Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Podcast Planning

Podcasting is an essential element of any eLearning design process. It provides learners with a unique way to digest material but is often left as a final thought in the design process, has little evidence of audio quality and can - quite frankly -  sound awkward as a result. In previous posts I have voiced praise towards Soundcloud as a cheap and easy way to Podcast. This view has not changed but when creating materials for a Flipped Learning course, there needs to be a more strategic approach. This is even more prominent when we consider the ever growing list of MOOCs; Professional sounding Podcasts are back.

To shrug of the pedantic amongst us, we shall start be stating that our version of a Podcast is an interactive audio recording that covers a particular educational theme. Not a screencast, video blog or other similar technologies. Just so we all know where we are. 
The key questions that you need to ask yourself before even commencing with the podcast are:
  • Who are my target audience?
  • What format would I like to use when creating the podcast?
  • What technology will I need?
  • How long is the podcast?
  • How do I edit and produce the materials?

This article will focus solely on the target audience and differing formats of podcasting. The other points will be addressed in future posts.

Target Audience


You might think this is obvious and it seems pretty self - explanatory but nothing in life surprises me and I'm pretty sure that only the pensive amongst us actually go through this process. So, who are your audience? It would be silly for me to use NASA acronyms if I'm completing a podcast for a local bowling club. Know who you are speaking to. In an academic context, too many of us go into "education" mode. By this I mean that we go with our preconceived ideas of what education is about - with all its formalities - and lose sight about who is on the other end of your recording. For those engaging with education podcasts; just consider what you were like when you were studying and that is your target audience defined!
The concept of a podcast focusses on learning and engagement. Anyone can read information with personality. This is not to say that the recording should be overly erratic but you need to feel comfortable and know who you are speaking to. Be yourself.

Podcasting Formats

This will provide the biggest challenge to the planning process. Do I go with a solo chat? What are the benefits of an informal group conversation? Why should I only nod whilst completing a recorded interview? These are only some of the isolated questions that might pop into your head.
Whatever approach you decide to take; you will benefit from thinking creatively. Listen to as many podcasts as you can. Even by just listening to snippets you will be able to gauge quickly what you think works well and which approaches needs to be avoided. The introductions to some podcasts really set the stage. Personally, I prefer going with a standard start tune (about 10 - 15 seconds long) and then selecting the music that fits the content of the lesson. Jamendo is a great resource for background music and will ensure you do not break any copyright rules. These are updated quite regularly and are a much better option than some of the other options around - such as the polluting pieces of trash that are pushed by YouTube. 
Now that we are starting to think about the actual recording of the podcast, let's listen to an array of examples before making our choice. There is no definitive method that should always be used and remember that you need to match the content of the podcast to the materials/scripts that you have created:
(Excuse the horrible links. Just click through and hit play)
This is slightly longer than a traditional podcast. Doing recordings this way can produce a great deal of stress if one person is tasked with this on their lonesome. One person should not really do the whole recording. Talking for 40 - 45 minutes can be both daunting and exhaustive for the person responsible for producing the material. Saying this, what I like about certain aspects of this approach are the smooth music fades and relaxed conversations that take place. Obviously preparation has taken place but you can sense that prompted questions are natural. There is no awkwardness here.
For some educational topics, podcasting can seem a chore. For certain themes there might be no need for a prolonged discussion. Alternatively, there are situations where time management is an issue - lots of topics but you can't spend 40 - 45 minutes discussing them all. The examples above show great ways to overcome certain barriers such as the ones I've mentioned. The 60 second recording (which is annoyingly 1 minute and 16 seconds) is a great way to address low level objectives where as the "Question of the week" series could easily be question of the day/month etc. Both demonstrate that creativity - with appropriate sound effects and rationale - helps when deciding your podcast approach.
This link is also a prime example for those designing educational podcasts. What we have here are specific topics - bound by core aims and objectives - that have a feeling of restriction, regarding creativity. You can hear how each conversation is directed with key questions and facilitated responses. Another useful example to add to our repertoire.

Hopefully you now have a better appreciation / confidence when preparing to record podcast materials. Please share your thoughts and/or podcast links. Whatever you decide to do - I'm sure someone else has done far better whilst some poor soul has probably broadcast 22 hours on the history of DFS arm chairs.

Until we meet again.............

Monday, 30 June 2014

Using Minecraft for Learning

Minecraft; once the bane of my life. A computer game that both young and old seemed to be weirdly fascinated about. With the ugly pixelated look and the annoying Lego dogs - that never seem to shut up - what do these users see? Well, I am here to sell it to you. My account is from a parental perspective but the links that I share and context can very easily be applied to those involved within teaching (or another parent).

