Did you hear? Well, don’t worry if you missed it the first time around, podcasting has come of age for NECC 2006. More than two dozen sessions, including Nicholas Negroponte’s keynote, are slated to be offered at no charge through Apple’s iTunes music service (http://www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts/, browse education:K-12). Free software for accessing iTunes is available on the Apple site (http://www.apple.com) for both Windows and Macintosh systems. But this is NECC, so of course it isn’t just about being a passive receiver of content. Podcasting is a powerful tool for the classroom and there are a number of sessions and workshops dedicated to exploring the uses of the technology. You can easily find podcast sessions in the Final Program by looking for the podcast icon next to session titles.

Not exactly sure what a podcast is? You’re not alone. As with many tech buzzwords, podcast has multiple meanings, and is used both as a noun (the content) and a verb (the creating of the content). Originally, (about a year ago) a podcast was more specifically defined as a digital audio file that was “pushed” to subscribers over the Internet, usually through an RSS feed. Current usage has become much broader. According to the Oxford English Dictionary’s newly adopted definition, the noun form is “a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar programme, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.” If muddled definitions aren’t making the concept clear, you can check out some introductory sessions, other sessions showing how podcasting can be used in support of the school curriculum, and even participate in creating a live podcast at NECC.

Podcast production support for the iTunes archives is being provided by a team of Apple Distinguished Educators. CUE will be offering a number of podcasting events, including a live podcast recording session in Room 31B. Among the podcast-related sessions are a variety of practical curriculum-grounded uses, basic to advanced tutorials, and much information on how to integrate podcasting with other exciting emerging technologies such as Web 2.0 applications, blogging and smart phones.

Although the official program is rich in podcasting-related content, the number of unofficial NECC podcasts is expected to explode this year. With low-cost MP3 players often including recording capabilities, both the effort and expense of getting started in podcasting is amazingly low. Highly compressed and efficient MP3 and WMA audio formats are especially good for creating relatively small voice files that still sound quite good.

J.V. Bolkan is a staff writer for the NECC Daily Leader.