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Podcasting ‘Not Shakespeare: Elizabethan and Jacobean Popular Theatre’ at the University of Oxford


A course of lectures, intended in direct support of a core literature course in the English Faculty, were offered as podcasts. Each lecture took a single play by a lesser-known author – including Dekker, Kyd, Middleton and Webster – with the aim of placing the work both in its original and in more accessible contemporary contexts – by, for example, comparing the escapist comedy The Shoemakers Holiday with a Busby Berkeley musical, or the dark murder story Arden of Faversham with the film The Ladykillers. The podcasts were recorded (by the lecturer) live as timetabled lectures for undergraduates and postgraduates in the Oxford English Faculty, then placed on the open web (podcasts.ox.ac.uk) and also added to the Oxford University site on iTunesU for download. Texts of the plays discussed were created (in partnership with the Oxford Text Archive) as ebooks for free download to support the lecture material.

Intended outcome(s)

The intended outcome was to make lectures more widely available to undergraduate and postgraduate students within the university of Oxford, and to encourage them to use them as part of a wide range of resources to design individual and autonomous learning environments.

The challenge

The local challenge was that lectures in the English faculty are optional and are not centrally timetabled, and thus there can be a number of factors which prevent students from attending. The more substantial pedagogical challenge relates to the effectiveness of lectures, and evidence from recent research (Harris & Park, 2008; Fernandez et al, 2009) that podcasting can mitigate some of the inherent disadvantages (Brown & Atkins, 1988) of the lecture format.

Established practice

My previous practice was to deliver a lecture series once per year at a set time and place to an audience of around 30-50 students.

The OER effect

The effect on the identified learners was immediately noticeable in the numbers of downloads: the podcasted lectures reached a far wider internal audience than the previous live lecture format. More significantly the range of people downloading the podcasts was far wider than anticipated, engaging a wider interested community from A level students studying particular texts or considering making an application to the university, to life-long learners in formal and informal contexts. Many contacted me to express their interest in the material or to ask specific follow-up questions, and as a result of some of these requests the supporting ebook material was prepared.

This thus had unintended and positive consequences for the university, in reaching a wider audience including both its alumni and its potential new students. It also, however, created an expectation among students that more lectures should be made available as podcasts, and that is an expectation that the English Faculty is not yet ready to embrace.

For me as the practitioner, it has increased my technical competence. The positive feedback from the podcasts and the simplicity of the model has encouraged me to make more OER material available (including a series in 2010 on Shakespeare plays) as podcasts, ebooks, and offprint material.

Key points for effective practice

• Ease of turning lectures into OER resources. I did not adapt my material or delivery, and used an unobtrusive and cheap iPod microphone to record the lectures. Anyone who uses a mobile phone or online banking can do this.

• Wide range of external interest in OER material can have positive PR/outreach consequences

• Small-scale pilot of podcasting lectures creates demand for larger-scale implementation, so there is a work of persuading and encouraging colleagues to take this on

Conclusions and recommendations

Podcasting lectures with additional supporting material online has been effective in the immediate aim of widening internal student access within Oxford, and in addressing local problems of timetabling. But the real effectiveness of the case study has been to identify a large online audience for OER material, and thus it offers an important opportunity for HEIs to establish their commitment to access to scholarship. In particular, because access to Oxford is such a hot topic, and because public funding for the academic humanities is in crisis, OER gives a medium through which we can demonstrate what we do and make it available.

Additional information

The use of the OTR is monitored in a number of ways:

• Reply to emails from users with link to short questionnaire about themselves, their own access and their usage of the material.

• attendees at lectures and other students within the university are directed to an online survey

• the University Computing Service (OUCS) tracks download hits from the website and iTunesU per series and items

• there is some feedback via the series comments box in iTunesU

• usage comments on internet forums and twitter monitored using GoogleAlert.

I am conscious that more systematic feedback would be valuable and plan to include in each future lecture a request that listeners fill in a questionnaire, and to discuss with colleagues and the HE subject centre mailing list the best practice on recording OER usage.

Dr Emma Smith, Hertford College, Oxford OX1 3BW, Emma.smith@hertford.ox.ac.uk

Podcasts on the open web: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/openspires.html - engfac

Podcasts on iTunesU: http://tinyurl.com/notshakespeare

or Google: Emma Smith Shakespeare UKOER

Adapted from https://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20140614115352/http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/elearning/oer2/casestudies.aspx under a CC-BY license.