Podcasting ‘Hot Knowledge’ – Supporting Transition from Secondary Education to University

istockphoto © Andrew Rich

Starting university can be a daunting experience for new students. The first few days will provide many new experiences and raise a whole range of emotional responses – from excitement and anticipation to homesickness and loneliness. To help new undergraduates find their way, Gilly Salmon and Palitha Edirisingha, both professors of e-learning at the University of Leicester, launched a podcasting project in 2006. The project, entitled “Informal Mobile Podcasting And Learning Adaptation for Transition (IMPALA4T)”, developed a model for capturing undergraduates’ informal knowledge and experience (‘hot knowledge’) for podcasts. Now they present the results of their research.

Podcasting is a common thing for a generation that has grown up with mp3 players. Those young adults are used to downloading music and all sorts of things from the Internet to their iPods. Almost everyone from the current generation of students owns a digital device. They are so common that Gilly Salmon and Palitha Edirisingha became interested in personal broadcasting for learning purposes, although mp3 players and podcasting were new to higher education.

“We had many questions about the impact of podcasting on learning experiences. The most critical aspect was whether students can switch from using mp3 players for entertainment to learning“, says Gilly Salmon.

Nevertheless, there was a need to support transition from secondary to higher education (HE). Studies of undergraduates’ satisfaction, academic performance and retention in higher education had identified the crucial importance of the first year in shaping students’ attitudes and approaches to learning. Positive transition to HE has a direct impact on students’ later learning experiences. However, in those days, most interventions to support transitions were based on institution-driven approaches, including courses on study skills.

Despite widespread interest in technology and informal learning, little attention had been given to exploiting novel ways of improving peer-supported transition into HE. The knowledge and experience of students who have already made the transition, in particular, had rarely been exploited. Such knowledge is considered to be “hot” because it is socially embedded, prevailing in networks of friends, family, relatives and neighbours. Potential applicants consider ‘hot knowledge’ to be more trustworthy than communications through official sources. Podcasting can capture this, and make it available to HE entrants.

IMPALA4T taps into the learning achievements and experience of students who have recently made their own transition. They talk about their first day at university, highlight some of the main differences between studying at their previous schools and university, talk about their experiences with accommodation in Leicester, and give advice on the study skills and on how to ensure financial stability.

Studying independently with eBook Readers

Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) evaluated the use of eReader devices and investigated the possibility of replacing traditional textbooks and syllabi in the medicine curriculum. In collaboration with publishers, the research team digitalised relevant study material into an e-book format.

Summary of preliminary findings

During the IMPALA4T project, Gilly Salmon and Palitha Edirisingha documented four approaches to using student-created podcasts to provide first-year support. The questions the research examined were

  • How does students’ learning supported by podcasting differ from their learning through structured campus or e-learning processes?
  • What kinds of pedagogical applications can be developed for podcasting through mp3 players for students’ informal use within formal HE modules that work to enhance their learning?
  • Can students switch from using mp3 players for entertainment to learning?
  • What are the psychological, social and institutional barriers to and advantages of more informal learning using podcasting?

As a conclusion, students found the issues addressed significant and challenging for the process of transition. In the first year, they were concerned with settling down as an undergraduate, selection of modules, examinations, study practices, and the question of whether they should undertake a year in industry or abroad. These were areas where first-year students faced difficult decisions (ones that caused them anxiety), and they felt they lacked necessary information and guidance.

The interviews showed that the students believed that the podcasts, particularly as sources of captured informal knowledge and experience, have the potential to aid their successful transition to HE. The students attributed particular legitimacy to the podcasts, as they helped them to hear the opinions of contemporaries with firsthand knowledge and experience of the situations they described.

Podcast technology therefore was successful in IMPALA4T in capturing informal knowledge and opinions drawn from experience. Students believed that the ‘hot knowledge’ in the podcasts helped them in their transition, including sharing new information and perspectives, advice regarding positive behaviour, the reinforcement of existing knowledge and behaviour and the provision of emotional reassurance. The fact that all the information in the podcasts was drawn from other students’ direct experience meant that many of the students interviewed were willing to integrate the information and advice into their own transition.

For further information, please visit http://www.le.ac.uk/impala/index.html and http://www.le.ac.uk/beyonddistance/startinguni/

Dr Palitha Edirisingha will give the presentation “Podcasting ‘Hot Knowledge’ to Support Students’ Transition from School to University” as part of the session Smoothing the Transition on December 4th from 14:15 – 16:00.

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