Using Podcasts and multimedia in a blended Italian elementary course

Bronx Community college’s student population is faced with complex schedules, family TuttiMattiPodcast1_StudentessaMattaobligations and work commitments; consequently, the opportunity to offer online instruction finds an ideal environment for expansion. There are several strategies available in constructing successful online courses to produce mobile learning, especially for the foreign languages curricula and more specifically for Italian language courses. Although online language course offerings have increased, Italian is still falling behind in respect to other subjects offered at a college level. The scarcity of high-quality models to duplicate, lack of visibility and consideration, and academic incentives, make Italian online instruction still a work in progress rather than a consolidated reality. Some of the challenges revolve around which methodologies to implement, the risk of not utilizing the target language as often as required, and an uneasiness to release control of the classroom environment. Successful activities for language acquisition have proven to be blogs and wikis which stimulate interest, student productivity and activate independent reflective work. Podcasts help with pronunciation, listening and comprehension, facilitate the review of classroom material at anytime and anywhere. Difficulties have been observed within the blackboard platform in the use of the Discussion Board feature which in elementary language courses does not provide enough reflective and meaningful writing material due to the limited language skills of a beginners course.

Blackboard, the platform adopted by The City University of New York, supported the creation of the Italian elementary online course. The instructor created a series of didactic-formative activities to place in each of the “buttons” of the Blackboard site, which followed the layout of modules created by the textbook in use.  These included: grammatical sequence, introduction to cultural themes, and vocabulary. Each module (characterized by a separate button), was comprised of grammatical and lexical elements that were correlated with a number of different exercises. Apart from traditional exercises, the platform supported cross-words, instructor-made video podcasts, social networking sites (i.e. twitter), youtube videos, podcasted listening comprehension and dictation exercises, as well as work based on images to promote cultural understanding.Each written module corresponded with an audio file that was inserted in another Blackboard button labeled “Audio & Video” so that students could read and listen simultaneously, allowing for more exposure to pronunciation and to the language in general. The audio files contained in this section were saved as Wav. or Mp3s and students listened to them directly on the blackboard platform without having to download the files into their desktops.  Students were also able to upload the files into their ipods. In an informal survey conducted among students, 40% uploaded the files into their ipods, and 60% listened to them several times during the semester directly on BB. Some students requested personalized audio files of vocabulary from each chapter. The content of the audio files varies from the simple pronunciation of verbs and vocabulary to readings and dictations. The use of the audio elements allows students to listen whenever they please and review lessons at every moment during the day, or before an exam, which is impossible in a traditional classroom. Due to the space limitations of Blackboard, some of the mp3 files are inserted into a free podcast server called PodOmatic, which is linked to the Italian Blackboard site. Through this server students were able to upload the mp3 files into their iPods or mp3 players for the same uses that are mentioned above. Access to audio files is very useful because it allows for custom made learning. Some audio files were recorded to satisfy specific student requests. Surpassing CDs and DVDs, which have become obsolete and non-renewable content, the pedagogical potential of multimedia technology makes it an advantageous choice for foreign language learning. There is another important benefit to using audio applications. In a community college, most students work, have families, and a large number take evening classes.  In order for these students to come to school, they often face long commutes, which is common in large urban areas. Study time is sporadic and scarce, and the use of audio-files allows students to optimize the time they set aside for studying. They can, for example, review a lesson or listen to vocabulary during their “down” time. In a 2008 study by Damon Brewster and Hans von Dietze entitled Introducing Podcasts into Language Teaching, the researches evaluated the advantage for using podcasts in language learning. They found that increasing expose to authentic material will  “help auditory learners, improve reading and writing, increase motivation, provide opportunity for language learning outside of the classroom and broaden its skills” (Damon Brewster and Hans von Dietze, 2008) Both students and instructors can use several programs (such as Audacity and WavePad) to record contents that allow one to record, modify, and edit sound. Audacity is an open source program that converts files into Mp3s by downloading an external component called LAME. Another program by Adobe that was used for podcasts in the Italian course is Adobe Captivate, which was released in 2001. At first glance it appears similar PowerPoint, but this program is more modern and efficient than the Microsoft version. Adobe Captivate allows for the creation of guided presentations, interactive demonstrations, simulations, podcasts, games and lessons. It also considerably compresses files and demonstrations and saves films to dimensions smaller than a traditional video. In teaching Italian, Adobe Captivate was used to create interactive tests. Students were able to choose from a vast series of samples: multiple choice; true and false and short written answers. Professors were able to add background music to these presentations and assign certain duration to tests, the results of which could be sent via email to the professor. The best way to save these presentations is the format SWF Flash drive, a program that is compatible with the Blackboard platform. The main role of all the didactic instruments described up to now is to stimulate students to develop an interest in the course they are taking and also showcase the instructor’s efforts in preparing material for them. The educator becomes a model of what can be done with technology, thereby making these tools more accessible and reproducible for students. The visual aspect of these presentations favors memorization and the learning of pedagogical contents such as grammar or vocabulary. Within Blackboard, the Italian elementary course contains “cultural videos” that facilitate vocabulary building. These videos can be shot with a simple digital camera and later uploaded onto the computer after being formatted with Windows Movie Maker. Topics can vary from short podcasts with information about Italian cities to interviews with local grocery and shop owners.  Students can learn vocabulary pertaining to food, how to order at a restaurant, and how to talk about shopping and money. These podcasts also provide a model since they are short, concise, and can be easily replicated by students as part of their final oral examination for the course. These videos have several functions: vocabulary acquisition, review of grammatical structures, and exposure to information about general culture with the goal of obtaining international and/or global perspectives.This pedagogical approach, which is part of the already cited “content learning” method, also supports the creation of spontaneous language that happens in real situations and within cultural contexts. Linked to this theory is the principle of the Constructive Theory (2001, Williams & Irving), according to which students construct language directly though direct life experience.  “Learners construct their own knowledge by looking for meaning and order; they interpret what they hear, read, and see based on their previous learning and habits. Students who do not have appropriate backgrounds will be unable to accurately “hear” or “see” what is before them.”(Thanasoulas, 2001).

