Academic Exchange Quarterly      Winter  2010    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  14, Issue  4

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Academic podcasts: The student perspective


Mark G. Urtel, IUPUI, Indianapolis, IN


Urtel, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Physical Education; chairs the campus program review and assessment committee


Academic podcasts: The student perspective



Higher Education faculty members continue to search for ways to connect the technology student’s use in their recreational time to what they will use during their academic time.  The current project (N = 170) surveyed students to determine their perception and use of academic podcasts as assigned in a course that meets face-to-face.  Cross-tabulations were completed to determine how recreational download history impacts download rates of course-based broadcasts.  Preliminary findings suggest students do listen to academic podcasts; yet, much differently than they do recreational podcasts.



With the sudden and vast emergence of podcasting as a teaching and learning tool in higher education today, there has been a comparable rise in the scholarly inquiry of this particular learning technology (Tripp, DuVall, Cowan and Kamauu, 2006).  Subsequently, there are equivocal findings as to student usage rates and effectiveness to enhance learning (Griffin, Mitchell, & Thompson, 2009; Hew, 2009).


For instance, some early researchers speculated that availing academic podcasts to students would stunt or slow course attendance rates, however, as research is being completed this hypothesis is not being supported (Bongey, Cizadlo, & Kalnback, 2006; Fernandez, Simp, & Sallan, 2009; Parson, Reddy, Woody, & Senior, 2009; and Williams & Bearman, 2008).  Moreover, it is becoming clear that faculty and students are viewing course based technology broadcasts as an additional resource to face to face course delivery; not as a substitute to attending class (Lonn & Teasley, 2009).  In fact, students actually prefer attending traditional lectures over listening to academic broadcasts (Griffin et al, 2009; Bongey et al, 2006).


Further evidence that the emerging technology of course based broadcasts may be more attractive to faculty than students relates to reported listening rates.  Williams and Bearman (2006) reported a 38% listening rate for assigned academic podcasts.  And, there still remain important unanswered questions regarding the teaching and learning process and how these broadcasts enhance or inhibit that interaction (Jham, Duraes, Strassler, and Sensi, 2008).  Subsequently, some scholars speculate the portability of some (personal) listening devices make mobile learning an attractive option for the current student (Hulsman, 2009). However, there have not been any definitive studies to address those speculations.  Therefore, given the preliminary findings from current course-based broadcasting research and the absence of any baseline information about student use and perception of recreational podcasts, the research question How do students use and view academic podcasts was developed.




Previously, academic podcasting was not a utilized instructional technology of the course, yet the instructor wanted to determine the extent to which students perceived and used these technology course supplements.  The academic podcasts were downloadable from the course website and were linked to a particular course reading and lecture, however, it is important to note, students could have downloaded the broadcasts into many various formats and to many individual listening devices.  The podcasts were not scripted lectures by the instructor; rather, the instructor sought out national, regional, and local industry experts and interviewed them regarding topics introduced in the reading and didactic course meetings. Therefore, the typical lecture supplement broadcasts were between 15-20 minutes; with some exceeding that duration.


The method of data collection was through a survey. It is worthy to note that the survey was developed from the previously administered Brittain, Glowacki, Van Ittersum, and Johnson (2006) survey; yet also contained additional course-specific prompts for assessment by the course instructor.  The survey was piloted prior to the current project and subsequently validated by both peer review (3 research experts with familiarity using survey research) and by content validity (exploratory factor analysis). 


Based on the pilot, a few changes were made to the survey instrument and implementation.  First, in relation to the actual survey instrument, 3 items were eliminated as they presented themselves as outliers and did not load significantly as compared to the other items.  Second, the survey was offered only in a summative fashion; as after the pilot (which included both formative and summative surveys on student perception) there was not a significant difference between responses of the formative and summative surveys and, most notably, students commented clearly they felt over-surveyed.


This highly iterative pilot process yielded a format which simply linked an academic podcast, to a course reading and class lecture; which culminated into a quiz.  This protocol was, subsequently, repeated for the current project.  More particularly, the survey was administered to the students during the academic year (AY) 2009 upon their completion of the corresponding course quiz; which was preceded by a related lecture / chapter reading and linked broadcast.


