Educators spend time and energy seeking ways to engage students in lesson content. Collaborative activities, connecting with prior knowledge, relevant applications, extrinsic rewards: all are designed to get students engaged.
Teenagers in 2007 are engaged in the Internet, both as consumers (of web sites, downloadable music and video, email, etc.) and as producers (of social-networking sites, and of classic web pages for themselves and various organizations they may interact with). An obvious way to get students involved in the material they are meant to learn is to use the Internet.
The literature about student involvement with the Internet is extensive and growing rapidly.
A 2004 survey (Lenhart & Madden, 2005) of over 1,000 teenagers distributed throughout the United States found that teens, in addition to being obsessive and savvy content consumers, were also regular creators of content, including traditional web pages and blogs. ”Fully half of all teens and 57% of teens who use the internet,” say the authors, “could be considered Content Creators. They have created a blog or webpage, posted original artwork, photography, stories or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations.”
The imaginative and broad collection Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents’ Lives (Alvermann, 2006) persuasively describes teens’ interactions with the Internet and other new media as brand-new ways of relating to information: “Adolescents, along with the larger population, are developing new literacies in order to negotiate their media worlds.”
Beyond surveys and academic analysis, stories abound of students who learn better and learn more deeply through creation of digital content. The California Teachers Association newsletter California Educator (Posnick-Goodwin, 2007) lists successes from classrooms of all grade levels. High school podcasting classes are about “helping students research information, create quality presentations and polish their public-speaking skills during narration.”
McQuillan (2006) provides an excellent review of the many ways podcasting can be used educationally for language acquisition. Although the document focuses on iPods and iTunes and is published by Apple, it really describes the general technology of podcasting. The paper lists the technological features of the medium that make it new and powerful for consumers: ability for the listener to slow speech to any level (even without changing pitch), random access within any recording, simultaneous access while “multi-tasking,” and optional pictures and video. In addition to these features that enhance the experience for the consumer, students can learn through content creation, including making their own recordings of native speakers as well as developing presentations (audio-only or image-enhanced).
The lazy high-school teachers among us will find many comfortable excuses not to podcast: “Most of my students have no Internet access at home.” (That is, they will never see the podcast content we develop.) “None of my students have the interest or skills to create podcasts.” “Students aren’t allowed to have iPods on campus.”
Eric Langhorst, an 8th-grade history teacher in Missouri, relates stories that make me wonder (Langhorst, 2007). He describes using teacher-created podcast content to support struggling readers, to connect students and book authors, and to provide summary information before unit tests. He provides non-connected students with CDs. (I think it might be simpler to configure a classroom PC to be a secure download station.) It seems likely that the pressure (on districts) provided by stories like these will eventually eliminate many rules against campus iPod persence.
Those of us who work with teens know well that their daily after-school activities – in addition to the traditional sports, homework, and family time – now include many hours of Internet use, and the Internet hours are diverse and often creative. Students are not just crashing in front of YouTube or just updating their MySpace pages or just downloading music, anymore than students of an earlier generation might have watched only Channel 5 all night. Instead they are moving around between tasks and destinations, and they are multitasking: downloading while updating their MySpace page and watching YouTube videos. This demonstrates an extraordinary level of comfort with the Internet and a level of engagement with the medium that all teachers strive for in their classrooms.
Obviously, we need to consider the Internet, especially as an opportunity for creation, in all of our lesson plans. Our assignments need to include development of web pages, podcasts, and other new digital content in our short- and long-term assignments. We need to actively seek to replace the old methods, which have ceased to be practical, with modern means. Podcasting is one of these.
Alvermann (2006). Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents’ Lives, Second Edition. New Jersey: Routledge.
Langhorst, E. (2007). After the Bell, Beyond the Walls. Electronic Leadership. 64(8). 74-77.
Lenhart, A., & Madden, M. (2005). Teen Content Creators and Consumers. Washington, D.C.: Pew Internet & American Life Project.
McQuillan, J. (2006). iPod in education: The potential for language acquisition. Retrieved October 28, 2007, from http://e2t2.binghamton.edu/pdfs/iPod_Lang_Acquisition_whitepaper.pdf.
Posnick-Goodwin, S. (2007). The Information Age: Teaching and Learning on the Cutting Edge. Retrieved October 28, 2007, from http://www.cta.org/media/publications/educator/archives/2007/0907_feat_01.htm.