Excerpt (with modifications) from my article published in 2015

Photo credit:

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Podcasting in the Science Courses

As we know students, nowadays, are well versed in various technologies and are seen as easy adapters and quick learners of any technological tools. There is a lot of evidence for using podcasts across the disciplines and, in particular, in science courses. In an engineering course, for example, students were asked to create a short podcast that illustrated real-life application of an engineering projects. In a biology course, students are asked to create a video that explains concepts that otherwise would be hard to understand without visuals (interionaturer organs, cells, etc).There is a great site that gathered all of the best podcasts related to Biological sciences. By some other schools, podcasts are used for discussions with leading scientist and industries and government officials (see the Science and Society Podcasts channel). The chemistry class also makes use of podcasts to support the learning of this subject like giving a chance to listen to the entire lesson in case of absences. Another useful resource for Chemistry is “ChemPod”, geared towards the chemistry community, from interviews with Nobel Prize winners, to discussing topics such as nanotechnology research, organic or surface, chemistry. In all of these fields podcasts are used and implemented with different aims and instead use the class time for discussion and interaction. Recently the journal, New Scientist reported after having done a study on podcast integration and revealed that “New psychological research suggests that university students who download a podcast lecture achieve substantially higher exam results than those who attend the lecture in person.” However to make it all work and be effective faculty have to define their course objectives for using podcasts, and at the same time, realizing that pedagogy must be the driving force behind their integration. Even though podcasts are very popular and accepted in academia, further research is needed to provide answers to questions related to their usefulness in education.




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Flipped Classroom

FCAccording to the definition of the flipped classroom, the traditional class model is reversed. Short videos and podcasts about classroom content are seen or heard by students at home, and class time is instead spent practicing, exercising and discussing. The flipped content is more than “consume, review, repeat”; it is mostly about including and involving a wider range of learning activities. It is important to remember that pedagogy should be the driving force behind the flipped approach –something that can be a very valuable tool for teachers. Therefore, using podcasts and learning how to create them is a plus for those who want to try to experiment with this pedagogical approach. The positive aspect of the FC is that the teaching space becomes a more active place where to practice certain skills and to foster discussion and critical thinking. Some studies even claim that this approach increases motivation and metacognition. Perhaps the most popular example of videos has been done by the Khan Academy which shows that math learning happens more efficiently if ideas are presented in a number of different ways.

