Five of My Favourite Audio Services for Teachers

1. JustCast
A while ago I published this post, sharing one of my favourite new web services: JustCast which lets you publish any audio file on your computer as a podcast, simply by dragging it to a Dropbox folder.  Give your students your JustCast RSS feed URL and they can subscribe to it in their favourite podcast player app or subscribe to it yourself, then drop any audio file in there and listen to it on your commute!

2. Huffduffer
Huffduffer is another great tool, which is similar in purpose to JustCast. The end result is the same – a personal podcast feed for you or one to share with your students. The difference is that Huffduffer adds audio on the web to a personal podcast feed. If you visit a web page and there is an audio file embedded there, you can “huffduff it” using the browser plugin for your favourite browser. It’s as easy as bookmarking it.

3. Narro
Narro is similar in concept to Huffduffer, but whereas Huffduffer adds audio files to a podcast feed, Narro adds written text to a podcast feed.  Let’s say you find a really interesting but rather long blog post that you want to read. You can bookmark it using the Narro bookmarklet (available from the Narro website) and it shows up in your podcast feed as a spoken podcast.  Sure, it’s a computer voice but it’s surprisingly realistic. It even adds emphasis to key words. It is a great way to digest written content on the go.

4. TapeACall Pro
TapeACall Pro is an app (and service) that allows you to record phone calls made or received on your iPhone. There are obvious ethical (and depending on where you live, legal) considerations here. You should ask the other person for consent to record the call but it’s really useful for important phone calls discussing details that you need to remember – and so much easier than trying to scribble notes while talking. If you make a podcast for your students it’s also the simplest way I know to record an interview with an expert which you can then insert to your podcast.

5. SpeakPipe
SpeakPipe allows you to place a button, widget or link on your own website, blog or wiki. Your students (or anyone else who visits the site from any device) can click the link and record an audio comment or question – which is delivered to your email! If you like you can also reply, by voice, to their email. Again if you make a podcast for your class it’s a convenient, and very simple way to gather your students’ contributions together. If you’d like to see how this looks, check out the orange SpeakPipe button on the biology page of my website. You will need a SpeakPipe account to place the button on your site, but your students won’t need an account to use it.

The Threshold Challenge for Teachers in 2016

 

My favourite definition of education is this:

“Education is a conversation between one generation and the next, about what is important” ~ Sir John Jones.

The quote does, however, invite the question – “What is important?”

At a secondary school recently, I asked that very question of staff, who discussed it in small groups, and together we make a list of what they thought was important. Here’s what was listed (in no particular order):

  • Learning how to learn
  • Creativity
  • Resourcefulness
  • Resilience / Willingness to risk failing
  • Teamwork
  • Communication and presentation skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Independence
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Tolerance and understanding of others
  • A growth mindset
  • Research skills
  • Digital citizenship
  • Self-awareness / Self-assessment.

What interested me is that nobody mentioned “memorising important historic dates” or “knowing the first 20 elements of the periodic table”.  Nobody even mentioned “learning times tables”. That’s not to say that those things are no longer useful, but that nobody mentioned them, shows me that teachers know, tacitly, that some things, while still useful, are now less valuable, and other things which have always been valuable are now even more so.

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The threshold challenge for teachers in 2016, is how to spend more time teaching the things which, in our heart of hearts, we know have increasing value, while still preparing our students for assessment systems that primarily measure the things that have falling value.  Do you see what I mean? If we spend all our class time teaching creativity, communication skills and resourcefulness – we are doing them a disservice if they face an exam testing their knowledge recall in a room where communication is banned and resourcefulness is called ‘cheating’.

The threshold challenge for teachers in 2016, is how to spend more time teaching the things which have increasing value, while still preparing our students for assessment systems that primarily measure the things that have falling value.

We have to do both, not either/or. That is one reason (of many) that the flipped learning model makes so much sense. It allows us to make sure we are covering the knowledge they will need for the exam, while freeing up significant class time for “…what is important”.  Flipped learning is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end – which end is the freedom to teach the things that matter most, in engaging ways, whether or not they are assessed on an exam.  (Until the yoke of exams is lifted off our shoulders).


