Saturday, 19 February 2011

Innovative practice with elearning - case study 4

The final case study I selected was

Swansea University Case Study: Use of podcasting in Archaeology

I picked this case study partly because I’m not sure what the fuss is about podcasting, so I wanted to see what benefits had been found. I can see it as a nice means to provide bite-size chunks of portable materials, but what else? I must be missing something.

This particular project involved the production of podcasts combining video of an archaeological site or object with an ‘expert’ commentary, made in the field. Commonly used black-and-white images in text books can be unsatisfactory, so this initiative aimed to allow the lecturer to focus on a specific issue and provide appropriate commentary.

The podcast material was prepared for use by both undergraduate and MA students. First years in particular have often not had the opportunity to visit archaeological sites and so find them hard to visualise. This project took videos while working in the field, and sometimes added commentary at the time or otherwise recorded it separately after the event. One of the aims was also to focus on student-centred learning and encourage a collaborative experience and reflective learning.

Podcasts were added to existing modules and were intended to fill identified gaps in student knowledge. While they were offered as supplementary material, they were integrated into the course’s existing VLE, allowing students to find the relevant material as they progressed. Evaluations suggested that students performed better in image recognition examinations and also appreciated the availability of digital material. Students also responded to staff podcasts by creating their own pieces and it is hoped to encourage them to share these or combine them into a resource on the VLE.

Tangible benefits reported include:
  • Allowed research/fieldwork to be integrated into the undergraduate scheme, helping students understand the development of the subject and research from an early stage of study.
  • Students felt they were engaged with the fieldwork - presumably this was motivational.
  • Offering commentary seemed to help students engage with the sites in a more meaningful way
  • Possible uses include using podcasts as a museum or site guide, using them to prepare for a real site visit, offering access to archaeological sites for students with mobility problems, to illustrate a specific point in a lecture or even as tailored support for a student who does not understand a particular issue.
  • Benefits the lecturer through being required to think about how to present/discuss complex issues.
  • Effective in enhancing the range of learning materials available to students.
My thoughts:
  • I noted that this case study seemed to be reporting the work of predominantly one lecturer, working alone, using images for which he owned the copyright, and largely without institutional support. This was in start contrast to the extensive budgets, planning and development teams of the medical school VLE and computer-based assessment projects of the previous case studies. A nice illustration that with a little knowledge, and the use of widely available technology, subject matter experts can produce valuable elearning materials - without extensive budgets or IT support.
  • Use of the materials by both undergraduate and MA students is nice example of re-use or re-purposing of e-materials.
  • Integrating the podcasts into the existing VLE sounds simple, but is worth noting - supplementary materials which students can’t find or can’t relate to other aspects of the course are of reduced value, so this was a good move.
  • A major drawback was in production time - about 1 hour to compile a 3 minute podcast. This was particularly onerous given that only one lecturer was producing materials. However, podcasts are clearly re-usable and ideal for sharing with colleagues and more widely, so this cost could be reduced when bespoke podcasts are not required. 
  • The case study largely focused on the value the lecturer's podcasts offered to the students. However, the opportunity for students to respond with their own pieces actually offers very real potential for excellent reflective and collaborative learning opportunities which were not extensively discussed. 

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