New podcast courses boost Dalhousie summer enrollment

Dalhousie University Associate Professor Robert Huish is behind summer courses being offered by the school's International Development Studies program via podcast for the first time.

Dalhousie University’s International Development Studies program has introduced two summer courses via podcast for the first time that’s resulted in an enrollment boost over the traditional offering of the same courses.

The summer version of Introduction to International Development, like many summer courses, has traditionally been taught using Dalhousie University’s web-based video platform.

Requiring a lot of independent reading and with little direct engagement, Associate Professor Robert Huish started thinking about how to make the course environment more responsive to allow students the best chance at success without watering down the subject material.

“I’m a geographer, so place and spaces are always really important to me. The thing that got me thinking is where are people actually consuming remote learning environments? And it’s often at home…you’re on a couch or awkwardly positioned over a desk in a very solitary space. So I got to thinking, people who are in solitary spaces are usually more comfortable consuming audio, radio in order to engage media as opposed to be trying to be dedicated to one, focused screen point in an isolated environment,” Huish told Broadcast Dialogue.

The same in-class curriculum offered throughout the year has been translated into three podcasts using the Panopto app, a video content solution which allows users to marry slides and photographs to audio. The first podcast series talks about core issues in the field of international development; the second interviews experts on the issues; and the third talks about how those issues are used in research or journalism.

“People can consume them at their own place, be distracted by other things and still listen to the audio, and the interviews in a way that’s quite accessible and quite easy for them to get used to the terminology that we use,” said Huish.

The podcasts feature an interactive element. Following each podcast, an online quiz appears with multiple choice questions that must be answered correctly before the next podcast is unlocked. If a student doesn’t pass the first time, they have a second chance with a prompt directing the user to the part of the podcast or textbook they should revisit.

Huish says while most universities have online spaces like Brightspace or Moodle, podcasting has yet to be broadly embraced as a viable post-secondary learning environment.

“I think there are going to be two benefits from this – one in that students will be able to more easily access [the course material] and become more familiar with it – and secondly it should be a better environment for the professor too. Often professors make the mistake in online learning to try to sit down and teach like they’re teaching in front of 200 people, but it’s to a camera – the dynamics are different, the pace of your voice is different, the whole thing changes…and this should be a much more enjoyable environment for everybody,” said Huish.

Format addresses ESL student challenges

He said the podcast medium also addresses some of the frustrations ESL students have in not being able to fully respond to material introduced in a traditional lecture setting.

“This format introduces a new term, defining it, showing how other people have used it, again and again and again. With this podcast environment they’re able to go back and look at it at their own pace but also pick up how we’re using that new term within other casual conversation, so I think for ESL learners, this will be a real benefit for them too.”

Huish admits he sees the podcast application as best used at the introductory level.

“There may be problems engaging advanced students who are going to want to hash out ideas and they’re going to need that forum for back and forth dialogue, but for students just coming in and getting familiar with the subject, they need to know what the key terms are, the need to see how people are using these terms and what areas of their life they’re going to end up using them as well. So, in those early stages where we’re not trying to create expertise, but just exploratory introduction, I think it’s going to be a very powerful tool. For graduate students of a higher caliber or people just completing their degrees, there I think we need to figure out other ways to create better engagement.”

Huish says other faculty and students have been excited about the new offering with enrolment in the initial summer podcast course speaking for itself. The course sold out quickly with almost double the number of students in the fall semester as of May. A second course being offered in June and July has enrollment up 25% year-over-year.

Most of the podcasts will be made public later this summer.


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