Thing 21 of 23: don’t listen to me about podcasting

There are two major problems for me with podcasting. One is that I don’t have an mp3 player (I know, what a dinosaur!). Therefore I can only listen to podcasts on my home computer, which severely limits their usefulness. While this is a problem that’s relatively easily soluble, the second problem is more fundamental. I’m not really an aural learner: I’m normally better at absorbing things via reading than listening.

I’m not a good person to listen to about podcasting, therefore. On the other hand, my husband Edward regularly writes and records podcasts for ILEX Tutorial College (ITC), a provider of distance learning law courses. So you should listen to him instead, as he briefly describes negotiating skills for all occasions…

What follows is mainly going to be talking a bit more about his experiences. ITC podcasts are normally a maximum of 10 minutes long and are intended as “bite-size legal lectures”. They’re envisaged as a supplement to the main course manuals, mainly discussing specific legal topics that students find difficult. A course manual, however good, will give you one explanation of an issue – but if you’re lecturing and your students look blank when you explain something, you’d stop and try to put it in different terms. The podcasts aim to do the same thing.

The podcasts Edward does are normally monologues, but occasionally dialogues. They’re scripted, rather than extemporised, but they’re written and structured to be spoken, rather than read. He’s had to learn techniques for this, such as how to structure different sections. When you don’t have typography to signal a new heading, you sometimes have to go back to the old rhetorical devices of ‘I want to talk now about’ or ‘secondly’.

As the example I’ve given shows, one of the things that podcasts are particularly effective for is stories, hooking into the oldest human form of learning. They’re also handy if you want to know what Beowulf sounded like; one of the advantages of podcasts for some of Edward’s students is that they can hear how to pronounce some of the legal terminology they’ve read about (and also learn that when a case name is read out loud “Smith v Jones” is pronounced “Smith and Jones”).

On the other hand, what such formats don’t give you is the pictures and diagrams that the course manual has. Trying to use podcasts for discussing more visually-orientated tasks, like explaining how to use a self-issue and return machine (as Aberdeen University Library does) strikes me as bizarre. And when I see the details for a podcast that’s 20 minutes or more long, I’m not likely to listen unless I’m fascinated by the topic (whereas I can skim read an article in a few minutes).

Spoken language podcasts, to me, work best when they’re the equivalent of the short, chatty explanation of something: when they aspire to anything more, they need to be extremely well-executed if they’re going to work.


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