Just show me the movie.
As a first assignment I’ve asked students in my Multimedia Design course to define multimedia. Until they’ve had a chance to respond, I’m going to hold off posting on that subject here. The challenge is to try to tease out the real meanings behind the edu-speak so that when we’re dealing with it, we all know what we’re talking about.
The term “podcast” is my soapbox issue du jour.
Educators have appropriated the term to mean something it’s not. When I hear of this or that teacher “making a podcast” and then “uploading it to WhateverBoard,” I cringe. A podcast is not a kind of file. A podcast is not digital audio. It’s not digital video. It’s not a pdf, or a ppt, or anything else that you load to a server to click on to see, hear, or read. A podcast is the process of delivering media via RSS enclosure tag. Period. No RSS, no podcast. Simple. Easy. Done.
Oh, sure, lots of podcasts have “download the episode here” links on their pages, but that’s a convenience factor. No podcaster — no real podcaster — puts up content without a feed.
But educators are using the term podcast to mean any digital file placed on a server for their students to download. There’s no RSS feed. There’s not even an acknowledgment that what they’re doing isn’t new, innovative, or particularly interesting, in most cases. We’ve had the capability to do digital downloads for over a decade now. Most people simply didn’t bother with it.
And here’s the problem with using the term “podcast” for “digital archive” and pretending it’s something new. It cuts you off the whole body of research into the use of media in educational settings. We’ve been studying how media can be used effectively for half a century. Anybody remember the term “audio-visual?”
What’s the diff between 16mm and mp4 from an educational viewpoint? Maybe only how dark you have to have your room in order to see it. And maybe the fact that mp4s can be delivered over the ‘net.
But from the standpoint of the message — the purpose of using that particular article of media to begin with — it’s pretty much the same whether it’s displayed on 16mm film, vhs tape, digital video disk, or mpeg. We need to keep this in mind. The purpose of using media in educational settings it not to use media. It’s to offer a message.
Furthermore, by using the term “podcast” to mean the content and not the delivery mode, we are abandoning the opportunity to explore the potential of RSS delivered media. While the argument that most people don’t understand RSS — or even know that it exists — is undoubtedly true, what it’s not is valid. Most people don’t know what carburation is — or even that it exists — but many people use it, or a product of it, almost every day. The people who are responsible to implement it have a fine understanding, but the people who drive the cars or ride the busses may never realize that it’s a process as well as a product.
The reality here is that RSS is computer code, which means it’s machine readable. That means it can be searched, parsed, filtered, and combined in ways that allow us to create specific content streams which might be tailored for specific use in a particular course or an educational experience. This course, for example, could be pulling from TED, IT Conversations, and a host of other resources to extract specific content pertinent to multimedia design in the classroom. It’s not. I haven’t built the tools to do it yet, and for all of the promise of the various feed merge and filter tools out there, the problem of finding the few specific grains of of sand on this particular beach rests on resolving some meta-data issues. This problem will be solved — or might be solved — should the people who need that functionality the most — educators — start agitating for it.
But as long as “podcast” means “digital archive” and not “delivery channel” then that’s one problem we’re not going to be solving soon.
Which is why terminology is important.
Now, pass the popcorn! I’m going to watch a movie.
Listen to: Multimedia, Schmultimedia