Submitted by Carol Damm, MEd, Instructional Designer


Recently, I read an article[i], published on a California PBS website, proposing the use of the podcast, Serial, as course material. The writer, John Walter, described how he used this episodic medium in his journalism class. Serial is a logical choice as course material for his class because it required investigative reporting as well as presented excellent storytelling, i.e. writing and production, skills.  However, for me as an instructional designer, it was the ancillary reasons for using a podcast that piqued my interest in the article: it engaged the students through technology media—mp3 players or computers—which they enjoy using, and captivated their attention with a story that involved characters to whom they could relate.

When students fully engage with material, they begin to take ownership of their own learning. As Walter described, students in his class put in more hours than required for the course work and became passionate about the story and the individuals involved in the drama. Would they have done so if they were to read the episodes in black and white on paper? Perhaps a few students might but most would, more than likely, not. Serial is so effective because it incorporates different voices through interviews and creates drama with strategic pauses and episodic music. It transcends the written word. And, of course, this is the power of audio and video course material.

Podcasts, in particular, have the added attraction of being a new medium for many, if not most, students. According to the Pew Research Center on Journalism and Media, “as of 2016, 21% of Americans age 12 or older say they have listened to a podcast in the past month.”[ii] Where online videos and photos are readily shared through the social media that are popular with college-aged students, podcasts and other audio stories and reporting are seldom shared. This suggests that the materials will be unfamiliar to students and will engage as a novel approach to learning.

Podcasts address many topics that are relevant to educators. For current events and topics, radio programs produced by NPR, PRI, and others address topical issues in politics, sociology, science, literature, the arts, and so on. These are often shorter recordings, especially if they are news reports, but some programs like This American LifeOn Being, and Science Friday (and many others) may focus on a particular topic for a half hour or more. TED Radio Hour covers a topic each week by interviewing speakers and presenting portions of their TED Talk.  The TED Talk videos also offer high-quality material for educators. Then there are topical podcasts that you can find on aggregator sites, called podcatchers, like iTunes and Listenwise (focused on K-12 educators). Wikipedia offers a “List of Podcatchers”. You can usually search in any of the aggregators by typing in keywords for your topic or you can choose to browse by topic. You can also search the internet by typing in “podcast” and any other keywords that help drill down to a particular topic.

Ideally, you are looking for podcasts that are free and/or embeddable. The most efficient method to offer a podcast is by embedding it on LATTE through the Label or Page resource. If the podcast is free or if you pay a minimal amount to download it, you can also upload it to LATTE. However, it is preferable to stream a podcast that is embedded because videos or podcasts may not play well on LATTE as the ability to process the files for playing is dependent on the file size. A large file, uploaded to a LATTE course site, may seize and not play because it requires more processing power than is available at the moment. The other advantage to making a podcast available through LATTE is that you do not need to worry about students’ personal devices—whether PCs, smartphones, or tablets—that may or may not be compatible with the source of the podcast.


[i] Walter, J. (Aug 30 2016). Employing the ‘Serial’ podcast as a primary text. KQED Education: In the Classroom.

[ii] Vogt, N. (Jun 15 2016). Podcasting: Fact sheet. Pew Research Center, Journalism & Media: State of the News Media 2016.

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