According to Wikipedia, a podcast "is a collection of digital media files which is distributed over the Internet, often using syndication feeds, for playback on portable media players and personal computers. " And here I thought it was just a radio show you could listen to anytime online. I had a lot to learn for this topic!
As I mentioned in my last post, I am amazed at the quantity (and quality!) of podcasts available out on the web. I knew this was a rising technology, but really, I had no idea. I found browsing the podcasts at iTunes, the Education Podcast Network and the RECAP directory to be a bit like walking into a huge bookstore after a few solid months in the bush: exciting and bewildering, full of giddy anticipation, but also overwhelming. Where to begin? There is so much to explore! Time is precious, how will I spend it? Luckily, podcasts are free, so the spending of money, such a concern in a bookstore, isn't a worry!
This is the first of the web 2.0 technologies we've explored that I think will really impact my personal life, not just my professional life (although social networking has already had an impact... but more on that in a few weeks!). The most difficult adjustment I have had to make to being a mother has been lost reading time. Babies don't like it when mom is reading and not playing! I tried audio books downloaded to my iPod, but I find I still need long stretches of time to enjoy them... and long stretches of time I don't have. But podcasts-- short, informative, entertaining, educational, free-- could be just the ticket.
But enough about me. What about schools? I particularly like what the Educause Learning Initiative had to say about podcasting in the article 7 things you should know about... podcasting. “Because students are already familiar with the underlying technology, podcasting broadens educational options in a nonthreatening and easily accessible manner.” Downloading mp3 files onto a computer has been a staple of young people for several years now. Of the students here I surveyed informally, about 80% of those that say they use the web on a regular basis are listening to and downloading music-- right down the grade 4. So kids know this stuff already... it isn't a stretch for educators to suggest they listen to something on their mp3 players other than music.
Beyond what teachers and librarians could suggest to students to listen to on their own time, podcasts could play an exciting role in the classroom. Teachers could play relevant podcasts right through the classroom computer's speakers (no need for a digital projector here!) or through external speakers attached to an mp3 player. I have a set of speakers for my iPod I picked up for $15, and while not great quality, they get the job done.
According to Kelly Gatewood's article Podcasting: Just the basics, in the Winter 2008 Kappa Delta Pi Record, podcasts “can be used to introduce new material, support current lessons, or review material covered in class.” But those are just the curricular uses. She goes on to suggest how powerful podcasts could be for professional development, allowing teachers to access content “now available anytime, anywhere,” as well as act as an effective teacher-parent communication system.
But my favourite potential use of this medium is what Gatewood describes as “custom information sharing.” This is where the recorded lectures and lab directions for high school and college students fall, but also where we find student created podcasts. Larry Anderson profiled a seventh grade class for his article Podcasting: Transforming middle schoolers into 'middle scholars' in T.H.E. Journal way back in December 2005. Their teacher, Jeanne Halderson, guides her students through the process of creating podcasts to be made available to a global audience in iTunes. “Students become thorough researchers, then report their findings in a recorded audio format rather than merely as a written report.” While I was initially unsure if there was any benefit to a podcast instead of a report other than (the very valid) appealing to auditory learners, in reading the comments of Halderson's students, I realized that the power of student created podcasts is the authenticity of the audience. Students were more motivated to do quality work because they knew that other people could use their podcast to learn about the topic they studied. Students explained that they were motivated to do better because they were having more fun, they were competing with other podcasts for an audience, and they felt their voices could be heard.
When I was browsing on iTunes, I came across a great podcast by some first grade students about ants. It got me thinking: why not have students 'trade' learning? One first grade class studies ants and another one studies butterflies, and they swap podcasts to share their learning? Not only are the students creating the podcast becoming experts in their area, but there is something very satisfying to little kids in learning from their peers. This kind of activity could be arranged within a single classroom (small groups creating podcasts), within a school, a district... or the world at large. Podcasts could be a powerful tool for collaboration within classrooms and stretch how teachers and librarians think about students collaborating at great distances, learning from each other.
Ok, now for a bit on the technological challenges this week. Yikes.
I started out at Poducate Me, and while I thought they had lots of great information about how to use podcasting, when it got down to the technical details, I knew I'd have to look elsewhere. Sorry, but I'm not going to go and buy an omnidirectional condenser mic, a mixer, and soundproof my office (aka, the playroom). I needed something a bit more practical. I turned to LearningInHand (found with de.icio.us!) for help, and found plenty! I found this website to be full of helpful information, particularly for creating podcasts. It gets into the technical side of things at an easy to understand level, and also discusses practical considerations for teacher to keep in mind when having students create podcasts.
After reading the directions at LearningInHand, I set off to make my own recording. I used Audacity at their recommendation, and found it reasonably easy to use, although I couldn't figure out how to add audio to the middle of my recording, when I thought of something to add afterwards. On the subject of software, I'd really like to play around with Tool Factory Podcasting some day. Sally Finley wrote up this software and hardware package for MultiMedia & Internet@Schools in Nov/Dec 2007 and it sounds like an amazing (if pricey) resource for teachers. Audacity is easy for an adult to use, but I'm not sure how friendly it would be for young students, and Finley highly recommends this software for teachers of all grade levels, suggesting it is very user friendly.
I used box.net to save my podcast on the web and embedded it fairly easily into my blog... to my surprise! I think I had built this up to be much more difficult that it really is. Once again, web2.0 technologies have proven to be useful, accessible, and yes, even a little bit fun!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some professional development podcasts to go listen to while I feed Sophie!