The goal is not too make these podcasts too long (max 10 min) since students have short attention span. Long videocasts create the opposite effect and are not conducive to learning. Some faculty lament that presenting information only via vlogs can have drawbacks. One of them is that the teacher can’t get direct feedback when teaching in the classroom; another is that it can create a digital divide. This year, at BCC, we will test this approach in our summer development workshop, and I will write more about it in the Fall.

Resources: (tool for podcasting with Ipad) (to create questions by video)


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Sound Installations


Sound installations,have been identified as an art form since the dawn of time– Wikipedia defines it as “related to sound art and sound sculpture, is an intermedia and time based art form”. The main difference between the two is that sounds installations are three-dimensional and they interact with the surrounding environment whether it is in a close or open space. Nowadays most installations use technology to enhance impact (for example, sensors and kinetic devices), but others are more traditional and use old-fashion speakers or simple instruments. Another benefit of creating an installation is to bring art outside of the confined space and open it to the public and become “social”. In an academic setting, many have taken advantage of this artistic form, by using sounds and integrating it with visual and digital design. There are many uses of sounds within the curriculum, from the Music and Art Departments but also Engineering and other science courses. In literature, the Futurist movement, comes to mind. In particular, the work by Luigi Russolo, (and others like Marinetti, and Cangiulo) represents all that music meant for such composers who rejected tradition and introduced sounds inspired by machinery. We all know that music affects our moods in all sorts of ways, and we recognize it as a powerful tool we can use to express emotions and moods. Some studies have showed that during tests if you listen to opera or classical music you have better chances of getting higher grades since the brain creates more sophistical connections. This research supports this basic fact: music impacts and improves our learning and living so… happy listening everyone !

Luigi Russolo’s page

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“Let me tell you what I think”; using podcasts for feedback.


An interesting use of podcasts is to provide feedback. This feedback is meant to offer students commentary on their academic work and to orally assess their performance. Scientific literature reveals several studies on the topic, some of which describe how audio recorded feedback on written papers is an effective method that provides individualized instruction. Furthermore, one study suggests that students find it more meaningful to receive this type of commentary than the traditional written one since it positively impacts their self-esteem, motivation and revision practices.

In a survey, students reported they find oral commentary on school performance to be more relevant to their needs and more appropriate for students with special needs. More specifically, students feel oral commentary is helpful to improve school work since it is more clear, direct and detailed than written commentary. In a 2008 study, the researcher focused on using podcasts to give feedback on Ph.D dissertations. Interesting right? Would you have liked to be on the other side of this new trend? The positive results are easily comprehensible since students thinks it’s more useful to receive feedback this way since it is more on point, detailed and clearer.  However, in a further study, the tone of voice was underlined as a negative factor for some students. This is also an interesting aspect to discuss. Do you think tone and disposition also plays a role? I believe this would be the case since students can sense the professor’s sense of openness, relaxed attitude, and encouragement. So are you ready to try this with your students next time around? I think I just might!

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Tools to create a storytelling or a digital sound project in the classroom



A great way to find out about “human sounds” is to explore the many oral archives that populate the internet. Some of the most interesting collections are the ones that bring together dialects and speech accents from various parts of the world. These audio files and collections are housed in renowned universities and libraries and the good news is that they can be freely accessed from everyone just by surfing the web. Some of the most interesting ones are the Dialects Archive which displays all of the dialects from different parts of the US (and around the world), Another interesting archive is the British, Sounds Familiar? Accents and Dialects of the UK which stores all of the dialect variations of  the English Language. Among the many oral archives one can find, an interesting one is the Smith College’s Voices of Feminism, Oral history Project. It collects recorded interviews (on DVD or VHS video tapes, plus audio CDs) with transcripts; and also the correspondence between interviewer and interviewee.

