Podcasting with Bonnie, Thinking about Critical Aspects of Digital Literacy

Bonnie asks a good (and loaded) question here:

How could I bring the podcasts onto the team blog?

Well, a few of you noticed that I tried to test a podcast through my blog/feed the other day. I did that to help Bonnie from HVWP to do a podcast for her tech team. Then, Karen challenged her to write up what she did here. Hooray, Bonnie!

I think that what her experience shows is that there are multiple (sometimes overlapping, sometimes conflicting) ways in which we can post podcasts. And, the technical fact of the matter is that you will get a podcast up doing any one of them.

However, the aspect of this that I am interested in is the critical/rhetorical one. Does it matter where we post our podcasts? What service we use? Whether it is on Archive.org or through a site like Odeo? How does that change the “instructions,” especially if you hit a snag? How does it change our understandings of what a podcast is and what it does?

We have struggled with this issue of creating tech guides at RCWP for a long time. I have often been asked to write “how to” guides, and I have only done one. Why? Because the set of instructions that I wrote was out-of-date by the time I did the workshop that night due to a technical change in the site we were using. Sigh… My “how to” guides are usually very fluid and, as of lately, always on a wiki so people in the workshop can help me co-construct the guide as we go along. Here is the pre-NWP trip guide.

To me, learning to be digitally literate is not only about the technical aspects, but about knowing enough to troubleshoot along the way (perhaps choosing a different hosting site because the one you want isn’t working at the time you want to post the podcast) and think about the critical/rhetorical aspects of that choice. Does it matter, for instance, that I post something on Archive.org or Odeo? In a technical sense, no, because the podcast will be delivered if you create the enclosure in your blog post.

However, I think that there is more to it and would answer, yes, it does matter, because the type of license that you can choose for copyright on these sites is different. How the file gets saved (and perhaps streamed) is different, and you need to know where to get the permanent URL if you really want it to be a podcast that is downloadable. Whether and how you “own” your podcast is based on where it is stored, from a critical and rhetorical sense, an important issue. Thus, any “how to” guide that we create has to be tempered with these discussions.

This is not to say that what Bonnie has produced isn’t valuable, because it is for her, her tech team, the TL network, and other readers of her blog. Like the RCWP TCs who created some podcasting instructions a few months ago, these guides are important for our own learning about the technical aspects of posting a podcast. And, despite the many, many help guides that are out there, figuring it out with one-to-one help is always useful. Moreover, we know that these guides will change over time, and it is important that we understand what little changes in the overall process will do to that process.

I just want us to remember that there are a number of choices that we make in any act of digital writing, and many of them have ethical considerations that we should keep in mind as we do it. Thanks again to Bonnie for helping me think through some of these issues this week.

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5 thoughts on “Podcasting with Bonnie, Thinking about Critical Aspects of Digital Literacy”

  1. Does it matter where podcasts are posted? Is the medium also the message? That’s a bit too Marshall McLuhan for me. 😉

    Too often those learning to be digitally literate focus on learning about the tools, rather than learning about the concepts and ideas. That’s a frustrating approach for anyone involved.

    The finer details of how to produce and deliver podcasts will always be changing, just as any form of technology is moving target when it comes to understanding it. As such, producing a definitive “How To” guide will always be difficult, since the information can go out of date very quickly.

    Perhaps the better approach for those looking to use podcasting for information delivery, is to first understand the concepts behind podcasting. One a person understands what podcasting is, how those recordings are hosted, and how those recordings are delivered, then they are better able to understand the differences between the hosting services. Better yet, a comprehensive guide on the concepts of podcasts is far less likely to go out of date than a guide which uses specific hosts and delivery services for its examples.

    I encountered a fine example of “learn the concept, not the tool (or service)” back when I was trying to assemble a complex database about ten years ago. I started out trying to figure out which tool to use (Access, Filemaker, MySQL, etc.), and how to use that tool to create a database. In addition, I was attempting to understand the concepts behind relational database design. It was extremely confusing.

