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#EDLISTEN: What Can Teachers and Ed Leaders Learn From @Serial Podcast Mania? (listen above or read below).
Our students aren’t the only ones who benefit from learning through a variety of digital mediums. With the rise of mobile technologies, teachers and school leaders are also finding value in engaging media including short videos, podcasts and user-friendly messaging tools.
Over winter break, one of my Voxer groups (made up of ten school leaders from around the country) began listening to and discussing the Serial Podcast. Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, and is hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial tells one true story over the course of an entire season. They follow a plot and characters wherever they take them. Each week they bring you the next chapter in the story, so it’s important to listen to the episodes in order, starting with Episode 1. (Serial’s website)
This twelve-part, real life story featuring a 1999 after school murder mystery in a Baltimore City community is now the all-time most downloaded podcast and the fastest ever to 5 million downloads. Now, when you hear the word “podcast,” one might think of a long, single voice narrator, loaded with information that you might find on iTunes or some other media player like Soundcloud or Stitcher. You might even think it is something that used to be popular about 10-15 years ago. The truth is, some podcasts are quite interesting and include really engaging guests, but sometimes you want to turn it off five minutes because it’s just not that interesting for one reason or another.
I’ve listened to hundreds of podcasts over the years, and the difference in podcasts of old and recent WBEZ Chicago’s This American Life and Serial podcasts is hands-down the engaging authenticity factor. In any 40-50 minute Serial podcast, you may hear as many as 10 unique voices with varied tone, empathy, music that fits the event storyline, seamless transitions and a carefully planned build up to the plot. When you listen, you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat because the narrator, Sarah Koenig, has provided you just the right amount of details to stimulate your imagination and lead you toward your own conclusions. Both Serial and This American Life are excellent listens, so I won’t give away the details of what happens. But in an age where primetime entertainment shows like 24, Lost, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Game of Thrones and so many others are “must watch/DVR TV” for some, these new scenario-based podcasts have in a way brought “radio” back to relevance in popular culture and across age groups. When you can put yourself in the shoes of the characters, you become “hooked” and want to not only listen more, but talk about it with your friends/colleagues/eduvoxers.
So why are so many choosing only to listen versus listen AND watch?
The rise of the mobile phone is one reason. Many adults, like today’s youth, have an Internet-connected mini-computer in their pockets during the day. Our mobile world is always on the move, whether that means a commute, a treadmill or a walk around the town, apps like iTunes, Soundcloud and Stitcher provide ease of listening to those who have found value in podcasts. The second reason? Today’s ubiquitously connected world tends to share freely and passing something on you enjoy to your personal and professional networks has never been easier. Add that to the fact devices are easier to come by, and prices have dropped to have the bare basics of Internet access on a “smart phone.” A challenge that remains is access and costs of wifi, especially in rural areas, but more and more stores, restaurants, coffee shops and even whole cities (e.g. San Francisco).
Back to Serial.
At no time during any of the twelve-part series did the host encourage listeners to use social media to actually “backchannel” the content. However, thousands of social media posts talked about the shoe each week (and continue to share as new listeners emerge).
For those who want to understand more about the term “backchannel,” Educause did a great job defining it in this 2010 report entitled Seven Things You Should Know ABout Backchannel Communication:
Backchannel communication is a secondary conversation that takes place at the same time as a conference session, lecture, or instructor-led learning activity. This might involve students using a chat tool or Twitter to discuss a lecture as it is happening, and these background conversations are increasingly being brought into the foreground of lecture interaction. Digital technologies allow background discussions—which have always been a component of classes, conferences, and presentations—to be brought out of the shadows and, perhaps, incorporated as a formal part of learning activities. Instructors and presenters alike should be aware of this dynamic and the opportunity it presents to add another dimension to learning. For more information, download the full report here (PDF).
