On authenticity, assessment and aspiration

Sometimes I think that authentic tasks are based on the tastes and whims of the educated elite. Is a literary podcast really authentic for a 15-year-old? Are hipster food trucks really the most efficient way to learn about business? As Doug Lemov once said, it’s our role to find the shortest path to learning.

Rebecca Birch powerfully critiques podcasting and other authentic projects used in the classroom. She is writing specifically about the secondary English classroom, I can really comment on that. It did make me think about podcasting in the primary classroom though.

Podcasting has been one of my favourite classroom activities for years.

As a teacher, do I really have the real-world skills to teach interviewing, sound editing, research and the mechanics of discursive writing, on top of critically analysing a text? If I had both the time and expertise then maybe I could justify this choice. Usually, with a task like this, the crafting of the assessment itself happens through many hours of student struggle outside the classroom. It’s difficult to justify the opportunity cost.

I certainly don’t have those real-world skills. I have podcasted a bit though.

Earlier this week I tweeted from our school account:

When I observed my class being completely absorbed in writing scripts for their podcast. Getting primary pupils to edit their writing and think about making their oral communication effective is sometimes tricky for me. Audience, or perceived audience, can make a difference. For Scottish primary teachers at least the activity of podcasting covers a large number of the experiences we are supposed to supply to our pupils.

I don’t think a podcast needs to take so much of the classes time that it would be detrimental. Especially as it give the pupils a chance to practise so many of the skills we are trying to teach.

Had I spent several weeks teaching visual design, sound production or video production skills, those students would have been several weeks further away from their ambition to undertake tertiary study.

In the primary class at least we don’t need to spend those weeks. Audio podcasting is a lot simpler than video. We are not aiming for a professional grade BBC podcast. We are trying to give our class motivation to practise their talking, listening, reading and writing. Communication with their peers and an audience. For me simple podcasting provides a great opportunity for that.

I’ve been listening to Ollie Bray’s The Future of Digital in Scottish Education. I say listening rather than watching as I huffduffed the video to a mp3 file so that I could hear to it on my commute 1.

Ollie was looking for feedback, so I though I’d jot down some notes. The quotes are taken from the Youtube transcript so are a bit odd. I’ve snipped out the audio too. There is no license but I think quoting in context is probably ok…

young people probably then going to need some content gosh we’re terrible and Scotland about Reinventing content all the time now we want to have agency to be able to create our own content but actually you know some sort of nationally procured content for some things is probably a good idea

One of the reasons it might be difficult to find the time for new and innovative digital practises is the amount of time spent by Local Authorities, schools and staff buying, filtering or creating resources. I know my own and most of my colleagues pocket is lighter.

Another reason is:

we’ve got an overcrowded curriculum in many ways I hope that we’re able to strip some of the things out

I’ve been hunting for the audio of David Cameron railing against the number of E&Os (>1800 I think) and the difficulty of keeping that in our heads. It really speaks to this, but can’t find it yet.

we also know of course that actually probably we’re about to kind of see and I I feel this that we’re about to get a bit more of a Resurgence of creative technology approaches and what I mean by this is that probably for a number of years now you know in some parts of Scotland we focus quite a lot on the productivity tools um you know 10 or 15 years ago there was a lot of work going on around podcasting and digital video and that seems to have dipped you know for a little while and we’ve been focusing more on these kind of productivity Tools around around that things like the ability to do a spreadsheet or a PowerPoint presentation or to format something in word and all these things are worthy in nature that don’t necessarily you know develop kind of the creative approaches to using ICT

There is more in this vein.

I hope the resurgence happens soon. I’ve never understood why podcasting, in particular, didn’t catch on. I’ve listed some of the benefits before. So I’ll not go on.

I wonder if the dip in the creative use of digital is due to the power of the major software platforms we use for free. An examination of our choice of tools is something I hope Ollie will address. We tend to use the tools that are supplied without thinking about them critically. All software is opinionated. All vendors need to have their shareholders in mind. Are the education philosophies of these giants aligned with ours? I am wondering about social media tools as well as productivity & creative suites. Some of the more “creative” tools they supply seem to not give the user freedom but more the choice between predesigned templates, sometimes at random. What are the reasons for supplying free tools to education? I am not suggesting we should not use them, but that we should think about it.