The Institutional Review Board-approved, post-pilot, survey contained both quantitative prompts and qualitative prompts that included elements that reflect (a) how students downloaded the academic podcast (b) where they listened to the course-based broadcast (if at all) (c) when they listened as it related to course readings and (d) how they felt this technology enhanced their learning from course assessments.   For the qualitative prompts, each statement was followed by a 5 point Likert-type interval scale where 5 reflected strongly agree and 1 reflected strongly disagree.  The qualitative prompts were followed by empty space for the respondent to write as much or as little as they would like.  Additionally, the survey was able to elicit demographic information of the students as well as experience with recreational downloads of podcasts, and how they would recommend to faculty to create future broadcasts of interest to them.



There were 170 subjects who responded to the in-class survey.  For data analysis, respondents were stratified by recreational download history.  In that two categories emerged, first (a) No / Low – which equated to students who downloaded recreationally at a rate of once a month or less and (b) Yes / High – which equated to students who downloaded recreationally at a rate of once a week or more.  Summing up, the No / Low group equaled an N= 79, where the average participant completed about seven recreational downloads in the last year (M=7.28, SD=2.13).  Moreover, the Yes / High equaled an N= 91 where the average participant completed a little over seventeen downloads in the past year (M=888; SD=1694).  It is important to note the range of downloads for the Yes/High group was 75-10,000 downloads during the last calendar year and should alleviate the concern of a standard deviation exceeding an aggregated group mean.


Upon analyzing the data from the cohort of surveyed students (again, N = 170) it was found that the surveyed cohort was comprised of 12.4% freshmen, 45.3% sophomores, 34.1% juniors, and 8.2% seniors.  Additionally, in aggregate, the download rate was 76.5% (so, 130 class members did download the course-based broadcasts with 40 students not downloading these course supplements).  Of the 23.5% that did not download/listen, 60% were from the Yes/High group and 40% from the No/Low group; again as it related to their experience downloading recreational content.


Cross-tabulations were then completed to determine interactions between class standing and recreational download history and listening classification.  It was found that when class standing intersected with recreational download history that sophomores of each recreational download group (Yes / High & No / Low) were the most apt to not download the podcast (41% and 50%, respectively) and freshmen were the least apt to not download the podcast (3.3% and 2.5%, respectively).When class standing intersected with listening classification, 23.8% of freshmen, 23.4% of sophomores, 22.4% of juniors, and 28.6% of seniors did not listen to the course-based broadcast.


In regard to the 76.5% of the cohort that listened to the academic podcasts, 63% did so before they completed the chapter reading.  Cross-tabulations indicated, when stratifying recreational download history by listening classification that 75% of the No/Low group listened to the broadcast before completing the reading and 64% of the Yes/High group listened to the podcast before completing the reading.  Furthermore, sophomores overall, irrespective of recreational download history, were the least apt to listen before they read the chapter (only 51% did) where 75% of juniors listened before they completed the reading.  When layering recreational download history on this particular cross-tabulation, then within both Yes/High and No/Low groups, sophomores were the least apt to listen before they read.  However, for the Yes/High group juniors were still the most apt to listen before they read, but for the No/Low group seniors were the most apt to listen before they read (60.5% and 60.0%, respectively). 


As it pertains to the location to which the students listened to the academic podcasts, overall, 82% listened to the course supplement at home, 13% listened on campus, and 5% listened while in transport (walking/public transportation/driving to class).When factoring class standing and recreational download history it was found that there was no difference between location and recreational download history; as both groups listened to the course-based broadcasts at home at high rates.  Yet, sophomores in both the Yes/High and No/Low groupings had the highest percentage of students listening while in transport; 8.4% and 6.7% in that particular order.