 

If you are interested in flipping your class, or if you have already done so, but are looking for easier, cooler and more effective tools, workflows and strategies, I’ll be running a workshop in Melbourne on 19th February.  You can find the information about that workshop here.

Or if you would like me to present to your staff on this, or any other topic related to the use of ICT in education, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Publishing a podcast just got simple!

If you make a podcast for your students, you really should create an RSS feed for it – so they can subscribe using their Podcast app of choice.  There are lots of advantages in this:

  • New episodes are downloaded automatically in the background when the student is connected to Wi-Fi.
  • Students have control over playback speed.
  • The app remembers where they are up to if they don’t finish listening in one go.
  • They can create playlists for continuous play

The Problem

I’ve found lots of teachers who make ‘podcasts’ for their students don’t do this; instead, they simply upload the podcast to a folder on their school LMS and instruct students to go there and download it.  Even though services like PodOmatic make it simpler than it once was to create an RSS feed, I think a lot of teachers still just think there are too many hoops to jump through.

The Solution

I’ve just discovered a super-cool, and drop-dead simple service called JustCast.  Go to the JustCast website, click a button to allow access to Dropbox.  They then create a JustCast folder inside your Dropbox folder, and give you an RSS feed for that folder!

Any audio file you drag into that folder within Dropbox, gets pushed to the apps of anyone subscribed to that RSS feed. it’s so simple I’m stunned that it works – but, incredibly, it does!

The free service allows you to have three episodes in the RSS feed at any time. Adding a fourth episode will make the oldest episode unavailable to subscribers. Upgrade pricing allows unlimited episodes in the feed. (But three might be enough?)

I’ve discovered another really convenient use for JustCast – I’ve set this up for my own personal use. I’ve subscribed to my own RSS feed! Now any random audio file I want to listen to while driving, when dragged into my JustCast folder in Dropbox, appears in my podcast app along with all the other podcast I listen to. Sensational!

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Student in a Flipped Class? Cut homework time in half using this tip!

Most of us read much faster than talking speed yet still comprehend what we read. In the same way, it’s possible to listen much faster than your teacher can speak. But many of us have never thought about that, because in real life, we only hear words as they are uttered. (In the classroom, the speed your teacher can move her mouth is holding you back!)

But If your teacher makes screencasts, videos, or audio podcasts, try playing them at double speed. You’ll be amazed to find that you can comprehend what you are listening to just fine. In fact, after listening for a while, you’ll discover that it starts to sound surprisingly normal. After listening at double speed, if I slow a podcast down to “normal” speed, it sounds comically slow!

So how do you do it?

With an audio podcast it’s easy. Almost all podcast players have the option to adjust playback speed. My favourite is Overcast. To my ears it does the best job of speeding up voice while preserving clarity. Plus it has some really innovative features like “Smart Speed” which reduces the length of the pauses between words; shortening the total listening time, without speeding up the words themselves. Brilliant!

Swift Player

For videos or screencasts on your iPhone or iPad, try Swift Player. It lets you speed up any video on your device, or online (YouTube, Vimeo, etc).

One curious reason students more readily listen to podcasts than complete traditional homework

I’ve always found that students are much more likely to watch a screencast or listen to a podcast at home, than to complete a traditional reading-writing homework task.

There are a number of reasons for this, but one that I’d never considered until recently is that psychologically it’s always easier to commit to a task if you know how long it will take. I’m much more likely to attend a working bee, join a committee or even go shopping with my wife, if I know in advance what my involvement will cost in time.

Think now, about a student contemplating her homework. If it’s a reading and writing task, she doesn’t really know how long that will take to complete. It could take 20 minutes but it might take 45. Her time commitment is indeterminate. So if she has half an hour ’til bed time, does she make a start on the homework? I offer that many students will put it off until tomorrow.

On the other hand, consider a student with a podcast to listen to. He knows precisely how long it will take, because it says so, right there in the progress bar! He knows he can listen to that podcast in 25 minutes and 45 seconds – leaving precisely 4 minutes and 15 seconds to brush his teeth and put on his pyjamas, before bed. Homework done. Check!