News Release

How the latest learning technology takes the rap

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Leicester

The University of Leicester is spearheading research on how student learning can be enhanced by downloading audio onto personal MP3 players -- known as "podcasting." The University has also examined the use of rap in student podcasts.

The research seeks to develop a model for optimizing student learning -- taking the focus away from content delivery.

At a workshop on June 2 at the University of Leicester, experts in the field from across the United Kingdom are investigating how the latest technologies can ensure that student learning is continuous, providing an alternative to constantly bringing them to campus.

Now, following £40,000 funding from the Higher Education Academy, the Beyond Distance Research Alliance, based at the University, will be working with the Royal Veterinary College, University of Gloucestershire and Kingston University on a 12-month research project called "IMPALA": Informal Mobile Podcasting and Learning Adaptation.

Professor of eLearning at Leicester, professor Gilly Salmon, is leading the project and her work, along with that of professor John Fothergill, University of Leicester pro-vice-chancellor for learning and teaching, features prominently in the research.

Richard Mobbs, head of learning technology at the University of Leicester, said universities need to think about delivering education to where the student wants it -- and not to where institutions say they will get it.

"The teaching and learning process is very complicated but we know that we learn best of all when we want to learn and that requires having easy access to the learning materials. Virtual Learning Environments facilitate on demand learning but they still require that the learner has Internet access. So what can be better than to give the learner portable learning materials.

"To this end we need to deliver the resources to the student and not the student to the resources."

The podcast model is 10 minutes long in three parts:

  • up-to-date world news relevant to learning that week
  • feedback and feedforward on learning and collaborative team work that week
  • a fun part (e.g., joke or rap)

Professor Salmon said: "IMPALA arose from our interest in digital audio loaded onto students' own mobile devices, especially MP3 players such as iPods, 'personal broadcasting' for content delivery and student engagement.

"Podcasting and MP3 players are new to education, yet these devices are widely used by the population demographic of which students are a part -- but for entertainment." Leicester's challenge was to develop a model that students wished to use them for their flexibility, mobility and to enhance their learning experience, rather than as a replacement for lectures.

"We piloted our ideas and found students soon caught on -- they use them on the bus, plane, in the paternoster! They download them and multi task when doing other things. They constantly 'listen again'! They listen between lectures on other courses."

Students have responded well to the enhanced learning opportunities. One said, "I can study at my own pace and rewind the podcasts whenever I wish." Another student commented, "You get in touch with your mates whilst learning! It's a good way to spread knowledge. Another said, "It's more informal. It's different. Not so serious like sitting down with pen and paper. I don't miss anything on the podcasts."

The workshop on June 2 is one of the first high profile research-based events in the University of Leicester's new Media Zoo project.

About the Media Zoo

The Media Zoo provides an area for all staff members and associates to explore all kinds of new technologies and their educational application focusing on innovation, creation and mediation of ideas directly related to education provision both in day-to-day teaching and in research. The Media Zoo enables the sharing of good practice using new technologies to explore up and coming applications and "blue sky thinking" as well as seminars like the podcasting workshop.

The IMPALA project will, over 12 months, ensure that podcasts don't go the way of e-learning in the early days and just become another way of delivering loads of "stuff" to students. Instead, the project it will provide the following:

  • Transferable and testable model of the potential for student learning (not content delivery) that can be supported by podcasting, and a "proof of concept" that can be reused and retried in different contexts, levels and disciplines. The model will be presented in highly-accessible diagrammatic form with examples and user cases which will be available to practitioners to use with feedback. It will be distributed from an open Web site and through supported workshops.

  • Resources for practitioners for designing learning activities based on podcasts. The IMPALA Web site and wiki will offer researched and tested guidelines and downloadable examples of podcasts.

  • Subject-specific exemplars and user cases developed from the evidence of students' learning experience.

  • Guidelines for integrating podcasting into disciplinary and institutional specific contexts and as part of institutional e-learning strategies.
  • ###

    The project is recruiting a researcher:

    For more information, please contact Professor Gilly Salmon at 0116-252-2440 or 07831-755-225.

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