Moreover, as it pertains to how the students listened to the academic podcasts, 88% listened using a desktop or laptop and 12% listened to the academic podcast on a personal listening device (Zen, iPod, etc).  When factoring in recreation download history those in the No/Low group used a desktop / laptop as opposed to a personal listening device at a rate of 93.9% versus 6.1%.  For the Yes/High group, 83.1% used a desktop/laptop and 16.9% used a personal listening device.  There were no major differences of device used by class standing; in aggregate or by recreational download history.


Table 1 indicates that no statistically significant differences exist between the two groups as it related to the eight-item, pre-validated, survey regarding the use and effectiveness of academic podcasts. [Table ONE]


The survey concluded with a prompt for open ended comments about this particular learning technology of the course.  The focus was to speak about topics not evident in the survey.  Analysis from the student-generated comments revealed two unmistakable themes.  First, students indicated (a) I sign up for an in-person class for a reason and (b) I get easily distracted while listening to a podcast for class.



In particular, it was found that the usage rate of academic podcasts for the current project was about 76.5%; and this appears to exceed previously reported listening rates that were well below 50%.  Moreover, it appears there are two distinct types of learners in higher education today, those with a history of downloading recreational material and those that appear somewhat impervious to that type of technology.


Notably, however, there does not appear to be a relationship between recreational download history and academic download listening rate as the largest group of non-listeners toward the broadcasts had the largest recreational download history.  Perhaps students with high recreational download rates are either too busy to academically download or simply find course-based broadcasts not as attractive as what they can recreationally download.  Conversely, for non-recreational downloaders, academic podcasting could be novel enough to stimulate involvement.


Additionally when looking at class standing, while sophomores represented the largest enrolled demographic they also ended up representing (by percentages) the group that had the highest non-listening rate; with freshmen and seniors having the highest listening rates.  Yet, overall, each class standing, irrespective of recreational download history, had non-listener rates in the twenty-percentages (22.4%-28.6%)

Somewhat surprising were the findings that indicated where listening took place and how listening occurred.  Earlier cited scholars speculate students will listen to course-based materials while in transport and, moreover, on their own personal device.  And for recreational use that does appear quite reasonable, yet, as it relates to academic podcasts, it was clear students did not listen to them while travelling to school on their own personal listening device.  In fact, it appears students listen to course-based broadcasts at home or in the campus library; with the locations representing being in transport very rare (~5%). 

Moreover, the use of a personal listening device proved to be a minor tool to use for the academic podcast.  For listeners with a low recreational download history, having the podcast be easily downloadable to a personal device was not a high priority, at all (6.1%).  For listeners with a higher recreational download history, personal listening devices were slightly more popular as an option (16.9%). 

It appears that keeping academic podcasts accessible to multiple forms of play back, including desktop / laptop and personal listening device is smart.  And to expect students to listen to an academic podcast while in transport may be a bit overzealous. 

Finally, as evidenced in table 1, there were no significant differences between the two groups (again, as defined by recreational download history) as it related to their general thoughts on academic podcasting.  More specifically, each group held similarly strong beliefs that this technology is a helpful supplement to a class.  Also, the two groups shared a tempered view of taking a future course that used this particular technology as the prime mode of delivery.  Moreover, there was a shared notion that it is not necessary to assign weekly course-based technology supplements to each reading assignment.  It also appears there is shared belief that upcoming academic podcasts will be listened to on a desktop or laptop and not necessarily on a personal listening device.  Finally, each group shared a strong feeling and had the highest positive response to limiting podcasts to 10-15 minutes in duration.

Summing up, in light of the limitations of this study, there are a few remarkable findings regarding student perception toward academic podcasts.  First, the location of listening tended to be at home or on-campus; neither suggests listening to course-based broadcasts will occur in transport to class or work; as a mobile learning technology.  Second, personal (mobile) listening devices are still relatively unpopular as the medium to which to listen to an academic podcast.  Clearly, for highly experienced recreational downloaders this is to be expected because they already have the device.  But for novel and less accomplished learners, it appears using a laptop or desktop is the more practical alternative.  Knowing these potential realities can help to inform faculty and end-users alike of the best way to utilize and approach technology so it enhances student engagement and facilitates the teaching and learning process.





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