Academic Technologies is involved in a Web 2.0 grant, which will explore wikis, blogs, and podcasting. For the podcasting part of the grant, we are planning on partnering with iTunes U, which will provide a structure and vehicle for uploading and presenting content. But when should an educator convert an audio and/or video file to a podcast and how can this form of communication best be used? It’s a complicated question, but I want to start discussing this, since we will be more actively involved in the iTunes U initiative after the new year and I want to have somewhere to start.
First of all, remember that a podcast is simply an audio and/or video file that has a special sort of scripting language attached to it that creates an RSS feed, or a link to the podcast and any subsequent “episodes” that are included in this feed. You really don’t need to know the technical specifications for this code, since iTunes U and other programs will convert a file to a podcasting file for you. (A podcast audio file has an m4a extension and an m4v extension for a video file. This extension tells your computer to open the file in iTunes. iTunes is a FREE browser application that will install on both Apple and PCs.)
Preparing a podcast is similar to setting up accounts to pay recurring bills online. It takes a little bit of time to initially set up the accounts, but once you do, the bills are automatically paid. If you are only going to pay a bill one time, it’s probably easier to just write a check. Podcasting, like online bill payments, works best when you have a series of episodes that are linked to one topic, such as a class lecture series, a study guide for a class, foreign language tutorials, and any number of themes or topics. Students can set up the subscription feed to your podcast just once and then are automatically notified of any new content being posted to that podcast. If you have audio/video content that will be posted on a course site for just a few times, it might be easier to simply post that content on a course web site, without the extra effort of setting up the feed and having students subscribe.
So, here’s a simple sentence that encapsulates what I have been trying to say:
THE FEED FEATURE OF FILE DELIVERY IS WHAT DIFFERENTIATES PODCASTING FROM SIMPLY POSTING AUDIO AND/OR VIDEO CONTENT ON THE WEB.
To end today’s posting, I wanted to put in a few key terms that are essential to know when conversing in lingua-podcasta:
XML: Extensible Markup Language, a format for structured information that includes both content and descriptors of what role that content plays.
The new Microsoft Office 2007 programs use XML, for instance, which becomes apparent in its more instant interactive features. Select some text in Word 2007, for instance, and then select a different font. You are instantly shown what that font will look like in your document without having to actually save that change. It’s really pretty neat.
RSS: Really Simple Syndication, an XML format used to publish frequently updated digital content to subscribers.
You use this everyday, most likely, and don’t even know it! When you log on to your Google home page that you have configured, or your Yahoo! home page, you are using RSS. All of the content is being delivered to you as you want it, through RSS.