My students are currently finishing up a project on ecosystems that required them to work with a partner on a podcast. Starting Monday, we'll be entering our third week of work. It's taking way too long and has been way too much trouble for me; I'm wondering if it's worth doing again.
I got the idea to do this project after listening to a show on NPR called the 90-Second Naturalist by Thayne Maynard (who happens to live in Wyoming, where I teach). Since we were getting ready to start a unit on ecosystems in science, I thought I'd have my students complete a show called the 60-Second Naturalist that required them to choose an ecosystem and describe some of its abiotic factors and how they affected the organisms that lived in the ecosystem. So about two weeks ago my students researched these factors and began writing the scripts for their shows.
The problems began as the first students started to actually record their podcasts. We have no audio software at my school, so I decided to download Audacity and put it on four computers in my classroom. The software is easy enough to use--it took only a few minutes to teach my tech-savvy students how to use it--but having it on so few computers meant that I could only have four pairs of students working at a time. Furthermore, if other students are in the classroom, then they must be completely silent while others are recording or else all the background sound will be picked up. This meant that it couldn't be done during class time, but had to be done at lunch when there were no other students in the room. Lastly, in addition to downloading Audacity, I also had to download LameLib so that I could export the files as mp3's for eventual uploading to the classroom blog. The uploading, of course, will be another step that I have to do.
With all the work and time my students and I have put into these podcasts (and we're only half-way finished), I have to ask, are the final products worth the trouble? The effectiveness of any technology must be measured by the value it adds to a lesson or project. I do believe that podcasts have a lot of value, but right now I think the trouble outweighs that value.