Welcome new readers!

The "New to the blog? Start here" page will give you an overview of the blog and point you to some posts you might be interested in. You can also subscribe to receive future posts via RSS, Facebook or Twitter using the links on the right-hand side of the page, or via email by entering your address in the box. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How I teach Principles: Podcasts

I find myself working on several projects this summer that involve writing about my teaching approach in the 500-seat Micro Principles class and I thought that readers here might be interested as well. I previously posted about how I use clickers.

One of the challenges for faculty who want to make their classes more interactive is that these activities generally take more time than simply lecturing on the same material. I absolutely believe that using clickers and other in-class activities lead students to a deeper understanding of ideas, and I have always taken more of a 'depth over breadth' approach anyway. Still, when I started using clickers, I knew that I would have to make some adjustments and cover even less material. One way I have made time in class is that I have stopped using class time for basic definitions. Instead, I require that students listen to short podcasts (no more than five minutes) that I record using Audacity, a freeware sound editor. The podcasts give a basic introduction to new terms and concepts, and the presentation is actually quite similar to what I used to say in class. I found that recording the podcasts was smoother if I wrote out a script first; this has the added advantage that I can also post that script on the class website along with the audio file (an example of a podcast script can be found here).

In order to make sure that students really are listening to the podcast and are ready to dive into applications, I usually ask a clicker question at the beginning of class that tests their knowledge of the terms and concepts I expect them to know (these are extremely easy if the students listened to the podcast and students must get the answer correct to get full clicker credit). If too many students get those questions wrong, I will spend a minute or two reviewing the material (which often is accomplished simply by explaining the answer to the clicker question itself); however, I purposely don’t spend too much time, instead telling students that they really need to come to class prepared. If I spend too much time in class reviewing what they are supposed to already know, a) they have no incentive to do the work beforehand and b) it defeats the whole purpose in saving class time for other things. I specifically explain this to the class on the first day and have generally had few problems (that is, more than 90% of the class usually answers the review questions correctly so I can usually move right on).

Like a lot of things with the large lecture, there is a big upfront fixed cost but now that I have all the files, I can re-use the same podcasts every semester. One advantage of using the Audacity software is that I can easily cut out and paste in selected parts of any podcast. In particular, I can tailor the introduction each semester (for example, including reminders to students about upcoming assignments or exams), without having to re-record the whole thing. And student reaction to the podcasts has been extremely positive. Students have told me that they like that they can listen to the podcasts anywhere, and repeatedly, and many read the scripts as well. Because I do the podcasts myself, they are closely tied to what I cover in class and students recognize that the podcasts are pointing them to the concepts I consider most important.


  1. Very nice. I've heard of plenty of instructors recording their lectures as podcasts, but I really like the idea of using podcasts to introduce a topic before class. I have my students read their textbooks before class, but I imagine they would prefer to listen to a five-minute podcast most days!

    How do you distribute the podcasts? Can I find them on iTunes? Can students easily subscribe to them or must they download each "episode"?

  2. I post the podcasts on the class website in Blackboard. Because SDSU also uses the Wimba podcaster in Blackboard, I can upload the podcasts there and students can 'subscribe' in iTunes. I also post the mp3 files (and the scripts) separately, as files they can download directly, mostly because I've had some issues with Wimba (i.e., errors when trying to load the mp3 files). So the files aren't publicly available, though I've been thinking about setting a site where other teachers could access them, since I've had a number of people ask me for examples.

    I should add that at the start of each podcast, I tell the students where in the textbook to find the material. I don't follow the book super-closely so I'd rather have students listen to the podcast than read the book but the objective is really the same.


Comments that contribute to the discussion are always welcome! Please note that spammy comments whose only purpose seems to be to direct traffic to a commercial site will be deleted.