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Friday, October 28, 2005

Beyond lecture podcasting

It seems clear that lecture podcasting exploded in the Fall of 2005. The buzz around iTunes probably accelerated the process by providing a popular default standard to list podcasts. Providing a one-click subscription mechanism within iTunes also helped. In fact the number of podcasts is so large now that I will not be keeping an updated list in my wiki. Others who are collecting academic podcasts will probably have a lecture category soon.

A few issues and trends are evolving out of this movement.

1) Attendance. It seems strange to me almost every article or comment on lecture podcasting assumes that a decreasing attendance is obviously a negative outcome. As educators we should be focusing on education, not counting bodies. If students are doing just as well and not attending class then that tells me that my multimedia channel is effective. This is exactly what I have observed in my online optional classes (using podcasting and screencasting), where attendance dropped to 10-20% by the last lecture.

2) A new way to teach. Having an archive of lectures available gives me a lot of added flexibility. This term I have assigned the archived lectures (podcasts and screencasts) and instead of lectures I run workshops during class time. I have the chance to interact one on one with every student who needs help with the specific problems that they have. I can use other modalites such as watch them play games or build molecular models from kits. In other words, I can be a teacher again, instead of a parakeet.

3) Open Courseware. As expected not all teachers want to make their podcasts publicly available. Some have even tried charging their students. I really view this as a non-issue over time. A podcast behind a firewall does not make a sound and is effectively invisible to the world. I expect that there will soon be free podcasts on every topic that a teacher somewhere. Open courseware will be part of the new educational model.

4) Providing all course materials. One of the reasons that some teachers are putting up their podcasts up publicly without hesitation is that they know that students really can't learn as well with only the audio component of their lectures. And for most university courses I think that is probably true. If the teacher's intent is to truly teach then they must make available all the resources necessary to learn. From my experience I think that screencasting is a very efficient way of doing this. Podcasting PDF files of lecture notes along with the MP3's is another approach and it can be done with iTunes.

5) Copyright. This topic is tightly associated with open courseware. For audio podcasts this is not that much of an issue but as teachers start podcasting PDFs and Powerpoint presentations, they need to make sure that they do not include materials from textbooks or publisher course packages. I think that publishers are missing an opportunity here. By permitting some material to be used publicly, they would in fact be encouraging book sales. With the hardline stance that I have been running into, they are forcing teachers to create their own problem sets and class materials. They are effectively removing any compelling reason for using their textbooks.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Multi-person podcasts

I have been looking for a simple solution to podcasting multiple people in a room. This has been a problem for my RSS club meetings.

I have tried borrowing microphones and a mixer from Drexel's Instructional Media Services and feeding that into the mic port of my Tablet PC but the sound quality was horrible. IMS told me there was an impedance mismatch so I went to various audio stores tried all kinds of microphones and mixers. I could not find anything that I could use without doing post recording audio amplification.

Finally what I settled on is using the built-in microphone of my Toshiba Portege and amplifying the audio for other speakers through Camtasia. You must first import the AVI file into Camtasia and add it to the timeline with a right-click. Under the Edit Menu, click on Adjust Audio, highlight the flat parts of the audio graph and click the UpVolume icon until every speaker's voice has roughly the same volume. For people who are far, like audience members asking questions, the quality is not great but the questions are usually intelligible.

I have done this now for my last RSS club meeting and the podcasting/screencasting/blog panel I ran at Villanova. Let me know what you think.

I am sure audio recording purists will have issues with this but here are the advantages that I value:
1) No additional equipment (mics, mixers) to carry around. As long as I have my TabletPC I can record meetings. The internal microphones of the recent laptops and tabletPCs are really very good.
2) I think of my main audience as being online so I want to stay in front of the TabletPC to use the mouse pointer during screencasts instead of a laser pointer. That's why I don't recommend using a wireless mic.
3) Scalability and ubiquity. I like having a solution that does not require purchasing and stocking equipment when any faculty in our college wants to record a screencast with any number of people. Then can simply sign out a TabletPC.

One problem with this approach is that the AVI files can become considerably larger after audio editing using Camtasia. For example, a 220 Meg AVI of a 1 hour screencast bloated to 300 Meg after editing. Conversion to Flash using Camtasia generated a 120 Meg file, which is not great if you want to fast forward to the end. Watching from the start is probably still ok for most people since it is streaming.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Next RSS club meeting Friday

RSS club meeting on Friday October 14 at noon in 4020 MacAlister

Join us to discuss the use of blogs, wikis, podcasts, screencasts, games and other technologies in education. Faculty and students are welcome. Previous meetings are archived at http://drexel-coas-talks-mp3-podcast.blogspot.com
Please RSVP Jean-Claude.Bradley@drexel.edu if you plan on attending.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Podcast and Screencast Transcripts

This term I have a student who has a hearing disability in my class. This is my first experience with this type of situation. So far I have been really impressed with the transcribers that Drexel has provided. They have done a great job enabling me to communicate with the student in real time in face-to-face situations, despite the technical terms that must be used in teaching chemistry.

The transcribers are now in the process of transcribing my archived lectures . As they produce the text, it is being posted in a blog. The text is so voluminous that I have created a separate blog to avoid confusion when looking for the screencast lecture archives. We are working to see if we can further improve the process with closed captioning of the screencasts.

This experience is a clear demonstration of the leveraging power of new technologies in education. The transcripts are now available not only to this student but to any other student who can make use of them either because of a hearing disability or simply because it is convenient to do a keyword search to locate class content. Also, because the content is on a blog, it means that my lectures will be easier to find on search engines.

There are others who see the value of such an approach. For example, the video archives of the MIT OpenCourseWare project are being transcribed by OOPS. As I keep repeating in my talks, the power of this new educational framework is the low threshold multiplication of channels to distribute knowledge.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

simplify podcast subscriptions

As podcasting is creeping into the mainstream, I think it is getting more important to simplify the process for newcomers. I had been using the standard orange XML icon on the top of all my podcasts and indicating next to each mp3 that these were part of a podcast feed. That was working well for me until I got a comment last week that it was not clear that this represented a podcast.

This is what I have done to make things clearer on all my podcasts:

1. I changed the orange "XML" icon to a "PODCAST" icon from all my podcast feeds.

2. I created an icon with the words "iTunes podcast" that gives single click subscription to iTunes. Free custom icons can conveniently be made at FeedForAll. The link to the single click subscription can be obtained by right clicking on the podcast feed in iTunes and selecting "copy iTunes Music Store url".

3. I kept the "Subscribe with Bloglines" button that gives single click subscription of the podcast shownotes or lecture notes.

Although I have some reservations about iTunes, especially with their control of file types that can be podcast, I think the single click subscription to podcasts is a huge benefit to novice users.

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