A couple of weeks ago I speculated about podcasting breaking out of traditional radio and journalism models to find new applications. Since then, I’ve found that many people are ahead of me in thinking about applications, particularly to learning.
I first came across Podcasting for Education by D’Arcy Norman, which makes some suggestions for using podcasts for lectures, interviews and similar audio resources. A couple of days ago, Steve Sloan started his Edupodder weblog, and in his first posting there, he mentions support for learners with reading or other learning difficulties, and multilingual education, among other possibilities.
Via the MANE IT Network blog, I found that Duke University in North Carolina has provided iPods to each of its 1,600+ first-year students, “to stimulate creative uses of digital content by providing the iPod devices as a mobile computing device”. There’s no explicit mention of podcasting, but this Campus Technology article reviews the experiences, including some positive experiences, some scepticism — about whether wireless notebook PCs might not have been much better — and at least one hint of farce, in the shape of a professor who illustrates his teaching on Nietzsche in Ethics & Society classes with tracks by The Doors.
Unlike Nietzsche and Jimbo, we shouldn’t get carried away. At Duke, they provide calendars and text files for download to iPods as well as audio, but iPods aren’t that great for extended reading: audio is what they’re good at. So what they offer is not radically different in quality from what you could have done with a Walkman and cassettes twenty years ago. The Internet, MP3s and podcasting just make the process of sourcing and distributing audio many times more quick and convenient.
Audio has some advantages as a learning resources, as well as some disadvantages (for example, the inability to skim or take in 20 minutes of audio to see whether it contains what you want, compared with 2,000 words of text and image). At the risk of repeating an e-learning cliché, there are no technological silver bullets, and any learning resource will only be successful if it is effectively integrated with other resources in other, complementary media.
But podcasting is still a fun idea to play around with.
Previously I wondered about the BBC using podcasting to supplement or replace its ‘listen again’ streaming service. Now they’re trialling MP3 downloads of the In Our Time programme and encouraging people to listen to them on their iPods (as the Beeb would say: alternative players are also available). It would be a small step for them to add the RSS functionality that would turn these downloads into podcasts. (As an aside, Simon Schaffer, who appears in this week’s programme, taught me at Cambridge 20 years ago. I still have his lecture notes somewhere. I wonder if I’ll be able to play the MP3 of the programme in 20 years’ time.)