Podcasting for Education

I just wanted to capture some possible compelling uses for podcasting in an educational setting.

  • Lectures. Imagine students being able to subscribe to an RSS feed, and have recordings of every lecture automatically stored on their hard drive or iPod or whatnot for review. This would remove the need for the dozens of recorders at the front of a large lecture hall, all getting crappy and redundant audio. Why not produce a single quality feed, and let everyone use it? (on a related note – why not share a single high quality set of notes, rather than making lectures a speed-writing test…)
  • Interviews with external resources – an instructor could interview a scientist, or someone practicing whatever the subject is, and add that recording to the RSS feed for the class – making it available to all students. Something like a Campus iTunes Music Store could do something similar, but everyone would have to go to it and grab the files, rather than have them quasi-pushed out to them.
  • Lots of other things I haven’t come up with…

It’s the second point I’m hoping to play around with – documenting some of the thinking and developments by some of the folks in the learning technology field – hopefully I’d be able to do something like an ITConversations for educational technology stuff. If it works, and doesn’t completely suck, I’d use that as an example for faculty who are interested in the concept. If it doesn’t work, or completely sucks, well – that’s a valid data point as well… The shared lecture audio is a no brainer, in my mind…

The various bits that make up podcasting have been around forever (digital audio, internet distribution, RSS syndication), but the combination of the three makes for a system that approximates a personalized radio station. Imagine each institution having its own podcast directory, and students (as well as faculty) could select which ones they wanted automatically downloaded for review, in their own “university radio station” aggregation…

And Steve Sloan offers up these ideas:

  • for distance learning
  • to facilitate self-paced learning
  • for re-mediation of slower learners
  • to allow faculty to offer advanced and or highly motivated learners extra content
  • for helping students with reading and/or other disabilities
  • for multi-lingual education
  • to provide the ability for educators to feature guest speakers from remote locations
  • to allow guest speakers the ability to present once to many sections and classes
  • to allow educators to escape the tedium of lecturing
  • to offer a richer learning environment

Simple Podcasting Setup

I was just messing around with some of the various options for recording a podcast, and think this solution will work quite nicely: Snapz Pro X 2.0. It is usually intended to be used as a screen recorder, but also does an excellent job of recording both system sound and microphone input. I set it to record a 1×1 screen capture movie, and discard the video track when saving. Then, the .mov file is brought into iTunes, where I convert it to MP3. (set the encoding options properly, and the Advanced menu contains a “Convert selection to MP3″ option.

It looks like Snapz Pro will let me record the incoming audio from iChat (or Skype, or whatever), and mix it with the microphone input, and any other system sounds (like iTunes, or any other source…)

Anyway, if anyone is looking for an easy podcast recording system, this looks pretty good. I’ve got no idea how it works in the field yet, but it worked great in the tests that I ran (just remember to use headphones, so the mic doesn’t pick up the system audio as well)

UPDATE: I just did some testing, and it looks like it’s possible to use freeware for the whole recording/publishing system. I just used Rogue Amoeba’s LineIn program – it is an app that lets you pass the input from the microphone through the speakers, and Ambrosia Software’s WireTap 1.0 which lets you record all audio to a file. The combo works pretty well, and it’s free. WireTap 2.0 was wrapped into Ambrosia’s Snapz Pro 2.0 product, which explains why it does such a nice job of recording all system audio. If the free stuff turns out to not work so well, I’ll go with Snapz Pro 2.0

In my little experiments, I’ve found it really hard not to sound like some brain-dead radio DJ, especially with my voice echoing in my headphones (trick there – get real headphones, or turn down the volume so you can hardly hear it… oh, and remember to talk normally… ;-) )

Podcasting coming to WordPress!

There are some hacks to get RSS enclosures into WordPress 1.2, but I just came across this on the WordPress support forums: TextDrive Community Forum / Request for enclosure_type and enclosure_size fields

It’s already baked into WordPress 1.3-alpha-4, and so will be available in the next version. I’m not quite ready to start messing with alpha software (well, not someone else’s alpha software…), but am looking forward to this… If I give podcasting a shot, I may just bite the bullet and upgrade to 1.3-alpha… Or, I may just try this mod for WordPress 1.2.

UPDATE: I decided to install the hack mentioned above – didn’t want to mess with alpha software, and didn’t want to bork my customizations (and Kubrick) yet… This post now has an enclosure attached, and it should be visible in the RSS feed. Any podcasting experiments I do should automagically appear in that feed…

UPDATE: 2005/01/19 I just upgraded to WordPress 1.5 (nightly build of the alpha) and support for enclosures is now included out of the box. If it doesn’t pick up the .mp3 link and create enclosures automatically, just add a custom field to the post, as described here.

