Impromptu online teaching: Why podcasts can be useful ‘patches’

Posted in: Learning, Pedagogy and Diversity

Ioannis Costas Batlle , University of Bath

Just like thousands of teachers across the globe, over the past week I embarked on an online teaching crash course. I teach 73 first year undergraduates, and my unit, ironically, looking at it now, is underpinned by students not being allowed laptops in the classroom. In a few days, I had to take a course designed to feature no laptops and transform it into a 100% laptop-based module.

Perhaps ‘transform’ is the wrong word. It suggests a degree of know-how and systematic action. ‘Patch-it-up’ is more accurate. After spending a couple of hours being overwhelmed and frustrated by the limitations of live webinar platforms, I decided to take a relatively low-tech approach to lecture preparation by recording a 30-minute podcast. I chose this asynchronous method, where I walk students through content each session, for the following reasons:

  1. Occam’s razor, the simplest solution is often best. My course is not built to be online – if anything, quite the opposite. It is impossible to recreate physical classroom group dynamics with 73 people on a live webinar; students cannot break into pairs to engage in separate discussions. In this ‘square peg, round hole’ scenario, I realised getting a smaller peg was preferable to trying to dig a bigger square-shaped hole.
  2. Internet bandwidth. With growing numbers of people being confined to their homes, internet bandwidth is becoming almost as precious as toilet paper. Some companies, like Netflix, are reducing the bitrate of movies in Europe to reduce data consumption, therefore allowing more internet traffic to flow. We need to be aware that multiple people in the same household, accessing the internet at the same time, might mean compromised performance for everyone. An audio podcast is a low-data-usage approach.
  3. Rebecca Barrett-Fox rightly argued in her recent blog post that “your students are facing more important battles today than your class”. Many of them have returned home (which could be oversees) and are scrambling to deal with their and their relatives’ lives amidst the outbreak. Acknowledging many of my students probably have bigger fish to fry, an asynchronous approach allows them to engage with material whenever they can.

Each podcast is accompanied by an online forum where students can ask questions about that week’s content, and an optional exercise encouraging students to answer a question in a 150-word paragraph. A week into online teaching, students have let me know they are satisfied with the arrangement. They specifically find the podcasts useful, although this opinion may change now I started playing a few ukulele chords at the start of each recording as my intro theme song.

Is my asynchronous, podcast-based approach perfect? No. Not at all. However, as far as ‘patches’ go, it is simple, relatively low-tech, and crucially, it seems to work for students. For a course that was designed not to rely on laptops, it is probably as much as I could hope for.

Posted in: Learning, Pedagogy and Diversity


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