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What is all the buzz about podcasting? What is podcasting, and why is it relevant to education?

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Podcasting is a way to post and distribute electronic media files online. Podcasts are of interest because they provide an easy way to get engaging multimedia content out to a dispersed group of people, who can listen to it whenever and wherever they like on a variety of readily-available platforms.

A podcast is generally a regularly-produced series of these posts, similar to a series of radio broadcasts, episodes in a television series, or entries in a personal journal. For example, the popular news show “Meet the Press” podcasts the audio portion of their television show weekly.

Because podcasts can be produced and broadcast relatively inexpensively, a large number of both amateur and professional podcasts are available. You can download podcasts about everything from news to food, politics to education, personal logs to sports, music to technology, and more. Some podcasts are very high quality, and others... well, they're reminiscent of early cable access television. (Remember Wayne's World?)

Podcasts can be downloaded to you automatically as soon as they are available with no special action on your part. You can download and listen to podcasts with a variety of devices, such as desktop computers, laptop computers, MP3 players (iPods and others), Palm and Windows Mobile handhelds, and even cell phones.

So how is podcasting relevant to education? It is a powerful publishing platform that addresses different learning styles, is highly mobile, and can deliver content “just in time.” Think about some of these possibilities:

  • A teacher uses her cell phone to create a podcast with daily homework assignments and other classroom information. Parents download the podcasts to stay up-to-date on their children's school activities.
  • The district technology staff podcasts quick tech support tips for teachers to access as they need them.
  • Kids create a podcast about the Civil War to show what they've learned and share it with other classrooms.
  • A school board podcasts their meetings and special events as a way to increase community involvement in the school system.
  • A teacher records her class for students to download as a podcast. These podcasts are used by students who are absent as well as by those who need extra reinforcement or want to review.
  • A class takes a virtual field trip to NASA via a soundseeing tour podcast. The virtual field trip is broadcast in several formats, some designed for English language learners and others for GATE students.

The future of podcasting will bring even more exciting innovations. Some universities have already begun issuing all incoming students MP3 players and voice recorders and have found that this makes a significant difference in learning. A new development in this technology is the ability to podcast video — imagine students being able to download instructional videos or short “talking chalkboard” tutorials. Future podcasts may even include embedded interactivities so that learners can practice what they're learning, create an end product, or assess their learning.

So, what do you need to get started?

To listen to podcasts, all you need is:

  1. A device on which to listen to the podcasts
  2. Software for playing media
  3. Podcast content
  4. Podcatching software (optional)

To create your own podcasts, you need the above listed items plus:

  1. A microphone
  2. Recording and editing software
  3. Music clip library (optional)
  4. A way to publish your podcast

Listening devices

One of the best things about podcasts is that there are many different devices that can be used to listen to them. Some of them include:

  • Palm handheld computers
  • Windows Mobile handheld computers
  • MP3 players (include iPods and others)
  • Desktop and laptop computers
  • Cell phones

Software for playing media

To listen to a podcast, you need software to play the media files. Depending on what device you use to listen to your podcasts, a variety of software is available. For desktop or laptop computers, the most common media player programs are Windows Media Player, iTunes, RealPlayer, and Winamp.

All Windows Mobile handhelds are audio-capable and come with Windows Media Player Mobile, which can be used to listen to podcasts. Palm handhelds that are OS 5 or higher are audio-capable. Some devices require an SD card for this, while others can play audio from built-in memory. A variety of audio software is available for the Palm OS including Pocket Tunes and the RealPlayer for Palm.

MP3 players typically come with their own player software, which is built in to the device.

A word about file formats — Digital audio files come in a variety of formats. Some formats have encryption built in, while others don't. Different media players may play some formats and not others. For example, the Apple iPods play AAC files. Windows Media Player plays WMA, WMV, WAV, and MP3 files. One format that is broadly compatible across almost all players is MP3.

Podcast content

Our podcasting workshops are a lot of fun, and everyone learns to make their own podcast. You can listen to the amazing work the participants have done here. Email us about a podcasting workshop at your district.

There is a huge variety of podcast content available. One way to find podcasts of interest to you is to consult a podcast directory. Here are a few:

Yahoo podcasts
Apple iTunes podcasts
Podcast Directory
Podcast Alley

Here are some of our favorite educational podcasts.

Karen's Educational Mashups
Room 208
Radio WillowWeb
The Daily Idiom
Colonial Williamsburg
PBS's American Experience
Steve Spangler Science

Podcatching software

It is relatively simple to download individual podcasts and transfer them to your listening device. If you want to automate this process, you can also subscribe to podcasts using podcatching software and RSS feeds. RSS, or Real Simple Syndication, is a specification for XML files that can be used to subscribe to a podcast. To do this, use podcatching software to specify particular podcasts that you want to receive regularly and have them automatically downloaded to a folder or directly your listening device.

Here are a few podcatching software programs:



If you want to create your own podcast, the first thing you need is a way to record your voice. The simplest way to do this is through a microphone connected to your desktop computer. Some computers have built-in microphones, though the quality may not be the best. There are also inexpensive headphone and microphone available for under $20. Or if you want a more professional sound, you can get a condenser microphone. A high quality microphone is one way to upgrade the quality of your podcast. For remote location podcasts, you can use a portable digital recorder, handheld, or even a cell phone.

Recording and Editing software

Next you need software to record and edit your podcast. We like Audacity, because it is open source (free), runs on a variety of platforms, is relatively easy to learn, and has many powerful features. Other recording and editing tools you might explore include Adobe Audition, QuickTime, and GarageBand.

To spruce up your podcast, you may want to incorporate music clips and sound effects. Some editing programs, like GarageBand, come with libraries of clips and loops that you can use for this purpose. You can also purchase collections of clips. Just make sure to check the terms of use to make sure that they meet your needs and that you don't end up with unexpected royalty or other licensing costs.

Publishing your podcast

Once your podcast is finished, you need a way to distribute it to listeners. You can link the files to your web page, but to be a podcast you need to give listeners a way to subscribe through an RSS feed. RSS (Real Simple Syndication) is a way to publish and deliver via the Internet content that changes frequently. Using RSS, listeners can subscribe to your podcast through iTunes or another aggregator.

There are many ways to create an RSS feed. Some web-creation tools have RSS feed capabilities automatically built in to them, requiring no additional work on the part of the publisher.

If you don't have software that does this, the easiest way to make an RSS feed is by using blog software, like Blogger or WordPress. Just link your MP3 files to your blog, and the software will automatically generate a feed.

If you're looking for another way to make a feed, you might look at software like FeedForAll. You could also write your own XML code. Here are a some tutorials on creating RSS feeds:

RSS Tutorial
Making an RSS Feed

After you've created your feed, you should consider using FeedBurner, which is a service to optimize your feed for various aggregators and make it easier to find.

K12 Handhelds is currently doing workshops on podcasting for education nationwide. Contact us for more details at info@k12handhelds.com or at 800-679-2226.

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