Do You Hear Me? A Critical Inquiry of the Potential of Podcasts Through a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Lens

Equity

Equity: Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

I recently participated in a Podcast learning event with a small peer group to research Podcasting technologies and the application of these, primarily digital audio files for use in educational contexts. Post-listening, we discussed the event and collaborated to capture our experiences in a reflective blog post (AartsenGedakLloydMoore, & Nevay, 2020).

As a teaching and learning with technologies strategist, I often recommend the use of audio files for providing students feedback and for designing and implementing activities, assignments, and assessments. Additionally, I sing the praises of audio files and Podcasts for delivering content, lectures and instructions to students and by students. My department hosts an episodic series of Podcasts, which I enthusiastically promote to faculty wanting to polish their pedagogical approaches, nevertheless, ironically, I have not indeed taken the time to experience this technology to its full potential for myself. Building upon this experiential research, I have begun to conduct a literature review to critically analyze the use of podcasts as an educational technology; and the effectiveness of Podcasts in supporting learner variability. Selwyn (2010) argued that democratic and social justice issues surrounding learning technologies demanded a deeper exploration, and I intend to examine the use of Podcasting in educational contexts through the lens of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and its guiding principles. I am interested in examining this topic, as all learners should be supported in meeting the learning outcomes. UDL approaches access as a matter of equity; making sure “all students have the ability to interact with and learn from curriculum rather than being given individualized instruction that further separates their learning from that of their peers” (Venkatesh, 2015, p.11), which aligns with my values and beliefs.

Meyer, Rose, & Gordon (2014) emphasized the importance of using the principles of the UDL framework that Meyer and Rose previously developed nearly two decades before and argued that these values were increasingly important in current contexts with diverse learners. In the recent weeks of supporting faculty in transitioning to remote teaching, issues surrounding learner variability and access have become more pronounced, and considerations for supporting learning equity are demanding a more in-depth consideration. All students deserve the ability to access and interact with the course content, activities, assignments, assessments, and the learning community equitably.

Can Podcasts as an educational technology effectively support access and equity for diverse learners? Podcasts are arguably convenient to access on personal computers and mobile devices (Berlanger, 2005; McLoughlin & Lee 2007), and provide low barrier access to content as they are generally free (Hew, 2009). Pedagogically, Podcasts can be used to encourage discussion and discourse (Edirisingha & Salmon, 2007; Hew, 2009). Berlanger (2005) argued that Podcasts could be used to enhance support for individual learning needs, reinforcing their potential in supporting diverse learners meeting course and program outcomes.

In contrast, Podcasts are generally not visual. The captioning of audio files is possible; nevertheless, that is not always the case, which I experienced firsthand when participating in our group activity. There was also no transcript provided limiting the learning event to a purely auditory experience, which could negatively impact the ability to access the contents of the recordings for some learners. I have also found challenges discovering literature that critically examines Podcasts as an educational technology through the lens of UDL and am searching for further empirical evidence that supports or counters the use of Podcasts in providing equitable access for all learners. I welcome input from others on this topic to inform my deeper research in this area.

Have you used Podcasting to support diverse learners in meeting the learning outcomes in your courses?

References

Aartsen, T., GedakL., Lloyd, O., Moore, K., & Nevay, L. (2020, April 19). The Audacity to Explore: Using Critical Inquiry to Examine Podcasts as a Learning Event. Kathy’s Blog: a MALAT Student Blog. https://malat-webspace.royalroads.ca/rru0108/the-audacity-to-explore-using-critical-inquiry-to-examine-podcasts-as-a-learning-event/

Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and Practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.

Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: Notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65–73. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00338.x

Venkatesh, K. (2015). Universal design for learning as a framework for social justice: A multicase analysis of undergraduate preservice teachers (Unpublished Ph.d. thesis). University of Boston College.

12 thoughts on “Do You Hear Me? A Critical Inquiry of the Potential of Podcasts Through a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Lens

  1. Lisa your topic is a very strong fit for critical inquiry. It’s good to see that you’re actively using podcasting in your own professional work, which adds relevance and urgency to your research. Your early critiques as offered in this post already point to some areas that could be addressed to improve learning equity and I look forward to seeing what your research and other readers might bring to the table.

    1. Thank you, Irwin,

      I look forward to researching this topic in further depth and am eager to read any input I may receive surrounding this critical issue.

