I am a remote full-time faculty member for an online university. That means I don't commute to work, which may be why I didn't get into podcasts earlier. Still, there was no denying the popularity of podcasts. So, I began thinking about different ways to use podcasts to help students learn course content and decided to record my lectures.
I figured I'd just flip my mic on and start talking. What I learned through a month of research, preparation, and recording showed me that recording audio lectures isn't exactly straightforward. Following are the steps suggested to bring your podcast project to completion.
Plan the Project
Start by taking stock of the technology you will be using. I run a Mac, so GarageBand was a recording and editing option. My iPhone and computer both have a VoiceMemo function, and I have an external mic on hand. As you plan your project, remember the internet is full of advice on what technology to use to make podcasts. Once you've determined the technology you will use, it's time to establish the project's more theoretical aspects.
Think about the scope of your project. Are you planning to record basic audio tracks for your text lectures? Or do you want to create a larger umbrella – a space that might encompass full lecture materials and shorter sound bites? All the options had me dazed and confused, but I got a real sense of what could be done by narrowing down the possibilities. I planned to record five lectures, but with the option to include additions down the line.
When I decided it was time to start recording my main lectures and other quick-hit micro-lectures, I spent a few days thinking about what I wanted to gain from that process – both for my students and for myself. I imagined what the finished product would sound like, how it would function, and where it would live. I wanted to create something that would work for the future – not just a ragged collection of audio but also something that would feel like a comprehensive initiative, a full-court press.
Plan the Recording
Whether you're planning on reading a pre-written lecture, narrating along to PowerPoint slides, or riffing extempore, it's important to make a speaking notes outline. Doing so will help you to manage pauses, create some aural counterpoints, and modulate your voice. On top of that, you might give some thought to all manner of accompaniment: music and sounds, a well-placed bird chirp, or jarring Wilhelm scream.
There are dozens of template suggestions online, and listening to a few episodes of your favorite podcast can give you a sense of potential underlying structures. Here's what I include for each of my audio lectures:
• Bright Beat – An opening sound of some type to establish a baseline volume and let the listener know you've started!
• Teaser – Encapsulate what's to come or ask some provocative questions!
• Intro Music - A catchy upbeat melody that sets the tone. Many free options exist.
• Welcome – A standard bumper bite to put in all recordings. I identify myself and the course!
• Opening Call To Action – Another standard bite for use in multiple recordings. It's a way to direct students to other lectures and additional support!
• Content – The actual lecture!
• Closing Call To Action – Tell your listener what next step to take. Perhaps say, "Now that you've listened through this week's lecture, click into your classroom and scroll through the text version to boost your mastery of these concepts."
• Outro Music - Same as the Intro but decrease volume as it plays. Can start by having it play very softly during Closing Call to Action and then increase volume when Call to Action ends and play a few seconds to end recording.
Planning the recording ensures that you don't ramble, and provides key anchors for the learning! After planning, I found it is helpful to practice. I figured I was ready to start recording with my script completed but stumbled over my voice almost immediately. A combination of direct reading and flying off the cuff led to a complicated mishmash that confused concepts and lost the meaning. I had a plan, yes, but still needed to do a read through to get comfortable with what I was about to do.
For me, that meant adjusting my plan to include writing out my lecture in a Word document so I could add spaces to remind myself to slow down for emphasis, and used bold font and sizing to indicate verbal inflections. I also realized that recording the entire lecture in one sitting was fatiguing, and led to less than stellar results. So, I recorded the Teaser, the Welcome, and the Opening and Closing Calls as separate files. It was essential to break my lecture into individual recordings. There were natural section or paragraph breaks, so it wasn't too hard to figure out where these would occur.
Mistakes were inevitable. I'd trip over a word or find myself rushing through a delicate point. I learned that the best way to deal with errors was to pause and then keep going, trusting the editing process.
Editing tools are typically intuitive and easy to learn. GarageBand visualizes the different audio tracks and allows you to manipulate them in a variety of ways easily. Though I recorded most of my audio track using VoiceMemo, I dropped them all into GarageBand for sequencing and editing.
Then, I had to listen to myself. Again and again. Over and over. It was sort of mortifying. After a while, it became fun! Decisions like timing and pacing, and clipping and trimming audio segments to make them fit better. I sequenced the tracks to get the desired flow.
I included incidental music and different sound loops to function as transitions throughout the lecture. It helped me decide what sounds I wanted once I knew why I wanted the sounds. For example, as I moved from between the template stages, I knew I wanted a pause and some music to carry that transition. At different times in the lecture, I wanted some sounds to counterpoint and emphasize the content I was elaborating. GarageBand has a library of loops that are easy to drop into your recording. There are entire libraries online of free music for use in podcasts and audio recordings of this type.
That's a Wrap!
When all was said and done (then said again and redone!), I had five audio files on my computer. Now was the time to post them for students. Initially, I thought I'd place the audio files directly into the online classroom with my text lectures. Unfortunately, my LMS didn't support any kind of download option. I built out a Multimedia Lounge page, but I ran into the same problem when I went to upload an audio file. So, I went to Plan C. I already had a Vimeo page dedicated to video course materials, so I built a SoundCloud page to house my audio files. You can skin your page with a particular URL, and each audio file will get one as well. So rather than having to keep track of what versions of files I'd uploaded into the classroom or anywhere else, I could expand and iterate all I wanted on SoundCloud knowing that my links would still work. Once I had those links, I could drop them into the classroom, add them to my Tumblr Multimedia Lounge, and share widely!
There's a real benefit to embedding your voice throughout your class. Still, I think there's a more profound benefit – for student learning and for the way your teaching can be impacted – in taking the time to create a more thorough umbrella, an enhancement you can track and keep track of.
1. What is your favorite podcast? What elements do you like best about your chosen podcast?
2. After reading this piece, what aspects of creating a podcast do you think you would find most challenging? What parts would be most interesting or exciting?
3. How might students contribute to making podcasts for your course in content creation, recording, and editing?
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