Podcasting

Lazy early morning waves crash against the shore on the coast of Maine. I'm walking with Bob Sprankle, a teacher from Maine. As we walk, I interview him with a microphone, asking the third- and fourth-grade teacher why he became interested in podcasting. He turns to the microphone and says, "Gee, it seems like just yesterday that I started to even find out about podcasting..."

Stripping away the veil of technology (and fashionable white ear buds), it turns out that there is no beach, there are no waves, and nearly one thousand miles separate us. That is podcasting.

Employing elements of both radio and blogging, podcasting has enormous potential for providing learning experiences for children.

The advent of MP3 players such as IPods and Zen Micros (right) has created podcasting, a combination of blogging and radio. Thousands of educational podcasts are now on the web.

At its most basic level, podcasting involves a person (or team) recording an audio program and saving the program as an MP3 file then uploading the file to the Internet and placing a link to the file in a Weblog (see "Education Web Logs" in the August 2003 issue). The Weblog includes an RSS feed (see "The ABCs of RSS" in the May 2005 issue), and listeners subscribe to the podcast program by adding the RSS feed to their aggregator (iTunes, iPodder, or others), resulting in audio automatically being downloaded into their computers' media players and mobile MP3 players (for example, iPods) as the podcasts are published.

In reality, my interview with Sprankle was conducted via e-mail. Sprankle produces Room 208 (www.bobsprankle.com/blog), a weekly podcast program, with his students. Sprankle answered the questions with his microphone, saved the audio as an MP3 file, and e-mailed the file back to me. I then assembled the questions and answers into a single audio file. To give a sense of place, I added downloaded sound files of waves and sea gulls and then uploaded the resulting MP3 file to the Internet, providing a link to the file in my Web log, Connect Learning (http://connectlearning.davidwarlick.com). To access the interview, read Episode 27, and click the Podcast icon.

Podcasting will appeal to educators on two levels. First, there is the listening element. There are thousands of regular podcast programs available, many of them featuring curriculum content. One example is History According to Bob (www.summahistorica.com), a daily 10-minute program produced by Professor Bob Packett, a history teacher at Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City. You can explore thousands of podcast programs by browsing a variety of directories (For a podcast directory, go to www.teachlearning.com).

The other side of podcasting is ease of production. With a laptop and free downloadable software, you can start your own podcast today. The quality will depend largely on the microphone, but most people make no investments beyond that.

David Warlick is a blogger, podcaster, author, programmer, and public speaker.

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