Editor’s Note: This research provides valuable insights into teaching and learning using various web tools to expand the classroom dialog and enrich distance learning. It offers interesting and provocative support of peer teaching and learning.
Podcast and Reciprocal Peer Tutoring
in Support of Teaching and Learning
Chan Chang Tik
We are abounding with technologies. Some of them are suitable in an educational setting while others are not. The question is: “Do we use technology to differentiate or are we differentiating technologies?” If we are differentiating technologies, then we fail to tap into the strengths of the technologies in teaching and learning. We fail to go beyond the technical aspects of the instruments and, as such, they will remain as instruments per se. This paper attempts to put forward to you education technologies in the forms of hardware and software and how they are blended together to achieve effective communications. These technologies include podcast, reciprocal peer tutoring, eBeam and MIMIO pad. Some research findings are discussed to lend support to the technologies used.
Keywords: education technology, podcast, reciprocal peer tutoring
The word technology, whether related to education or otherwise, is always erroneously linked to hardware only. Institutions and companies can spend millions investing in the hardware and do not get the envisaged returns. One of the possible reasons is lack of software, especially in the education setting. This paper will discuss how podcast, a series of video or audio files available on the Internet, can be used to support learning. It is necessary to subscribe to RSS to keep in touch with the latest developments in podcast, online news, blogs, photos, and whatever is needed in learning or work assignments. According to McLaughlin (2006), podcast is one of the new media streams that is also suitable for a traditional lecture style and it is of keen interest to the academics and practitioners. Podcast gains massive popularity because it can meet students’ mobile and lifestyle needs by allowing them to listen to lecturer’s notes in an environment of their choosing (Bongey, 2006).
This paper will also discuss some hardware like eBeam and MIMIO pad which the author finds very useful in support of his presentations. Again this hardware will be discussed in relation to the teaching methods and presentation skills. Briefly, eBeam is a portable device which can easily convert an ordinary whiteboard into a smart-board capable of recording, playback, enlarging and even supporting video and Internet. The MIMIO pad is portable and light weight; everything written on it gets projected on the screen and the written work can be saved and played back.
The subsequent education technology software under discussion in this paper is Reciprocal Peer Tutoring (RPT) developed by John Fantuzzo in 1984. This strategy is given a new twist by throwing in education technologies like email, lecture-text in SMS format, and e-assessment. The strategy works well by providing each other (two persons or a small group of four persons) mutual support through prompting, evaluating, monitoring, setting and conducting tests on one another. The interactions here imply both verbal and non-verbal communications which form the basis of any teaching method. Research on RPT conducted in the Philippines and in the West will be discussed.
There is a constant call for the use of technology in support of collaborative learning and, in particular, blended learning. The primary aim is to provide an environment that supports collaboration between students on-campus as well as students who are geographically distributed to enhance their learning processes (Kreijns, Kirschner & Jochems, 2003), and facilitate collective learning and group cognition (Stahl, 2006). Universities in Malaysia, as well as around the world, are moving towards student-centred learning in response to the social demands of a highly diverse, interdependent, and technologically rich workplace that calls for teamwork (UNESCO, 2005). When our students graduate they will find themselves in workspace that is increasingly a virtual one where work is done by individuals who are distributed in time and place. Hence, if we fail to equip our students with social interactive online communicative skills they may find themselves unemployable. These are soft skills which are attainable through blended learning and online forum discussion.
Besides blending face-to-face to online mode of teaching, we can also blend podcast to learning activities. Podcast which is a combination of iPod and broadcasting is fast gaining popularity. A Google search on September 28, 2004 brought up 24 hits. About a year later, on August 28, 2005, another Google search returned over 21 million hits and on September 18, the same year, a Google search exceeded 60 million’s (Campbell, 2005). Podcast is highly popular because it is easy to use. With a podcatcher (RSS aggregator) a listener can subscribe to his or her favourite podcasts which will then be downloaded automatically to a computer at the listener’s convenience time. Once it is downloaded it can be played over a car stereo, headphones, MP3 player, and computer speakers. A student can listen to a podcast while driving to college, walking or exercising in a gym and even traveling on vacation.
