The ‘Double Life’ of an i-Pod – a case study of the
educational potential of new technologies
Palitha Edirisingha, University of Leicester, UK
This presentation outlines a case study conducted at the University of Leicester in the UK to
examine the learning opportunities offered by technological developments in information and
entertainment domains. The study forms a part of a national research project funded by the
UK Higher Education Academy to examine student learning experiences through new e-
learning technologies 1 . The study explores how a ‘peripheral technology’, originally intended
for entertainment and business can become a ‘core technology’ and be integrated into an
institutional learning technology. The peripheral technology explored in the case study is the
delivery of MP3 files for students to use via mobile devices with MP3 play back facility, such
as iPods, dedicated MP3 players, and laptops – a simple form of technology that can be
created by teachers with limited resources. Evidence of how student learning was supported
by podcasts will be presented and an early model of creating pedagogically sound podcasts is
The research study is rooted in a four quadrant framework supporting institutional
implementation of e-learning (Salmon, 2005). The framework offers Higher Education
Institutions a strategic approach for institutional-wide adoption of e-learning, using both core
and peripheral technologies, to serve both existing student populations and to reach new
markets. Core technologies include VLEs and electronic services offered by libraries, while
peripheral technologies are mostly mobile technologies (e.g., smart phones, MP3 players)
widely used for business and entertainment.
Podcasting, widely used in entertainment, journalism and personal broadcasting, is filtering
into education, increasingly catching the attention of the academic community. We urgently
need to develop pedagogical models to use in supporting and enhancing students’ motivation
and learning through these new technologies. Use of e-tivities based on the 5-stage model
(Salmon, 2000), is comparatively less common in on-campus undergraduate teaching,
compared to its wider use in other educational and professional settings. The current
research aims to uncover its potential use in undergraduate teaching.
The core content medium in Podcasting is audio, not new to education. Durbridge (1984)
identified audio’s educational advantages as its ability to influence cognition through clarity of
instructions and emotional aspects of learning by conveying immediacy and a connection with
the teacher (see also Bates, 1981; Laaser, 1986; Power, 1990; and Kates, 1998). Tutor-
initiated audio embedded into email messages yielded increased student participation in
group activities, and added a sense of online community and satisfaction with the overall
learning experience (Woods and Keeler, 2001). Chan and Lee’s (2005) pilot study on
Podcasts for 28 Australian undergraduates shows that informal, short audio clips may help
address students’ anxieties and concerns about the course and assessment while offering a
flexible medium, with portability and social acceptance of use in public settings (Clark and
Walsh, 2004). Chinnery (2006) discusses bringing an authentic cultural experience to
students learning foreign languages, but such studies are seldom evaluative.
More information and progress of the research can be found at:
LRA/BDRA demonstration file, May 2007
The case study
The study took place at the University of Leicester in 2006, over one semester of 12 study
weeks in an undergraduate module in Electrical Engineering called Optical Fibre
Communication Systems. Thirty 2nd and 3rd year campus-based students studied the
module online, using Blackboard VLE. The professor began weekly podcasts to supplement
his online teaching through updated information and guidance on the weekly activities, and to
motivate his students by incorporating relevant news items and a fun item such as a joke. The
podcasts complemented e-tivities (structured online group activities) based on Salmon’s
(2000, 2002) 5-stage scaffolding model by providing summaries and further guidance to
students. Each podcast appeared on the VLE at the beginning of the study week, for 9
The podcast format was:
1 Introduction to the podcast with a relevant news item
2 The main content section typically referring to learning activities for the
forthcoming week and feedback on last week’s work
3 Lighter weight engineering / technology related items, e.g., a joke at the end
The impact of the profcasting was studied. Six students were interviewed and 24 completed
an end-of-semester questionnaire administered through the VLE. Content analysis of
threaded discussions on Blackboard also contributed to our analysis.
Access to technology
The results show that access to the technology was not a limiting factor for listening to
podcasts. All students owned or had access to at least one device with MP3 play-back facility:
a desk-top computer, a laptop computer or dedicated MP3 players such as an i-pod. The
varying degree of portability and ease with which MP3 files can be accessed can have a
bearing on potential use of learning material as MP3 files by students.
Pattern and location of listening
Students’ listening pattern and location of listening showed potential for use outside the
classroom and integration with activities that are not related to studies. Most students (58%)
listened to 6 or more podcasts; 32% had listened to the podcasts on the first or second day
(the content was more relevant if they listened early in the week). Most said they listened
while not engaged with any other learning activities; this demonstrated the podcasts’ potential
to reach students on the move. Most (55%) listened to podcasts off campus, indicating
potential for making academic content available for listening beyond the formal institution.
How did podcasts help student learning?
The questionnaire asked students to select the most important aspect of learning through
podcats which as listed below.
Rank order of the important aspect of learning through podcasts:
1. provided a good introduction to online learning material
2. helped organise my weekly learning activities
3. helped stay focused on the course
4. provided a sense of informality
5. helped in time management
6. helped to understand and to carry out e-tivities
7. provided a summary of e-tivities
8. helped to stimulate interest in the subject
9. helped with the motivation to study
10. helped with assessed work (assignments, exams)
LRA/BDRA demonstration file, May 2007
Student responses show that podcasts have helped students with many of the affective and
organisational aspects of learning.
Personal interviews with students revealed further contributions to student learning which
included: helping to develop positive attitudes towards the professor whom they met only
occasionally face to face; helping to develop as independent and effective online learners;
making learning material available that suited their mobile life styles (to learn on the move);
and deeper engagement with the learning material and deeper understanding of the subject
matter. See Edirisingha, Salmon and Fothergill (2006) for a fuller analysis of student learning
Moving from entertainment to learning
Data from student interviews revealed issues related to switching from entertainment to
learning. Students pointed out that although they were willing to use MP3 players for learning
as well as entertainment, they needed to be in a static place for the first time of listening so as
to be able to take notes. One student doubted he could walk and listen effectively! A second
student said his attention is focused differently when listening to music and to formal
educational material. Music, for this student, is something played in the background when he
is engaged in other work. For another student, the mode of listening to educational material
should be different, which requires ‘to sit down and work as opposed to multi-task with it’.
These are astute comments which recognised that integration of podcasts with other activities
and resources in the online course is important.
These students’ views illustrate the difficulty of switching to using for learning a music player
designed for entertainment. While students appreciated the flexibility offered by the device to
access and use learning material while they are mobile, their perception of academic material
as different from music has a bearing on the eventual use. For these students academic
material requires serious engagement such as taking notes, not easy on the move.
Concluding remarks and guidelines for podcasts
This case study highlighted how podcasting contributed to student learning: supporting
organisational aspects of learning; developing positive attitudes towards the lecturer, bringing
in an informality and fun to formal learning; helping with independent learning; enabling deep
engagement with learning material; enabling access while being mobile. The study also
emphasised that listening to educational material is different from listening for entertainment;
therefore, podcasts must be integrated with other learning activities, so that student’s i-pods
can have a double life! – one for entertainment and another for learning. For this
transformation to occur, we propose the following guide-lines.
1 Integrate podcasts into online courses with strong links to other activities and
resources, especially if they encourage active learning and/or collaboration with
2 Record them afresh each week and include up to date news and feedback
3 Make them partly reusable and recyclable by some sections not being dependent on
news or feedback from that week
4 Make sure the file size is small enough so that they are downloadable onto any
mobile device offering MP3 playback as well as tethered computers
5 Follow a ‘radio magazine’ style rather than a lecture
LRA/BDRA demonstration file, May 2007
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LRA/BDRA demonstration file, May 2007