From his home computer in Berlin, N.J., 13-year-old computer enthusiast Matthew Bischoff is attracting quite a following. The creator of an online technology news program for like-minded technology-buffs, Bischoff is among a cadre of young technophiles experimenting with a just-emerging form of online communication: podcasting.

A descendant of web logs, or blogs, podcasts are pre-recorded audio files that can be posted to text-based blogs in the form of MP3 music files. (For more on blogs, see the new eSN Ed-Tech Insider) The recordings, similar to amateur radio broadcasts–except not live–can be accessed from a traditional desktop or laptop computer or downloaded to a handheld device, such as Apple’s popular iPod, for busy users who prefer to listen on the go.

Convenient, sure. But are schools using the technology? Not yet–but they soon could be. Bischoff, who attends Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, a private Catholic institution in southern New Jersey, said he’s already discussed the concept with a few of his teachers. “It wouldn’t be that hard for a teacher to record lessons and podcast [them] on the internet for students,” he said, adding that many of his teachers seemed willing to entertain the idea.

From eSN Ed-Tech Insider:
Will Richardson
on podcasting

“I heard this Podcast created by Matthew Bischoff, an eighth-grader (that’s right, 8th) from here in lovely New Jersey. Put me on the bandwagon. It’s about five minutes long, but you only have to listen to about the first 30 seconds to really get the potential with this….”

  • READ MOREBischoff envisions a time in the not-too-distant future when students will use podcasts to catch up on missed class time or review critical lectures prior to tests. Using the iPod feature, Bischoff suggested, students could even study on the bus if they wanted to.
  • Craig Nansen, technology coordinator for the Minot Public Schools in North Dakota and an ardent supporter of the educational value of blogs, said the concept of podcasting reminded him of an initiative launched earlier this year at Duke University, in which all incoming freshman received Apple iPods preloaded with school-related information–from answers to common questions about orientation to a recording of the school’s fight song.

    In class, Duke students reportedly are using the iPods to record interviews conducted for school research and to access audio clips, as well as recorded exercises extracted from textbooks–not to mention for listening to music while making the trek across campus (see story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=5193).

    For teachers, Nansen says there is an obvious benefit to recording lectures online for students to download. The technology also could prove useful for language classes, music classes, and other courses that rely heavily on an audio component–and it could help personalize communications between schools and their stakeholders. (Imagine parents listening to personally recorded messages from a principal or superintendent.)

    On the student side, however, Nansen questions whether the technology will discourage kids–many of whom already keep their own personal blogs online–from writing more. Living in the digital world, he says, some students are losing sight of the need for good writing mechanics.

    Still, Nansen and others see potential for the technology in schools.

    Unlike DJs on traditional radio stations, podcasters needn’t worry about having their latest lectures on Shakespeare’s Macbeth or the Spanish-American War yanked for poor ratings.

    Although it’s no secret that advertising revenue driven by consumer listening habits have long dictated the flavor of programming approved for commercial airwaves, Bischoff notes the internet doesn’t discriminate based on the size or personal interests of the audience, which means it doesn’t matter whether one listener or 100 will download his podcast; the show will go on–no matter what.

    “You can talk as long or as little as you want about anything,” added the teenage host, who says more than 700 listeners downloaded one of his most recent podcasts. The half-hour program, which he calls “ESC from the World!,” is a combination technology news and tech-support show.

    Unlike streaming video or audio, podcasts must be pre-recorded, which means they would be of little help covering live news or events.

    But Bischoff doesn’t mind. According to him, the quality and versatility of a podcast as compared with, say, streaming audio is worth the wait.

    “I never really understood what was so great about streaming anyway,” Bischoff said. With podcasts, he explained, listeners don’t have to put up with the nagging pauses and constant buffering that can plague live streaming video and audio feeds. Plus, he said, the recorded-audio technology is more mobile, enabling people to listen on the move–if they have an iPod or similar device.

    And these aren’t just the opinions of a 13-year-old computer prodigy from southern New Jersey. Podcasts are beginning to crop up everywhere.

    Three months ago, podcasting was nothing more than a fledgling concept being kicked around in chat rooms and cyber cafés. Today, more than 200 podcasts are available online. From online poker players to board-game enthusiasts, the technology has created a niche for nearly anyone who’s ever surfed the web. (For a directory of available podcasts, see the web site Podcaster.net.)

    To create his podcast, Bischoff uses an open-source software program called Audacity to record and edit his speech. When he’s finished recording, he then uploads the program in the form of an MP3 file to his personal blog and provides listeners with a link to the recording from his web site. It’s then up to individual audience members whether they want to listen to the program from their computer or download it to their iPod, he says.

    Not a technology buff? For as little as $5 a recording, one web site–audioblog.com–provides a service that takes audio files submitted by subscribers and uploads them as podcasts for use on the subscribers’ blogs. Another web site–InstantAudio.com–let’s you make multiple audio files during an membership period. In November, InstantAudio has a limited-time, introductory subscription offer for $1. After the introductory period, the fee jumps to $29.95 per month. There, you can upload audio or make recordings via telephone, although in the latter case, the call costs 14.9 cents per minute.

    Steve Burt, senior content developer for Clarity Innovations Inc., agrees the technology has potential for schools, but he cautions it’s a long way from widespread classroom adoption.

    For teachers, he said, the challenge isn’t so much in learning to use the technology–essentially, all they’d have to do is clip a microphone to their collar and begin recording–but in mastering software applications that would enable them to edit out all of the disruptions likely to occur in the classroom.

    “Truth is, most teachers aren’t very polished lecturers,” he said. With all of the background noise and other disruptions, the recordings in their raw form would be of little use to students. “It reminds me a lot of sitting in a bar and overhearing what someone is saying,” he said of most podcasts.

    But down the road, Burt believes, the technology will have tremendous applications for professional development. Instead of recording lectures for students, he said, teachers and administrators could use the in-class recordings to conduct self-assessments and help improve the overall quality of classroom instruction.

    Another idea is to provide audio resources for teachers, including podcasts of lectures by famous educators and others for review outside of school, he said.

    Then, of course, there is the idea of students one day creating their own podcasts.

    Podcasting “really is so new that we’re not exactly sure what is going to happen with it,” said Will Richardson, supervisor of instructional technology and communications at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, N.J., and a self-described “blogvangelist.” But educators are sure to find some applications for the technology, he said.

    Links:

    Audioblog.com
    http://www.audioblog.com

    Clarity Innovations Inc.
    http://www.clarity-innovations.com

    eSN’s Ed-Tech Insider
    http://www.eschoolnews.com/eti/index.php

    InstantAudio.com
    http://www.instantaudio.com/

    iPodder.net
    http://ipoddernet.sourceforge.net

    ESC for the World!
    http://www.matthewbischoff.com/mt

    Podcaster.net
    http://www.podcaster.net