Pro Study Tip: Podcasting

This post does not involve magic or religion, unless you consider school one of those things. In which case, please go outside right now and enjoy these magical things called “sunlight” and “fresh air.”

With the school year approaching, I wanted to share with those of you who are students  a study tip I’ve found very valuable: Podcasting. Making your own podcasts is an easy way to learn and stay on top of course material. This is helpful, both in terms of understanding course material, but also when it comes to prepping for tests, quizzes and exams.

This isn’t an original idea. Last year, one of my professors very helpfully (whether he realized or not) began podcasting the material in our course. While meant to be done for a general audience, I soon found that these podcasts were nearly identical to our class lecture. Come exam time, I began religiously listening to them, cramming every ounce of data into my waking hours.

You can imagine how upset I was when my professor stopped making podcasts concurrent with our classes! Damnit! How was I to study now? Sure, re-reading notes is an option, but I’ve got a busy mind. If I’m not entirely focused, my thought balloons are all about pastries and café lattes. Sure, I’ll think I’ve reviewed a ton of material, but really I’ve just taken a mental detour to the bakery. Ideally, one in Paris. This is not the sure-fire route to excellence.

So I took matters into my own hands and began making my own podcasts from my class notes. Then I began making podcasts for other courses. By semester’s end, I was making podcasts of key material or essays I had prepared for the final exam. Loaded onto my iPod, I could listen to my notes at home while making dinner, or on the long bus trip to campus. You see where I’m going with this.

These podcasts greatly increased my ability to study as well as understand the material. It helped me walk into class prepared (as I was familiar with the previous material covered) and confident come exam time. Or at least as confident as one could be given the circumstances.

So how do you make a podcast? Technology is so awesome that it’s very easy—and cheap!—to do. I’ve broken it down here into seven steps:

  1. First you’ll need some audio software to record into. I use Audacity, a free audio program easily found on the web. If you go this route, you’ll want to also download the plug-in that the program uses to export files into MP3 format.
  2. Next, you’ll need a microphone. Mine’s a mid-priced USB microphone that’s easily found at a business supply or electronics store. If you’re serious, you can go higher in quality, but I wouldn’t recommend going lower. Also, be sure to get a microphone that’s stereo, as a mono one will drive you bonkers if you listen to your notes with headphones. Trust me on this.
  3. Plug in your mic & boot up your software. You may have to tweak the audio-input preferences in order for the program to recognize your microphone.
  4. Record your “lecture.”
  5. After you have your file, I recommend going through and editing out long pauses or other tics. This is easily done by highlighting a selected area and clicking the “cut” button.
  6. At this point, I save my file as an Audacity project, and then I export it to MP3. This Mp3 gets imported into iTunes and goes onto my iPod. Though you probably didn’t need me to tell you that last bit, did you?
  7.  It goes without saying. These notes are probably really your professor’s ideas, sometimes verbatim. Don’t go posting them on iTunes. That’s just plagiarism.

This method of study has been extremely effective for me, and in some ways the benefits have been unexpected. I’ve found that making a podcast does a few things:

  1. You actively engage in reviewing the material when you make a podcast. The physical act of reading the notes reinforces key concepts and helps you to understand trouble areas by virtue of having to explain it verbally.
  2. By turning class notes into a sound file, there’s an immediate flexibility to study time. You can study while in the car, on your lunch break, goofing off on the internet…whenever. If you’re anything like me, you’ll pick up what you hear on some level. Think of it like quoting your favourite television show. It’s not a conscious effort, but over time, it just happens.
  3. You become a better public speaker. Make your own podcasts and you’ll soon notice habitual quirks that previously flew under the radar. Maybe you say “um” a lot. For me, it’s the word “so.” By speaking and listening to how you speak, you can improve on your delivery. This is very important if you want to go into a field where public speaking is a requirement. Which is pretty much everything.

Taking advantage of available technology is one way you can improve your academic experience. While this is just my method, I hope those of you who try it find it as useful as I have!

Photo by possan.