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Podcasting...What is it and how is it useful?

Podcasting. It is a technology being embraced all around the world. But what is it? How could it help to reach your students?

What is Podcasting?
First, let me start out by telling you what podcasting is not because people tend to not understand the concept.

  • It is not a sound and/or video file placed on a website.
  • It is not a single file or set of files that stay on a server never to have any other files added.

I bet you are going, "huh?" right about now. Your likely saying to yourself, "but I thought podcasts WERE audio and video".
Well, yes they are. But not in the way that you are likely thinking.
Think of a podcast as a daily, weekly, or monthly radio show that has new content posted regularly. You can make this content anything you want, but the important part is that new content is posted regularly. A good example of this concept is any radio show you may listen to on a daily basis. The only differences are that you are distributing the show over the internet and you do not have to pay a radio station to broadcast it. Literally, anyone can do it!
Podcasts are audio and video files that use a technology called RSS (real simple syndication). This technology allows iTunes or other pod caching clients, to see when a new "episode" is posted by you. If someone likes your content, or you make it mandatory for your class, they can click a button that will subscribe them to the content you post. This means that if someone is subscribed and you have published a new podcast, the new content that you just posted will be automatically downloaded by their iTunes without them having to find your page and click a link to download.
Good ways to use this technology can be:

  • A daily (on class days) posting of the lecture that the class can download and review. The audio would be current lectures and not from previous semesters.
  • A weekly / Bi-weekly podcast with another faculty member talking about current events pertaining to your subject matter. This may or may not follow the subjects being followed in classes.
  • A weekly podcast for languages students covering words and/or phrases from the weeks classes.
  • Assign your students to group up and create a 15 - 30 minute audio program discussing certain topics that will be posted on a weekly / bi-weekly basis.
  • Any kind of show you can think of!

As you can see, there are lots of great kinds of content you can provide to your students to build interest in the class content and get them more engaged.
To help familiarize yourself with podcasts, I would recommend downloading iTunes (http://www.itunes.com) and looking around to see what is out there and get a feel for what you can do with your podcast.
So to recap:

  • If you want to put out daily, weekly, or monthly content then podcasting is right for you.
  • If you want to put a fixed number of pre-made audio or video files on the web for people to download, but do not want to make any more content, then podcasting is not for you.

How to get started Audio Podcasting
Getting started in audio podcasting is not hard at all. The basics are essentially:

  • A good idea
  • A way to record audio
  • Upload audio to iTunesU

After you decide on a concept for your podcast, you will need to come up with a way to record it. This may be different, depending on what you plan to post as your podcast.
If you will be recording your lecture and posting it, then all you will need is a mini recorder that saves into an MP3 format. These devices can be bought from most stores that have electronics like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Newegg.com. This type of recorder can be placed in a shirt pocket to record your lectures as you give them and then be connected to your computer to upload your audio file to iTunesU. Most of these devices also have microphone ports that allow for the use of a lapel microphone. Be sure to read the specifications to ensure it supports an external microphone if you need it.
If you want to produce something better than just posting lectures, you can use a microphone and some audio recording software.
First, obtaining software to record your podcast is very easy. For Apple users, most Macs running OSX have a program called Garageband that can be used to record your audio. For Windows and Mac machines there is a program called Audacity that is free. You will have to do some playing and experimentation with these softwares to get a feel for how to use them.
Next, the quality of your audio will really depend on the type of microphone you are using.
You can get a basic start by purchasing a very cheap headset microphone pretty much anywhere. These will work, but you may not like the quality of the audio. This is also a single person type of setup.
If you are serious about putting out good audio and you know you will keep up podcast production, you might want to invest in a good condenser microphone and input. You can actually get podcasting packages that include everything you will need. I like buying my audio equipment from musicians friend, but you can get this kind of stuff at any music store. Just tell them you need a Condenser microphone, a USB computer interface for it, a stand, and a pop screen. This type of set up is good if you will have more than one host (will need a mic for each host. The Tascam mic set I linked has two mic inputs) in the same studio.
There is a way to record a podcast with another host that is not in the same room, or even the same state or country as you are. This can be done with a free program called Skype. I am not an expert at doing this so, here is a link to a site that tells you how to do this.
So that is the basics. If you want to learn more, there are many resources on the web that can help.