This could be an interesting way to incorporate audio podcasts in the classroom! Simply ask students to work on a large scale project. Students can interview immigrants, folks who grew up in the 50s or those with large families.  To carry out this work students can use different programs or use the old digital player or phone recording apps even though, their quality is not so great. I recommend thefollowing free recording (with storage options) programs: Audacity, Wavosaur, Olefa, Audiopal and Podomatic

Have you tried to create a digital oral project in your class? If you want to check out more options, then visit the following page !

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2015 Podcasting Faculty Development Program at BCC

Podcast-Consumption_Page_44-e1421690555678This year (2015) Podcasting Faculty Development Program just wrapped up, and once again it saw the participation of many instructors from various disciplines: History, Biology, Sociology and English. Since I am on sabbatical my colleague and co-coodinator of the program, Dr. Moronke Oshin-Martin, lead the entire workshop with great success. She told me that faculty feel very excited when they come to the training since they will be able to “enhance their teaching and student learning”. BCC is proud to be one of the few campus across the US where this kind of training takes place. We are proud to contribute to the revival that podcasts have seen in the last two years. In fact, according to the online magazine” Maximize social business”, “46 million Americans over the age of 12 now listen to podcasts on a monthly basis. That’s 17% of the 12+ US population, up from 12% in 2013.” In general, podcasts listeners tend to have college degrees (24%) compared to the 10% of those who listen to podcast every week without a college degree, according to the magazine.




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Recording Sounds From Birds

I am compelled to share with you the latest work of a colleague at Bronx Community College. Jeff Talman teaches in the Art and Music Department and just this week he wrote a piece, “Birds of New York: A Soundscape”, on the New York Times. The article features his latest installation at Columbia University’s Chapel, the orchestration of the recordings of birds’ sounds. His attraction to these sounds began when he was student at Columbia University and the idea of replicating it was a project that had been twirling in his mind for quite some time. But more than that, Talman claims that he always felt that music is not just made inside a room, but that there is a lot of musicality in the natural environment, “Flight and music both represent freedom from earthbound restraint. But music is even more intangible; music is made of the air, the medium of flight, the ether between us. Music is made of the sky.” He began with an installation that features the sounds of 102 species of birds which were made available by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which has the largest collection. After a masterful “manipulation” of these sounds, Talman was able to achieve “a kind of spatial chamber music as performed by virtuosos and sung by some of the world’s greatest sopranos.”

Here is the link to this wonderful piece of music, art, and composition.

Have you ever recorded sounds of birds or any other sound found in nature? If so please post your work on the comment feature.

BirdSource: Continue reading

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Some literature on podcasting

Some literature on the use of podcasting in higher education gives you an overview of the advantages of using podcasts for lectures. Some of the data shows that students prefer to listen to podcasts for review rather then for learning new content, as for using them during commute time or down time, research actually shows that students prefer to listen to podcasts sitting at a computer desk. However another study that came out in 2006 suggested that the flexibility of podcasting actually helped students manage their time more efficiently “the ability to replay lectures, and pause lectures” seemed to provide assist students time management concerns. Other advantages as stated by the article suggested that podcasting helped built a ‘sense of involvement with the subject, focus and motivation, a feeling of being part of the class’, ‘provides external students with the same opportunities as internal students’, ability to catch up if you miss an important lecture, ‘hearing additional examples/explanations given in lectures makes it much easier to understand than the ‘dry’ textbook’. ‘They bring subjects alive, allow a lecturer to bring in their own experiences and personality to make subjects more memorable, and bring more humanity to what can be fairly dry material. It can be soul destroying, reading rule upon rule, with no navigator to draw it all together and make it real'”.

See you all June 8th for the podcasting workshop at Bronx Community College !

Painting.  The Kiss. Francesco Hayez. 

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Podcasting and ESL

Podcasting has become an important and effective tool then learning a foreign language. Many ESL podcasting sites have recently surfaced: some offer pronunciation, dictations, songs, sample dialogues, and stories. It is certainly a very effective way to learn, you can listen to content over and over — 24/7. Here are some of the blogs I found which promote ESL learning via audio. (ESL podcast– for profit) (ESL classroom activities) (resources for Learning English) (stories for ESL students)


The article written by Wesley A. Fryer also discusses the benefits for using podcasts in education.

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