My daughter is an avid fan of the game. She is in year 3 (KS2) and I am always looking for ways to develop her confidence and skills in school related topics. Not quite a pushy parent as such but I'm sure she would answer that in the future! I'm a firm believer that children in primary schools need to be doing more work related to their digital future. Google, in particular, are trying to get more girls involved with coding through their "Made with Code" initiative. These types of jobs are going to be crucial in the future and as a parent; I'll do anything I can to help my daughter get one step ahead. Bravo Google. 

For those that are unfamilair with Minecraft - it's basically Lego on a computer. You can build (and break down) pretty much anything. Users can choose between two categories: survival or create mode. Survival involves working to build a sustainable community whilst earning blocks to build new structures. Create mode gives you a piece of land and the ability to use as many blocks as possible. There is more to it - but I'm still a novice I'm afraid. If you are looking for more information then I would point you towards Youtube. There are an unhealthy amount of videos there!

The project that my daughter and I worked on involved the Egyptian pyramids. We watched the video above and decided to build this. My daughter did some independent research - with some facilitation from myself (I need to shake off these teaching terms!). We used Google maps to find the pyramids and then found the actual size of the base and the total height in meters. Now Minecraft boffins will know that one block that is used in that world is the same as 1 meter, so in terms of scale we could build something pretty big! We had a spanner thrown into the works though; the size of the base was intruding in my daughter's previously crafted world. We had to scale down. This gave me a great springboard to start showing her how to use percentages. We decided to go with 60% of the actual size in the end. I should also add that prior to starting this I used Minecraft to help with her homework tasks. She created a special place to help with her times tables - organising blocks in a way to help her recall answers to questions. You can hopefully see the potential that this game has with numeracy!

My daughter also enjoys watching and reading the tutorials regarding Minecraft. When I mentioned that she could contribute towards this community via an online blog she was ecstatic. This gave me - as a parent - a natural way to discuss esafety with her. We created the blog under my own email address and we put some rules in pace regarding the account (including no names, pictures, location etc) and I left her to write her first ever post. One of the other rules included me proofreading her work and then making comments to think about, which she would then use to edit her text. This was another great way in which I was able to use something fun like Minecraft in order to develop sentence structure, spelling and grammar.

Thinking of the long term picture - I'm also very eager to try out the technology that Kano have created and start coding, with my daughter, through Minecraft. Every parent wants to help their child and see them do well; all I will ever do is ask my little ones to try their very best. Minecraft is just another example of how gaming can teach science, English and maths in a fun way!

If you are looking to try something with Minecraft then these following links would be a good place to start:

- Minecraft Teacher Blog

- The Minecraft Teacher on Twitter

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Why #STEM is so important

Every Thursday evening between 9 and 10pm (UK Time) I actively involve myself with, and contribute to, an online twitter chat; #ukfechat. The most recent discussion from @jobale and @fossa regarded the use of STEM within the further education sector. I'm not going to lie, I didn't think the chat would be that productive. I was wrong.

For those unaccustomed to the acronym, STEM is the use of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths in education. Why is this important? Well students/UK population are just not getting the jobs involved within these skill settings. Too often jobs are outsourced to another country where more emphasis has been placed and these key skills in education so that students can be empowered to make applications, overcome common scientific issues and apply mathematical solutions to current issues. For example, last year the government outsourced creating of new fuel tanks out of the UK and to a firm in South Korea. We really are struggling. Any large media/web branding company will tell you that their employees or solutions are gained outside of the UK, in countries like USA, Canada, India and China. We are falling behind big-time and it's partly due to a lack real education in these areas.

The post above really highlights the issue. Shocking statistics on the gender issues involved within STEM related subjects. Why is there an issue here? I think our education system is not set out to serve STEM needs and subsequent teaching methods are poor, to say the least. Let's not stand on ceremony here (a little treat for Batman fans), the statistics back this up.


Part of the issue is standardisation. We're very good in this country at making McDonald's hamburgers. A one size fits all approach. It doesn't have to be any better and we can hide the bits that are not good enough; as long as it's packaged correctly then it's all good with the boss. We need more gourmet burgers. We need to realise that some burgers shouldn't even be sold......I'll stop this analogy here but you're getting the point?

If you work in education you'll have heard; just get them through. The focus on success and achievement creates an esoteric environment in which failure is really no option. The direct consequence of this is what we are left with. A real skills shortage. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming the institutions/education providers per se. More can be done but the funding mechanisms in this country foster the environment detailed above. To get funding, just teach and assess the specification

Government, local authorities and private businesses have a duty to involve themselves with driving up STEM standards. We can talk about apprenticeships and jobs but the key thing that needs to happen is an increase in students believing they can leave education and actually start up their own business and make a contribution to society this way. Talent competitions, events, building computers, playing with basic code, mathematical equations, technology in assessment. Just some examples that might help serve this. The BBC are being positive.

