Posts Tagged ‘podcasting’

Recording a podcast

Mazie recording her paragraphs for the podcast

I realize the last three blogs I’ve posted here have been about astronomy instead of the elements (although the elements are mentioned here and there). I tend to write about what’s been on my mind, and since I’m not teaching chemistry this year, but I am teaching astrobiology, you’ve been getting quite a bit about the Moon and now about Mars and the stars. I hope you don’t mind.

My astrobiology students are now hard at work creating podcasts for the 365 Days of Astronomy website. The first episode was uploaded this evening and is scheduled to “air” on Friday, Dec. 2. Three other episodes will follow, on Dec. 8, 14, and 19. Here’s a link to the website: http://365daysofastronomy.org/

Recording podcast audio

Cali records her portion of the podcast

This first episode was researched and recorded by Mazie, Cali, and Tia and is about how stars are named. They describe the four most common methods: Common names (such as Bellatrix or Rigel or Sirius), the Bayer naming system (such as Alpha Centauri), the Flamsteed System (such as 61 Cygni), and various star catalogs such as the various Durchmusterungs, the Henry Draper, Hipparcos, etc.

Title page of Uranometria

Title page for Uranometria by Johann Bayer

Rather than steal their thunder, I am attaching the audio file here:


And here is the transcript of their presentation:


Unfortunately, as I was preparing this post and gathering images (such as this one of Virgo taken from Johann Bayer’s Uranometria) I discovered that we made one mistake. We had listed the star Zuben Eschamali as being in Libra when it is really in Virgo. This was my mistake, and one I should have caught before now.

Virgo constellation

Virgo as drawn in Uranometria. The bright stars on the left are Zuben Elgenubi and Zuben Eschamali. The very bright star is Spica.

Hopefully that is the only mistake we’ve made. The students did the research, with notations and edits by me, developed it into a script, and recorded their parts this last week. We went through each paragraph (and sometimes each sentence) several times to get good takes. I also recorded myself at home doing the second episode, which is on my own take on the Drake Equation. I’ll have that one edited and transcribed by tomorrow evening.

I’ve also ran into a major difficulty in that my laptop’s hard drive died last week and I’ve been trying to recover files and software ever since. The Mac store I went to would only install the system software that originally came on my computer, even though I had upgraded to Snow Leopard. So now much of my software that I’ve reinstalled doesn’t work because I have to wait for the Snow Leopard disk to arrive in the mail to get my OS up to speed. Then there is the whole fiasco with buying Final Cut Studio off of e-Bay only to have it arrive without the installation disks. So I got a refund and have to mail it back tomorrow and wait for my new purchase (hopefully complete this time) to arrive. In the meantime, I’ve been editing these podcasts using iMovie and Audacity – not my first choice, but it is working.

The worst part of losing the hard drive is that I had literally thousands of photos on it from my research at the Chemical Heritage Foundation and from visits I’ve made to mine sites since then that I don’t want to lose, so I will need to pay an extra amount to get the data recovered. Hopefully it can be. Now I know to back up all my photos as well as the video projects I had already backed up.

I hope you enjoy the podcasts. I’ll let you know how the data recovery goes.

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David Black at NSTA

David Black at the NSTA Conference

The NSTA conference in Philadelphia is over the convention center crews are tearing down the displays and signs and the teachers have pretty much disappeared, many flying out this morning back to their home states. I’m still here because this building has free WiFi for attendees, so I’m writing one more blog before flying back to Utah this evening.

I attended Eric Brunsell’s session this morning. I’ve known him since 2000 when he was with Space Educators directing the Solar System Educators Program at JPL. He is now a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and presented on the stages of inquiry learning, which isn’t limited to the narrowly defined scientific method (PHEOC) steps we learned in school. There are many methods of inquiry that scientists use. I talked with Eric a bit after, dropped off my evaluation forms from the day before, and hoofed it to the other side of the convention center (it takes up two city blocks) to a presentation on how and why to use Wikis in the classroom. The presenter had excellent ideas that will help the collaboration component of this project. I then attended the final session to learn how teachers in Tampa, Florida are using podcasting, video casting, and stop motion animation in their classrooms. Now I’m out in the hall blogging. My wife just called to suggest some corrections to last night’s blog (I was very tired and not all of it made sense).

It will take me this next week to follow up on all the leads, visit all the websites, and assimilate all the information I’ve learned here. I have to say that the experience has been well worth the time, effort, and expense. Next year’s conference is in San Francisco. I hope to be there.

