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Web 2.0: Blogs and Podcasts in Education
Posted by Kylie McGee on Thursday, September 20, 2007
Are you a part of the blogosphere? Did you create a podcast today? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you might be using one of the most engaging methods of connecting to students available today. Blogs and podcasts are increasingly being adopted by educators not just to communicate with students, but to drive interaction between students and teachers in exciting new ways.
What are blogs and podcasts?
A blog is a website where someone can post an article for others to read and make comments. A blog post may include text, photos, links to other web sites, embedded videos, and other content.
Depending on how a blog is configured, it can be structured for one-way communication or it can create an opportunity for interaction, for readers to add comments and additional information. The idea of a blog is to create a community and to deliver fresh content that will drive readers and contributors to the site.
Podcasts are either audio or video recordings that can be delivered over the Internet. It is possible to download just a single podcast episode, or use software like iTunes to subscribe to a podcast and receive new episodes when they become available. For educators who want to create their own podcasts, numerous tools are available, many for free, that allow users to record, edit, and post podcasts to a website. And while it has "pod" in the name, an iPod is not required to listen to a podcast, making the format available to download on many different computer platforms.
Engaging Digital Natives at Orange County Public Schools
George Perreault is the Director, Instructional Technology and Library Media at Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) in Orlando, Florida, the 11th largest school district in the United States. George and his team have helped to provide tools and training for over 3,000 teachers and administrators within the district to create and distribute content via blogs and podcasts.
When blogs and podcasts first started to appear on the Internet, George saw these tools as an opportunity to create a connection with students and with parents. The educators in Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) have created very innovative content, and in some cases, that content has spread outside the boundaries of the district. Technology Resource Teacher, John Lien's podcasts about technology integration, are subscribed to by hundreds across the world. And when a new school was being built within the district, the new principal for the school created a blog to keep the community up-to-date on the progress of the building. Along the way, teachers have also found that some students who do not actively participate in class are much more comfortable communicating through the district's blogs. The technology they are comfortable with at home allows them to contribute at school as well.
Perreault is quick to point-out, "As much of an advocate of technology as I am, none of it will ever replace good teaching." When OCPS started to offer district educators the opportunity to create content with blogs and podcasts, George knew the most important aspect was to get the teachers on board. George's own podcasts speak to the integration of technology in the classroom, and a recent episode includes an interview with his seventeen-year-old daughter and her "digital life." He encourages educators to use these tools to connect students and to deliver engaging content; review sessions for upcoming exams, important subject concepts, and additional materials that enhance what is delivered in class. George Perreault sees video, in the form of streaming content, video podcasts, and other delivery methods, as an increasingly effective and important way to engage students. OCPS will be increasing the bandwidth between their 200-plus buildings, and to the Internet, via fiber connectivity delivered by ENA this summer. George expressed his excitement at the opportunities these new connections offer.
"We want the content available on demand," he said. The centralized server that is used to host blogs and podcasts will now allow teachers to publish their content quicker, and George expects the use of video podcasts and streaming video content to increase when the bandwidth becomes available to deliver these rich media files.
It's Like a Scrapbook
With all new technologies, there is a learning curve. East Tennessee School District, Hamblen County, was looking for a way to introduce podcasts to teachers. Technology novice Chanda Parker found a way to bring podcasts to the classroom by easing the teaching staff into this new technology. In her role as an instructional technologist in the district, Chanda works with teachers at every building. Her strategy was to begin working with teachers by creating podcasts for them. One day Chanda might be on a field trip to a water treatment plant, and the next day she might be recording video of a teacher working with students as they learn about a math concept like "pi." Once teachers saw how excited their students and parents reacted to the podcasts, interest in the tool was rampant.
Parker compares the podcasts she creates to scrapbooks. The content is a snapshot in the day of a classroom and tells the story of what a class is accomplishing. She has recorded school plays and other events and uploaded them to servers so that teachers, parents, and students can access them. She usually records video of each event, even if she plans to only use the audio, as she finds it easier to edit. She integrates video, still photos, and audio recordings into the podcasts to tell a story about the event.
Chanda has also created virtual tours of each school building in Hamblen County. When families are moving into the district, they can download video podcasts and learn more about the district and the specific building their child will attend. The virtual tours also allow students moving from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school, an opportunity to virtually experience their new school environment before arriving on the first day of a new school year.
Hamblen County Schools hopes to see teachers creating the podcasts themselves in the near future. Chanda Parker, a self proclaimed technology amateur, hopes the work she has done with teachers over the past year will show them they can implement these technologies, regardless of their level of technology experience. Chanda is excited about the opportunity to continue to help teachers create and deliver content that connects with students and parents in the district - and podcasting is a tool students embrace.
What the Tech?
For Lynn Duhamell, a blog represented a fresh way to deliver technology news to her district. As Director of Instructional Media at Portage Township Schools in northwest Indiana, Lynn is responsible for many different teams within the district. She recently turned to blogging as a way to communicate about technology within Portage Township.
"What the Tech" started over twelve years ago as a printed newsletter that Duhamell sent to educators throughout the district. She would start an issue and get it ready, but by the time it was received by the teachers many of the events Duhamell wrote about had already occurred. In time, she migrated to sending an attachment as an email, which reduced costs, but she was still plagued by issues with the timeliness of her content.
When blogs became available, Lynn saw an opportunity to create content that was fresh and timely. She started the blog version of "What the Tech" in October 2006 and she includes entries about technology team meetings, links to tech resources within the district, and links to other blogs about books and many other topics. The blog gives Lynn the opportunity to provide helpful tips and links, as well as reminders to district teachers about reports and other upcoming events whenever she wants to provide the information.
Lynn teaches a web page creation course for teachers within the district, which now includes blogging. Once a teacher completes the course, they can start to add blogs and be linked to the Portage Township district home page. Teachers in the district have had three different courses this past spring, and Duhamell has scheduled three more for the summer. In addition, an advanced blogging course has been created for educators that want to take their blogs up a notch.
It is not just Portage Township that is reading "What the Tech," either. Duhamell has a statistics tool on her blog that tells her about the visitors to her blog. She has seen readers from Canada, India, and Japan, and has received comments from other blog writers that she has linked to. Lynn has also seen that people searching for topics that she writes about have found her blog when searching Google. What was once an internal newsletter has now become a tool to communicate with the world.
It will not be surprising to see video podcasts and links to video streams on Portage Township teacher blogs in the future. Lynn Duhamell wants to add these technologies, and more, to the toolbox that her teachers have to connect with students and teachers. She hopes to provide a video stream of their high school graduation in the future, and she is adding video editing courses for teachers to take this summer in anticipation of the increased demand for video content.