This is a proposal I submitted this evening for the AERA 2006 conference to be held in San Francisco next April.

Abstract

As a potentially disruptive technology capable of constructively promoting transmediation, educators have both an opportunity and responsibility to embrace podcasting. Under certain circumstances, podcasting can fundamentally transform the perceptions of students about school, their roles in the learning process, and the value of their daily activities shared via podcasts with a global as well as local audience.

Definitions

“Transmediation refers to the process of “responding to cultural texts in a range of sign systems — art, movement, sculpture, dance, music, and so on — as well as in words. Transmediation can include response to traditional printed texts, as well as multimedia materials including video, animation, a website, a podcast, etc.” (WikiPedia) Traditional, didactic, teacher-centered instruction focuses primarily on student interaction with printed texts. The saturation of US classrooms with computer technology over the past five to ten years has increased the accessibility of Internet-based resources for student research as well as teacher-led instruction. Teacher use of multimedia presentations is increasingly common, providing opportunities for students to view digital graphics, animations, and movies during classroom instruction. These experiences represent consumeristic transmediation, where the students are generally passive recipients / consumers of transmediated content. Greater value in terms of student engagement is reported by instructors as well as students when multimedia content is utilized in classroom lessons in this way, but the transformative potential of these experiences with transmediation is inherently limited as long as students remain consumers rather than producers of content. When students produce classroom podcasts, they cease to merely be media consumers and become media producers: knowledge architects of the twenty-first century.

A disruptive technology is defined as “a new technological innovation, product, or service that eventually overturns the existing dominant technology in the market, despite the fact that the disruptive technology is both radically different than the leading technology and that it often initially performs worse than the leading technology according to existing measures of performance.” (WikiPedia) Podcasting “is a method of publishing audio broadcasts via the Internet, allowing users to subscribe to a feed of new files (usually MP3s).” (WikiPedia) Podcasting represents a potentially disruptive technology when it is utilized in classroom contexts by students and teachers to publish audio descriptions and retellings of daily and weekly educational activities to an Internet based audience. This can include local, state, national, and international web listeners.

In traditional K-12 as well as higher education environments, student work is largely created for an audience of one: the instructor, or at times the classroom peer group. Audiences outside the defined classroom are generally rare in K-16 contexts. Podcasting has an inherently disruptive potential because of its ability to dramatically expand the notion of “audience” for classroom authors and content creators. By itself, podcasting may not constitute a “disruptive technology” by the commonly accepted definition of the term. Taken with other Internet-based technologies, however, including blogs, wikis, and social bookmarking services, podcasting may be a pivotal cornerstone of a larger set of transformative technologies capable of promoting authentic, interactive classroom transmediation in ways unimagined prior to the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Unique Potentials of Podcasting

Podcasting represents an inherently transformative technology, within and outside of educational contexts, because of characteristics basic to its use. Podcasting can be metaphorically understood as TiVo for Internet-based radio. After installing podcast subscription software, computer users can subscribe to published podcasts using RSS (real simple syndication) feeds and download recorded audio podcasts to their computer and portable music listening device. (The iPod is one specific example of this category of digital audio devices.) Once podcast content has been downloaded, the owner can time-shift and place-shift their use of that content: listening to podcasts in the car, at home in the backyard, or anywhere else at any time. Alternatively, users can listen to podcast content on their computer using a standard web browser.

Podcasting is an example of “narrowcasting” or narrowcast content, as opposed to more commonly experienced “broadcast” content like television programming, studio-released movies, radio programs, etc. Specific authors generally focusing on narrow topics of content are using podcasting to share their perceptions and ideas with volunteer, digital audiences. In the case of K-12 classrooms, parents, guardians, and grandparents form a natural audience with inherent interests in the published podcast content of students who are their relations and/or in their care. In addition to this small group, others may choose to also join the narrowcast audience of a classroom podcast. The essential characteristic to recognize about all members of a podcast audience is the non-traditional way they are able to listen and experience the audio content contained in a classroom podcast. Without the disruptive technology of podcasting, these individuals would be unlikely to gain sustained exposure to the content of classroom podcasts.

By engaging in the process of planning, creating, producing and sharing podcasts, students and teachers alike participate in complex and richly authentic process of transmediation. Like authors, script writers and producers of traditional broadcast media, student podcasters must identify prospective content, prepare materials for production, produce the actual podcast, and permit the podcast to be uploaded/shared with others via the Internet. This process provides a fertile environment for not only the development of traditional reading, writing, and other language arts skills, but also the development of other literacies including digital and media literacy.

Current Uses of Podcasting in Education

A year ago, in the summer of 2004, “podcasting” as a concept and an educational activity did not exist. Over the past year, a large number of individuals have creatively produced a variety of podcasts for different audiences and purposes. In educational settings, podcasts are presently being used in four primary ways:

1. Traditional lecture recording: At Duke University, for example, students are provided with iPod music players to listen to a variety of recorded audio files for course requirements and activities. ( http://www.duke.edu/ipod/) Instructor lectures are recorded and made available for student use as podcasts.

2. Traditional media: Some traditional media outlets, like NPR’s “On the Media” series from New York ( http://www.onthemedia.org/) are utilizing podcasting as a communicative mechanism to redistribute audio content also released through traditional media channels.

3. Amateur expert narrowcasting: Individuals with expertise in a particular content area or on a specific topic are producing podcasts. David Warlick’s “Connect Learning” podcasts about digital literacy and effective classroom use of available technologies are an example. (http://davidwarlick.com/connectlearning/)

4. Classroom podcasting: Students and teachers are producing podcasts to share significant insights and activities with an Internet audience. Room 208 Podcast by Bob Sprankle’s elementary students in Maine is an example. (http://bobsprankle.com/blog/)

Rationale for Promoting Disruptive Transmediation via Podcasting

As Dr Larry Cuban noted in “Oversold and Underused,” billions of dollars have been spent and continue to be spent on educational technologies in the United States and around the world. Yet, despite these huge expenditures, traditional educational pedagogies continue to predominate throughout the K-16 continuum. The majority of technology purchases made by school districts and colleges/universities to date have been for sustaining technologies, however, rather than potentially disruptive technologies. Educational organizations and the educators working within them should invest both time and resources in disruptive technologies like podcasting which have and continue to demonstrate the potential to powerfully and fundamentally transform instructional pedagogies and promote transmediation.

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