In a way, I started podcasting in the 1970s. I worked as a radio DJ and spent hours with reel-to-reel tape, editing with literal razor blades and Scotch tape. We didn't call it podcasting, of course. I first heard of podcasting in 2004 or so.
Some mentors in the cutting-edge Regents Online Degree Program of Tennessee had acquired iPods to experiment with for higher education. If students could download music files, they could download any audio file, including recordings of educational material, and that seemed promising.
The term sounded fancy, but I realized a podcast was nothing more than an audio program on a new device. The “new” part of podcasting lay only in the delivery method—and the decreasing costs and barriers to producing them. In short, podcasts are simply digital audio files.
Along with Brandon Ballentine almost exactly three years ago and continuing for the last year and half with Mark Fuentes, I have co-hosted, produced, and published nearly 60 episodes of a podcast entitled “Mobile Talk,” focusing on the use of mobile and emerging technology in higher education. If you'd like to sample it, you can find it through bitly.com/mobiletalk.
Though our ongoing podcast serves an audience of faculty, educational technology specialists, and administrators, we have also used podcasting to enhance our classes. In fact, there are at least four ways you can use podcasts:
- For instruction. A lot of students prefer to learn through listening, and podcasts provide a relatively easy, inexpensive way to achieve that. You can either supplement material delivered in other forms or provide a backup (for instance, a podcast version of a lecture). Keep in mind that you neither need to nor should simply record your lecture. Not only are attention spans shorter for recorded material, but you can cover in 10 minutes what would need 30 minutes for in class because of the “rewind” button. You don't have to repeat information—if a student misses something, s/he can simply listen again.
- For learning. Not only are the barriers lowered for you, they are also lowered for our students! The tech-phobic may actually find podcast creation to be relatively easy and intuitive. Consider assigning students, either individually or in teams, to produce a podcast around a topic rather than write a paper about it. When they produce material “out loud,” they think about it differently than if they simply write about it, especially if the podcast will have an audience beyond the teacher.
- For exploring. Consider the possibility of producing a podcast that combines your outstanding students in dialogue with faculty. Conversational podcasts engage audiences more easily and more deeply than “talking head” style, and both listeners and participants learn and engage as they discuss topics related to your classes and your fields.
- For sharing with colleagues. We have also found it an effective way to share material with colleagues in an engaging way. Print will always be important to faculty keeping up with journals and professional interests, but podcasts engage faculty in the same way they engage students, and also provide a means of making use of increasingly scarce time. Unlike with either printed material or video, you can listen to a podcast while you drive or wash dishes, etc.
The pattern of decreasing costs and barriers has only continued, so that you, too, can fulfill your dreams of being a broadcaster (remember listening to the radio growing up?) using equipment you probably already have in your office, with minimal additional tools.
You can produce a podcast relatively cheaply and easily. In fact, you can easily produce one with whatever computer you have right now or bypass the computer altogether with the right apps on a mobile device. Among the things we have learned:
- Think seriously about the time element. Most non-education podcasts run either seven to 15 minutes in length or 60 to 90 minutes. You don't have to be exact, but set a rough target time. Break up longer topics into shorter segments that become their own episodes.
- Have a conversation. When it is just you and a microphone, you tend to go flat or mechanical. When you have another human being with you, the “talk show” effect kicks in, keeping the listener engaged.
- Include the listener as a participant in the conversation. Obviously, the listener can't interact, but as much as possible address him or her as an individual sitting in the room with you.
- Invest in a little bit of tech. We've invested less than $200 beyond the computer equipment we already have. Doing so has made the process much easier.
That gives you some idea of why you would want to do a podcast, and the beginnings of the idea that you actually can
without having to start a second career. In Part 2, we will walk you through practical considerations in creating a podcast, including some basic “how to” information, helpful equipment and software, and hosting the podcast.
Donnell King is an associate professor of communication studies at Pellissippi State Community College.