Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wikis and Podcasts are Wicked Useful

We’re off to a great start to year three of the Encounters and Exchanges in US History Grant. In the preceding years of the grant, I have been fortunate to gain knowledge of superbly relative new skills and acquire fantastic materials that I’ve been able to use immediately in my classroom. This year has proven to be no different. The most recent additions to my teaching, thanks to my participation in the grant, is the employment of podcasts and wikis into my teaching repertoire.

Before the two-day training of wikis and podcasts, I have to honestly admit that I had no idea what either of these on-line phenomena were, much less how I could incorporate them into my teaching. With the completion of the workshops, I was using both a wiki and a podcast of my own creation in class the next day.

A podcast is simply a recording of audio that is posted live on the web for students (or anyone) to listen to at any time. This idea greatly interested me as I have been posting the audio of my textbook up on a simple web site and on the school’s server. This audio was taken from a collection of CDs that came with my text’s resource package. With a pair of headphones and a computer, students could listen to the text of the chapters read to them as they read silently with the book. I have found that this was a pretty effective way of supporting the special needs students and the many second language learner students in my classes. However, I was limited to only being able to provide audio of the text. With the ability to create a podcast, I could now offer the audio to primary sources and other secondary sources that may include difficult language for many of my students to read.

The creation of a podcast required a free software called Audacity. It can be found and downloaded from I used the beta version and I found that it worked just fine. Also, be sure that in addition to downloading the Audacity program that you also download “Lame mp3 Converter”. Lame will allow you to convert your Audacity “project” into a .mp3 or .wav, which can be posted and listened to on a web site or a school server. You will find Lame as an additional download after you choose your Audacity version. Additionally, I’ve found two video tutorials on Audacity created by Cambridge Community TV. They can be accessed at . Lastly, you can find free music to add to your podcast from a link provided on the Encounters and Exchanges website:

To make the podcast available, we created a website using Wikispaces. A wiki is an interactive web page where students/invited guests can contribute to your web page. I have not used my new Wikispaces page to it’s fullest abilities by allowing my students to make contributions to it, so I’m not going to be able to comment about this facet of Wikispaces. However, I would like to highlight how easy Wikispaces is to use and how simple it is to create a nice looking website that students can navigate easily and I can update simply.

Teachers can create a Wikispaces page for free by going to , entering the required information and pledging that their wiki will be used for educational purposes. Additionally, the wiki that I made is completely locked, which means that it functions just like any other web page and can be only edited by me. There is a good tutorial video on how to create and use a wiki on Wikispaces at: . Of course, there is a very informative step by step explanation on how to create a page on Wikispaces found on the Encounters and Exchanges website. This link is: .

Lastly, I would like to share the rather simple Wikispaces page that I created for my students based on a Supreme Court project we completed in December. The page concentrates Engle v. Vitale. The page includes a secondary source explanation of the case, a podcast of me reading the secondary source, an embedded video of students acting out the case, the required written response materials that students can print, and a teacher page containing a lesson plan using this page. This can be found at: . The home page to my site with links to my text audio, other projects and a link to this page can be viewed at: .

It’s great to be able to offer technology to students so that they can access the curriculum better. It is even better when it is easy for the teacher to create the technology. I hope that these links and suggestions entice you into investigating podcasts and using Wikispaces with your students.

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