Thoughts on Podcasting

Some random, untested, uncritical ideas that lecturers might do to improve the podcasting experience:

Contact details

If you want to receive feedback on the course be sure to include contact details. Of course, if you don’t then, by all means, obscure your contact details. A happy medium might be to establish a course related email address (course-X101@institution.edu) rather than a lecturer’s address. That email could then be processed by a PA before the lecturer gets to see it.

Audible instructions in one of the first lectures (or a couple) may be an idea. “This is a podcast of lecture whatever. My name is X. If you have comments on the podcast please email them to x@y or visit the website at address.” Some lecturers have these intros on every podcast, which I think is overkill although probably better than none at all. If it is to go on every podcast consider adding it as an outtro (permitting easy skipping) rather than an intro (which needs to skip the length of the intro and no more or you lose part of the lecture).

Course related wikis

  • where courses deal with texts out of copyright, why not put the whole of the text on a site to allow for mark ups. A whole marked up version could be created identifying relevant quotes (Eg in a different colour, by underlining or some other form of emphasis), possibly with cross referencing notes – Kinkos could then print a course-specific version of the text, which would improve with age
  • a page could be created for “open questions” that could be completed by either students or pod listeners
  • pair up students with pod listeners, the student’s role being to explain issues to the pod listener (the idea being that to explain something you need to first understand it/the process of verbalisation quantifies the extent of understanding)
  • see if the publishers of the set texts are interested in sponsoring the podcasts
  • Include details of set texts.

Course over time

Presumably as the course is repeated different aspects can be explored in different levels of depth. Things which have been covered in depth in earlier podcast lectures might be referred to rather than repeated?

Audio

  • Audio is not particularly difficult, but can be tricky if you don’t understand the issues involved/the equipment isn’t that crash hot. The important thing is that the signal (the lecturer) is much stronger than the noise – if that’s the case the signal can be amplified by recipients. The next thing is that the volume levels be normalised so that the lecture is easy to hear without volume gain by the end user. Ideally some compression/limiting will be applied to remove noise.
  • The catch is not to turn the mic up too loud as it will result in information being lost (the sound is too loud for the mic to distinguish medium loud from very loud so all information above medium (or even little) loud is lost – this is called “clipping”)
  • Always check levels and interference.
  • If there is a humming sound it is likely to be cause by some electrical device operating close to the mic – turn it off or move away. If the sound varies as the mic (and lecturer) move around, then that’s a pretty sure sign that it’s an electrical device interfering.
  • Some forms of interference can be removed by judicious application of filters without affecting the perception of the signal.
  • use mp3 in preference to real audio or windows formats. If you want to be freedom promoting use ogg.
  • check encoding settings for a reasonable file size (a 1 hour should take under 14MB, 90 minute lectures under 20MB).
  • making recordings available only from iTunes automatically excludes every Linux user in the world, please don’t.

Video

From my perspective video is irrelevant. I don’t know why people stress about video and find it hard to believe that it could be worth the effort involved.

Graphics/Aids/Blackboard

Ideally a person listening to a podcast will be able to understand everything important elements of the lecture without needing to see any visual aids which are used. In particular references to a blackboard or projection with the comment “well there it is up there on the board” are unhelpful. I think as a general rule lectures should read or summarise this information to students anyway – ie it isn’t a podcast only issue. As a rule science courses are worse in this regard than are humanities.

Naming convention

use a naming convention so that alphabetical listing of the files will result in them being in lecture order. The Berkeley (named after bishop “Berkeley” but pronounced “Berkeley”) system of using numbers is stark, but effective – although make up lectures end up out of number order.

Presentation

Always repeat questions from the floor before answering them.

If there are times when you are not lecturing (eg in class quiz) consider repeating the question (and any relevant data) being considered by the students for the benefit of the podcast.

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