      Much appreciated,
      Lisa

  2. You bring an interesting perspective to this topic Lisa, in that you have significant experience as an educator but as a relatively new user, your perspective is fresh. I have to admit, I don’t really listen to lengthy podcasts or talk radio, as for some reason, after about 10 minutes, my interest wanders. But I have numerous friends and colleagues who do so I should keep an open mind about that when it comes to its application for other learners.
    The only other experience I have with learning using audio was about four years ago. Someone had made the decision to purchase some customer service training that consisted of recorded audio in a modular format. I was brought in to tailor the training for agents in our call centre, (folks who need to reference information, quickly and easily). The first question I asked was about the electronic documentation to support the audio. There wasn’t any. None. The individual modules constituted of over 30 hours of recording so when I provided an estimate of my time to transcribe them the decision (thank goodness) was that it was too time consuming.
    So you bring up a very salient point that any audio/podcast that exists solely on its own (depending on its purpose, and complexity) may need accompanying documentation to support learners’ reference to it after the learning activity. An important consideration as part of the upfront needs analysis.
    I’m very curious to find out what your research reveals so I’m looking forward to future posts.
    Cheers
    Sue

    1. Thank you, Sue,

      I do have a fresh perspective as a neophyte with this medium.

      Thank you for sharing your experience! The fact that you can only listen for ten minutes before your “interest wanders” indicates the need to consider the way individuals process, reflect on, and ultimately retain information using this technology, and re-enforces the need for captioning, transcripts and additional modalities to deliver content and resources.

      I cannot imagine the nightmare of transcribing thirty hours of audio! Meyer and Gordon (2014) postulated that Podcasts could be used to inspire motivation and engagement in educational contexts; nevertheless, your experience sounds anything but motivating; in fact, it sounds torturous!

      Thanks again for sharing your experience with this technology Sue, your input will be valuable in informing my research moving forward, I look forward to sharing my findings in a future blog post!

      Cheers,
      Lisa

      Reference

      Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and Practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.

  3. Hi Lisa

    Your topic will be interesting to research and will most likely affect what and how you chose to utilize podcasts in the future.

    I have some experience using podcasts in a business setting. I’ve used them as part of a leadership series, where leaders listen to the information and I’ve also used them as a tool for lunch and learn opportunities. In both circumstances, I have ensured that either (a) summarized notes of the podcast are available; or (b) a transcript of the podcast is available as participants are listening to the information. The participants I work with may have a university education or they may have grade 12. Everyone who participates obtains something completely different from the learning experience. That is why, if I want to ensure everyone leaves with the same ‘tidbit’ of information, once we have listened to the podcast, I open it up for discussion. It may be small group discussion or one larger group.

    I utilize on a regular basis the following principles of universal design. Specifically equitable use, flexibility, simplicity and perception of information by the participants ( Martin, 2008). In my work environment, everyone who is participating in the podcast is starting with a different level of knowledge, skills and abilities. It’s important to get everyone on the same page by the end of the learning event. Universal design for learning, helps to ensure everyone receives the information in the method best suited for them.

    References

    Martin, G. (2008). Universal design for learning initiatives. Training & Development in Australia, 021–023.

    1. Thank you, Caroline, you have provided me with much to consider.

      Your prediction about the impact of my investigation is accurate, as I can already see how this research will influence how I chose to implement Podcasts in practice.

      I wonder what inquiries or discoveries led to your practice evolution when using Podcasts for business training? Ensuring summarized notes, transcripts, and opportunities for discussion is undoubtedly considerate of the diverse learning needs of your participants. I do, however, think in specific contexts (higher education, for example) more time for reflection is required to support metacognition, especially for online learning experiences. Chen, Light & Ittelson (2013) argued that students arriving at university did not necessarily know how to connect learning and required support in developing reflective, metacognitive practices. If the learning event (Podcast) takes place over an hour, for example, students will not all “be on the same page” at the end of the hour even with a post-discussion; they will require time to absorb and reflect upon both the event and the discussion points.

      Thanks again for your thoughts and provocative insights,
      Lisa

      Reference
      Chen, H., Light, T., & Ittelson, J. (2013). Documenting learning with e-portfolios: A guide for college instructors. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass

  4. I enjoyed that you are providing a critical inquiry based view to such a used – and perhaps over-used – mechanism of modern learning. It is not possible to overlook the high abundance of podcasts and other audio based tools in ed-tech today. I personally have created a podcast for a former LRNT course, and previously in my PIDP courses, but I have never created one in my professional work. I look forward to your inquiry as it would provide a valuable insight into the use of podcasts.

    1. Hi Earl,

      I agree that Podcasting (audio files) has risen in popularity and there are MANY choices available (certainly not all created equal!) in ed-tech today.