To tap into the potential of this technology, an educator must incorporate instructional strategies involving podcast. Podagogy.com suggests a combination of Keller’s ARCS model with Gagne’s Nine Instructional Events. One must always remember it is the instructional strategies that drive the technology and not the other way round. Hence, we have to blend podcast with learning activities in support of outcome based education.
Podcasting has already become an important component of work routines and job expectations in some fields. For instance, a modern day journalist is given a chance to contribute “his news and have it published under the company’s brand name” (Outing, 2006). Many studies on podcasting were carried out in Britain and United States. In the States, distance learning students gained personalized attention from the lecturer through podcast. Recently, Open University in the United Kingdom introduced podcast for students who need flexibility and other universities followed suit to provide coverage of guest lecturers (Shim et al., 2006a). In Australia, Hartfield (2009) reported podcasts focused the students’ attention to core learning concepts and supported them in their understanding and learning of the lecture materials. Unfortunately, Asia is slow in catching up with new technology. For instance, Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong once lagged behind the West in information technology (Shim et al., 2006a). Traditionally, in Asia we tend to follow rather than to lead. It is time to review this tendency and move on to discovery.
Another technology under consideration is Reciprocal Peer Tutoring (RPT). This technology has been used extensively in schools and universities and it helps students improve their academic skills (Choudhury, 2002; Gartner and Riessman, 1994). In RPT students play two roles: tutors and the tutored. They ask each other a set of questions and provide tutorials when the answers given are not as expected. This dual role is beneficial to students because as tutors they have to master the content in order to teach and to set questions. Subsequently, as tutees, (the tutored), they learn from their peers and share knowledge as well.
Reciprocal peer tutoring is used successfully in Nigeria and it has significant impact on the enhancement of career choices among secondary school adolescents (Obiunu, 2008). In another study in Nigeria, RPT results in higher student academic achievement and greater productivity, more caring, supportive and committed relationships among students and greater psychological health, social competence, and self-esteem (Uwameiye and Asuwa-Ogiegbaen, 2006). In the Philippines, Henson (2009) reported a significant improvement in her students’ performance in college algebra and she recommended using RPT in other courses as well. In the West and in the United States, RPT is used extensively with significant success in improving academic achievement of the students. For instance, in Texas A&M University RPT was found to have a significant positive effect on student performance and students agreed that the technique forced them to apply the course content and provided additional review and practice (Choudhury, 2002). However, in Malaysia we need to carry out more research on RPT and one big obstacle to overcome is the student’s lack of trust in peer tutoring.
The eBeam is a device that can effectively convert an ordinary whiteboard, in fact any hard surface like a wall, into a smart-board. The Scrapbook Pages in eBeam can be shared over the Internet or Intranet with anyone anywhere. Images, PowerPoint, Excel, and WORD can be imported directly into the Scrapbook and changes to the Page are shared in real-time. The Recorder feature can create movies complete with audio and the movie files saved in .avi, .wmv, or .swf (Flash) format. This technology by itself does not mean much to teaching and learning. In this paper, the author will show how it can be incorporated into reciprocal peer tutoring and even used together with podcast. Together with eBeam the author will also discuss another device called MIMIO Pad in relation to teaching and learning.
When lecturers develop podcasts to support their teaching and students’ learning, who owns the intellectual property? To some, he answer may seem obvious; the lecturers of course. But, in some institutions in Asia it is not so obvious. All academic material written and developed belongs to the institution. In such a situation, lecturers may be discouraged to develop new teaching methods.
There should be a win-win situation here. Let the lecturer keep the intellectual property rights and the institution can share the glory and a certain percentage of the capital gain. The author believes this is the normal practice across the world and it will certainly benefit the institution, lecturers and students alike.
