In January 2009 I was about to give my first lecture series of the year when OpenSpires asked me if they could podcast my lectures. I didn’t really know what that meant but said ‘yes’ anyway. As I gave my lectures I was recorded, in both audio and video. The result was released as an Open Educational Resource on Oxford’s site on iTunes U: http://itunes.ox.ac.uk</http:>. Eight months later I was delighted to be told that ‘A Romp Through the History of Philosophy’, (RTHP) had made global number one. I asked how many people that represented, thinking 100 a week would be brilliant. It was actually 18,000 a week! RTHP has now been downloaded nearly a million times.
I have since made several more podcasts, achieving a second global number one in 2010 with ‘The Nature of Argument’, now downloaded nearly three million times. On 3 May 2011, ‘Critical Reasoning for Beginners’ (CRB) the series of which ‘The Nature of Argument’ was the first, held every single one of the top ten positions on the iTunes U downloads chart.
I have no formal method for evaluating the success of the podcasts. The number of downloads I know only through Oxford University Computing Service, who get the numbers from Apple. I have, however, kept all the ‘fan’ emails I have received since July 2009. There are 177 of them, just over one per week. The analysis of these emails forms the core of this case study. I have used them to try to determine who listens to the podcasts, how and where they listen, and how their lives/actions change as a result.
I have learned there is a HUGE worldwide appetite for philosophy among people of all ages, even those without a philosophical background. I have also learned that my lecturing style appeals to such people. This is a great thing to learn having lectured for 25 years.
I have also learned to be more organised in my approach to responding to emails, the better to ensure that I, my Department and my University, derive maximum benefit from the podcasts. Finally I have learned that I must take care in preparing my lectures. I do not like my mistakes to be broadcast globally! I have occasionally cringed in embarrassment when listening to myself make a slip of the tongue, or worse, during one of my podcasts.
So why are my podcasts so successful? I believe it is down to (i) the popularity of philosophy itself, (ii) the lure of the University of Oxford and its reputation for excellence, (iii) the use of ‘Romp’ in the first podcast, which makes the podcast sound fun (I hope it is fun!), and (iv) the interactive nature of my lectures, which gets the audience actively engaged.
It must also have helped that Apple promoted RTHP very heavily in its early days, partly because it was introductory and partly because of its title.
The third part of my explanation does not apply, of course, to CRB. I think that critical reasoning itself is of huge interest to people, not least to people who might take the SAT and GSAT tests in the US. Perhaps, also, people who enjoyed RTHP went to CRB because I made them?
I am tickled by the thought that my lectures are helping to generate a love of philosophy among people who might not otherwise have heard of philosophy. I also love the fact that academics in the developing world are using my work to help their students acquire a love of philosophy. I think it is amazing that my lectures are now available in China because a listener (an Oxford alumnus), believing they should be, freely undertook to translate them and put them on the internet in China.
I now recommend to everyone that they podcast their lectures as Open Educational Resources in the hope that they achieve the sort of success I have enjoyed.
This extract is from a case study by Marianne Talbot, published online at https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/oer_cs_marianne_talbot_oer_and_public_engagement.pdf under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Licence.
Marianne Talbot, OER and public engagement: a case study, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Licence.