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Pete Roythorne gets to grips with podcasting

Podcasting is the latest technology to take the internet by storm.

But can it be used in the classroom?

A podcast is an audio file which is posted on the internet and then downloaded by a user directly to their computer-based audio player (such as iTunes) and from there to a portable MP3* player, such as Apple's iPod... hence the name podcast.

The great thing about podcasts is that they can be automatically detected and downloaded to your computer, although you can also download them manually.

If you've ever used a news feed service, where news is downloaded to your computer whenever you log-on, this works in much the same way. When you receive your podcast update you'll get a file with a brief description of the podcasts and a link which enables you to download them to your computer. To get started, you need a podcatcher (try either iPodder or iPodderX) which enables you to receive the information.

Then you need to subscribe to a podcast site of your choice. Oh, and you'll need an audio player on your computer. Once you've done this, you're free to transfer the download onto a portable MP3 player. The advantage of transferring them to a portable player is that you can listen to your podcast on the move.

The educational impact of podcasts becomes clear when you consider the content. Musselburgh Grammar School in East Lothian, for example, is using podcasts in modern language tuition, sending out audio files that include vocabulary and other listening materials. This means children can be developing their language skills on the bus or in their bedroom.

If you want other ideas of what you could put into your podcast, how about texts that would have been read in the past, lectures, music to be studied, interviews with experts, or even plays? In fact, the list is pretty much restricted only by your imagination.

Downs CE Primary School in Walmer, Kent, has taken this a step further by producing downloadable radio shows by simply using a combination of iTunes, GarageBand (try Audacity for Windows) and Nicecast. The content of these shows can be as educationally viable as you want to make them, but the process of creating their own radio show can be hugely motivational for pupils.

So expect to see podcasts appearing in a classroom near you very soon... if they haven't already arrived.

* MP3 is the type of audio file most popular for use across the internet


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