Podcasting 101: The importance of rehearsal

In the audio, above, something that was recording during my podcasting session at the recent IH Barcelona ELT Conference.

The task, really designed for low level young learners involves a series of 6 or more people each picking up on what the last person said. For example:

  1. My name's Pablo, and I like tigers…
  2. Tigers go "Grrrrrr!" My name is Maria and I like cows.
  3. Cows go "Moooo!". My name's Belen and I like birds.
  4. Etc.

We then get back to the first person (Pablo, in the example, above) who finishes by picking up on the animal the last person mentions. Applause optional if they do it quickly and faultlessly!

In the session, under pressure of time, what we didn't do is rehearse this one sufficiently, as you will hear in the recording.

Rehearsal is important for a number of reasons:

  • The more we rehearse, the better the performance will be
  • The more we rehearse, the fewer recordings we have to make (and the language practice and learning is in the rehearsal, not the recording)
  • The better the performance, the less need to edit the recording

One of the great things about podcasting with learners is that they will happily repeat tasks (brilliant for language learning!) because they want it to be as good as possible (also brilliant!).

Although above I've suggested the task for children, in fact I've tried the same task with adults. The language required for the task may be way below their level but if we appoint a learner to direct, we can get a lot more language out of it

The task is a good one for overcoming the potential embarrassment about hearing one's own voice — something you may well have to overcome when you start podcasting with a class.

Note The recording was made on a hand-held digital voice recorder and uploaded to SoundCloud.

Vine: 6 second videos

Mashable says it's "the video equivalent of Instagram": the newly launched Vine is cool — and could be super creative — assuming, for the moment, that you've got iPhones or iPads in your classroom (there are still few in any classroom I'm associated with).

Of course, there's not a lot of language that you can cram into the six-second limit (though it would be fun to see who can get in most!). But it's like podcasting: there's so much more language practice to be had if you have learners brainstorm and rehearse and have someone playing the role of "director".

If you don't have iPhones, you could always use any mobile for making the videos and the learners could always share them directly in their hands, on their phones. You might want to extend the time limit — but keeping it short is part of the challenge.

With podcasting, similarly, I like to have my learners keep to under 2 minutes for anything they record.

See also
A very tight word limit also makes for great creative writing projects:
Short, creative writing projects with Twitter, Edmodo
Short, short stories
Mini-sagas and 100-word stories

Podcasting 101: Mobile podcasting

You can podcast with no more than a computer and headset (1), but a handheld digital voice recorder (2) or a smartphone and suitable app (3) have the advantage that you can take them more easily wherever you want to go.

Computer and a headset
Probably the most common way people podcast.

If you're using a computer room, podcasting can get real noisy, with the background noise all getting picked up in the recordings. Because of that it's great if your learners either have a quiet time do the recording (right before or after class, with no one else in the room, is one possibility), or else do the recording at home.

What you don't want to do is to have four or five groups recording at the same time. I'll come back to how to organise podcasting tasks in a later post.

Cost: in Spain, around €25 for a fairly decent plug-and-play USB headset.

A digital voice recorder
The huge advantage of a voice recorder is, of course, that you're not tied to the fixed location of a computer; and, even if you're using a more portable tablet, it's so much easier to point the device at your speaker, or gather up to half a dozen or more people around it than it is to pass round a headset.

Cost: from around €35-50 for an mp3 recorder [the one used in the conference session was an Olympus VN-712PC, currently 47 GBP from Amazon.co.uk].

A mobile app
Of course if your learners have smartphones then you (and they!) can download an app which turns their phone into great podcasting device at no extra expense and with the further advantage that you then have lots of devices in your classroom rather than having to wait in turn for the device to come round.

What you are then doing is using the phone to record, and then storing and sharing the recording online.

I can recommend both SoundCloud and AudioBoo — despite the fact that I can't run either or them on my own current mobile (a Samsung Galaxy Ace).

To avoid the background noise problem, as people get even more excited about podcasting, a quiet corner in the corridor is one solution.

With SoundCloud you'll want to set up an account and can of course use the same account both from a computer and from a mobile phone.

For AudioBoo you have a video tutorial on Russell Stannard's excellent teachertrainingvideos.com.

Podcasting 101: SoundCloud and Blogger

As they're so easy to use, Vocaroo and Edmodo make a great choice for podcasting tools. Slightly more complex, as they come with a lot more options, are SoundCloud and Blogger, but together the two make a great combination — SoundCloud for recording and storing the files, Blogger for then posting and sharing and commenting on them.

