Co-authored by Ann Wilson and Lucy Blakemore 

Parts 1 and 2 of our ‘The Listening Learner’ series introduced some recent trends in audio and podcasting. An explosion in audio (Part 1) looked at the huge growth in podcasting globally, and some characteristics that make audio special as a medium for learning. Podcasts for professional development (Part 2) considered the amazing access we now have to learning and teaching expertise all over the world, from pedagogy to learning trends and technology. 

In Part 3 we turn our attention back to our learners, and the opportunities to bring authentic audio into the student experience. We begin with Alex’s story.

A listening learner: Alex’s story

🎧 Alex is about to start a Bachelor of Communication. Before choosing her Major, she downloads a course guide with links to audio introductions featuring tutors from the course. She listens on the bus on the way to work, adding notes on her phone to follow-up later. 

Before orientation, Alex sees a notification on her phone. It’s a short, friendly audio recording from the course coordinator with tips about onboarding and enrolment. At orientation, QR codes link to ‘behind the scenes’ commentary from students reflecting on what they wish they’d known earlier (like where to get the best coffee!). Alex listens as she navigates her new environment. 

Balancing part-time work and some health issues, Alex relies on the downloadable audio from her course materials, listening when she can on her commute and between hospital appointments. The lecturer’s encouraging voice and real-world perspectives help Alex feel connected to the class, especially when they can’t meet face to face. Students are encouraged to respond to class discussions online with their own audio comments, too.

Assignments are an anxious time, but Alex’s tutors offer essay feedback in the form of quick audio comments and helpful suggestions. They also reassure Alex that she’s not the only one who mis-interpreted the question! 

At the end of the semester, Alex records her ‘mini-podcast’ assignment on her phone and uploads it to the LMS. Laptop closed, she sits back, puts her headphones on and closes her eyes to enjoy a well-earned treat – the latest instalment in the true crime podcast everyone’s been talking about in class. 🎧

NB: Fictional scenario created for illustrative purposes only! 

What pictures does this scenario create in your mind? Are there ways you could bring the idea of ‘education as a playlist’ into your own teaching and learning habits? Decide for yourself, with a few additional ideas to think about below. 

Make learning available, accessible and relevant 

Podcasts are quick to create, without the extra detail (and virtual backgrounds, and hair fixing…) required in video production. With relatively low bandwidth, audio creates opportunities for learners to engage with content wherever and whenever it suits them, without using heaps of data. 

Podcasts are fantastic for adding your own informal commentary on topical issues and current events as they are unfolding, infusing your course content with relevant, real-world detail. External expert podcasts also offer a different take on your subject and complement core material.  

Audio can offer welcome relief for students who find it challenging to read, or difficult to concentrate on the written word for any length of time. It’s also engaging! When you talk directly to learners, your voice can make the material come alive and even be personalised. 

Podcast for one? Try audio in assessment and feedback  

Assessment is a vital component of learning and teaching. It is our quality control mechanism and prompts students to do the learning, among other things. But does it always have to be written? Audio as a student assessment task involves relatively simple technology and gives learners experience in an authentic scenario – being asked to speak on a subject. It’s not easy to cheat in this format either, so ticks some boxes in terms of academic integrity too.

You might have tried audio feedback on assessments, or perhaps already use it regularly as part of your feedback toolkit. You could think of your audio feedback, however brief it is, as a kind of podcast for one. Research tells us that, with all the inflection and emotion in your voice, your feedback is more likely to be perceived by students as more personal and meaningful. 

If you haven’t tried using audio in assessment feedback yet, you can find practical resources on audio feedback in the feedback for student learning resource collection.  

Nurture student community and wellbeing 

Audio is an established medium for student support, community and general wellbeing. The UTS Student Hacks podcast, for example, covers topics from money stress and burnout to tips on building friendships and staying connected. 

Other great examples of the genre include Your Amazing Mind from the University of Bristol. The podcast features personal accounts from students and a deep and meaningful conversation between the student, a psychotherapist and a special guest. Issues covered in the first series include anxiety, body image, LGBTQ+ issues and marginalisation impact. 

Where to next for audio in learning? 

If we’ve inspired you to have a go at including more podcast-inspired learning moments in your practice, take a look at the LX.lab media space when you’re next on campus. This specialist space in Building 3 is designed to help UTS staff with media production for all learning and teaching activities, and contains 4 different studios for recording and editing media. 

If you’ve been bringing more audio into your teaching and learning, or even run your own podcast for students, we’d love to hear about your experiments, successes and failures, too!  

Feature image by Math on Unsplash

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