Pocket power

17th June 2005 at 01:00
A new phenomenon is sweeping the internet. David Baugh investigates how podcasting could soon be arriving at a classroom near you

Podcasting is being hailed as the "next big thing" that will succeed blogging (web logging) and email as the way people want to publish and receive information - in this case sound - via the Web.

Podcasting is a web-based broadcasting medium where audio files are made available for download, but instead of a user having to go to a website to find the audio file, they can be detected automatically and downloaded to a computer-based audio player like iTunes. This is done in much the same way as subscribing to news feeds. To access these files you need to subscribe to the host site and download a podcast aggregator program, called a podcatcher, such as iPodder or iPodderX. Once the files are downloaded to your audio player they can be transferred to an iPod - hence the name podcasting - or any other MP3 player.

A recent report estimated that there were over six million regular podcast users and iPodder.org has over 4,000 active podcasts in its directory. So what are the implications for education?

Musselburgh Grammar School in East Lothian has been using podcasts to keep pupils informed with audio files containing entertainment, achievements of the school and news on forthcoming whole-school events. It is also used in the modern foreign language department to get audio recordings of vocabulary and listening tasks to pupils.

French and German teacher, Ewan McIntosh explains, "I can force-feed vocab to pupils every week when they synchronise their MP3 player with the latest Britney Spears or Slipknot. They can then practise the vocab or listening material on the bus, in the park or in their bedroom."

The idea of force-feeding perhaps needs some explanation. "A podcast can't be left in the bottom of a schoolbag, like a conventional vocab sheet so it will always be there in the music library on the computer and on the iPod," says Ewan.

The other exciting aspect of podcasting is the chance for pupils to create their own podcasts. This could take the form of a virtual school trip to Normandy, an idea used at Musselburgh Grammar School or, say, a radio station.

The Downs CE Primary School in Walmer, Kent, took this idea and not only provide downloadable radio shows but also use iTunes, GarageBand and Nicecast to produce live internet radio broadcasts. Teacher, Mark Warner has been really pleased with the reaction to his pupil's work. "We've had lots of positive reactions and support. The other teachers enjoy having a 30-minute show to listen to with their class on a Friday afternoon, and the other children really enjoy a chance to get involved with the show."

The creative experience of making a Podcast is wonderful for children and being able to share this with a wide audience is not only motivating but inspirational. Mark says that he has children lined up for the next two years ready to work their lunch hour on the Downs FM station.

It is certain that the next few months will see a greater use of podcasting in education - it is so easy. With technologies converging rapidly, podcasting features will soon become built-in to blogging and web-page design software, making it as easy to post your own podcasts as it is to post a simple web-page.

David Baugh is an adviser with Denbighshire LEA

Podcasting: What do you need?

Recording a Podcast is actually quite straightforward given the right hardware and software.

You will need the following:

* a good microphone

* a computer with a microphone or audio input

* software that will allow recording (ideally multiple simultaneous tracks) and editing of multiple tracks

* software that will allow exporting to MP3 The ideal software choices are either GarageBand (Mac for multiple track recording) or Audacity (MacWindows) which has less features. You can also use an MP3 player with a mic to record audio out and about. These editing programs can be used to mix the Podcast ready for uploading and distribution to the web.

Podcasting links

* Podcasting News - All that is new in the podcasting world www.podcastingnews.com

* iPodder - The home of podcasting to many www.ipodder.org

* Podcast Alley - A large directory of podcasts www.podcastalley.com

* Dukes University iPod information www.duke.eduipod helpfaq.html

* RSS Builder - http:home.hetnet.nlmr_243bsoftrssbuilder

* Feeder - www.reinventedsoftware. comfeeder

* PodderX - www.ipodderx.com

* The Downs CE Primary School - www.downsfm.com

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