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Today I successfully submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation for The Elements Unearthed project. It was actually sent in via their online FastLane system, which I’ve dealt with before, usually with frustration and panic as I try to submit right at 5:00 p.m. on the deadline day. I broke with long habit and actually got this submitted a day early and it was a much more pleasant experience this time.

If you’ve never been through the process of submitting a formal proposal to NSF from one of their solicitations, here’s how the process works. First, you have to find a program area and solicitation (call for proposals) that matches the goals and objectives of your project. NSF funds projects in many different categories; the one that best matches what I’m trying to do (improve science, technology, engineering, and math [STEM] education through student-created podcasts) is the Informal Science Education solicitation (NSF 09-553). There are particular requirements and steps to follow for this or any other NSF grant. Before anything else, it helps to work with an expert in research design and to clarify the exact goals and operational objectives (which must be measurable) you will be focusing on. NSF recommends using a logic or process flowchart model to think through the inputs, processes or activities, outputs (products), and outcomes of the project. Here’s the logic model I’ve worked up for this project:

Logic Model

Logic Model for The Elements Unearthed Project

Once that has all been worked out, you’re ready to actually start writing up a proposal. First, a preliminary proposal must be submitted and approved by NSF before the final proposal can be submitted. This I did on June 25, and of the 610 submissions, about 40% (approximately 240) were approved for final submission. Next, you must follow what the solicitation asks for in particular and what the General Proposal Guidelines say in general. This proposal needs an electronic cover sheet, a one-page project summary, a 15 page narrative description with bibliography, biographical sketches of the principle personnel, and a detailed budget with justification. In the past I tried to cut and paste text from a Word document; this time I converted all my files to .pdfs and merely linked them in, which was much easier. I also included diagrams and tables for the first time. Here is a diagram I created this week showing the relationships between quality and quantity of videos created as one moves from professional broadcast video to podcasting.

Quality vs Quantity for podcasts

Comparing Quality, Quantity, and Professionalism for Podcasting

An obvious questions is, if I’ve had experience with this before, why didn’t I get the grant then and why do I think I’ll be successful this time? One of the best features of the NSF proposal process is that your projects are reviewed by at least three qualified experts who write up comments and suggestions. After doing the Letter of Intent (which is now a Preliminary Proposal – the solicitation was updated this year) and submitting the final proposal last year, the reviewers turned down my request mostly because I needed a better evaluation plan and broader project management. The basic idea was considered excellent and they all encouraged me to re-submit after improving those areas. I’ve now done so, at least as far as I can at this point (I’m still working out partnerships and the Advisory Committee) and my evaluation plan is much stronger than before.

If you would like to read the final full proposal, here is the Project Description in .pdf format:

Elements_Unearthed_ NSF_proposal_2009

I would appreciate any comments you might make or any support you might be able to give. This file also lists the expected completion dates of future podcast episodes.

Of the 240 or so that will submit final proposals, NSF expects to fund between 40 and 50 proposals. Mine is a Pathways Project, meaning it is a prototype project meant to eventually become a full-scale project. I proposed that we begin with 20 teams over two years, starting in 2010-11 with seven teams/sites in Utah, then spreading to 13 teams the next year in Utah, Colorado, and Nevada. I also proposed that each team work directly with personnel from local museums to utilize the museum’s expertise and to enhance the museum’s programs by providing finished video segments that can be used to attract visitors or for exhibits or even to sell in the gift shop to raise money. If you do the final math, 50 accepted out of 240 proposals is about a one in six chance. I’ve been successful with lower odds than that, so we’ll just have to wait and see. Unfortunately, the wait will be pretty long; it could be May before I know anything. In the meantime, I’m looking for other grants and sources of funding for this project, especially since I need money now to continue editing the videos and to set up new sites for this year.

But that’s one big load off my chest – for good or ill, I’ve clicked the submit button and it’s out of my hands. Now I can get back to editing. I proposed to have some episodes (about nine) completed by Jan. 1, when I will finally officially launch the iTunes site for this project. I am also looking at hosting the videos on Ourmedia or Libsyn since I won’t be able to use this blog for much video storage and traffic. I’ll also create YouTube versions of each episode, although I will have to break them up into <10 minute segments as I have already done with the Project Rationale video. After the initial nine episodes on Jan. 1, I will post additional episodes as I can get them finished on the first day of each month through May or June. I have enough materials to do about 30 episodes all told by then, so about five per month. That’s a lot of editing, and I’m also trying to make money from my other endeavors to keep food on the table and the mortgage paid. If I can get some grant money, I can focus on this project along.

