Podkids: learning digital skills and connecting with the world
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The 'Podkids'223 started four years ago when Orange Grove Primary School, a small public school in the foothills of Perth in West Australia, won an eMac computer in a contest. Various options were considered about what to do with the computer, including raffling it off to buy sports equipment. However, one of the teachers was a "Mac guy" (ie. a fan of using Apple computers) and started using the computer in his classes.
In 2006, the group decided to use the computer to make a 'podcast—an internet radio show. The idea was to create a school newspaper where the students would talk about what they were doing at school and conduct interviews with their parents and teachers in audio format.
When the group first uploaded their podcasts to www.podkids.com.au they thought only parents and some educators would want to listen in. They did not expect that anyone else would be interested. Today the Podkids have listeners in over 50 countries with at least 50 000 downloads. A map included on the Podkids website shows listeners in countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, Japan, the Philippines, Greece, Trinidad and Tobago, Lithuania, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
The growth in the audience has meant that the podcasts cover bigger topics than schoolchildren would typically write about in a school newspaper, in an effort to appeal to the wide audience. In selecting the topics for podcasting, the class now asks: what is so important that the whole world needs to hear it? This has lead to more stories of broader relevance such as the global warming and the planets in the solar system.
The class also invites well-known people to be interviewed such as sports people, authors and even the then West Australian Premier the Hon Alan Carpenter MLA.
As part of National Literacy Week in 2007, a National Reading Day was held during which all schoolchildren of a particular age group would read the same book. The Podkids interviewed the author of that year's chosen book 'Someone Like Me' Elaine Forrestal. The class read the book early and produced online chapter summaries that were available for other students to read and comment on, like a virtual book club. The author then viewed the site and responded to the children's posts.
The Podkids receive fan mail from all over the world. Their audience is diverse and includes teachers in other parts of the country or globe looking for ideas or inspiration. Family members who live overseas also download and listen to the podcasts. The feedback is very positive and there are many schools around the world that are looking for opportunities to collaborate globally. Many foreign schools are very interested in Australia and the Podkids receive more requests for penpals and collaborative projects than they know what to do with.
The feedback from the Podkids is that they feel like little celebrities. Important people like the State Premier visit them and they feel special and motivated to do their very best work. For some children, it has been the turning point that has convinced them that reading and writing can have a real world purpose. It also provides a time capsule for the students, as older kids can listen to early podcasts and see how they have improved.
In 'Podkids Episode 16' the students talked about what having a computer allows them to do. Activities mentioned include completing Maths 300 and Mathletics, helping with music instruction by allowing kids to create their own music, and learning spelling. Asked how computers have changed school, one response was that "it's fun for once." Several students also noted that using a computer allowed them to save paper "so we won't have to cut down trees and won't harm the animals." Another commented that "the Internet is never boring."
The parent community has seen the value of their kids engaging in conversations outside of the walls of the classroom. They appreciate the literacy and technical skills they are developing by being involved in the preparation and production of the podcasts. The parents have also observed how podcasting makes their children engaged and enthusiastic about their schoolwork.
In mid-2007, the school community initiated a whole-of-school conversation about how best to prepare students for a 21st Century future. Out of these discussions, the school developed a clear vision which combined 'good old-fashioned teaching' with the best that new technology has to offer. This resulted in an agreement between the parents and the school that every school student in year four to seven at Orange Grove Primary School would have their own computer from the start of 2008.
The parents were willing to contribute financially to make it a reality. The vast majority of laptops a re parent-funded, either through a lease arrangement or an outright purchase, and many parents are making use of the Education Tax Rebate to assist them with buying the laptops. Special arrangements are made for those families without the financial means to take out a lease or buy a computer.
The 1:1 student/computer ratio has transformed everything. It is no longer necessary for the class to have a roster for when a student can make limited use of the one computer in the classroom. Now the computers are like any other daily tool used in the classroom. For those students who use their computers at home, it also expands the window available for learning outside of the normal school day and allows the students to interact and collaborate with each other out of hours.
Recently, the Podkids further demonstrated their advanced digital skills by creating a series of stop-motion animation films using clay and lego and the cameras built into their laptops. "Stop-motion animation" is an animation technique that moves an object in small amounts between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames are played as a continuous sequence. The Podkids were only able to create something as time-intensive as stop-motion animation because they each had their own laptop.
All animations were shown as part of an Orange Grove Primary School animated film festival and seven finalists chosen and premiered at a special red carpet event held at the school on 22 August 2008.
To manage the audience, the class teacher acts as the gatekeeper. No one can contact the kids directly. There have never been any problems with who sends messages to the Podkids but all messages are screened just to err on the safe side.
In a sense it is a one way communication because the school controls what is posted and material is only posted that the parents feel comfortable with—no photos, no surnames; just kids talking anonymously with no identifiable features. The process is very much an educational one. By slowly exposing the schoolkids to technology, supervising how they use it and progressively increasing their independence, the aim is to provide them with the necessary skills so that later in life they can safely and productively use technology and online tools to their advantage.Back to top
 Reuse or distribution of this case study must include the following attribution: Australia's Digital Economy: Future Directions © Paul Fuller, Orange Grove Primary School and Commonwealth of Australia, 2009, www.dbcde.gov.au/digital_economy/final_report