At the moment, things won't change but educators can and should be making a difference. Personally, I think coding will be a key/functional skill during my life in education. What am I doing about it? Trying to get ahead of the game before I can. With a link from Katie Williams, I have been using basic coding packages, working myself through and becoming more efficient by the day. I've used these skills with our VLE and I actually feel comfortable in using the very basics. Look at the floating icons in this blog, I did it all myself. I know some might laugh but this took me a very long time to achieve. With hard work and a lot of failures along the way. 

Myself and Tom have enrolled on a free coding course with Coursera. We've discussed collaboration as a means to improve confidence and develop our practice and are ready for the challenge. Who knows, our students might help us! If you would like to be involved with this with us and work through online reflection then send me a direct message to my twitter account. Do it, what are you going to lose?

Finally, some great ideas are here to develop STEM.


Saturday, 30 November 2013

Edublogs 13 Awards - My nominations

I've been blogging for a relatively short period of time but have already learnt an awful lot from some great educators out there. Nominating was quite a difficult task. The individuals below have all improved my practice and/or enabled me to reflect on my own practice. People are writing in such a personal and individual manner whilst sharing a range of great ideas and resources.
Anyway, time for the juicy content. Here are my nominations. Best of luck to you all!

Good luck to all and keep on doing your thing!
You can look at other nominations and the track the progress of the awards by using #eddies13

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Why you need to use YouTube more

So, we all use YouTube right? It's an obvious place to look for a video on a certain task. Many educators are still not using it in the most profitable way though. Let me give you just one or two bits of advice that might change the way you plan your next lesson. It'll be simple but very effective. I'll give you a breakdown of what I do in lessons and assessments and then state how YouTube can actively support these processes.

To illustrate the point and give a specific example, I will focus on a lesson that I delivered last week. This was the Sliding Filament Theory. For anyone who teaches sport, you will appreciate that this can sometimes be something that the students really struggle to understand. With this in mind I really try to go above and beyond, more-so than I usually do (smug look). We set the lesson out as a play in the style of Romeo and Juliet. The specific components of the muscular system relating to this theory are giving a part and I introduce each by playing a song that matches their role. Very cheesy, I know, but it really gets the point over to the students.

As we progress through the lesson we actively live through the play filming it on an iPad and use MovieMaker to edit and upload. For obvious reasons I cannot share this video with you but there are lots on YouTube already for you to see. Once the play is finished we then watch videos on the topic that I earlier selected and deemed relevant. All the information is placed onto our VLE  (BlackBoard) and the group can review all these materials when they like. For assessment purposes students complete an electronic assessment using screencasting materials and then upload their work on YouTube, send me their front sheets with a URL and I can assess their work. If they are struggling they can watch videos from my own YouTube channel which supports and guides them.

Now, I'm hoping that doesn't seem too difficult or challenging for anyone. There are other ways in which I can do this but YouTube makes the whole process so much easier for me and most importantly the student. Let me provide further breakdown of each element so you can make yourself aware.


These are so easy to create. You literally find a video, click "Add To" and then type the name of a new playlist or add it to an existing one. I create a playlist for every unit I teach. When they are ready I can share with my students or I can keep them private, if I decide that is the case. I even have a playlist that I use when planning session; different music to keep my creative juices flowing! What's more, you can even get your students to create their own playlists and/or send video links to you as an extension to a lesson. Essentially, build your own channel!

Privacy Settings

When making any video or creating playlists you can edit the settings to ensure esafety is adhered to. Most people know about the public and/or private settings but some do not know about unlisted material on YouTube. This is really useful when you want to share information with students or they submit work to you. Only individuals with the specific link can view the video. When using YouTube in this manner you can also use it as a storage centre for students work.

Embedding Videos

I hate it when I have to click through a file or link to access a YouTube video. This is a turn-off for students as well. Trust me. Using the embed function on YouTube can make the whole elearning experience much more refreshing for the student. You can put it straight onto your VLE. Last week I shared the YouTube playlist for our Sliding Filament Theory session. Some lessons I embed a video related to the topic on BlackBoard and have the students watch this before the start of the next session. It's another way to use your VLE beyond it's normal role as a storage centre for PowerPoint files. 

Subscribing to other channels

I know a lot of people do not do this but it is a fantastic way to support your CPD needs. Just like my Twitter feed will be full of specific information relating to education, YouTube will also act in the same way but with videos. We all stumble onto Tweets that catch our attention; why not do the same here? Just by subscribing to the right people you can really improve your practice

Screencasting Platform

A lot of educators are now screencasting. I use YouTube as my platform to promote these videos. Whether it be a tutorial on how to create a games website for staff or how to submit their next assessment for students, there is one place to find all of this information.

I hope you will find the time to look at some of my resources and share yours with me. Either way, please share your comments and thoughts on this topic with me.