Capturing Class Discussions
Group discussions in the class can be recorded using either eBeam or MIMIO pad. Of course, after editing (if necessary) it will lend good support to your episode series of podcasts. You can use it to start your podcast or it can be an episode itself.
Notes written on the scrapbook pages in eBeam will serve as supporting documents for podcast. Students can refer to the scrapbook pages for reference after listening to the audio.
Teaching and Learning with Podcast
Do we need a podcast to cover a 2-hour lecture? In the author’s opinion, no. This is because a podcast should complement the lecture, not replace it. It should be used to guide students on pertinent points to comprehend in the lecture, points to ponder and reflect for deeper understanding, and points to research and debate in small group discussions in the class. According to Shim et al. (2007) podcast should supplement class teaching materials for better understanding of concepts and applications that may not have been available during the class.
A podcast can be used to support blended learning in offline mode. Learning activities designed by the lecturer can be explained verbally. In this way, a podcast can function like a virtual lecturer talking to students, keeping focus in their learning activities and morally supporting them to push on in their studies.
It is pertinent that lecturers blend well the classroom activities with podcast materials. In this manner, the podcast will help reinforce students’ understandings in the class by giving them further learning activities such as reading, listening to talk, watching video, and reflecting on certain concepts. Of course, the outcomes of these learning activities will be discussed in class.
Podcast Rating and Absenteeism
According to recent Bridge Ratings, podcast growth is expected to reach a critical mass in 2010 exceeding 45 million users (Bridge Ratings, 2005b). The efforts of Purdue University to podcast over 90 courses and the existence of Apple’s iTunes University are evidence of podcasting’s impact on education.
Is the availability of podcast to be blamed for a decline in student attendance? According to a newspaper article entitled “The iPod took my seat”, yes, there is a dramatic fall in the attendance where only 20 students out of a total enrollment of 200 showed up for class (Silverstein, 2006). However, an article in the College Student Journal disputed the newspaper article and claimed that students are motivated to attend class out of interest in the lecturer and materials delivered (Gump, 2004). Similarly, in Dr. Gerald Cizadlo’s class in the College of St. Scholastica they did not experience the same trend as reported in the newspaper (Hoover, 2006).
In a survey carried out by Bongey et al. (2006), students do not use podcast to avoid attending class, in fact, they used it to improve their understanding of lecture materials. They also find it useful to revise for their examination and to review confusing and complex information.
Creating a Podcast
You can use the same strategy as in teaching to start your audio recording, that is, a set induction. Catch your student’s attention to your recording through relevant speech from a famous person, appropriate music, announcement of a big event, or even simple learning outcomes to achieve in the podcast.
There are no specific rules to the length of the recording. But normally each episode of your podcast should last 20 to 30 minutes. Research has shown that this is the length of time preferred by the students.
Do not read from prepared notes. You will sound artificial and monotonous. If needed jot down some points and record it as if you are teaching in the class. It is alright to pause, joke with your students and even have some ‘ahs’ as they are all natural in any teaching.
Reciprocal Peer Tutoring (RPT)
When students are first introduced to a student-centred learning approach where they are required to collaborate, discuss and share knowledge among peers, there is an element of trust that is bothering them. They would like to know: “Is my peer teaching me the right thing?” Hence, whether it is reciprocal peer tutoring or blended learning, lecturers have to step in to overcome the doubt of trust.
This issue is pertinent among Asian students, especially the undergraduates. They need to be convinced that under student-centred learning they are learning the right thing and not otherwise. If this issue is left unchecked it will eventually lead to students losing faith in the new approaches, and RPT in particular will fail.
Choosing Peers from Afar
Reciprocal peer tutoring can take place over the Internet or Intranet. This convenience is possible with the aid of eBeam, email, lecture-text in SMS format, and e-assessment. Hence, students can share notes and discuss in real-time at locations far and near if they cannot do so face-to-face. Now, RPT takes on a different dimension: students can choose their peers from another institution of different culture and nationality. It opens the window to a rich learning environment encompassing soft skills which are badly needed in the workplace.
