Podcasts, a tool for education and encouraging reading
José Pichel Andrés/DICYT Aurora Pérez Maíllo and Chelo Sánchez Serrano, lecturers at the Communications Faculty of the UPSA and members of the Media and Audiovisual Culture research group, have been working for years on the possibilities of podcasts, which are sound archives that users download from the internet, both for popularising radio among children and for teaching. Along these lines their most recent project is the creation of a virtual sound reading club model in which podcasts are the main user communication tool.
The initiative, which has been called Books in the Air (Libros en el Aire, LEA), is being developed throughout this academic year (2014-2015) as part of the University Innovation Club (Club Universitario de Innovación, CUI), in which UPSA students are involved in various research studies. “There are reading clubs that have as their reference a website or a Facebook page, but the extra value of LEA is its sound, as part of the emotions that the reader of a book wants to express can be transmitted better by using the voice”, points out Marcos Barajas, a student of the Communications Faculty who is working on the project together with his colleagues Sheila Llorente and Ana Fernández del Campo.
In fact LEA has already been operating as a reading club for the past three years at the Communications Faculty. Each participant has recorded literary recommendations in radio studios so as to make them available to others. The objective was to improve oral culture and communication skills and at the same time to encourage podcasting and strengthen the links of the university community.
However, the idea is now to go a little further and create a model that can be made use of by any other group without the need for radio studios in which to record. In other words, the project aims to create a platform on the Internet to serve as a reference so that schools, universities, libraries, or any other group of people interested in reading can use it to develop their own sound reading club from which to upload and download podcasts with literary recommendations. The result is a kind of blog or social reading network that will be further defined over the forthcoming months and which starts from the premise that it must be easy to use.
The content of each sound piece will be completely free, but those in charge of LEA appeal to creativity to go beyond traditional literary criticism: the participants can read part of a book, continue the story, start a dialogue, or reproduce the content with music and sound effects or any other formula that encourages reading.
This project is the follow-up to the work of Aurora Pérez and Chelo Sánchez at the head of the research group, which in the previous edition of the University Innovation Club developed Esp@cioPodc@ast, an idea designed to improve the oral expression of children aged from 6 to 11. With the participation of students from the Faculty of Computer Studies and taking into account the opinions of primary school teachers, an Internet platform was developed with warm-up exercises in the form of expressive reading, intonation, or diction, and final exercises such as inventing a story from three words or giving an interview.
In Esp@cioPodc@ast the pupils encounter a start-up screen imitating a radio studio where they can record from the computer or from mobile devices; teachers have access from another channel to correct the exercises. Moreover, anyone can make constructive criticisms of his/her classmates' work. The first prototype, in which the pupils Guillermo García, José Manuel Álvarez, and Víctor Santamaría also collaborated, was tested by twenty children who helped to redefine its design and usability.
Developing oral skills
The whole of this line of research is particularly important because in a school environment “the oral aspect is not worked on enough”, affirms Chelo Sánchez: This leads not only to deficient oral expression but also poor listening skills. The introduction of this aspect “allows the developing of skills for expressing oneself and also the capacity to concentrate, listen, and understand”, she maintains.
On the one hand, it is also important to “educate for the critical use of the media”, Aurora Pérez points out. Radio is a very special didactic tool because “it stimulates the imagination” through the voice and through sounds. “We spend the day writing, but not speaking”, the teacher warns, especially in schools.
The general idea of this work group is that new technologies can help radio reach new audiences such as children, who have little empathy with this medium as they have grown up in a world dominated by screens. However, “from a technological point of view it is very easy to make a podcast, upload it, and share it on social networks” and this advantage can be exploited by introducing a new dimension in their relationship with the media and with teaching.