Podcasting Tips and Tricks

[Below is the text of my presentation at this year’s RECAP conference.]

For the past three years, I’ve been podcasting my lectures in the introductory course in mass communication I teach at West Chester University. Students have often told me that the lecture podcasts have been a valuable study aid, and have helped make the large lecture hall experience more manageable and enjoyable.

Despite an early concern that attendance might suffer from making my lectures available as podcasts, I have not found this to be a problem. A comparison of the Blackboard tracking data for the podcasts I did during the 2005-2006 academic year found no significant correlation between podcast use and attendance. Subsequent surveys found most students use podcasts as a supplement to the class lecture, rather than as a substitute for attendance.

Here are a few “tips and tricks” I have learned from my experience with podcasting lectures…

Pay attention to the audio. A lecture is not very valuable if the students can’t hear it. Sometimes I have used the built-in microphone on my laptop computer to record my lecture, and as long as I don’t stray too far away from it, this seems to work fine. But since I tend to move around a lot during my lectures, I’ve found I achieve better results when using a separate microphone. I have used small digital audio recorders with some success, although it pays to invest in a good one (I use the Sony ICD-SC25). Newer iPods have the ability to directly record high-fidelity audio with inexpensive add-ons like the MicroMemo from XtremeMac; this company also sells a matching lapel microphone called the MemoMic that is ideal for lectures.

Syndicate your podcasts. At first, I simply uploaded the digital recordings of my lectures to Blackboard, but this isn’t really podcasting, as the content isn’t “syndicated” using a “feed.” Since the version of Blackboard we use on my campus lacks the ability to create such feeds, I use the free service at feedburner.com. Feedburner helps me create the RSS feed that I then insert as a content item on Blackboard (or any web page). They even provide me with a free web page for the podcast feed (for example, here’s the feed page for my Spring 2007 course in mass communication). Although they don’t host podcasts, other sites do, including archive.org and putfile.com.

Provide more than just audio. While my first podcasts were simple audio recordings, most of my podcasts now include graphics that can be displayed along with the audio. Sometimes called “enhanced podcasts,” this kind of podcast takes advantage of the ability of digital audio files to store and display graphics that change according to chapter markers embedded in the file. Originally intended as a way to provide “album art” for music files, this feature can also be used to display PowerPoint slides or other graphics that are part of a lecture. A program that I have been using for the past year that greatly aids in the process of creating “enhanced podcasts” is ProfCast (www.profcast.com). This is an inexpensive tool that can work with both PowerPoint and Keynote presentation software, allowing you to record your podcast while giving a lecture. (At the moment, ProfCast is only available for the Mac, although a Windows version may be forthcoming.)

Consider vidcasts. Video podcasts (vidcasts) are growing in popularity, and are becoming easier to produce. Because most of my lectures are an hour or longer in length, I’ve been hesitant to create video podcasts of my lectures, since these can be very large files. But with bandwidth issues subsiding and compression techniques improving, lecture vidcasts may soon become the norm. One promising tool for video podcasters is VODcaster (www.twocanoes.com/vodcaster/). Although it is not as easy to use as ProfCast, it does offer a number of useful features, and it’s free.

Use free web tools. There are plenty of web sites that offer free tools for podcasters. Here are a few:
Splashcast: splashcastmedia.com
Podcast Alley: www.podcastalley.com
Audicity: audacity.sourceforge.net
Our Media: www.ourmedia.org
SpinXpress: spinxpress.com
Freevlog: www.freevlog.org
Blip TV: blip.tv
Veodia: www.veodia.com
Putfile: www.putfile.com
Lifelogger: lifelogger.com
Educational Podcast Network: www.epnweb.org

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