Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Commentary: Sotir: Podcasts

The one constant about technology is that it is always changing. One of the newer tools is podcasting. Sure, it's been around for a while, but nonetheless, academia is now getting on board in a big way. So what is a podcast? According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Podcasting is the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio or video programs, over the Internet using syndication feeds, for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. The term gained wide popularity as a portmanteau of iPod and broadcasting, but was seen before that as an acronym for "portable on demand". The term podcast, like 'radio', can mean both the content and the method of delivery. The host or author of a podcast is often called a podcaster. Though podcasters' web sites may also offer direct download or streaming of their content, a podcast is distinguished from other formats by its ability to be downloaded automatically using software capable of reading feeds like RSS or Atom.

So what does that mean, especially to educators? It means the availability of on-demand video on your computer, web-enabled cell phone and Bluetooth technology, iPod or other MP3 players etc. MP3's and iPods are among the hottest tools for teenagers (and adults), and, in an average 2 minute period 2,100 new cell phones are added across the world. The newest cell phones can do video, text, music (many are MP3's too) and have browsers that can rival many computers. This ain't your grandparent's telephone...and they are used all day, every day.

To access, you view and subscribe to a series of podcasts using RSS or Atom feeds. These can be lecture notes made with PowerPoint or Keynote, video science experiments, seminars, conference information, orientation information and basically, anything your mind can create as a video. You can use programs such as Garage Band (Apple) or Quick Time to add things such as music or audio cues and data, animations, PDF files (for adding worksheets etc. to the podcast) and of course, videos. You can have a conversation with people who are in different places, and have the information presented through the podcast. Other high end programs such as Final Cut can bring multidimension tools to easily create the podcast itself. Photos? Sure, as well as diagrams, drawings and other printable resources can be added to the final product. Museums are using them to do the exhibit tours formerly done on audio tapes. It's as easy as plugging in a firewire or USB connection for simple transfer of data between the computer and the mp3 player. However, you need video capabilites like those on an iPod to store video. This could really revolutionize the presentation of 'What I did on my summer vacation.'

Since 80% of learners are auditory learners, this is a great tool for motivating students, and having it on a platform that most students have readily available is also a plus. For Adult Ed students, the concept of listening/practice and repetition is tailor made to this medium. Imagine ESL instructors creating specialized vocabulary lists. Duke University gives free iPods to each of their incoming freshman students so they can see how they will be used for coursework and lectures. Students given the lecture notes in the classroom ahead of the lecture can change the entire dynamic of the lecture: less time spent note-taking and more time spent interacting with the lecturer. Some colleges and universities are even giving i-Pods to parents with a pre-programmed orientation to the campus and other vital information. The beauty is that the podcasts can be updated quickly, so getting new information to those students or their parents is relatively easy.

I see this as a great tool for keeping boards and committees on track, and for students to access data with or without computer access. There are over 3500 free educational podcasts available, but the cost for subscribing to a podcast series is relatively inexpensive. Creating the podcast is simple. Write a script, create video/audio/pdf etc. content, publish the content to a webserver and make an RSS/Atom file to provide subscription to the podcast series. The application programs range in price from free to a few hundred dollars, depending on how sophisticated you need (or want) to be. Check out the following sites for more information and ideas:

http://www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts/?engine=yahoosearchsubmit iTunes from Apple
http://podcasts.yahoo.com/ Yahoo podcast listing from across the Web, where you can find, listen and publish podcasts
http://www.podcast.net/ A directory of podcasts available on the Internet
http://www.podcastpickle.com/ Podcast and Vidcast community. Daily picks, forum, and Top 100. (Requires a free sign-up).
http://www.podcastalley.com/what_is_a_podcast.php Use Podcast Alley to find all your Podcasts, podcast feeds, podcast ... Pick a Podcast Genre
http://music.aol.com/radioguide/podcasting?sem=1&ncid=AOLRAD00170000000009 AOL's free podcasting site. Check out Podcasting 101.

That should get you started on understanding and using podcasts. Let me know how you are using them, and add new resources to the list. For a good educational program see Robin's suggestion for podcasts for ESL students (posted below).