NERCOMP – Podcast Producer

Stephen Ragalevsky from Apple was the first speaker at the next session I attended. Stephen showed off Podcast Producer, one of the new features of Mac OS X 10.5 Server. Since I will most likely be upgrading to 10.5 Server sometime in early summer, I found this session to be particularly valuable.

Three new “bleeding edge” services in the new version of Mac OS X Server is iCal Server, a wiki server, and Podcast Producer. I would have liked to have heard more about the wiki server, but that will have to wait.

Capture. Encode. Deliver. That’s the simple way to describe what Podcast Producer does. Well, sort of. Podcast Producer really is mostly about the Encode part. But every Mac running 10.5 client has a capture utility. It’s called Podcast Capture, and it’s in the utilities folder. I just found it on my MacBook right now, and launched it. Unfortunately, it requires an account on a server running Podcast Producer in order to work. It would have been nice if Apple had enabled some features for those who don’t have a server account, but would like to try out Podcast Capture. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to wait. (Although near the end of the presentation, Stephen mentioned that Apple does make a demo server available upon request…contact your sales rep.)

One of the features of Podcast Producer that seems valuable is its tight integration with iTunes U. It is also highly configurable, so one can fully customize the encoding process according to one’s needs. Podcast Producer also provides a web-based interface to enable non-Mac computers to upload podcasts. So working with Podcast Producer is not quite as easy for those using Windows, but the web interface comes close.

Most podcasts today in higher education are captured in a classroom, typically a lecture hall. But Stephen believes that increasingly podcasts will be produced outside of the classroom. Professors will produce podcasts in their office to supplement what they do in the classroom. More and more students will be producing podcasts as part of their creative work for classes.

While Stephen was waiting for the demo podcasts to encode, Jay Rozganyi of Fairfield University shared some of his experiences using Podcast Producer in an academic setting. He used Apple Remote Desktop to demonstrate it on a remote machine, but the network was very slow (probably because so many people were sharing the wi-fi network at the convention center). Jay said that students really like the podcasts, and in particular, audio podcasts, which are smaller and can be used on a wider variety of devices. He also said that faculty love how easy it is to upload podcasts to iTunes using Podcast Producer.

Jay added that from a deployment standpoint, configuring Podcast Producer is not nearly as “user friendly” as is using the program. There is a learning curve that must be mastered by the server administrator. But once the workflows are clearly defined, one can create templates for the workflows that will save a lot of headaches. He offered to share the templates he made for anyone interested.

The audience had a lot of questions at the conclusion of the formal presentation. The session was well attended, and I was encouraged to see how many schools are embracing podcasting. I’ve been podcasting for a few years now, as has one of my colleagues at West Chester, Chris Penny. But podcasting has yet to “take off” at WCU. Podcast Producer, combined with iTunes U, might be just what’s needed to get the broader faculty into podcasting.

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