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Prof. Reginald MilesProfessor Reginald Miles

February 2010

 

It is not surprising that Reginald Miles has harnessed podcasting as a tool for teaching students in the Department of Radio, TV, and Film.  As an Assistant Professor of Communications, he teaches courses about audio production, so for him podcasting is a logical choice.   What distinguishes Professor Miles is the way he has identified a problem, tested a solution, assessed its impact, used the data, and publicized his findings.  In short, his experiments with podcasting reveal a professor who has been deeply engaged in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL).

Podcasting is a technology for broadcasting a series of related audio or video episodes via the World Wide Web.  However, instead of simply storing the audio or video files online, the producer publishes each episode with an RSS feed so that listeners can subscribe to the series and automatically receive new episodes.  As Miles explains, the “POD” in “podcasting” stands for “playable on demand”—something more and more 21st Century students are demanding as they deploy mobile technologies such as iPods, MP3 players, cell phones, and laptops.  While podcasting offers students “anywhere, anytime” opportunities to learn course content, it also offers professors a low-cost means of distributing up-to-date audio or video content to the students.  Professors can use podcasting to build archives of their lectures, to deliver supplemental course materials, or to engage students in producing their own podcasts.

Compared to the average Howard professor, Miles had certain advantages when he turned to podcasting.  With 20 years of experience in the broadcast industry, he was a skilled announcer, audio engineer, and production director.  He tested numerous digital audio software programs such as Adobe Audition, Digidesign Pro Tools, GarageBand, and Audacity.  He also tested a variety of digital recorders, including Olympus Digital Voice, Marantz Compact Flash, Sony Minidisc, and Zoom H2.  To save the files, Miles chose MP3 or Windows Media Audio (wma) formats; for Mac computers, he preferred MP3 or AAC.  However, a novice can podcast without such expertise or expense by logging into free websites such as http://www.MyPodcast.com.  Moreover, to record lectures, instead of investing in a microphone, mixer, or signal processor, the novice can connect a USB microphone, such as the Audio Technica AT2020, to a computer. 

Miles launched his first podcast, “The Teacher in the Pocket,” during the Fall 2006 semester, using free podcasting (SwitchPod.com) and website (Free Servers.com) services.  Disappointed with the quality of the students’ audio productions, he sought to increase the quality of their productions so that they could compete in national contests and attract campus broadcast outlets.  Above all, he wanted “to teach students how to operate the digital audio production equipment at a higher level effortlessly and efficiently.” Some students were afraid of the equipment; others forgot how to operate it; and others could not spend enough time in the studio because of their jobs and other time conflicts.

To address these problems, Miles introduced “The Teacher in the Pocket Podcast” to supplement the lectures and reading, to reinforce the laboratory procedures, to provide study guides for exams, to capture interviews of radio broadcasters, and to make the lessons portable and available 24/7.  However, Miles did not intend for the podcast to substitute for class attendance, so he recorded summaries of the lectures and labs.  He asked his students, in turn, to summarize his podcasts for extra credit. 

During the 2006-07 academic year, 20 of his 28 students wrote podcast summaries.  Miles used these summaries to fine-tune the podcasts.  He recalls, “The written summaries helped [me] create and develop podcasts that students found more attractive, entertaining, and informative.  The most important revelation in producing the podcasts was not to overproduce the production.”  As a result, Miles adopted  what he calls “a National Public Radio (NPR) style…straightforward with a news-oriented appeal.”

To collect more assessment data, Miles upgraded to a paid podcasting hosting service during the 2007-08 academic year.  Unlike the free service, the paid service generated statistics on website visits and podcast downloads.  Via this service, Miles introduced some new podcasts as well as revisions of the old ones. With the emergence of Apple’s iPod Touch, iPhone 3G, and HD technology, Miles also introduced video podcasts, or “vodcasts,” into his “Teacher in the Pocket” series.  Using video-editing and screen capture software, he created vodcasts that showed students how to operate audio equipment in control rooms (click HERE to watch).  He also made both video and audio podcasts more accessible to the students by featuring them in the syllabus, posting a link on his website, and uploading them to iTunes.  In addition, when students emailed him questions about audio editing, podcasting allowed him to email them visual demonstrations as feedback. Miles continued to offer the audio and video podcasts as supplemental learning aids over the next four semesters.

At the end of each semester, Miles administered a survey to his classes.  Although the number of downloads increased significantly from Fall 2008 to Spring 2009, 52% of the 40 students who responded reported that they had never listened to an audio or video podcast.  They expressed concerns about audio quality, the ease of downloading, and time length since long episodes consume more space on a digital media device.  Extra credit could not motivate them to try out the new technology.

Prof. Reginald MilesOn the other hand, over half (52%) of the surveyed students strongly agreed that the podcasts were valuable, and nearly three quarters (74%) strongly agreed that they would recommend the podcasts to their peers.  Students who had listened to the podcasts praised the audio, video, and production quality; found the content entertaining, easy to comprehend, and straightforward.  In general, they used the podcasts to access course materials easily, to clarify concepts from the lessons, to catch up when they were absent, to assist them with production projects, and to study for exams.  Surprisingly, though, only 10% of the surveyed students used iPods to download the podcasts; 90% used a laptop instead.

A true scholar of teaching and learning, Miles has shared these results with other educators in his field.  First , in May 2008, he gave the presentation “Podcasting: Supplemental Learning Aid” at the WSSA Convention.  He also served as a panel moderator on a “Podcasting” panel at the Broadcast Education Convention.  Since then he has published his WSSA study under the same title in the November 2009 issue of Feedback, a journal published by the Broadcast Education Association.  In his presentations and publications, Miles urges other professors to weigh the costs and benefits of podcasting, since the process requires extra time, especially to establish a standard for production.  In fact, to produce high-quality podcasts, Miles recommends that professors recruit students from audio classes.  However, for Miles, the benefits definitely outweigh the costs, for he appreciates the way podcasting allows him to appeal to visual and auditory learners and to reach the students “anywhere, anytime.”

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