I’m not going to write about the educational benefits of podcasting (That’s a bit played out by now, no?) so please don’t skip to the next article in your feed reader. No, I’m going to work this backwards and use podcasting to illustrate the power of effective lecturing in communicating complex content. Since I’ve been off for the summer for about a week now, I’ve had this ‘lecturing’ topic bouncing around in my head. Like I said last time, it often gets a bad rap when we talk about the “school of tomorrow.”
But Saturday, as I was driving to Lowe’s for yet another summer landscaping project, I had the whole ‘lecturing’ topic bouncing around in my head as I was listening to the most recent edition of MacBreak Weekly (probably my favorite podcast), and I started to think about how audio-only podcasting is really just the Web 2.0 equivalent of a lecture without the benefit of visual aids, facial expressions, or gestures.
In a sense, an audio podcast is harder to pull of than a lecture because if you can’t keep the listener’s interest, they’re going to tune in elsewhere. They don’t have a test coming up on the material being covered, they’re not getting a semester grade, and attendance isn’t compulsory. So to keep an audience, you have to do more with less. Rather than generalize, I’m going to get right to the point and point to what I think is one of the most powerful examples of how effective lecturing can be. I would imagine that math would be one of the most difficult topics to cover in an audio-only format without the advantage of visuals. And one of the most complex mathematical topics to understand, let alone explain to the average non-mathematician, is cryptography. Yet Steve Gibson, host of the Security Now! podcast on the TWiT network, has managed to make it simple enough for the average listener to understand the underpinnings of modern cryptography. He is able to help Joe Listener understand the surprisingly simple technology that supports everything from secure banking transactions to why your friends can’t play the songs you downloaded from the iTunes store.
How Steve Gibson is able to make this material accessible to “regular” folks is a study in effective lesson planning and delivery.
- He is extremely intelligent, BUT he also has a gift for explaining things. It’s an amazing ability to be able to explain the ins and outs of public key cryptography in such a way that a high school administrator who hasn’t taught or sat in a math class in 5 years can say, “Oh – that’s it?” His easy-to-follow examples help bring a visual aspect to this audio podcast.
- He’s well-prepared. Listen to one of the Security Now! podcasts and you’ll quickly realize that Steve does his homework and his prep-work. He’s not fumbling for examples or winging it on the fly.
- He knows where he’s going, and so do you. Not to get all Madeline Hunter about this, but Steve opens his podcast telling you what he’s going to teach you (and even reviews what was covered in the last episode if it was relevant!). He then moves into what I’m calling the lesson of the show, and then does a nice re-cap at the end to tell you what he’s taught you. He even teases the next episode before closing the show.
- He addresses multiple learning styles. You would think a podcast would appeal primarily to those with an auditory learning style, but Steve intersperses his explanations with enough description that it’s easy for us visual learners to picture exactly what he’s talking about even as we cruise down the highway listening to the show at 70 miles per hour.
So if you’re into technology, check out Steve’s series on cryptography. Even if you don’t think the content matter is your cup of tea, I think he has a way of presenting the topic in such a way as to make it understandable by nearly everyone.
On a side note, this series makes me wish I was back in the classroom. Some of the material covered in the crypto series would make excellent fodder for almost any level of math class.