    Thankfully, I was pointed toward a great text, “Database Design for Mere Mortals” by Michael J. Herdandez. Rather than presenting database design through a particular tool, Herdandez uses the approach that before even touching a database program, the user needs to understand the concepts behind database design, as the concepts remain unchanged no matter what program you use for the eventual construction. Once the user has a firm grasp on the concepts, then using Access, Filemaker, or any other database program becomes much easier, *and* the user is better able to discern the positives and negatives of each application, and make a more informed choice as to which tool is better for them to use. Better yet, although the numerous “How To” guides have been printed over the years for the various database applications, Hernandez’s book remains in print – and current – since it focused on concepts rather than a specific tool.

    Obviously, if an organization chooses to standardize on a specific hosting & delivery service (like Odeo), then providing a detailed “How To” is certainly beneficial to those within the organization responsible for posting the podcast. Just bear in mind the guide will likely need frequent updates, since these services are changing all the time. All the same, everyone involved in podcast production would be well served to understand the concepts involved in podcasting, so that they can better adjust to future services.

    From the standpoint of the RCWP, which serves to provide information to a wide base of people, producing a “How To” guide for a specific tool/service is a path toward insanity (as you’ve certainly noticed). In addition, focusing on one specific service might lead someone to believe that the service presented is somehow the best one for them, since the RCWP has essentially endorsed that service by making it the focus of their “How To” guide. However, just because that service is presented in the “How To” guide — and works well for the RCWP — does not mean it’s the best service for that particular user.

    Better for the RCWP to provide a conceptual guide or point to other online/printed resources which explain podcasting concepts. Then, the RCWP could also provide a list of podcasting hosts/services with the pros & cons of each, ownerships issues, and copyright restrictions as it relates to hosting podcasts for education. If an individual has trouble working with a particular podcasting service, then they should see about using the forums & support mechanisms put in place by that service, rather than contacting the RCWP. While the content of a users podcast might be unique, chances are the technical issues that arise are not (and not even unique to educational podcasts).

    To answer some of the questions posted…

    “How does that (changing the podcasting host) change the “instructions,” especially if you hit a snag?”

    Quite a bit, obviously. If the “How To” guide is for a specific service, then adjustment will have to be made. However, each of those services (like Odeo) provide current instructions/support as how to work with their service, and should be up-to-date with any changes they make to their own service. The services themselves aren’t that complex. If a user understands the concepts of podcasting, then understanding the nuances of each service provider – and any changes they make – will be far easier. In my own opinion, the RCWP shouldn’t involve themselves with producing step-by-step guides for using a particular service. Those services provide posting guides themselves, and the fact that a podcast contains information about writing, education, hamsters, or peanut butter is irrelevant. A podcast is a podcast, and hosting services already have the information out there on how to use their service. No need to reinvent the wheel. Better for the RCWP to provide information on *why* podcasting is a useful way to disseminate information in the classroom, rather than *how* to do it.

    “How does it (the delivery mechanism) change our understandings of what a podcast is and what it does?”

    It doesn’t. A podcast – no matter what service is being used – does not change the ultimate purpose: a method to provide time-shifted digital audio information through a subscription based method. Nor does it change the meaning of the content contained in that podcast. It might change who has ownership of that content (since the service might claim a right to it), but the meaning of the content itself – and the the definition of a “podcast” – remains unchanged regardless of the host used.

    Content is what it is, no matter what the medium. If you recorded your information on cassette tapes, and people subscribed to those tapes through the postal mail, then the end result is no different than from a podcast, and the meaning of the content on those tapes is no different the the meaning of the content in a MP3-based, RSS-delivered podcast.

    That subscription element is what makes podcasts so useful, as it doesn’t matter what whether it’s coming from Odeo, Archive.org, or hosted on your own server. As long as people know where to access the feed for the podcast, then the user is able to choose how they receive it, whether that be through iTunes, or their favorite RSS reader.

    As a side note, if there’s no subscription element, then it’s not really a “podcast,” but rather merely audio files posted to a web site (which has been done since the early days of the web). Posting those is no different from posting a PDF, Word document, JPG, or other file on a web site.

    Anyway, that’s my own opinion. As as I’m not a teacher, or involved with any particular Writing Project, these opinions can be disregarded as pure hogwash, if so desired. 😉

  2. Jim,

    Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful response. You have hit on so many points, that I want to look at a few of them in more detail.

