Volume 8 Issue 2 - The Making
of a Podcast (Part 1)
By: Virgil E. Varvel Jr.
Keywords: Podcast, Audio Recording,
Syndication, RSS, mp3
The 'hot' topics in distance education as in any
field are constantly in flux. One key phrase today is flexible learning or
the idea that instruction should be flexible enough to meet the varied needs
of distant students. Flexibility can come in many forms, from the assessment
of students to the timing of course activities to the actual method of instruction.
Into the ideals of flexibility we can thrust the idea that there are certain
preferred pedagogies that seem to define an online learning paradigm. Often,
this paradigm includes the shift away from lectures and PowerPoints to other
means of instruction. Therein lies a conundrum. What about students who actually
do learn well from lectures or content that perhaps can be delivered well
through a lecture (at least in part)? Perhaps there is such a thing as a
monologue that is both informative and dynamic enough to keep the attention
of the students. Such an option could be provided as just that, an option,
in order to allow for flexibility. Such an option could also be provided
not as the central aspect of the course, but as an alternative to other forms
of content delivery that are coupled with valid and authentic assessments
that integrate the students with the content. Once framed in this way, my
own initial resistance to the use of certain pedagogical practices discussed
herein began to fade, and I experienced a newfound appreciation of the possible
educational effectiveness of propertly utilized podcasts, yet another hot
term in the world as a whole today (although the word 'hot' may have been
more appropriate about a year ago).
What is a Podcast?
Simply put, a podcast is a syndicated audio file.
In other words, a pod cast is a collection of audio files that can be subscribed
to so that when a new audio file is added to the collection, those subscribed
to that collection are able in some way to automatically receive the updated
content without specifically requesting the given file. Podcasts rely on
a form of RSS or really simply syndication to allow a device or program to
recognize when audio content has been added at a remote site. The device
or program then retrieves the updated content and creates a local file, often
with additional information that helps to describe the newly uploaded content
such as a description, author, image file attachment, etc. So a podcast is
a combination of audio files and Web files that index the audio files for
Walk Me thought the Process, That's Why
Step 1: Prepare
I know that everyone wants to just jump right
in, but if you really want a quality podcast, you should start with a little
preparation. You should be able to answer all of the following questions
before you begin. There are probably other questions that will occur to you
as you produce your podcast too.
- What is your podcast about? All podcasts need to have a topic. For educational
purposes, this topic should coincide with the objectives for the given
unit of activity.
- What are you trying
to relay to the listener? You need to be telling the students something.
Sometimes students need to be directly told what they are going to be told
so that they know what to listen for.
- Is there an educational objective to this
particular podcast? Whatever it is that the students are being told,
there needs to be a purpose to it.
- Is podcasting a good way to meet that objective for
certain students? If enough students will benefit from the podcast
in the given context, then it is a good idea to proceed.
- Who will be speaking in the podcast? Whoever is speaking will help determine
how the recording will be made.
- Will the speaker be reading from a script? If there is a script, someone
will have to write it. If not, there will still need to be some management
to keep the discussion on track.
- How long will each podcast be? How long can I maintain the student's
attention with the given topic using an audio broadcast? If you need a
lot of time to get a given message across to the students, you may need
to break the audio file into parts that the students can separately access.
- Do I know what I am doing? The more you know about the processes outlined
below, the better able to plan each step you will be.
- What will I record the audio file with? Do I have the necessary equipment?
Will I be using an already prepared audio file? (See step 2 below for more
on this item)
Step 2: Record or Procure
an Audio File
The next step to becoming a podcaster is the
easy step. All you have to do is come up with an audio file. Although you
could really use any file that you wanted to create an syndicated feed, the
preferred audio file currently is an mp3 file, but .wav, .ra, .mid, .mpg,
and others could also be used. There are also enhanced podcasts now that
use m4a, m4b, or m4p, but you can worry more about those once you have some
experience. Generally, you can record your audio in just about any file format
and worry about converting it to mp3 in the next step.
To make a recording, there are many options. In
the field, I personally use a 60GB G5 iPod with Belkin's TuneTalk stereo
microphone. For studio recordings, ION has a small room set up with two professional
quality microphones, a mixing board, a phone bridge, and an audio editing
computer with several software packages. One could go as simple as using
the Sound Recorder application that comes with Windows or Garage Band Suite
is a good choice on a Mac. To port audio from a sound or video recording,
you may need additional equipment such as a video board or firewire port
on your computer to input digital video signals from which the audio can
be extracted. When inputing audio from an external analog device, I use an
external Creative Labs Audigy board with fiber optic auxiliary input, but
there are many options out there.