Through lecture-text in SMS format and e-assessment, students are given mobility where they can conduct peer tutoring anywhere, anytime.
Learning with RPT
Students must know how to question each other so as to probe deeper and generate a discussion. They can use guided reciprocal peer questioning technique. A set of generic question stems are as follows:
What is the best … and why?
What if …?
Explain why …?
How are … and … similar?
Why is … important?
How would I use … to …?
How does … affect …?
What conclusions can you draw about …?
What is the main idea of …?
Guided by these question stems, students should be able to come up with higher order questions rather than questions that lead to short answers.
For RPT to function effectively, both the tutor and tutee must carry out self-reading of the topic. In this manner, when the tutor asks some thought provoking questions, the tutee can participate meaningfully in a discussion. RPT is not merely asking and answering questions, both parties must be able to interpret and share knowledge on the topic at hand. Hence, they have to read and research on topic before they meet. It is important to explain to students their duties or functions in RPT so that they can reap maximum benefits from it.
You may choose to allow your students to group themselves in pairs. There are advantages and disadvantages of them doing so: good academic students may group together leaving the poorer academic students to fend for themselves. Do we have a problem here? The author believes not. This is because, in such a grouping, you know exactly on which group to focus your attention and to whom to give more assistance.
Give your students a specific topic to discuss and set questions. This topic should be related to the learning activities of the student-centered learning approach. When they shift role between tutor and tutee a new topic should be given to the other tutor.
Another alternative is to ask students to construct 10 multiple choice test questions on certain topics and bring those questions, with answers, to class. They are then paired up and given time to complete the RPT activity. During this activity they exchange questions with their partners, answer and score each other’s paper. They will tutor each other on questions not answered correctly. The students’ multiple choice questions are collected and treated like any class assignment.
Solutions and Recommendations
Whenever one starts a new instructional strategy it is advisable to engage the catalyst group first and subsequently to set up a support group. One needs to identify a few lecturers who are adventurous and are constantly willing to try new teaching methods. They will form your catalyst group and eventually they will help to promote the new methods to their colleagues. As more and more lecturers are using the new methods, it is essential to set up a support group. This group will assist lecturers who face implementation problems and give them moral support to push on.
In Malaysia, students are very accustomed to a teacher centered approach. Hence, when they are asked to learn from their peers, they do not know how and they do not trust their peers’ capabilities to teach them. To overcome this problem, lecturers initially have to step in to confirm the peers’ responses as accurate and to explain incomplete answers. It is imperative that lecturers sum up the students’ presentations in the class and draw conclusions where appropriate. Once the students learn how to learn, the role of the lecturers in drawing summaries and conclusions can be reduced.
On another note, we can also set up a student learning centre to teach students how to learn and to collaborate to acquire knowledge. For instance, the use of reciprocal peer tutoring and podcasts can support students’ learning. Through reciprocal peer questioning they will learn how to ask thought provoking questions and also to probe deeper for a better analysis of the concept learned.
Staff stationed in the Information System Office should be well versed with the latest developments in information technology in a particular server and network system. They should be upgraded regularly through in-house trainings and attending seminars. It is a shame when we have the right teaching technologies to move forward but we don’t have the right information system support.
Advancement demands that you move forward, otherwise you are left behind. If moving ahead means progress for all parties involved, that is, students, lecturers and institution management, then we should welcome it.
Every development comes with changes. We have to change to progress or be changed. This paper attempts to put forward to you various education technologies in the forms of hardware and software and how they are blended together to achieve effective communications. Last but not least, are we using technology to differentiate or are we differentiating technologies? If we are differentiating technologies, then we fail to tap into the strengths of the technologies in teaching and learning. If we fail to go beyond the technical aspects of the instruments as such, they will remain as instruments per se.
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About the Author
Dr. Chan Chang Tik is Senior Director, Centre for Instructional and Technology Support, INTI International University, Persiaran Perdana BBN, Putra Nilai, 71800 Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia