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Podcasting and audio for teaching

Created by Robert O'Toole with Mark Storey (English Department). A more comprehensive version is also available in the LDCU Teams space.

Why use audio?

Audio is well suited to some disciplines, topics and teachers, if used appropriately. Audio recordings are particularly good for students with dyslexia, and may help with anxiety, being a calm and relaxing medium (especially when supported with a transcript).

A well-written script, read by an expressive and interesting voice, may convey information clearly and add a human and personal element to online asynchronous teaching. This helps us to overcome one of the barriers to accepting asynchronous activities as a valid and valued option: when we simply provide text, students feel less convinced that they are actually being taught by a real person; using audio we can project a greater sense of presence and authenticity into remote learning.

There is a tendency for some listeners to multitask. This might be a good thing. There is some anecdotal evidence that doing trivial physical tasks when listening reduces stress and may help sustain concentration over longer periods. Podcasts may also be listened to when travelling, thus optimising the time available for learning. For students who have complicated or even disrupted timetables, being able to listen to audio recordings, saved to their mobile phone, is a great benefit.

Tips and Principles

  1. Consider how your students will use and respond to the podcast. Give them clear guidance, and perhaps link it to a discussion forum or other activity.
  2. Create a quiet, acoustically-dampened, comfortable recording space. Softly furnished lounge spaces can give a nice warm sound. Small bare offices will give a harsh sound. If you speak towards a window that is too near-by, the sound may rebound with a harsh effect.
  3. Speak clearly and not too fast. Remember that your audience cannot see your face or non-verbal gestures. Do a test recording, and review it for clarity and pace.
  4. Some people like to record when standing up, to get their best performance. But make sure you can see your script, can change pages easily, and can pause the recording when required.
  5. Your own script/transcript should be provided to support hearing-impaired students, and to comply with accessibility laws. Word Online includes a great automated system for creating transcripts from audio.

Recording your Podcast

Read more about mics and microphone techniques here.

Some laptops have good quality mics and sound processing built-in. MacBooks work well, but are prone to occasional clipping and pops. Set the levels carefully and experiment with positioning. Voices vary so much there is no ideal set-up that works for everyone. You might also find that your voice changes quite a lot when you are “performing”.

Mobile phones usually have very good mics and sound processing (as their main purpose is voice communication). Again, the trick is to try out positioning and settings. Editing on phones can be tricky, so you may want to transfer your recordings to a computer for more detailed editing (details on software options below).

Experiment with the position of the mic and the recording levels. 2” to 4” away from the mic is usually best. Some people benefit from a pop-screen or a foam cover.

Plan for minimal or no editing. You don’t have to record in one take, you can use the pause button on your recording software. Break the script up into sections, so that you can refer students to specific parts of the recording. Write your script so that there are natural breaks – this is good for you and for the students. Include segments – short sections where you change tone, summarise, answer questions from listeners etc.

Perhaps add brief musical interludes to give your listeners time to think. Using a familiar intro, with music and a “hello” from the presenter, helps to put the listener into the right frame of mind.

Recording and editing software

For Windows and Mac the free Audacity software is the favourite. You can record directly into Audacity, easily edit, process the sound, and export. Audacity is available through the managed desktop at Warwick. A good tutorial is available from the Podcasting company Buzzsprout.

For iPhone and iPad the Twisted Wave app is popular. It includes editing tools and processors (inc. amplify, normalize, EQs, peak limiter, filters).

Files should then be exported as .mp3 format at 96 kbps CBR for mono, or 128 kbps CBR for stereo (go higher if you need higher quality for special purposes).

Publishing/sharing recordings

MP3 files are often relatively small (compared to videos) so can be sent by email, but this isn't ideal..

Moodle: we can add short audio files into any block of text. This may be done by uploading an audio file. Students can download audio files individually to their own device for off-line listening.

Audio files may also be attached to Moodle Forum posts. Add the transcript to the body of the forum post.

Sitebuilder: includes a podcasting page. Create a new page and choose 'Podcast'. Add permissions to control access. Upload audio files when they are ready, include a link to a transcript file in the description.

Microsoft Teams: we can share audio files in the Files tab of a channel. Audio messages may also be recorded into messages in the Posts tab. Use the Teams @ notifications system to tell students that a new recording is available. Remember to provide a transcript.


Bryan Brazeau of Liberal Arts has used podcasting in teaching: 

“I've used podcasting in IP304: Posthumous Geographies I, Underworlds. I used it because it was an easy way to get students up to speed on some of the more complex elements of Dante's underworlds while keeping the class time free for in-depth problem-based-learning activities. We did one circle of hell each week in the podcast (which was never more than 20 minutes). I would encourage students to listen to the podcasts while walking to class, or while doing the dishes, literally anything BUT sitting down at their desk. I was actually impressed not only by how many had listened to the podcasts, but by how many had absorbed the information (which often contained references to classical and medieval literature and philosophy), and how many used the information as part of their blog posts for the module. In their module evaluations, students underlined how much they enjoyed the podcasts. 

This might not apply to all classes, the podcasts were optional for them to listen to, but most did anyway. They weren't tested or examined on the knowledge therein, but it was meant as scaffolding to help them have a greater and more complex understanding of the issues we were examining.... it's possible that because it wasn't linked to an assessment per se, and because there was no pressure, it was actually more effective (though I know that sort of flies in the face of constructive alignment orthodoxy.” 

Bryan has kindly provided an example podcast for us, made with Audacity editing software and a Samson Meteor Mic (£50-£80).