After feeling really good about my use of podcasts last semester, I wanted to continue exploring it this semester. My upper division class, Form and Analysis, didn’t seem like the right space for podcasting because we are working at a level of analysis wonderfully fraught with nuance and detail. Podcasts (as I have been using them) are best for passing on factual information, information I assume these upper-division students already have.
So, the experiments landed on my Aural Skills 1 class. This course does not initially feel like a natural fit for podcasting since there is almost no lecture anyways. Furthermore, I do not want to force things into a podcast just for the sake of using the tool. So, I was surprised that I ended up with two opportunities for a podcast use during the first 6.5 weeks of the course.
Experiment #1: How to sing a progression. Singing progressions is a compact activity that reinforces chord spelling, prioritizes common bass lines, and incorporates leaps in a harmonic setting. In other words, it is an activity with very good bang-for-the-buck. I think its biggest weakness is that it is not an excerpt from beautifully composed music.
I like to have students first sing just the bass line (^1-^2-^3 for I – V4/3 – I6), then to sing the bass line with the chords arpeggiated in the most compact manner above it (1-3-5-3-1, 2-4-5-7-5-4-2, 3-5-1-5-3 for I – V4/3 – I6). It takes about five minutes of class time to demonstrate this for students.
On a key day this semester, I forgot to look at the next assignment when I wrote my lesson plans. At 9:48 (class ends at 9:50), I was going over that assignment with my students and realized I had assigned progressions for the very first time this semester. It needed a good introduction. I could try and squeeze an explanation into the last 90 seconds of class. OR I could make them a podcast. After all, this was a situation of merely passing on information.
I opted for the podcast. Overall, this decision worked well. In previous semesters, there were always a core group of students who didn’t listen well for details and messed up this assignment (usually they arpeggiated from the root, rather than the bass). That group was noticeably absent this time.
However, one new weakness did arise: a lot of students couldn’t keep their inversions of V7 straight. I purposely avoid rigorous introduction of topics that are core content in the music theory classroom. I only get my students two days a week and am very possessive of the time I do get with them. I don’t want to spend that time re-teaching what they have already In their theory course. In podcast’s written description, I also provided a link to a very short post (by a different author) about inversions of V7, just in case students hadn’t yet received the information from their theory teacher or needed an alternate explanation. All of this intentional (and transparently communicated) avoidance of giving them new notes about those pesky inversions of V7 did appear, however, to result in a core group of students not knowing which labels go with which inversions. So, next time, I will make an informal (i.e., handwritten) handout to accompany my podcast. I’ll scan it and attach it along side the link to the podcast. I think that will fix the problem.
Experiment #2: Going over the directions for their prepared module 1 exam. I usually save 5-7 minutes of classtime to go over the handout on what to prepare for the exam. This semester, I decided that since this is another case of merely passing on information, I would put it in a podcast. In all semesters, I refuse to read handouts to students, pointing out to them that they can read. But I do take the time to demonstrate what I want and weed through some of my more convoluted instructions (I frequently ask students to set their own goals for keyboard work, which ends up requiring a lot of words on a handout). This semester, I made a podcast doing exactly what I normally do, including playing the keyboard and singing. I don’t know how many people listened to the podcast. I do know that some students missed having the time and space to ask questions. I think that if I end a future podcast of this type with instructions to email me with any questions, that will help. Additionally, I can make listening to the podcast part of an assignment for the next class and save time in that class for questions.
One more podcasting post: ideas for the future, including some thoughts on what factors create the right situations for a podcast to make learning and class time more effective. Read it here.