by Dr. Rob Reilly
Regular contributor to the Gazette
April 1, 2008
I’d like to explore the topic of ‘podcasting’ with you. I’m going to do that in three parts. In the first part, which is this article, I’m going to talk about the basics of podcasting and by the end of the article you will be listening to some podcasts. The second part will appear in the May issue of the Teachers.Net Gazette and will explore subscribing to a podcast feed and acquiring Podcatching software; and a third article will explore the creation of a podcast. Ok, with that said, let’s get started!
The term podcasting consists of two words: iPod and broadcasting. It has also been said that Podcasting is formed from two other words: on-demand and broadcast. Interestingly enough, you do not need an iPod to listen to a podcast. You can use your computer and the software that comes with it (or you can download Real Audio Player and use that instead). I suppose that the ‘pod’ part of the term podcasting is a result of the primary vehicle employed to receive and listen to a podcast is an iPod.
In 2005 the New Oxford American Dictionary declared that the term ‘podcast’ was its Word of the Year. Podcast is defined by Wikipedia as:
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. The term podcast, like "broadcast", can refer either to the series of content itself or to the method by which it is syndicated; the latter is also termed podcasting. The host or author of a podcast is often called a podcaster.
Professor Burks Oakley, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of Illinois and Director of Uillinois Online, defines podcasting as:
a term used to describe a collection of technologies for automatically distributing audio programs over the Internet using a publisher/subscriber model. It differs from earlier online delivery of audio because it automatically transfers the digital media files to the user’s computer for later use.
Well, those are cool technical definitions by well-renowned experts. But if you’re still wondering what a podcast is, let me offer this explanation. A podcast is an audio file saved in digital format, much like a Word document that you have created and saved on your computer; both are digital files. But instead of written words on an electronic piece of paper, a podcast has spoken words on a piece of electronic paper (so to speak). When you load the podcast and play it, the computer will run software that will allow the podcast to speak-its-piece. Given that the podcast file is a digital file in the same way a Word document is a digital file, you can send it to others via the Internet, and you can place it on a Web site and other people can download it to their computer, save the file, and then listen to it.
Again, a podcast is a digital file just like all the other files on your computer. The files you have on your computer are saved in various formats so that they can be interpreted by various software progams in a certain way. For example, Microsoft Word is a word processor and it creates documents with lots of words in it (e.g., letters, notices, policy manuals). Word documents are saved as ‘.doc’ files. Podcasts are quite similar, but instead of Microsoft Word, you would create a podcast using any one of several progams that create ‘mp3’ files instead of ‘.doc’ files.
To create an actual podcast file, you would need a microphone and a software program designed to record and save audio files into mp3 format. There are quite a few of these available on the Internet; and they’re free-of-charge. We’ll explore those in part two, which will be published next month. The point of exploring podcast creation was to provide you with a general understanding that a podcast file is just like other files that you create and may even transfer now (e.g., creating a Word document, saving it, and then sending it via email to a colleague).
Ok, before we go to a Web site and get a podcast, let me tell you that you’ll be running into other terms that you may not be familiar with such as RSS feed. You can ignore them for the moment. We’ll cover them in the next article, entitled Podcasting 102. Let’s just focus on finding a few interesting podcasts for you and playing them.
Let's Play a Podcast!
Let’s go to Podcasting News, which is located at: http://www.podcastingnews.com/. This is a Web site that is a terrific resource for podcasts. Peruse this page to find a topic/category that might grab your interest. On this main Web page, there are several options. In the left-hand column, you can see a listing of the top podcasts, the most recently received podcasts, etc. Farther down the left-hand column is the ‘Check Out Some Podcasts’ area, which is somewhat of an editor’s favorites classification. Even farther down the left-hand column is a ‘Podcast Directory Top Categories’ area. This area contains a wealth of interesting categories, including an ‘education’ category. There is also a general listing of topics entitled ‘Podcast Directory’ at the top of the page on the right-hand side of the page. So after you have reviewed the choices, let’s try the ‘Education’ category. On the ‘Education’ page there is yet another list of choices (e.g., audio classes, K-12 education, home schooling). But for the sake of sanity let’s scroll down the page and click on the category entitled ‘A Podcast Directory for Educators.’
Now we are looking at a Web page that has actual podcasts on it. There are two icons along with the descriptions of the podcast. One icon says ‘podcast’ and the other says ‘stream.’ Both icons will cause that particular podcast to begin to play. The ‘stream’ icon will begin to play the podcast very quickly, but you can’t save the podcast for play/replay at another time. Choose (click on) the ‘podcast’ icon and ‘save’ the file to some directory on your computer. The ‘podcast’ will start the program after it is downloaded and saved onto your computer. This a bit slower process than the ‘stream’ option, but again using the ‘podcast’ option will allow you to have the actual ‘podcast’ saved onto your computer.
After you have choosen a podcast that was interesting and played it, you'll be a ‘pro’ at this part of podcasting. But before we move onto to the next step, which involves having podcasts automatically sent to your computer in the same way your receive email, let’s look-at another podcast site.
Let’s go to the Learn on the Go Web site, which is located at: http://www.learn-on-the-go.com/directory/. This Web site is a directory of “carefully selected education and training podcasts aimed to promote the use of audio and video podcasting learning materials for personal and professional development.” I selected ‘World History,’ and then choose ‘12 Byzantine Rulers’ and it led me to a very nice Web site with quite a few terrific podcasts that dealt the various Byzantine Rulers. Select this or make another selection.
Now you have found and downloaded a few podcasts. That’s terrific. If you plan to do more, you should create a folder on your computer so the podcasts can be downloaded there.
Your Homework Assignment
Before you become more ambitious, I’d suggest that you do a Google search to find more podcast resources. Eventually you will locate a resource that you’d like to access quite often. You can bookmark that (those) site(s) and check back frequently. Having a bookmarked list of podcast resources will be helpful in the next article, Podcasting 102, as we’ll be acquiring software that will automatically receive podcasts from resources of your choice. We will also be exploring various other resources. Hint: In the meantime consult an expert: ask your child to give you some iPod lessons and see if you both can find some podcasts about education.
PodcastDirectory is a neat but eclectic collection of podcasts. It does have an education category that is worth scanning. It is located at:
LearnOutLoud.com claims to be the Internet's first directory for podcasts you can learn from. They also state that they have screened thousands of podcasts to find the ones of the highest quality. This site is located at:
Dr. Rob Reilly is the computer education teacher at the Lanesborough Elementary School in Lanesborough, Massachusetts USA. He is also a Visiting Scientist at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is conducting NSF funded research in the area of affective computing, emotions and learning. He has been a Visiting Scientist at MIT's Center for Educational Computing Initiatives, a Post Doctoral Research Associate at the University of Massachusetts' Office of Information Technologies, and a Teaching Associate, at the School of Education at the University of Massachusetts. His email address is: [email protected] His Web site is: http://web.media.mit.edu/~reilly/.