Talking of tools, I wish Ollie still kept a blog. He asks for responses via e-mail or twitter. A blog post might have been a good choice. Could pull together the video, a transcript & responses.

There is a lot more to think about in the video, even if you only listen to it. Refresh of Glow, supply of devices and conectivity and more. If your interested in digital education in Scotland it is worth a listen. I’d be interested in others responses.

1. Huffduffer is a system for organising your own podcast from audio from the internet. Say episodes of podcasts you do not want to subscribe to. It also converts, using huffduff-video, videos to audio to add to your feed. Here is mine

Uh, you know, you could imagine a history of podcasting, that evolved more just like a digital version of radio, and didn’t have this, this idea of a feed. And there are services out there, I think, trying to get back to a more controlled, like not, not a feed-based system,

I’ve been really enjoying dipping into Really Specific Stories which is about the creative practice of RSS-based tech podcasting. So far a lot of the episodes I’ve listened to have been from duel point of views as listeners & producers. I’ve found the ‘listener’ views particularly compelling.

I’ve not managed to post any notes about the episodes I’ve listened to but I’am delighted that they come with full transcripts. I mostly listen to podcasts while driving, ideas pop into my head and vanish. The transcripts let me go back and skim to be reminded.

I didn’t really need to skim this episode except to grab a quote. Daniel’s passionate arguments for RSS and publishing in the open came across very strongly. I both enjoyed and agreed with it all.

Although Really Specific Stories is about tech podcasting I think anyone with an interest in podcasting would enjoy it. I’ve listened to several episodes now and will continue to follow it.

Liked The end of podcasting, chapter 58 by Andy (andysylvester.com)
My response: WHO CARES! I started two podcasts (Convocast and Thinking About Tools For Thought) without any media empire support. Did I make any money? No, but that wasn’t why I created those podcasts. I did it for fun and to share information/perspectives with others.

I’ve podcasted both for fun and as an learning experience for my pupils. This rings true.

Replied to To Umm or Not To Umm, That is the Audio Editing Question (cogdogblog.com)
the use if “umm” conversationally as a filler, to keep the flow going to signal you have not completed the thought your brain is sending to your mouth

Hi Alan,
Thanks for this.
One thing I liked when I did Radio Edutalk was by doing the show live I felt no pressure to edit the archives, beyond a bit of levelling and trimming my technical problems at the start of a nicecast broadcast.

One of the values, to me, of listening to a podcast is the extra information, often emotional, that is carried by the voice. This research linked might support that premiss.

As podcasting gets a lot more professional, one of the downsides might be the loss of the unedited voice.

From 2005 to 2008 I used podcasting as an activity in the classroom1. I found it a powerful tool for writing, talking and listening, collaboration and more. Back then podcasting was not the well known entity that is is now.

Back the I managed the podcast as a lunchtime club, volunteers form my class contributing. We did occasional whole class shows and even whole school projects.

While I was out the classroom I ran few courses on podcasting. I don’t think I managed to encourage much uptake. We did run a podcast server in North Lanarkshire for a while but it was used more for video than audio.

Last session I finally got around to podcasting with pupils again. This time I tried to exploit it a bit more and involve the whole class. The pupils wrote to local businesses and got sponsorship for the first 3 episodes. We organised it as an enterprise with different children taking on different roles including site & logo design.

The final one was made during lockdown. The children sending in recordings which were edited by a key workers child in school.

This year my class were keen to start again. My plan to begin at the start of term two got spoiled by covid and other unexpected events. Finally we got round to it in November. Given time constraints I decided to skip the sponsorship and deal with some of the scheduling myself. I gave the class a bit of time to write, a fairly free choice of what to write about and who to write with.
I helped with the occasional phrase but pretty much let it to them. We did work in parallel thinking and marking up text we were reading aloud.

They then recorded themselves over the next couple of weeks. A p7 pupil who had edited last session did so again this time with a p6 apprentice. Pupils created wee bits of music to link items. Another pupil posted Episode 5.

I feel it was a pretty successful exercise. The class were very engaged. I could see and hear the effort they put into writing and recording. I also heard an improvement in some children’s reading aloud.

I believe we covered a wide range of the experiences and outcomes, listed below4.