    First, in thinking about the \”process, not the tool\” approach, isn\’t it fitting that the Apple podcasting seminar focuses on their software and iTunes for delivery? Of course, this makes sense on many levels, but also makes me realize more and more why some people say, \”I can\’t listen to podcasts because I don\’t have an iPod…\”

    Two of your points really stand out for me and, for the record, none of them are hogwash.

    First, I agree with you completely when you say \”Perhaps the better approach for those looking to use podcasting for information delivery, is to first understand the concepts behind podcasting…\” Most of the presentations that I do concerning podcasting use just the example that you share about the audio on the web vs. podcast format. In my experience in these workshops, I think that many teachers appreciate having this knowledge, not only so they can subscribe to a podcast themselves, but so they can articulate why and how a podcast is different as well as why that matters as a literacy practice.

    Second, I agree with you again here: \”Better for the RCWP to provide a conceptual guide or point to other online/printed resources which explain podcasting concepts.\” This has been my experience, for sure. I can\’t tell you how many times I have been asked to make a how-to guide and refused. When we began thinking about our website redesign, we decided early on that we could put up a bunch of handouts from our sessions and have instructions about how to do tech work. Instead, we decided to focus our energy and making the site an interactive and community-based site, one where teachers associated with the project and those who were just casually interested could gather and talk about how they used these technologies in practice. We might, for instance, have a \”best practices\” section related to teaching with technology (noting, of course, the political nature of calling anything \”best\”). In short, we wanted to think about how to engage with the technology in rich and meaningful ways and, while how-to guides are important, they are not everything.

    So, I end by asking this: what are the best \”how-to\” sites or blogs that are out there? I know that Lifehacker seems to give really pertinent advice and TechSoup comes out with good overviews as well. Do any of you know of others to which we can point so teachers have some ideas about how to do these things (so they can then share their experiences, not just their how-to guides?


  3. I refuse to make how to guides as well now! I like squidoo and instructables if you search around those sites you can stumble across some really great “stuff” (related to podcasting and beyond.) The nice thing about both of these is that they include not only the ‘how-to’ but also give the opportunity for interaction and discussion.

  4. There’s certainly a number of good resources out there, and I’ll point to those in a moment.

    The first step for anyone desiring to podcast, or become a better podcaster, is to listen to plenty of podcasts. Just as frequent reading makes one a better writer, listening to podcasts of varying production values and techniques will ultimately help a person decide what kind of podcast they’d like to produce, and have a better idea as to what makes a good podcast. Educators would also be well served to listen to all kinds of podcasts, and not just those by other educators.

    The next step would be get an understanding of basic audio recording and production. The techniques used in podcasting: intros/outtros, ducking, transitions, effective interviewing, etc. have been a part of audio production since the first commercial radio broadcasts. Any text or course relating to radio broadcasting techniques is sure to help out here. After all, a podcast might have great content, but it also needs to be something your audience finds at least partially appealing.

    Then, move on to understanding digital audio and delivery. On the digital audio side of things, it’s important to understand the differences between the various formats used in podcasting (MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, and Audible), and how changing bit rate, compression settings, and stereo/mono alters the size and quality of the file produced. As for delivery, there’s simply getting a basic understanding of RSS on a textual level, then understanding the concept of enclosures, and how that works.

    The final step is understanding specific podcasting tools & systems.

    For online resources, Gravesle’s example of Instructables is excellent. There’s great info on that site on a whole host of topics (podcasting is there, and so is do-it-yourself taxidermy!)

    Obviously, Apple’s seminar (mentioned in my second post) is likely to help out anyone on a basic level, and especially those that are using Apple’s products (Garageband & iTunes) for their podcast production. Other good sources for information are Podcast Free America, The Podcast Academy, Podcast 411, and Podcaster Confessions Podcasting 101 guide.

    As for the “I can’t listen to podcasts because I don’t have an iPod” comments… those have always given me a chuckle, though I certainly understand why the confusion might exist. Although I’m sure Apple appreciates the association since it sells more iPods, they’ve also been taking the approach of pressing legal action on various businesses and productions using “pod” as part of their name. As a result, there’s been a lukewarm push to try to change the semantics to “netcast,” or other device-neutral term. As someone who’s listened to podcasts on my computer, cell phone, PDA, non-iPod MP3 players, and… well… iPods… it can only be a good thing when people realize that this is a form of content that can be enjoyed anywhere. 🙂

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