Podcasting Package Is A Viable Alternative Tool Discussion Education Essay

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This chapter presents the studies discussion. It provides an opportunity to explain the meaning of the findings and place the research within a broader context.

Major findings

Analysis of the findings provides evidence that the podcasting package is a viable alternative 'tool' to use when supporting children's literacy development in year 2. However the process i.e. the activities designed to scaffold the children to the point of producing a podcast, was the factor that elicited improvements in the children's speaking and listening and not the recording of the podcast itself (the product).

Nevertheless it was important that the children saw the final podcast as the product; a target that the activities would lead them towards. Findings from, and analysis of data confirmed that the product (the podcast) was the motivator for the children rather than an essential part of their learning. It provided the children with a purpose. This concurs with DfES (2004) findings that more positive motivation resulted if technology was focused around the learning rather than used to support teaching. The children themselves identified that as a top performing group they had fewer opportunities to access technology than less able children in their class. Therefore another type of technology could have motivated this group to reach their goal; it cannot be generalised that it was the podcast that offered 'pull'. Nonetheless, though children's responses about 'liking' writing would seem to contradict it, I personally feel 'voice' and 'audience' would need to be features of the technology chosen as a word processor type application alone would not motivate in the same way.

Meaning and importance of the findings

This research began two years ago following a successful bid to the TDA for funding. The TDA regularly funds e-learning projects for teacher training providers as they recognise the importance of ICT skilled practitioners in the workplace (TDA 2005 [online]). Two years is a lifetime in a digital world but especially in relation to education technologies. Though the technology used in this study was found to be motivational, it still played a significant part in the process as without it the children would have lost focus. Therefore in answer to the research question, "can a Podcasting process support Literacy in a Year 2 classroom?"; yes as part of a process it can. Two years ago, Web 2.0 technology was a 'twinkle in someone's digital eye'. Now it is the mainstay of many digital applications (Godwin Jones 2005). Although MP3 players were initially exclusive to Apple Macintosh, new generation mobile phones now combine MP3 and other communication technologies in one neat package. Huge progress in a short space of time. As Bull (2005, p.25) states, "MP3 players such as the Apple iPod have become the mechanism for distribution of music for today's youth just as the CD and vinyl records filled this role for previous generations. Educational uses of podcasting build on the foundation of this cultural phenomenon". This presents both challenge and opportunity.

When podcasts are broadcast to the Internet, through Web 2.0 technology, the resulting RSS (Really Simple Syndication) 'feeds' allow children to contribute to each other's work, wherever in the world they may be. For instance some websites ask children to add lines to poems, take part in quizzes or append chapters to partly written online books. As Halsey (2007) asserts children can bring the world into the classroom; and take their learning out into the world with Web 2.0 technology. Clearly then the potential for podcasting as an educational tool is phenomenal, but not just in literacy lessons. Nevertheless the survey revealed that current technologies were features in the sample group's homes. Attitudes towards a technology seem to change with its age therefore attitude towards the currency of the motivational tool should also be considered.

So how might children's attitudes towards podcasting and speaking and listening as a whole affect their performance in this type of exercise? It seems from past trends that podcasting itself will have a 'shelf life' as todays digital natives become tomorrows digital immigrants and todays techno 'must haves' become tomorrows digital 'dinosaurs'. Positive attitudes and motivation for podcasting technology, as it is now, will be lost. Newer technologies appear to be communication based as Web 2.0 capabilities move toward an even greater interactivity. This of course will help maintain a positive 'attitude' to speaking and listening, in a 'virtual' environment, through a combination of networking sites and digital hardware such as webcams. The use of Avatars [1] is one example of such a combination. Communication and storytelling have stood the test of time and I would anticipate this will continue but how we do it in the future will change as will the size and nature of the audience.

In his proposal to 'radically' overhaul the primary curriculum, Alexander et al. (Primary Cambridge Review, DCSF 2009 [online]) recognises spoken language as central to learning, culture and life, but acknowledges it is much more prominent in the curricula of many other countries (p24). Perhaps this could be the basis for higher achievement in other countries rather than the later school starting age often identified. Reading and writing, as with other reviews (DfES 2006a) again predominate in this review with speaking and listening once again lagging behind. The government (DfES 2007, DCSF 2009a) is proclaiming that speaking and listening are the foundations for all other learning - so why? Why are we still addressing reading and writing first? Writing is merely a method for recording thoughts. Thoughts can also be spoken and/or recorded into a podcast. This would be incredibly liberating for those children who find it difficult to write things down. Podcasting offers equal opportunities for all ages and abilities; an inclusive digital tool.