      I have created audio content but never a product I could consider a Podcast. I wonder if you considered the learning needs of the audience when you created your podcasts in coursework? My guess is that you would have been focussed on the quality of the content and how you were delivering it, versus how the audience would access and process the information. It gets me thinking about the content we are creating for our classmates and instructors, we assume we are delivering to a knowledgeable audience, but knowledgeable or not, everyone receives and processes information in various formats differently…

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Earl!
      Cheers;
      Lisa

  5. Hi Lisa,

    I haven’t used a podcast as a teaching tool, but I have helped to create them for co-curricular student engagement. As well, I have taken courses that tried to use podcast-esque recordings as learning tools. For me, podcasts haven’t been the best medium, as I can’t access many of the benefits of podcasts. For example, being able to listen on a mobile device is a challenge. I am deaf in one ear and having headphones in my ears for a long period of time results in head and earaches. Moreover, having a headphone in my surgically reconstructed ear can be painful. I have also been advised to avoid using headphones to maintain my hearing. Thus, podcasts aren’t portable for me, as I must listen to them out loud at home. Also, the audio quality needs to be really good for me to be able to effectively take in the sound. I enjoy listening to podcasts and have listened to more ‘grassroots’ ones, where the audio is ok but not perfect. If I can’t make out words, it can make listening frustrating. All this being said, I think podcasts are a great educational medium and I have certainly learned many things from them. Using the principles of UDL in making podcasts is something I think is important to support accessibility for diverse listeners. I think this is wonderful tool to explore with a UDL framework!

    1. Hi Sanjay,

      Thank you for sharing your experiences listening to podcasts. The numerous challenges that you face using this technology provide inarguable evidence that these recordings are not, without careful consideration, made for all learners.

      Using “podcast-esque” recordings, or audio files; to deliver content, or for learning activities, assignments, or assessments, could inadvertently limit the ability of the learner to meet the learning outcomes; or exclude them entirely.

      Evaluating podcasts as a learning technology using the UDL principles as a criterion may provide some insight to inform practices to be more inclusive of all learners.

      Thank you for your comments,
      Lisa

  6. Hi Lisa,

    This is going to be a very interesting topic – the intersection of podcasts and UDL! I can’t wait to learn more from you as you dive into your research. 🙂

    I have used Podcasting to support diverse learners in meeting the learning outcomes in a few of the high school English classes that I taught (Applied and Academic) – as an assignment for the students. They loved it! I always used CBC as great introductions to what a podcast is all about (https://www.cbc.ca/radio/podcasts) — there are adult and younger people’s collections. I had signed out iPads for all of my students and we used the app Garage Band (http://www.apple.com/ilife/garageband/)(for musical intro, audio recording, and musical outro). Podcasts were a fantastic assignment because they involved 1) writing (the content), 2) reading, 3) speaking, 4) and listening – to other students’ final products.

    I see using Podcasts as an assignment for students as a clearer fit for UDL, rather than using it as an instructional tool. But I thoroughly appreciate your topic and think finding ways to make podcasts more accessible to all learners, as a teaching tool, would be fantastic. I see your suggestion of transcripts for podcasts as an essential part of UDL. Sanjay’s comments confirm that merely an audio file doesn’t always work for everyone, for a variety of reasons. I personally love podcasts – and learn a lot from them. I am a big fan of CBC radio (talk radio – podcasts in the making), specifically when I am driving. However, I can see how a podcast, while sitting in my home or office, would have to be a “different kind of engaging” than when I am driving my car.

    I enjoy Irwin’s podcasts! Music IS a fun element of a podcast. AND whether it be in course work, or my work with an edtech startup (within larger Canadian publisher), I often need to listen to the audio recordings of video meetings IF I was unable to attend due to another work or personal commitment (like our Collab Sessions in MALAT). It seems that we are indeed being asked to LISTEN to more content as technology has made recording video calls more the norm today.

    Perhaps combining podcasts AND THE CHOICE of “digital storytelling” (http://elab.athabascau.ca/workshop/digital-storytelling) is one way to move towards UDL in connection with podcasts. Digital storytelling incorporates many of the engaging aspects of podcasts, but brings in visuals and other tools to make the audio more accessible – without it being a “video.”

    Podcasts were on my list of topics posed to my group for our project. Looking forward to your group’s presentation and hearing how your individual research and project unfolds, Lisa!

    Leigh

    1. Hi Leigh,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas surrounding the use of Podcasts to support diverse learners! I appreciate your perspective as someone who has implemented their use with diverse learners in both applied and academic settings; I wonder if they vocalized what they loved about it specifically? It sounds as though they were given the experience to both listen to, and create their own.

      I think it is essential to consider UDL principles in both assignment design, and as an instructional tool. When Podcasts (or any audio file) are used to present content, feedback, resources, or is in any way utilized to support student learning, UDL principles demand consideration. I agree that listening in a new environment (not in the car) could alter the experience, and this reminds me that students in online learning environments will be accessing these files in unique environments and in a variety of ways which may undoubtedly make the experience less than equitable – how can instructors incorporate UDL principles to level the playing field? Can they?

      I LOVE the incorporation of music in Podcasts (Like Irwin’s) and think the idea of the addition of digital storytelling could be very enriching to a learning experience using this technology.

      Thanks again,
      Lisa

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