There’s been so much buzz about the term “podcast,” it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it’s just an audio recording, something that has been easily adaptable for decades in terms of where and when you experience it.
Emma Hamer, CEO of career and performance consulting firm eHamer Associates Ltd., offers a podcast of her thoughts on improving individual and corporate performance on her company’s Web site. She said podcasts are perfectly legitimate as teaching tools, but she also said they’re really nothing new.
“A podcast, basically, is a new form of technology to do something that is as old as broadcasting,” Hamer said. “About 10 years ago, I worked for a company where, in the process of my training, I was given a series of cassette tapes to listen to in the car.
“The delivery method is different, but you have the same information that used to go on a cassette tape, and the next version was on a CD and the next version was on a self-directed CD-ROM, and you had some illustrations to go with it. And now, it’s a podcast.”
Alex Chapin, principal curricular technologist for Middlebury College in Vermont, has witnessed a similar evolutionary process.
“We’ve always needed to deliver a lot of media files to students,” Chapin said. “With cassettes, you had Side A and Side B. With CDs, you had a number of tracks. When we went digital with our audio collections, we made them more granular. We reduced them to audio files for every line of dialogue or for every vocabulary item. So, we had an enormous number of audio files we needed to deliver, and we wanted to deliver them to mobile devices.”
The school purchased 120 iPods and initially began podcasting within its language department. The faculty pre-loaded the iPods with audio resources such as instruction, vocabulary and pronunciation samples. At the end of a semester, the school got the iPods back from the students, enabling it to quantify how successful the venture had been.
“We extracted all the meta data from the iPods and actually did an analysis of the usage in terms of how many times students played given audio tracks and when they last played them,” Chapin said. “We generated a lot of statistics that informed our programs.”
This allowed the school to optimize formatting of its audio files. Of course, not all the college’s podcasting is based on pre-loaded iPods. Students can import audio files from the college’s Web site into iTunes or a similar program for use with a portable digital media device.
The students also engage in podcasting themselves, using devices called iTalk that directly plug into iPods, allowing them to record.
“The writing program has been doing this a lot,” Chapin said. “So, students hand in writing assignments but also hand in audio recordings. Some of the instructors in the writing program require students to read what they’ve written and submit that audio recording as an assignment, or they might have them do interviews.”
At the same time, Middlebury’s faculty members have taken to recording themselves with increasing enthusiasm.
“What we’re beginning to see with faculty in the writing and languages programs is that many of them now have their iPods with them all the time and record more and more of what they do,” Chapin said.
As this continues, Middlebury College will more frequently offer lectures as podcasts.
Chapin also said this use of iPods as recording devices improves the school’s performance qualitatively.
“What is expected of students and what is beginning to be expected of faculty is not only writing,” Chapin said. “Now, it’s also publishing what you say in audio form.”
This enhances education on a variety of levels, making students more comfortable with public speaking and more articulate.
“You have to be more spontaneous,” Chapin said. “When you’re writing, you can take time, but when you’re presenting your views and having them recorded, it’s a different kind of thing.”
– Daniel Margolis, firstname.lastname@example.org