We all have things we would do if we could because they are our passion. If we are extremely lucky, our passions also can become our careers and our jobs. If not, we have to work on them in-between trying to make ends meet. I’ve been luckier in this respect than most with past projects, and I know that I’ll be successful in this effort as well.

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   Last week I wrote about the need for and purposes of our project. This week let’s discuss our approach of training community teams to create the content of this project and why this will be beneficial. 


   One purpose of The Elements Unearthed project is to train teams consisting of students and community members how to document the history and chemical processes of mines, refineries, and plants in their neighborhoods. Through on-site visits and on-line training resources, they will learn how to set up and use cameras, lights, and microphones; how to write preliminary and final scripts and storyboards; and how to film interviews and site visits, then edit the footage into a series of podcast episodes for use on the iTunes Store, YouTube, this blog, and elsewhere. They will also use desktop publishing software to write well-designed PDF files that can be downloaded and printed. Not only will our audience (primarily high school and college chemistry students) benefit by viewing and using the video, audio, and PDF files the teams create, but the team members will also benefit. They become experts in their subjects; as they learn the science and engineering well enough to pass it on to others through self-created, engaging content, they become the scientists, teachers, and historians themselves as well as learning valuable digital media skills.


Team Composition and Informal Science Education:


   This project has aspects of both formal and informal science education; although we expect most of our teams to be centered around high school science classes where a mentoring teacher provides the impetus for the project, we want this to be much more than just another class assignment. In order to help the teams reach beyond what is easily knowable at their schools, and to ensure depth and accuracy, we will require that each team include someone from their community who is an expert at their chosen subject. This person could be a scientist or engineer at a local mine or refinery, an historian or museum docent with historical knowledge about the community, a local artisan who understands and uses materials in a workshop setting, or a citizen scientist who has gained experience with a local environmental concern. These community members will be referred to as Subject Matter Experts.


   Altogether an ideal team would consist of about four or five students from a local high school or community college, hopefully with a good mixture of course experience (history, art, multimedia, science, etc.). These students will have specific assignments, such as one student being responsible for writing the script, another planning the video shoot, another capturing and transcribing the footage, another creating B-roll images and animations, etc. All of them will be cross-trained in each other’s areas of specialty as well, but each area needs to have someone in charge. In addition, these students will be mentored by an instructor who will act as the primary point of contact. Finally, at least one Subject Matter Expert must be actively involved in reviewing the script and final video and helping with tours and interviews. Since most of the training, coordinating, planning, filming, and editing will be done outside of school hours and will involve more than just formal teachers and students, and since our podcasts will be available outside regular school curricula to anyone at any time, we feel this project qualifies well under the heading of Informal Science Education.


Student-Created Content:


   Having students build meaning by creating content for themselves and others has excellent benefits for knowledge retention and integration. The students who create these videos will learn a great deal about their topics in a manner that will be unforgettable. Students will take ownership in what they learn and have pride in accomplishment by creating professional-quality videos that are also factually accurate. They and their mentor teachers will develop the knowledge base and equipment and software skills needed to pass on what they learn to more students who can document other subjects in their communities. To take the old saying one step further:


Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime; train him how to teach others how to fish and you feed a village forever.


Or, as one of our students pointed out somewhat tongue in cheek:


Build a man a fire and you keep him warm for an hour; catch a man on fire and you keep him warm for the rest of his life; catch a village on fire and you won’t have to worry about keeping anyone warm . . .


By turning students into experts and having them teach others, they learn the skills of data collection, interpretation, analysis, and synthesis. They learn how to be historians using direct first-person interviews. They become informed producers instead of consumers of content, actively instead of passively engaged in learning. We don’t just hand them a fish or build them a fire, we turn into the instruments to feed and light up an entire community.


Science Education Content Creation now

Science Education Content Creation now

Science Education Content Creation:


   If we were to chart the amount of science education content produced on a vertical axis and the number of people engaged in producing that content on a horizontal axis, we find an interesting distribution called a Pareto curve, having a steep drop off on the left trailing off to a long shallow curve that never entirely reaches zero on the right. Currently, most content for science education is produced by a few professional curriculum designers and publishers. Some college courses are created with a professor contributing expertise and an outline of topics then handing the course design over to the college’s Instructional Design department to build the curricular pieces and content. Occasionally a high school teacher might act as a co-author or reviewer of a textbook, yet the vast majority of curriculum, lesson plans, tests, and texts are still created by professionals with years of training. Yet a long tail exists of semi-professionals and amateurs, including teachers and students and even experts in the general public who can contribute content that is equally valid (and much richer in subject matter and variety) than the professionals. If this tail could be tapped, the total content available would drastically increase, as shown by the area under the curve in the second diagram.

