Podcasting from the Seashore in Cape Cod

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Every year fifth graders in the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District in South Yarmouth, MA spend five days at the seashore. For some, according to Lory Stewart, director of instructional technology, it's their first trip to the beach, in spite of the fact that they live on Cape Cod. Likewise, many have never been away from home, let alone for four nights.

This year's trips will integrate two technologies--podcasting and digital cameras--to capture the seaside experience and allow it to be shared with the larger district community of parents and residents, many of whom are retired. "Our taxpayers support this project," said Stewart. "Most of them know that it's a really great experience, because the kids just love it."

Capturing Experiences Outside the Classroom
Stewart started her experimentation in new forms of multimedia learning last year by providing a digital camera and training to each of 17 teachers. The entire purchase cost about $8,100, which included Olympus 5 megapixel cameras with gigabyte media cards, rechargeable battery packs, and two days of instruction.

When the classrooms returned from their field trips, said Stewart, "They used the digital images to report back on what they had experienced at the seashore. They did storyboards. They really went nuts with the digital imaging."

This year she added Olympus digital recorders for about $8,000. "I really thought going with podcasting would be the next level of telling people what they did with their experience," said Stewart.

Since each class goes in a different month, students and others will be able to see the variations in animal, plant and sea life from a 5th grade perspective through three seasons of the year. "What is it like to experience the seashore in January, when it's 10 degrees?" said Stewart. "They see totally different animal tracks, for example. The kids in the fall with the leaves on the ground might not necessarily experience that."

One teacher has had her students write poems about their experiences. Those will be recorded and posted online. Eventually, she'll also have the students add the digital photos into the podcast to make it roll like an automated PowerPoint presentation. "The images transition while they talk," said Stewart.

Easy Publishing with Tool Factory
The district uses Tool Factory software as an interface between the digital output from the cameras and recorders and the online posting. Tool Factory also provided the in-person teacher training on the use of the technology.

That includes Tool Factory Workshop and Tool Factory Podcasting. Workshop is a suite of kid-friendly programs, including a word processor, painter, spreadsheet and database. It also includes modules specifically for teachers, including Bank Manager to work with collections of clip art, and Administrator, which allows for configuration of the other programs. A network site license is $1,999.95. It runs on both Mac OS X and Windows systems and comes in both English and Spanish editions.

Workshop also included a license for Clip Art Station, a constantly expanding collection of photo and sound clips that classes can use in their projects. The license for that is annual, and Stewart said she'll be researching how many people have used it in the last two years to decide whether to renew the license.

Tool Factory Podcasting allows classrooms to make an audio recording and upload it to the web. The software includes a scripting tool, sound recorder, editing tools and automated uploading. A site license is $999.99.

The user enters basic information about the podcast, a show name, episode title, and author. Then a script can be typed out, in which different students can be assigned lines to read. As the podcast is being recorded, the user presses the space bar to advance the script. When the recording is done, segments can be deleted or added, sound effects edited in and the volume modified through drag and drop. A publish button uploads the final recording to an FTP site hosted by Tool Factory, where it can be subscribed to through iTunes or another RSS aggregator. The file can also be saved to a local computer or school server or e-mailed.

Video clips can't be linked to the podcast in the current version, but the company reports that this functionality is planned for the next release.

Seeding for Success
Stewart specifically targeted the teachers in fifth grade at a specific school in Yarmouth for her experiment because they're willing to try things. "They seem to be using technology more than other people around the district," she said. "They were kind of excited that they were the ones who were asked to do this."

Stewart said the kids tend to be faster learners than the teachers. "They just figure it out. Intuitively, they know how to operate this stuff."

Her advice to others who want to integrate podcasting and digital photography into the classroom experience is to make sure teachers are given sufficient time and training to understand the basics of the new tools. That includes bringing in substitutes to free the teachers from the classroom.

Stewart brought the same trainer from Tool Factory back for both years' training sessions, because the teachers "had a relationship with her. They've been able to contact her throughout the year with questions." Likewise, Stewart herself sat through the training and provides technical support.

But she did tweak the training. Last year, the instructor started with camera use then showed software use. This year, she started with the software and then covered the camera. The teachers had "an ah-ha moment," explained Stewart. "Last year they were so wrapped up with getting the cameras, they didn't get the extended piece."

That extended piece includes the use of the spreadsheet and database programs in Workshop. "People don't really understand what a database is," said Stewart. "I wanted [students] to be able to classify the different things that they saw at the seashore. In the real world you use your computer to compile the data that you've taken out in the field. Adult scientists--that's what they do." Likewise, the teachers received extended instruction on the use of the spreadsheet tool for gathering data and graphing it, which they'll pass onto their students.

In the case of fifth graders at Dennis-Yarmouth, the students are doing investigative research, then coming back and using computer technology--"podcasting, digital images, all the rest of it"--to extend their experiences. "When you're infusing technology into curriculum, rather than making it an addon," said Stewart, "you're making it more robust."

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About the author: Dian Schaffhauser covers high tech, business and higher education for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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