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Get Your Head Around: Podcasting
by Reba Leiding


“Podcasting” was the word of the year for 2005, according to the editors of New Oxford American Dictionary, which defines the term as “a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.” 


You don’t need a personal audio player such as an iPod to listen to podcasts: a quick Google search will locate many links to podcasts on the Web, and you can listen to them (or view podcasts with video) on your computer at your desk.  But most people agree that the portability of audio players is what takes podcasting beyond “mere” audio or video streaming. 


Used in connection with an RSS feed, podcasting becomes a truly an automated service.  If you are interested in a source or service that provides podcasts, you can subscribe to that service, and have updates or episodes of podcasts “pushed” to you.  Several podcast receivers exist on the Web, including iTunes and Juice. You will also need to transfer the podcast to your iPod or other personal audio player, although the newest portable audio players will automatically download podcast episodes when connected to your computer (assuming the computer is connected to the Internet).  With the portable player you can multi-task:  for example, listening to a C-Span podcast while doing your laundry or walking from that remote parking place to your office.

Grover Saunders of CIT

Grover Saunders from the Center for Instructional Technology

Podcasts can come in many forms, and include video, text, images, and even pdf files, says Grover Saunders, Media Training Coordinator for the Center for Instructional Technology (CIT).  The most common format now is an audio file, but the growth in the market for video iPods and other players, and the increased functionalities of “smart phones,” will probably change the shape of future podcast technology.

ITunes is one of the easiest podcast receivers to use because it makes finding and subscribing to podcast feeds almost seamless.  Hundreds of podcast feeds are listed in its Music Store by numerous genres and categories, including a subcategory of Higher Education.  You can subscribe to one of iTunes’ listed podcasts with just a couple of clicks.


Colleges and universities are finding some uses for podcasting, but the concept remains controversial.  As a recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education noted, teaching faculty are divided on how effective podcasting could prove to be.  Some professors fear that class attendance will suffer if  students can download recorded lectures.  Some have concerns that audio recordings of lectures are not entertaining enough to hold students’ interest.  (The newest iPods have video capability, but recording a video presents many more technical issues than an audio recording.)  To counteract these issues, some professors suggest using podcasts as supplemental material, or integrating them into the course by asking students to listen to them prior to class discussion, thus freeing up classtime for interactive work and discussion.  Or lectures could be released after the “live” class lecture so students could use the recorded lectures for review.


Some universities have embraced “coursecasting.”  Duke university provided iPods to each incoming freshman in 2004, and hosted a conference on coursecasting in 2005.  Purdue has a major podcasting project that was even mentioned on a recent Prairie Home Companion radio show broadcast from Purdue.  The project, called BoilerCast, offers numerous lectures for around 90 courses.  It’s actually an online version of an earlier project that made cassette recordings of lectures available to students at the university library.


Apple Computer recently announced a service called iTunes U that says it will provide any college or university with virtual space on the iTunes Music Store to set up course content, including audio and video material.  Participating institutions will get software tools to enable professors and students to upload content to iTunes.  College administrators will have control over who has access to the content.  The project is an outgrowth of an earlier partnership with Apple and Stanford University.


JMU’s Center for Instructional Technology (CIT) is offering support to faculty interested in adopting podcasting for their course as one of their Sandbox Projects for Spring Semester 2006.  CIT has purchased five systems, that include an iPod along with an attachable voice recorder and microphone, and is installing server software on a Mac server.  The systems are available for loan to interested faculty to record lectures or other presentations and to upload them to the server, where they will be available for students to download.  As part of the Sandbox Project, CIT will also have access to training, consultation on instructional design, and evaluation.


CIT recorded many of the presentations from their Fall 2005 TLT Conference and placed them on their podcasting server.  These podcasts can be downloaded from iTunes.  Grover Saunders has an excellent web page explaining podcasting at JMU.  The page also has a link to the TLT Conference podcasts.  Also look for a CIT workshop this spring called Podcasting: Broadcasting for the Rest of Us.



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