Podcasts: Building Engagement Outside of the Classroom and Helping Online Students Persist

Online students who feel a closer connection to the university are more likely to persist in their studies and succeed. But how do we help students who are physically located all over the world connect to Penn State like the residential students do? That was the goal for Liam Jackson and Richard Brungard of PSU’s World Campus. Their solution: a monthly podcast for World Campus students.

World Campus serves over 12,000 students online; most of them are older non-traditional students. The average age for undergrads is 33; for graduate students it’s 35. And of all of Penn State’s many campus, World Campus sees the largest proportion of its graduating students join the alumni association.

The popularity of podcasts is growing. Thirty-six million people download podcasts daily as of 2013, and that number has more than doubled since 2012. Many communicators have moved on to the “sexier” social platforms, but podcasts are still solid and growing.

There is no one best practice for creating podcast, except to know your audience and then be consistent. For World Campus, their audience are working students with families; the podcasts needed to meet those needs.

Jackson played clips from a sample podcast; segments include news and updates (resources and policy changes), a trivia section that shares aspects of Penn State culture, tradition ( I love this idea); then an interview with a member of the Penn State community: an administrator, alumnus, professor. They promote the interviews in advance to allow students to submit questions. The interviews are aimed at the online audience. For example, when Brungard interviewed the women’s basketball coach, he asked her what advice she has for athletes on how to manage their time wisely, and how that advice might apply to working students who are studying online.

More people download on iTunes than listen on website (mobile) Other metrics include the students who submit questions.

Each podcast sees an average of 166 downloads in its first month, but each episode also keeps getting downloaded even seven months later. This longevity caused them to changed up the content so they don’t include time-sensitive or calendar event stuff.

In its first year, there have been 9,400 iTunes downloads total for the PawCast. Production time has gone from 35-40 staff hours per 15-minute episode down to about 20

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