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Podcasting Principles

The following is a transcript of the "Podcasting Principles" multimedia presentation available here.

Welcome to this presentation aimed at briefly answering the question, “What is a podcast?” I’m Jason Rhode, Assistant Director of the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at Northern Illinois University.

The focus of this presentation is to provide NIU faculty and staff with a quick introduction to the technology of podcasting as well as briefly touch on a few of the instructional benefits and considerations for using this new medium for information delivery.

So, what is a podcast? Well…the word podcast initially was coined by combining the words "iPod" and "broadcasting." The folks at Apple, Inc. blazed a trail for podcasting when they made their popular iPod digital music player. With time, the iPod became incredibly popular and is today the most popular portable digital media player on the planet.

A podcast offers a way for people to be able to selectively subscribe to audio or video content over the Internet. An RSS feed is at the heart of every podcast, as it makes it possible for the automatic syndication and aggregation of new content. Subscribing to a podcast is free as the term "subscription" refers to signing-up for new episodes but not that any payment is required.

The content that an individual subscribes to can then be automatically added to a mobile device, like an iPod. The true power of a podcast therefore lies in the universality and mobility of the content. A subscriber can either listen to and/or view the content of a podcast on a computer that has downloaded the new content via an Internet connection or on a portable media player.

Many people think that you have to have an iPod to listen to a podcast….and that is definitely NOT the case. A podcast can be listened to on any computer or portable media player. New podcast content is referred to as a new episode, in the same way that a new television show in a series is also an episode. Using the television metaphor, the podcast is like the television series while each individual media file is the episode.

Leo Laporte makes a great analogy of podcasting when likening it to "TiVo for the radio." Many podcasts take the form of radio shows delivered over the Internet. Because of the nature of the delivery, subscribers to a podcast aren’t required to listen to the episode when it was broadcasted live. Rather, the subscriber can listen to the new episode whenever it is convenient.

Podcasts offer another way to distribute media that is not limited by the size of the projected audience. The process to distribute a new podcast episode to 10,000 listeners is no different than that of publishing for just 1 listener. Once someone subscribes to your podcast, their media aggregator, also referred to as a podcatcher, will do the work of looking for new episodes and downloading them when available.

Podcasting is an avenue to reach a potential audience that is distributed worldwide…there are no limitations to a certain geographic location. Most traditional television or radio stations can only reach individuals in a defined broadcast area, whereas podcasts can be subscribed to by anyone on the Internet.

At the heart of ever podcast is an XML file, also referred to as an RSS feed. This is the critical component of the podcast and is actually what makes a podcast unique from a random collection of media files. I’ll explain more about this XML file in just a moment.

In order for someone to subscribe to a podcast, he or she needs access to a computer that is connected to the Internet as well as a free media aggregator, also sometimes referred to as a podcatcher. When the user finds a podcast that she wants to receive all the new content for, she simply subscribes to the podcast. This one-time subscription process simply involves entering into the aggregator the URL, or physical location for where the podcast XML file is located on the Internet. Once the software on the users computer knows the location of the podcast XML file, also sometimes called a feed, the user determines how frequently the aggregator should check for any new content.

Now…when the author of the podcast adds new content by uploading a media file to a web server, an entry is automatically added to the XML file for the podcast that includes details about the new episode, such as the title, description, and location of where the new file happens to reside online.

The subscriber's aggregator then automatically downloads new content to the subscriber's computer as it becomes available. This is an automatic process for the subscriber…no manual searching for new files or downloading is required!

As each new episode is added to the podcast, the aggregator will routinely check the podcast XML file and then download new episodes. It doesn’t matter how many episodes the author includes in his podcast. The subscriber can view all new episodes on his computer or if he happens to have a mobile media player, he can sync the podcast with his mobile device to listen to or view new content anywhere that he wishes to go with a mobile device.

The podcast therefore is a lot more than just an audio or video file…it is combination of an RSS feed along with one or more media files referred to as episodes.

I've mentioned "listening" quite a bit when referring to podcasts, but podcasts don’t have to just be audio. While audio podcasts certainly are the most popular and universal, other types of podcasts, such as video podcasts also referred to as "vodcasts" and enhanced podcasts are becoming increasingly popular. An enhanced podcast is a podcast that has artwork synchronized to audio chapters within a track.

Why consider podcasting? Well…for one the cost…it’s rather inexpensive! Basically anyone with a microphone and an Internet connection can start podcasting. You don’t need any expensive equipment to get started.

The immediacy of podcasting is also very appealing. You can record audio from virtually anywhere and with just a few clicks publish that audio to share with others. Podcasting makes it possible to reach everyone who wants to hear what you want to say.

The automated delivery of new content is yet another very attractive feature of podcasting. In regards to instructional applications, content that is podcasted can be pushed to students rather than relying on them to visit a website or online course management system like Blackboard to located new materials and then download.

Subsequent online tutorials and handouts, as well as face-to-face workshops offered by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at NIU address the principles and pragmatics of incorporating podcasts into teaching in greater detail. Visit the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center Web site for more information about upcoming programs and resources for NIU faculty and staff at www.niu.edu/facdev.

Last Updated: 9/10/2014