Science Education Content Creation - Expanded

Science Education Content Creation - Expanded


   By providing more choices and sources for information on chemicals and the elements through generating our own video podcasts, we hope to enrich the education of science students and the general public and make this information more accessible (and less expensive) than it is now. We will use podcasting as our format because it encourages and motivates students to become producers instead of consumers of content without having to worry about publishers, agents, textbook costs, shelf space, and other barriers to access created by the economics of scarcity of our current situation. On-line publishing allows virtually free storage and distribution without limits to the variety of content that can be displayed. There are no shelves to allocate, no exorbitant publishing costs. This pushes the available content down into the long tail and increases choice; anyone anywhere at any time can access and view our podcasts – all they need are an internet connection and a computer or mp3 player capable of playing the videos. Video also allows for deeper information transmission through a visual and audio medium rather than what audio or print alone can do.


   The major issue will be whether or not teams of students and subject matter experts can build professional quality videos and written documents that will be technically solid, compelling, and appealing as well as accurate. Our early trials at Mountainland Applied Technology College indicate that it can be done. When amateurs get involved and empowered to create their own content, we see a broadening of the range of quality that is produced. Although there is certainly a great deal of low quality content, there is also the potential for creating materials that are of higher quality than what is done “professionally.” On the chart shown, this is represented by the lines indicating the range of quality. When content is produced professionally it is done by teams of writers and designers and approved by committees and written for the lowest common denominator. Textbooks may be generally of good quality, but they are never great. You wouldn’t read one for fun because it is well written or so gripping that you can’t put it down. Textbooks take so long to write and publish that their content is already obsolete by the time they make it to schools. Yet content produced by individuals and small teams has the potential to be gripping and relevant and topical. It also has the potential to be awful. Our challenge is to provide the training necessary to ensure the former.

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Introduction Audio [m4a]

Fractal cover image
Fractal cover image

   The Elements Unearthed: Our Discovery and Usage of the Chemical Elements is a project developed by David V. Black and his students at Mountainland Applied Technology College (MATC) in Orem, Utah. Our objective is to document the history, sources, uses, mining, refining, and hazards of the chemical elements and important industrial materials. Teams of students are visiting mine sites, refineries, chemical manufacturing plants, museums, and artisan workshops to interview scientists, engineers, historians, and other experts and to tour and videotape the sites. The video interviews, photos, and background research are being compiled into audio and video podcasts and written PDF files that will be posted at this Blog and made available on YouTube, the Apple iTunes Store, and other podcast aggregate sites.

   These podcast episodes will be a step in the right direction to preserve the history of mining and chemical refining; to provide accurate information about how chemicals are made and used (including safety precautions to observe); to encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); and to ensure that the general public is well informed on vital issues such as resource depletion and environmental degradation in order to make sound decisions in the future. We intend that students, teachers, and the public will make free use of these podcast episodes.

   We hope to add you, our audience, as collaborators on this project. We need your help to test and critique the podcast episodes and provide us with feedback on what we’ve done right and what we still need to improve. We will provide a downloadable PDF evaluation form that you can fill out and return to us, as well as post comments on this Blog. We also hope that you will consider forming a team in your own community to document how the elements are used there. We are working on grant applications in the hope of securing funding to turn this into a national project, with teams from all states documenting the history and uses of the elements.

   In future posts, we will talk about who we are, what our goals are in detail, our rationale for creating this project, and our intended timeline for completion as well as how you can help out and get involved. We will also display podcast episodes that our student teams have already created and report our ongoing progress for new episodes. As they are complete, these episodes will be posted here for your feedback before they are uploaded to the broader aggregate sites.

   Please feel free to post comments related to this project including any questions you may have. If you wish to contact me directly, please e-mail me at:  dblack@mlatc.edu. You can also snail-mail me at: David V. Black, Mountainland Applied Technology College, 987 South Geneva Rd., Orem, UT  84058. I have attached a PDF version of our Feedback Questionnaire at the bottom of this post, which you can download, fill out, and return to us at the address above. We look forward to collaborating with you!

   Thank you for your interest in this project!

David V. Black

Feedback Questionnaire [pdf]

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