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Revising revision

Podcasting could be the way to get schools to share resources. Stephen Manning investigates.

Revision notes aren't always the most exciting or motivating thing for pupils to get their teeth into. But schools in Barnsley are trying out a novel approach turning them into podcasts which pupils can access in their own time and pace.

That's the thinking behind the Barnsley Educational Podcasting Service, a new project launched yesterday by the local authority for its 14 secondary schools. The website and training programme enables teachers to create podcasts for pupils to download, building into a library of recordings. There are around 50 podcasts to start with, mainly focusing on English and maths, with other subjects represented as more material is added.

It's the first project of its kind in the UK and Emma Bennett, technology teacher at Kirk Balk School, a secondary in Hoyland, south Yorkshire, is enthusiastic about schools sharing resources. "The secondary up the road might have done the very thing you were looking for, like a podcast on World War II," she says. "So there will be less reinventing the wheel."

Emma sees the potential of revision podcasts for schools with mixed ability classes. "There's the opportunity for gifted pupils to go the extra mile. Meanwhile, those less comfortable with reading or taking notes can listen instead and take it at their own pace.

"Material can be slowed down or repeated, and you're taking away the element of peer derision which can stop pupils asking if something could be clarified or repeated. I think it will become central to the way we approach homework."

Several hundred MP3 players have been given away free to pupils to encourage an "anytime, anywhere" approach to learning at home or during lessons. Indeed, much of the appeal of this approach is that it departs from the conventional model of the classroom authoritative teacher dispensing information one way at pupils.

Some still fear that gadgetry in the classroom detracts from real teaching, and there have been some differences of opinion within the schools involved, with one headteacher refusing to allow MP3 players to be used in lessons. But other teachers argue that motivating the pupils on their terms is surely the best way forward.

"It's just about developing a code of conduct," says Stephen Quayle, teacher advisor at Foulstone City Learning Centre in Barnsley, who has overseen the project. "Most kids are actually fairly sensible. They will know when it's right to be listening to an MP3 in class and when not. And if the children themselves have a role in creating such a code of conduct, that would help."

So will the pupils eventually be shuffling their French vocabulary and dates of historical battles in amongst their Kanye West and Lily Allen tracks? Time will tell. But other local authorities are watching closely to see if this pilot project goes well, and whether it could be taken up elsewhere

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