Thursday, February 1, 2007

The MyPod Generation and the Casted Classroom

What's a Podcast Anyway?

A podcast is basically an audio recording that is posted online so that it may be downloaded and listened to either on a computer or on an MP3 player.

If you are feeling behind the times for not having podcasted yet, perhaps you would like to skip audio podcasting and move straight ahead to vodcasting, or video podcasting. As one article put it even as early as 2005, "Podcasts are so last month."

Still, podcasts are young enough to be considered up and coming in education, and they have not yet reached their peak of popularity and/or usability in the classroom. Like radio, there is a reason television never eliminated it as the more complex medium gained in popularity. Sometimes less is more.

The term podcast comes from a combination of broadcast and iPod, the name of the incredibly popular MP3 player from Apple. Podcasting refers both to the product (digital audio) and the delivery (Internet broadcasting). Purists consider that the only true podcasts are those that are episodic in nature and available by subscription or syndication. Lots of options are available for delivering podcasts via subscription, but one of the most popular is the iTunes store from Apple.

What Are Colleges Doing with Podcasts?

Applications for podcasting in the classroom probably vary as much as the instructors and disciplines themselves. Though a large number of universities have already been through their pilot phases and established some very successful models to follow, the possibilities are still wide open for experimentation and individual discovery over what to do with a podcast. Some options for classroom recordings include test reviews, daily lectures, small group discussions, short explanations of complex concepts or individual passages of literature, student presentations, interviews with experts who may or may not otherwise be able to visit the classroom, and feedback on assignments.

Follow these links to see a little of what colleges are doing.

Lars Bronsworth's history podcasts and the New York Times article about him.

The Chronicle article on podcasting.

Open Culture's university podcast collection.


Why Podcast?

Good question. Though emerging technology is interesting without fail, it isn't automatically worthwhile. New technology purely for the sake of new technology is not a plus in the classroom. This said, podcasting does serve a purpose.

In a nutshell, there is still nothing quite like the power of the spoken word.

Our students are changing. Their attention spans are changing. Their habits are changing. Their daily schedules are changing. Their learning styles are changing. They may not get as much out of the old lectures delivered in the old ways, but that doesn't mean they don't still need the touch of the human voice to learn.

Teachers so often complain that "they just don't hear what we say." We find ourselves repeating the same points over and over for people whose bodies are present while their minds have wandered off to do something else. With podcasts, our voices can be repeated with only the touch of a button. And if they happen to reach the students while the body is busy at the gym or driving to work or walking to other classes, then we are only following the old adage to "teach them where we find them."

How to Podcast

To get started in podcasting, you'll need a microphone and a computer. You'll also need some audio recording/editing software and a way to make the recording available online. For more portable podcasting options, you would need either a digital voice recorder or a notebook computer.

Microphones--The microphone is an essential choice in podcasting. The better the microphone, the better the recording. This does not, however, mean that an instructor needs to spend a lot of money to get started. A basic headset microphone will do just fine. The pictured model currently sells for $24.95 at Best Buy.

The headset microphone is a good choice for recording made by individuals. This might be used by an instructor wanting to podcast a weekly overview, a test review, or assignment feedback.

For group recordings, higher sensitivity microphones are in order. Sound Professionals offers a USB microphone that works well in classroom settings for about $60.

Software--One of the most popular audio recording/editing packages is Audacity, available as a free download. For a list of other options, click here.

Delivery--Once the recording is made, the next issue is how to get it to the students. Many schools provide server space where instructors can post audio files that are then linked from a blog or class website. If this is not an option (or even perhaps if it is), try Odeo Studio, a free site that provides a way to record, edit, publish, and syndicate all in one.

Once all of this is done, it's time to move on over to iTunes and follow the instructions for submitting your podcasts to them. It's as simple as 1, 2, 3, and maybe 4. Welcome to podcasting!

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