The Podcast Project: a tool for fun and sustainable language learning

A bad night´s sleep, a nervous stomach and sweaty hands. This scenario that students typically face before their obligatory English exam may be a thing of the past at the University of Wismar, Germany. Since June 2012, over 90 students from various degree programmes have produced podcasts – or vodcasts – as part of their assessed course requirements in the ESP module (English for Specific purposes). The result? Involvement, enthusiasm and students who confess to enjoying their learning.  And what´s more, engaging and educational teaching and learning material for the following courses. 

The project was kick-started by our increasing frustration with the lack of stimulating, authentic teaching and learning material in the field of ESP. Motivated by the success of a method called ‘learning through teaching’, in which students address a certain topic and give so-called mini-lessons for their peers, we started wondering whether students couldn’t also create tailor-made language learning content themselves.

How ESP podcasts are produced

Groups of two to four students are tasked with producing a ten-minute video podcast. It has to feature both specific vocabulary and skills practised in the English course, such as negotiating, managing discussions, intercultural communication etc. Students are free to choose the podcast’s format: whether they decide on news productions, talk and reality shows, role-plays and educational lectures – the main objective is for the podcast to be both educational and engaging.

To prepare, students gather information on content and language, create a storyline and practise dialogues. Using props, pictures, background images and sound effects to enrich the impact, the story is adapted as a screenplay and outlined in a storyboard.

For the podcast recording, we are lucky enough to be able to offer students a real studio experience on our production site for elearning applications (PELA). Many students use the studio to record their podcasts, where they get a 90-minute recording slot as well as support in the postproduction process. But you do not need a studio to produce impressive results. We have seen some great productions from students using just a smart phone!

Finally, students are asked to reflect on the results: they provide feedback on their peers’ podcasts and submit a written analysis of their own. Grading creative group work is not easy. But clear structures and transparent criteria go a long way. We are using a concept for productassessment, which differentiates between information, subject-specific quality, which in this case is mainly the language, and design, which is the creative aspect. We also apply a mix of individual and group assessment.


For me personally, there are two extremely valuable aspects of the project. First there is the educational and fun value of tailor-made teaching and learning content for future generations of students, as the material produced can be reused again. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, students really enjoy the project, as these two comments show:

“This exciting and fun project combines many aspects: text, speaking, organisation, preparation and group processes. We are still talking about the project many months later and enjoy the memories.”

“My time at university has been enriched by the experience of the podcast production.”

Do you agree with neurobiologist Gerald Hüther when he says: “The brain’s shape and design are a result of how it is used with enthusiasm”, I am hopeful that the podcast project offers students a tool for sustainable and enjoyable learning.