My friend and mentor up in Wyoming knows that I occasionally get off on a tanget. This week’s tangent is “podcasting” and the iPodder movement.
What’s Podcast? It’s an audiofile delivered to your desktop via RSS. You can download them manually, if you want, but the key to podcast is that you can schedule the download and delivery of content to happen while you sleep. Just like other RSS backed content, you need to “subscribe” to the feed … that is, tell your software where to look for new content … but once you do that, your little feed-bot will diligently look for new stuff on whatever schedule you care to name. It’s named after the Apple iPod, but any mp3 capable device will suffice — and there are a LOT of new, affordable devices out there.
What is so cool about a podcast? Some of you know my rant on the bandwidth limitation on speech. But I have always maintained that some messages MUST be delivered via audio channels. My usual example is music. Yes, I know that you can write the music down in notational forms, but they do not have the same impact on non-literate readers as the actual performance. I suppose the same must be said for speech.
Lemme back up a bit.
I write like I talk. Anybody who’s ever heard me speak can probably attest to the notion that my voice is my voice whether it’s here or there. But there are some instances where my voice just can’t translate. Phrasings that require specific timing need to be modified to be effective in print. Sentences that work in print come off as choppy and terse in speech. So SOME messages might work better in the native audio mode.
Messages like “radio plays” for example.
If a blog is a magazine, then a podcast is a radio show. Anybody remember the little 3minute “Cosmic Muffin” blurbs that used to be syndicated on radio across the country? A podcast might be something like that. Or it might be like Adam Curry’s “Daily Source Code” — a 40-60 minute recap of the day in the life of an ex-MTV VJ, bonvivant, and founder of the podcast movement. I recently listened to a podcast of an in-studio radio program from Talkeetna Alaska featuring a bluegrass band from Juneau. Pop-Tech was held last month in Camden Maine and recorded sessions from those presentations are available from the IT Conversations blog. Some of this is fascinating stuff. Some of it is drek. Some of it is just amusing. If you’re over 21, you need to listen to The Dawn and Drew Show — someplace where your kids can’t hear it. The language and topic selection are a bit … er … off-color.
But I digresss.
Recording lectures still strikes me as Wrong, but what if we made the content available in modes that took advantage of the technology. The use of foley artists and background music to punch up the message. Information delivery in a radio play. Firesign Theatre School of Instructional Design. Garrison Keeler knows how this works and so do his listeners. Guy Noir would make a great teacher.
And the delivery mode, via automated RSS driven downloads in offpeak hours, makes this medium available.
Bandwidth and accessibility issues are still problems. The rule of thumb (1mb of storage for a minute of audio) is based on roughly 128kbs (a relatively high quality mode). Reduce that to 64kbs, and we’re now at 1/2 a mb and we still have pretty decent quality for music. Add mp3 compression and we have a file that even dialup people can download in a reasonable amount of time – especially if the message is tightly tuned to 10minutes duration or less. My podcast folder has a lot of 40 minute “shows” in the 16mb range. Accessibility for students who are deaf will still be a problem, but that would be a problem for most lecturers as well.
This is bleating edge technology, folks. Coming on top of blogs and wiki’s, it’s a LOT to assimilate. But it’s also one of the better applications of technology that I’ve seen come along in awhile. It does for “radio” what the web did for “print” by lowering the barriers to entry to the absolute minimum basically removing license, frequency, and equipment expense. All you need to produce content here is a mic, some disk space, a little bit of cheap/free software, and a server.
What can distance education do with quality audio, delivered to the desktop in small doses using technology no more complicated than email, and requiring only dialup levels of bandwidth? I can only imagine.
Nathan Lowell, Ph.D.