In the late 1980's the National Oracy Project (National Curriculum Council; 1992) recommended giving speaking and listening a higher profile and yet more than 20 years later we are still making the same mistakes. I would like to consider this research will have meaning and add pressure to this ongoing debate however unchanging circumstances, past and present, would suggest otherwise.

Findings in relation to other studies

Prensky (2001, 2008, 2009), Buckingham (2004, 2007) and Marsh et al. (2006) highlight ours is a digital world and yet many schools still fail to recognise the significance or importance of 'skilling' children to cope with an increasingly digital and changing landscape. Technology is becoming more sophisticated and is progressively being aimed at and designed for younger consumers. Palmer (2007 p.3) suggests that, 'culture has evolved faster than our biology' and this is 'damaging children's ability to think, learn and behave'. Prensky (2009) would disagree stating that exposure to technology is changing children's brain structure and demanding a new style of learning which relies on wisdom. The small size of the cohort used for this research would symbolise that the findings offer no significant support of either Prensky's or Palmer's stance. However the podcasting package offered children a blended learning environment comprised of group discussions and technology use. This would absolve them from damage to their thinking, learning and behavior that Palmer infers can happen. These three themes are also recognised benefits of group working (Baines et al. 2008).

The relevance of the findings

Vygotsky (1976) wrote that speaking and thinking are intimately linked. The process of speaking helps children to learn through articulating their thoughts and thus developing the concepts needed to understand the world. Communication and understanding improve with practice. Therefore, the opportunity to talk is vital in order to develop understanding. If nothing else, encouraging and valuing talk conveys the message that communication is important; both listening and speaking are the foundations for communication so raising their profile is a good end in itself. Nevertheless though Vygotsky's theory regarding communication is still pertinent he could not have comprehended how his theory would still apply to our ever evolving digital world; to current practices and the diverse ways of communicating that social networking has brought about. If we have come this far since Vygotsky, how far will our children go and how will they cope with their journey if practitioners do not encourage them to develop their skills.

Participant observations were undertaken to support the children's interactions with the hardware and software needed for this research. Clearly there was a need to scaffold them at this point; though as in Lewis's case the more knowledgeable other did not need to be me. The ZPD is the zone in which learning is made easier through support by significant others (Whitehead 2004). These others may or may not be physically present but perhaps reside in a digital world. In other words traditional theory still applies to digital experiences but sometimes the significant other may be anonymous i.e. through search engines or 'friends' on 'social' networking sites. Vygotsky's interpretation of the word social would certainly be limited in today's 'techno' society.

The study's limitations

(Gautreau 2006) notes several reasons why there are barriers to using technology in schools. Unawareness of technology's potential, time needed to learn (learning to use new software or hardware and how to integrate them into the curriculum), lack of funding or resources and a lack of technology competence, appropriate training or confidence in one's ability to teach with technologies are his main concerns.

Past teaching experience has indicated that the lack of a final 'product' from a 'lesson' is often deemed to be a failure on the part of the teacher and of the child. This belief is supported by the reporting and inspection processes; often SATs based (QCDA 2010 [online]) used to assess a schools status through analysis of the children's results. This has lead to the assumption that any learning achieved in such lessons should be tangible. There should be something physical to show. However as this research has shown speaking and listening are the foundation of other learning and the question has to be asked, "Can we assess this accurately if we are still asking children to write responses down?" Again personal experience has shown that understanding is not cultivated exclusively through writing or the creation of something. These assertions are further supported by findings from this research, gathered during observations of the children. Listening to children's discussions revealed far more about their abilities and thought processes than any piece of writing possibly could. Therefore assessments, particularly those that are SATs based, requesting that learning should be evidenced through production of something physical would contradict what current and past experience has shown. Of course in a 'digital' and 'virtual' world, 'physical' evidence could be presented differently.

Time became a significant limitation of this research. Time with the children was limited due to funding therefore some facets from the planning stage were not carried out. The most frustrating was phase was at the end as there was not enough time left for the children to be able to reflect on and evaluate their podcasting journey. Reflection is an important part of the learning process. By looking back at what they have done children can gain a deeper understanding of both the content and the learning process itself.

