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Sociology professors study podcasts as teaching tool

Faculty Sep 1, 2021
portrait of a smiling woman
portrait of a smiling woman

KOKOMO, Ind. – Can a podcast be an effective teaching tool?

Under the right circumstances, yes.

Jamie Oslawski-Lopez, assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University Kokomo, teamed up with Gregory Kordsmeier, dean of the School of Social Sciences and associate professor of sociology at IU Southeast, for a research study about use of podcasts in their classrooms. Their findings, along with best practices for using podcasts as instructional material, will be published in the October 2021 Teaching Sociology, a top-tier research journal focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning in sociology.

Both participated in a webinar hosted by the journal earlier this month, discussing their research and best ways to incorporate the technology in their curriculum.

They found that although students may believe listening to a podcast is something they can do while driving, working out, or doing housework, they need to give it more attention to learn the material.

“We’re suggesting that instructors who want to assign podcasts as readings teach students how to treat them as readings,” said Oslawski-Lopez. “We need to teach them how to engage with it, and not multitask while listening to get the most from it. You wouldn’t read while driving, and a podcast assigned for a class should be treated the same way.”

She presented information about using podcasts as classroom content at the American Sociological Association conference in 2019, where she met Kordsmeier, who also was using the tool for content. Both had questions about how effective podcasts were as readings, and decided to work together on research.

“I like pulling current events and outside content into my course, to have students grapple with it and make sense of it sociologically. It makes the study real and applicable,” said Oslawski-Lopez. “Here I was as an instructor thinking this was a very unique or hip way to assign content, but wondered how the students were taking it in. We wanted to see if we could assign podcasts as readings and get the same learning outcomes from it.”

They developed a three-question survey both used in introductory sociology classes, to gather data. They found that students like having podcasts as an option for class materials, along with transcripts.

“When given the option of reading the transcript or listening, most students chose to listen,” she said. “We found, though, that students who had read the transcripts and listened performed better than those who just listened.”

Kordsmeier said they learned that podcasts can be used successfully, with some teaching about how to use them.

“We can’t just assume that students are equally able to treat every situation equally well,” he said. “A big part of our job as educators is giving students the tools they need so they can go out and learn for themselves. Let’s talk about how to find information effectively so you can write effective notes.”

They discovered that students who read the transcript and listened to the podcast performed better than those who just listened, likely because they were doing other things while listening.

“Multitasking of any form, regardless of how you access content, is not great for exam performance,” Oslawski-Lopez said. “We have to teach students to treat podcasts as reading.”

They are now in the second stage of research, investigating how students’ multitasking and notetaking behaviors impact exam performance.

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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