of students own iPods or IM3 players, but only one third of this
     population has an iPod with video capabilities. You should choose enhanced formats only when they can
     provide additional value to the content; otherwise, the audio Podcast is just as good as (or better than) the


Patti, C., & Saroja, S. (2005). Learning experience and learning effectiveness in undergraduate statistics: modeling
          performance in traditional and flexible learning environments. Decision Sciences the Journal of Innovative
          Education. Volume 3, Number 2, July 2005, pp. 251-271(21)

Galarneau, L. (2005). Authentic learning experiences through play: games, simulations and the construction of
        Knowledge. International DiGRA Conference. June 16th - 20th, 2005

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