The future

Donaldson (1986) was brave enough to question Piaget's experiments and his consequent assessments of children's ages, stages and schemes. She alluded to the notion of children requiring a 'familiar context' to be able to perform optimally and construct meaning from what they were doing. But what is a familiar context for children today? As adults, are we supporting children in a context which is 'comfortable' for us rather than familiar to them? Even more importantly are assessment agencies also outside their comfort zone? Should they be asking for evidence in different formats? Could Podcasting be one of these? 'Digital' evidence of achievement is more suited to a 'hi-tech' world. Considering the distribution and impact of technologies in the 'business' world (Phelps, Graham & Kerr, 2004); pressure from government bodies (DCSF 2007a) and the responsibility of schools to educate children for the future (DCSF 2008), the lack of utilisation of digital evidence to inform assessments in schools is puzzling.

Ellis (1997, 2004) refers to "emotional auto-ethnography" which may have the unintended consequence of eclipsing what auto-ethnography can be and of obscuring the way in which it may fit into social inquiry. I would question the use of 'emotional' here as it implies 'blackmail' or in research terms bias. I continue to espouse Donaldson's (1986) 'familiar context', which would of course include a researcher's relationship with the children involved. For me relationship suggests 'knowing each other'; a comfortable fit which leaves emotions 'outside' research. Emotions would have skewed the analysis of observation and interview data whereas the relationship between the children and myself strengthened it.

There are more practical implications for anyone reproducing this research, or implementing the podcasting package. Podium software is expensive and only necessary if broadcasting to the World Wide Web. The sample children were not concerned by the notion of a 'wider audience' they just wanted their families and 'immediate' peers to hear their story. The story could have been shared by CD Rom, flash drive or the schools intranet alone. This would have been more cost effective; would have saved some of the TDA funding and thus allowed extra time to work with the children.

Evaluations of the children's speaking and listening abilities followed observations, during the activities, and consequent transcriptions of the children's discussions, were assessed against a recognised framework. These findings clearly indicated that the podcasting package is viable in terms of raising speaking and listening levels.

Prensky (2005) reminded us that life for today's children may be a lot of things but it's certainly not unengaging; except in school. Children's home experiences with technology enable teachers to build on what children know and can do provided that those particular technologies are also available in schools. By doing so, not only are we aligning practice to Donaldson (1986) but also reflecting Fisher's (2007) 'starting from the child' principle. However in some respects this is where, we as practitioners, go wrong. Money is heavily invested into the latest technology to give children the best 'opportunities' or environments for learning. Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) and visualisers are two such technologies. The small survey revealed that at home children are using computers, mobile phones, DS Lites and Wii's. Though clearly there are benefits to having IWBs and visualisers to project and share images, it seems that the 'familiar' technologies, those used daily at home are not utilised within a school environment. Again a case of 'teacher comfort' opposed to 'children's reality'. If we are relying on children's personal biographies or digital histories as this 'starting point' for resourcing and planning in settings, investing in 'unfamiliar' technologies would seem to contradict what we should endeavour to do.

What does the teacher have to do? Nothing more than use a skill that hopefully they are already good at: listening. Teachers should listen to the podcasts with the children, and help the children decide on the criteria for assessment. Children may have more sophisticated knowledge of new technologies than their teachers, forcing a pedagogical shift in the teacher role from expert to facilitator. Therefore continuing professional development has to be an important feature of teacher practices in a constantly evolving digital environment.

In conclusion integrating and applying technologies into a curriculum is a complicated issue. Making known the benefits associated with technology use whilst also addressing the barriers that exist seems mountainous. Traditional forms of literacy teaching are often not adequate for children today, they need to be adapted to both appeal and motivate and be relevant to modern-day learners (Buckingham 2003). Thus adults should be preparing children for their digital future rather than protecting them against it. Leu and Kinzer (2000 p117) say "envisionments take place when teachers, children, and others imagine new possibilities for literacy and learning, transform existing technologies to construct this vision, and then share their work with others." Envisionment has resulted from the new approach taken with younger children and the podcasting package; the subsequent delivery of the package to ITE students who in turn will disseminate it to teachers in schools.

As a researcher I would find it interesting to trial the package with even younger children or in a setting whose 'digital' status was low in order to see (i) how younger children react (ii) if the technology became a problem rather than a scaffold.