It isn't quite as minimalistic as Vocaroo, but SoundCloud has such an obvious "record" button (see image below) that getting started is a breeze:

SoundCloud lets you both record directly online and upload files recorded elsewhere…

What SoundCloud then does is generate automatically the code that you'll need to embed (i.e. "paste") the recording into a Blogger post, in order to insert it on your blog.

Once you've recorded you're looking for the Share link, circled in the image below:

SoundCloud: finding the embed code…

Clicking the Share link produces the pop-up shown in the image above, with the embed code circled. You just need to copy that and bring it over to your blog.

For anyone starting out in blogging, I always recommend Blogger. It's very complete, takes a bit of getting used to but isn't that hard to learn your way around.

Essentially, blogging is just like sending an email. Shown in the image below, (1) your "post title" and (2) the body of the post — the equivalents of the subject line and text of an email. We then have (3) a "publish" button, the equivalent of "send".

Blogger: if you can send an email, you can blog…

To insert our podcast successfully from SoundCloud, it's vital to ensure that we've clicked the "HTML" tab (red arrow, above), and paste in the embed code there. You can see the code sitting there in the body of the post, above. Note that there's no need to actually understand any of it!

If we then click the preview button (4), we'll see our SoundCloud podcast "embedded" there ready to play (highlighted, above).

Publish, and your first podcast has just gone live on your blog.

NOT "you", but "they"!
Above, I've been saying "you", but I really mean "they": my suggestion is that it's not you that should be podcasting, but your learners!

Other notes on SoundCloud
The following are worth knowing when you start out with SoundCloud:

  • You have a limit of two hours of recordings, after which either you'll have to pay, or else open a new account (I use several different ones).
  • If you're they're going to do a lot of podcasting, you could have your learners set up their own SoundCloud account (possibly one account per group). The alternative is for everyone to use the same account and log-in details.
  • FAQ #1 Q: I can see the "stream" but not my own recordings… Help! A: Click "Upload". Yes, I know: it's not logical, is it?!

Find out more
SoundCloud SoundCloud 101 | SoundCloud 101, video | SoundCloud Help

Blogger Video: How to set up a blog | Blogger Help

Podcasting 101: Vocaroo and Edmodo

I never do or propose anything complicated with technology, not if it's to be used in language teaching, either by teachers or by learners and the following is the easiest way to podcast that I've tried.

It's astonishingly easy to record with Vocaroo: all you need is a headset (earphones and mike) and an internet connection. You don't have to create an account, and it looks like this:

Vocaroo: astonishingly easy to use

Once you've recorded, you can listen to what you sound like, and if you're not happy with it, retry, as shown in the next shot:

Vocaroo: different sharing options — with downloading the file being the best

Once you are happy with the recording, and you click the "Save" link, you get the various "Sharing options".

You could embed (i.e insert) the recording on a blog but Vocaroo has a problem: it doesn't keep the files for you indefinitely, so it's actually better to download the file. Pick MP3 for that.

All you need now is somewhere to share the recording and that's where Edmodo comes in. You'll need to create a group for your class, but after that it's real easy, especially if you're already familiar with Facebook.

Edmodo: attaching an audio file — just like sending an attachment to an email

We need to (1) type our new "note" (a message, that is); (2) click "File" to add our recording; (3) pick who we're sending it to (which of our groups, that is); and then (4) just send. It's no more complicated than sending an email attachment.

In the image, above, you can see that I'm sending it to my "Filmaholics" group and you can see the george.mp3 file sitting there ready to go.

And that's pretty much it. Below, you can see what it looks like on the group, sitting there neatly ready to play and with the possibility of other members of the group replying to it (i.e. commenting on it).

Edmodo: ready to play

Among the nice things about Edmodo is the fact that it's private and that "replying" to the podcast is so easy (that's the "reply" button, circled above). The "replying" is important: it's another way to get our learners to use more language, which is after all what we're really in class for.

Tasks for podcasting
Once you see how easy it is — and do try it for yourself — then all you need are some good tasks (key: creating recordings that people will want to "reply" to).

We'll look at a couple more tools first but note that it's easy to get carried away with the technology: it's not the tools that are important to us as language teachers and learners, it's the tasks and the language learning that they will hopefully produce.

More on Vocaroo
On Russell Stannard's excellent teachertrainingvideos.com you have a full video tutorial for Vocaroo (not that you actually need one!)

More on Edmodo
How to create an Edmodo group | FAQs | Help Centre

Coming next: Soundcloud and Blogger