The key is to figure out what the source
of your audio will be. Determine your budget for spending on recording
equipment. Then gather the necessary equipment and make your recording or
purchase a pre-recording segment that you desire to use.
Tips to/about recording audio
- It is always good to start with a higher quality audio signal, then you
can edit it down to the size that you need and compress the file later.
- Stereo signals are nice, especially if you want to shift the signal during
an interview. The downside is that a stereo coded file is generally larger
than a mono audio file.
- There are many digital audio recorders out there for under $100 that
are high enough quality for a typical podcast.
- Always include some air time at the beginning and ending of the recording.
This time will make creating the beginning and ending effects of the final
audio such as fade in/fade out and clear cuts easier.
- Sometimes people tend to speak faster when they are recording audio.
The plus side is that you get more information per unit time or file size.
The down side is that you may go too fast for some students to fully comprehend
the statements or for those that like to take notes. Speak at a speed at
which you can maintain clarity.
- It is easier to speak from a script than it is to transcribe after you
have spoken. Some people have difficulty maintaining a natural speaking
voice when reading however, which can make the audio difficult to maintain
- For licensing audio that is pre-existing, there are many agencies that
handle audio files depending on the type of file and the producer. A typical
Web search should help locate the licensing agency of the audio. Other
starting places include the Copyright
Clearance Center (generally books,
but sometimes music lyrics and much more), SESAC, ASCAP, BMI,
and CreativeCommons to
name only a few.
Step 3: Edit the Audio
Once you have recorded the audio, you need to
digitize it or move it to your computer and produce the final audio file
that will be podcast. If you used a computer-based recording system such
as a typical computer microphone and recording software, then the file is
already on your computer.
There are many programs out there that allow you
to edit audio on your computer. One popular free tool is Audacity.
I generally use Cool Edit (now Adobe
Audition) or Garage
Band components on a Mac, but there are any number
of products that provide all of the functionality you will need. All you
need is a program that will input the file type that you have and output
the file type that you need. The only extra features that are necessities
are the ability to crop the audio files to remove parts that you don't want,
the ability to merge multiple files together, and the ability to control
the volume of the audio file.
Tips for Editing the Audio
- You don't have to spend a lot of money or any money. There are free tools
out there with the functionality you will need.
- Many people like to add little musical audio segments to the beginning
and/or ending of their podcasts. There are many royalty free and sometimes
license free or shareware/linkware audio loops available on the Web. Search
terms such as 'free audio loops' or 'podcast audio loops' will find many
of these files. I have often used Flash
- The final audio for a podcast lecture or interview does not need to be
high. You can reduce file size by going to mono at lower quality. Try several
settings for your final file until you find one that has quality that suits
- In general, most people are using mp3 currently for their podcast.
Step 4: Putting it on the Web
This step is actually really easy. All you have to do is find
a place on the Web to put your audio files. This can be anywhere on the Web.
When you create your actual podcast feed, you can use any URL to direct
the user to your audio file. You don't even need your own Web hosting service,
which can cost money but can be convenient. There are many sites that are
specific to serving podcasts, but you can really put them anywhere. A few
of the popular places for serving right now include MyPodcast,
MySpace, and any Blog
provider that allows file attachments such as Blogger.
One you have a site, simply upload your .mp3 file to the site and mark down
the URL where the file is at. Most hosting sites will have a Web interface
for uploading your file. If not, directions should be provided on how to
FTP (file transfer protocol) your files to your space.
Step 5: Creating Your Feed
All of the steps above are pretty easy. This step can be easy,
but may take you a while. In order for others to subscribe to your podcast,
you need to have an RSS feed that provides information about your podcast.
This RSS feed is an XML file that is updated with each additional podcast
episode. The feed is a text file that provides specific information about
the audio file that is used by various programs such as iTunes to describe
and subscribe to the feed. Each time a new audio file is added, the RSS feed
is updated with information about the new file so that subscribers can automatically
download the new episode. But you have to first create this XML file somewhere,
somehow, and then have a method for updating this XML file everytime that
you add a new audio file or episode to your podcast. There are at least three
ways that you can accomplish this task. I will outline each of these
methods in the next Pointers & Clickers article.
- The hard but completely under your control method.
- The easy but you have to have a Web server method.
- The easy and completely out of your hands method.