Workflow

  1. General discussion of content, pupils organise them selves into groups and groups divided into pairs & individuals
  2. Script written in notes on iPads
  3. Children recorded each other using the Voice Memos app, either from prints of the notes or using split screen.
  4. Audio AirDropped to the editor’s iPad
  5. Musical snippets recorded in GarageBand & AirDropped
  6. Edited in GarageBand

The only involvement I had in the editing was to level the voice track using The Levelator2 on a desktop and exporting the m4a to mp3 again on desktop. I am pretty sure m4a is a fine format for podcasts but I am a bit old fashioned.

we used an iRig mic this time

Last session on some episodes we split the editing into groups, with each section of the podcast editing their bit and the main editor putting these together. I plan to do that next term to increase the number of pupils with editing skills. We will probably formalise some more roles in groups too.

Benifits

Apart from the obvious: responsibility co-operation, working together, leadership, practical skills and problem solving involved I took a quick trawl through the CFE experiences and outcomes alongside the benchmarks. I’ve added a partial list below4.

Changes

It is a lot easier technically to make a podcast now than when I started. Glow Blogs are a good free podcast hosting solution for schools3. The idea of podcasting is mainstream now. It does seem a bit harder to get audience feed back than it is 15 or so years ago. As with class blogs, commenting from afar seems to have declined or moved to likes on Twitter. Back in Sandaig we had comments from around the world and made some connections that went far. This is, again in my opinion, a pity.

We are intending to try more podcasting next term, I appreciate that is a bit harder to fit in now with all the demands of the curriculum but I do think it is really worth the effort.

1. Radio Sandaig Archive.org link. I also produced hundreds of podcasts with David Noble over at Radio Edutalk for 10 years starting in 2009.

2.
The Levelator is one of my favourite pieces of software. Mac App Store, Wikipedia.

3. GlowCast has some information.

4. E&Os Benchmarks in italic from Curriculum for Excellence Benchmarks

I can use my voice, musical instruments and music technology to experiment with sounds, pitch, melody, rhythm, timbre and dynamics.
EXA 2-17a Uses voice, instruments and technology to create music

I am investigating different careers/occupations, ways of working, and learning and training paths. I am gaining experience that helps me recognise the relevance of my learning, skills and interests to my future life.
HWB 2-20a Identifies connections between skills and the world of work

I regularly select subject, purpose, format and resources to create texts of my choice.
LIT 1-01a / LIT 2-01a

I can recognise how the features of spoken language can help in communication, and I can use what I learn.
I can recognise different features of my own and others’ spoken language.
ENG 2-03a Recognises some techniques used to engage or influence the listener, for example, vocabulary, emphasis, tone and/or rhetorical questions.

When listening and talking with others for different purposes, I can:
share information, experiences and opinions; explain processes and ideas; identify issues raised and summarise main points or findings and clarify points by asking questions or by asking others to say more. LIT 2-09a
I am developing confidence when engaging with others within and beyond my place of learning. I can communicate in a clear, expressive way and I am learning to select and organise resources independently.
LIT 2-10a / LIT 3-10a Communicates clearly, audibly and with expression in different contexts. Plans and delivers an organised presentation/talk with relevant content and appropriate structure. Uses suitable vocabulary for purpose and audience. Selects and uses resources to support communication.

I can make notes, organise them under suitable headings and use them to understand information, develop my thinking, explore problems and create new texts, using my own words as appropriate. LIT 2-15a Makes and organises notes using own words, for the most part. Uses notes to create new texts that show understanding of the topic or issue.

I enjoy creating texts of my choice and I regularly select subject, purpose, format and resources to suit the needs of my audience. LIT 1-20a / LIT 2-20a Creates texts regularly for a range of purposes and audiences selecting appropriate genre, form, structure and style.

most of the Tools for Writing E&Os can be touch on

Throughout the writing process, I can check that my writing makes sense and meets its purpose. LIT 2-23a Writes most sentences in a grammatically accurate way.; Uses sentences of different lengths and types and varies sentence openings. Uses paragraphs to separate thoughts and ideas.; Writes in a fluent and legible way. Reviews and corrects writing to ensure it makes sense, is technically accurate and meets its purpose.

And lots of writing ones:

By considering the type of text I am creating, I can select ideas and relevant information, organise these in an appropriate way for my purpose and use suitable vocabulary for my audience. LIT 2-26a Organises information in a logical way. Selects relevant ideas and information. Uses appropriate vocabulary, including subject-specific vocabulary, to suit purpose and audience.