Podcasting for schools

Podcasting for schools – the basics

Podcasting can help reach pupils that more traditional methods cannot. But how does it work?

Podcasting is becoming a bit of a big deal in the internet world, doing for audio on the web what blogging has done for text – making the production and dissemination of audio available to all; putting the means of production in the hands of the many. For schools, it offers the chance to provide lessons and learning opportunities in a way more likely to engage students than more traditional methods and can help reach children outside the classroom (for whatever reason). Podcasting isn’t about to replace teachers, but it could help them out a little.

The good news for the technophobics is that podcasts are (relatively) simple – the MP3 files generated by podcasters are relatively easy to create and don’t require high-priced equipment, allowing teachers to record without a large investment of time or money by the school. In addition, the RSS (really simple syndication) technology that downloads new podcasts automatically, keeps users (pupils, parents, governors and others) from having to visit each individual site. Then the podcasts can be listened to on a computer or, more frequently, transferred to a portable MP3 player (or iPod), Pocket PC, or mobile phone that can play audio files.

So, in simple terms, how do you do it?

To start at the start – the word podcasting is derived from iPod – Apple’s ubiquitous media player – and broadcasting, because most podcasts are so dissimilar to chunks of radio broadcasts (and, indeed, many podcasts are just that).

You won’t need much hardware: you’ll need a computer – a Mac or PC with a recent version of either Windows or Mac OS X. The only other hardware you’ll need is a microphone. Don’t use an internal microphone in a computer. These will pick up ambient sounds, such as the noise of the computer, as well as anything you move on your desk while recording. And schools aren’t the quietest places to do these things. Don’t use a cheap mic that may have come with your computer either – they’re often pretty low-quality.

Spend a little to get a decent quality microphone and you’ll hear the benefit, and after that, you’ll just need a way to make sure your PC or Mac can record from it – a sound card capable of recording through a microphone-in port shouldn’t break the bank either.

Recording your own voice is relatively simple, and there are a variety of programs that can do this, the most popular being Audacity, which can record, edit and process your audio files. It has several advantages: it is multi-platform (Windows 98 and later, Mac OS 9 and X, and Linux), and, more importantly, it’s free.

This open-source program has become the standard tool for podcasters. Everything you record with Audacity appears on screen as sound waves that you can edit very much like a word processing program: as with a page full of words, you can zoom in and out to see more or less of the audio wave on screen at once, select portions with a cursor, and delete or format those portions as you desire. You’ll want to delete your “erms” and “y’knows” wherever they appear, and you can also use the cursor to snip out boring parts of your recording. After each recording, save your file in WAV (uncompressed) format – it’ll take up a bit of space on your hard drive, but it’s the best format to guarantee you don’t compromise on sound quality.

After you’ve completed editing your recordings, you can export your finished podcast in MP3 format and to do that, you can either download the LAME MP3 encoder as a helper for Audacity, or use the more user-friendly iTunes. Either site will walk you through the process.

And once there, you’ll need to set up an RSS feed (really simple syndication) so that users can subscribe. Again, iTunes is as good a place to start with these things (go to ‘publish a podcast’ on the left hand side), but there are plenty of RSS systems willing to take you on – Netnewsire (for Macs) and Netnewpoint (for PCs). Again, these will be better placed to talk you through their individual processes.

So that’s the technical bit done – but what on earth do you actually podcast?
What will you say?

You’ll need to plan ahead – don’t just sit down and wing it, work out what you want to include. Podcasts are a great way of telling children and parents what is going on at your school, for helping children share their work and enthusiasms, of sharing lesson plans and, possibly most importantly, sharing lessons – allowing pupils outside the school walls to plug in to what goes on in the classroom.

What’s more, it gives pupils who were in the classroom the chance to listen again to what the teacher said on a topic, to re-check those notes and make sure, as well as to make it easier for non-English native speakers to re-listen to a lesson without the distractions that may make instant translation difficult the first time around.

A decent podcast can also mean that you can cover the basics without wasting classroom time. The simple delivery of the facts of a lesson in a podcast frees up the lesson itself for more detailed work – or, conversely, can provide the extra detail that takes some pupils off into other directions that a simple lesson can’t contain.

And if it’s the class itself producing the podcast, then instantly you’re talking about teamwork, enterprise, technical literacy and planning, as well as the need to research and write up the podcast topic in itself, and the chance for children to engage in a medium they may find rather cooler than a whiteboard. Let the pupils listen to other podcasts to find out what others are doing and then you can let them loose. And once they’ve found that they have an audience, the only limit is that of their imagination.


Creating a podcast


Lame MP3 encoder

Podcast Generator

Understanding RSS feeds



School podcasts
Downs FM

Radio Sandaig
The Education Podcast Network

Relevant link

Why Apple in education

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