Podcasting

I’ve been listening to non-commercial programming on my iPod for a few months now, being totally hooked on ITConversations. It’s extremely refreshing to have compelling, intelligent content that isn’t full of ads and BE THE 9TH CALLER AND GET TICKETS TO AVRIL LAVINE!!! and mindless DJ drivel crap.

Over the weekend, I played around with iPodderX – an RSS aggregator for these “podcasts” – holy crap, there is some awesome stuff out there! iPodderX checks a bunch of feeds, and automagically downloads the audio linked to each – sort of an on-demand radio station aggregator, without all the suck.

My previous “broadcast” listening experience was typically something like this (in the car, since that’s the only radio I bother to listen to):

  1. Turn on car.
  2. Stab 10 different station presets until something sucks less, or is at least not offensive, or at least provides acceptable background music, or (hopefully) provides some intelligent conversation – occasionally from CBC AM
  3. More often than not, mutter “Gwah! RADIO SUCKS!” before settling on some mindless inane DJ-infested commercial station that brags “Your station is a STANDARD radio station!” – like that’s a good thing
  4. Put up with that crap for the next 5-10 minutes before repeating from step 2 until reaching our destination.

After getting hooked on ITConversations, Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code, and any number of “podcasts”, the process is more like:

  1. press play
  2. enjoy/think/relax

The main problem with podcasts is that I have a limited amount of time to listen, and there is too much awesome content out there. The exact opposite of commercial radio.

I’m even toying around with the idea of doing a podcast on learning objects etc… Perhaps a job for “The Three Amigos”?

When was the last time you wrote a letter?

It’s been so long since I have written (and mailed) an actual ink-on-paper lick-a-stamp kind of letter, that I almost forgot how to do it. It’s been years. I pay all of my bills online (and have, the better part of a decade). Cards etc. are delivered personally. Correspondence is via email or iChatAV or RSS.

I just had to send a letter as part of a travel claim, and it took me a while to remember how to do it. I remember waaay back to my high school days, where they teach you about the format of letters, and how you put salutations etc… I wound up falling back on MS Word’s letter wizard. Thanks, clippy (you evil sack of bits!)

If I had to guess, I would say we likely have a whole generation of young’ns who couldn’t write and mail a letter to save their lives. Sadly, I think I’m slowly falling into that category ;-)

Feed on Feeds

I’ve been experimenting with directed server side aggregators to present the concept to a potential client. The basic goal is to provide something like EduRSS or the new EDUCAUSE blog aggregations for members of a department or faculty (or combinations thereof).

Feed on Feeds looks like a pretty lightweight and functional option. I’m running a test of it now, with a few of the Learning Commons weblogs (and those of the other Amigos so there’s something for the aggregator to chew on).

It’s set to update all feeds on the hour. I’ll look at customizing the look via css when I get a chance.

Efficient Distance Collaboration

Josh and I (and sometimes King) have been utilizing a pair-programming-at-a-distance method of collaboration (not quite like spooky action at a distance, but sometimes it feels pretty close…)

Our magic sweet spot combo of tools includes 2 computers at each end of the pipe, one with VNC (a server at one end, a client at the other), and the other computer acting as “support”, with iChatAV acting as our communications bridge, and various browsers and utilities handy on the non-shared screen. We leave an iChat video connection open, so we can communicate without having to stop editing source code to enter chat mode. This rocks nicely.

We had been using plain audio before, but Josh just got his iSight camera, so the open video line adds another dimension (and even without the video, the audio is much better – without needing headphones to kill the feedback loop). It could also come in handy, since he has a large whiteboard behind his chair, so he can sketch things up on it and I can see what he’s drawing.

I never thought I’d be a such a fan of distance collaboration (although it has worked extremely well before) – it is always better to meet in person. But this combo makes it about as close to a face-to-face meeting as possible. Still not quite there, but pretty darned close.

One of the cooler things about the setup is that, except for the iSight cameras (which are entirely optional, but sure work nicely), the entire setup uses free software. Not necessarily Free Software, but no expense. This blows the doors off of Breeze Live, Centra, and any number of other “collaboration” suites.

We’re seriously thinking of writing a paper, and/or presenting something at the next NMC conference on this setup.

EDUCAUSE Blogs

Not sure how I missed this, but I just came across the EDUCAUSE | Blogs site-within-a-site while surfing Feedster to get the latest stuff from the Educause 2004 conference.

I had no idea that Cyprien Lomas was blogging – met him at the NMC2004 Summer Conference at 2004, and I’ll definitely be following his blog…

The Educause Blog site looks to be pretty much what a department would need to use in order to officially adopt blogging as part of their website – a collection of bloggers and categories, with the ability to view individual bloggers or categories, or collections of any combination thereof. Very nice. They don’t say what software they’re using, so I don’t know if it’s WP, MT, or if they rolled their own…