So the hashtag #serial and #serialpodcast continue to trend on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other popular mediums. Why? Because here in 2015, many kids and adults alike are accustomed to talking about what they’re doing and what those in their circles are thinking about. When watching most TV shows, the entire cast is live-tweeting with fans oftentimes using a hashtag followed by the show’s name (e.g. #chicagofire) to talk about that episode in “real-time.” Next time you are unable to attend a conference physically, enter the hashtag into Twitter to pull up what educators are sharing in real-time. (If you’re not registered on Twitter, simply visit this website called Twubs and you’ll see this played out for this week’s #SXSWedu Conference Austin, Texas), but you can also change the search term at the top). Here’s the link to follow all the “backchanneled” tweets from Digital Learning Day on Twubs and on another popular real-time social media broadcasting tool called Tagboard.
When you click, what are you finding others are “backchanneling” about? For sports fans, backchannels can be quite helpful when you’re unable to see or listen to your favorite team as people watching around the world provide the play by play using social media. As a Philadelphia fan, this is not typically a positive experience.
Now back to education and where some windows of opportunities lie educator and leader development with the rise of mobile technologies. Professional development has received a major shot in the arm with the #EdCamp movement, which has put the ownership of professional development and learning directly on the shoulders of all educators in a relationship-based, informal and fun way. Valuing the expert in the room, AS THE ROOM, is not only good for cultivating teacher leadership but building a strong school culture and close knit learning community. EdCamps are also great places to connect with others and expand your personal learning network (PLN), as Twitter handles are shared as freely as business cards at more formal events.
When we think of personalizing professional development for teachers and personalizing learning for students, we must plan with their interests and everyday practices in mind. Right now, there’s a huge buzz around using media whether that be learning social media like Twitter and Voxer via online tutorials or planning an interactive podcast based on topics that fall within your school, district or administrative goals. All it takes is a concerted effort to embed an innovative mindset in the bricks of what we do. Innovation can’t be a thing we check off but rather a mindset that keeps our ears to the ground listening, learning and responding to the needs of students, staff, our community and the collective education field. Who on your team thinks this way by default that might serve this role? Who can constantly be thinking with two screens up to guide your team’s efforts be more relationship-based, engaging and sustainable on a daily basis. Thinking more long term, how might we build an innovative culture across stakeholders by default?
A New, Free, Open and Interactive Podcast for Ed Leaders
We’ve recently taken an “edurisk” here at Penn to try and understand what value may lie in leveraging interactive podcasts for educational leader development. Two weeks ago, we launched a new project from our new studio within the MCDPEL Innovation Lab.
Produced weekly by the Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership (@MCDPEL on Twitter), #B@CKCH@NNELedu is a weekly (10-15min) scenario-based podcast based on connecting research to practice across the educational space and involve real roles, real leadership scenarios complete with real voices from the field, cutting across race, gender, class, ethnicity and sexuality. Social media is embedded throughout the process (School leaders are encouraged to “backchannel” throughout week using #backchannelEDU or on Voxer in this new, interactive and innovative “podcast series.”
Of course, the inspiration for the podcast was inspired by WBEZ Chicago’s Serial and This American Life podcasts, as we couldn’t help but listen but then also “backchannel” our reflections daily using social media tools.
There are variety of different mediums on mobile devices (great for the commute) or on your laptop.desktop. If you’re on iTunes, you can subscribe to this weekly, twelve part ed leadership series by clicking here. For Stitcher users, click here. For Soundcloud users, click here.
We’ve partnered with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (@NAESP) to make each of the twelve episodes not only engaging with a variety of unique voices, but targeted to some of the most challenging situations and topics for today’s educational leaders. Have a really engaging situation that might help another leader? You can submit your own scenario for episode consideration at the bottom of this page. No identifying information or location will be used, and you will approve and sign off on any content you provide.
Digital learning is not just for the kids. Actually, if we as educators and leaders can find ways to leverage it to learn personally and professionally, we will be better at responding to the readiness today’s youth are walking into our school doors with.
What can we adults to make our precious time together most valuable, and also innovate to take advantage of the times we are unable to be face to face with each other but could possibly benefit from asynchronous simulations or interactive podcasts like those mentioned above?
I’d love to have your feedback after you’ve listened. I do not claim to be a communications/podcast expert, so any support you can provide me will be taken very seriously and greatly appreciated.