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I’ve had some interest from some of you around the area of audio content in educational settings, so I felt compelled to right some words in a few blog posts. I may draw this “series” out over a few weeks or so depending on interest.

Educasting is a system, or method, of digital content distribution such as audio and/or video/pdfs etc.

The most common audio format used is the mp3, I’m sure you’ve heard of that, and this blog post is mainly focused on that format. The term educast implies that the content produced for distribution is able to be automatically downloaded and updated onto mobile devices such as mp3 players, PCs and other similar consumer electronic devices such as mobile phones. In many cases the updating of content occurs simply by plugging the playing device in to a computer.

Without a doubt the main vehicle used for transporting an educast is the internet, though as you are probably interested in your own teaching space the protocol is equally suited to be distributed over intranets and other internal networks found in educational settings which are not necessarily open to public access.

How does it work?

In order to understand the whole process of educasting from creator to listener/viewer I’ll break down the system into 6 basic steps or stages:

1. content created – the content can be recorded in a variety of ways and in a variety of locations, of which I’ll blog about in a future post.

2. content uploaded – this is a reasonably simple stage where you upload the digital file, typically an mp3, to a webserver often using the file transfer protocol (FTP). Recently we can see more and more online recorders available where you simply press record on the site itself. (no uploading needed).

3. rss feed created – a really simple syndication (rss) feed is created which has a snippet of code that indicates the uploaded content is in fact an educast.

4. rss aggregators scan subscribed feeds for new content – various software hosted on a users PC enables us to subscribe to rss feeds, the software then scans those feeds for new content.

5. new content found and downloaded to users computer – once the rss aggregator understands a new episode is present the software will download this content to the users machine.

6. content transferred to mobile playback device – often the rss aggregator will automatically load the fresh content onto the mobile player, or this is manually achieved by the user. Of course playing back right on the computer is MASSIVELY common also.

Sounds fairly simple and straightforward right? Well it is!

Certainly all of the both stages can be met within educational environments both in terms of human resources and physical resources. However, perhaps one of the issues which can be daunting when considering utilising educasts in education is the extra effort or time required to continually provide content in this exciting format and in fact make it accessible. That said, the educational benefits an educast can yield are numerous, and you as an educator must have the full support of those who manage educational policy and activities in your institution. This is a BIG deal and one I am passionate about.

Turn on tune in, and they won’t drop out

Everybody working within academia understands that students are becoming more and more technologically savvy, growing up with a mouse almost permanently attached to their right hand, game console in the other, mobile telephone scanning for Wi-Fi hot spots and sending more SMS messages per min than humanly possible.

Aside from my slight rhetoric students are now often very adept and comfortable with interactive technology and able to find what they want when they want, very much used to using technology for organising their social world and certainly their entertainment options.

Students also want, and expect in many cases, their learning environment choices to be just as dynamic and state-of-the-art, and are certainly motivated when presented with dynamic learning tools that have relatedness to their personal worlds, their social life.

Educasting is a tool which fits into this state-of-the-art category and is something which educators can embrace within their learning community to bring about serious “coolness” and “street cred”, not to mention a powerful educational delivery platform both in the hands of the educator and also the learner’s. So we have to be “cool” now as academics? Umm, well yes I think we do to an extent.

Educasting has many unique qualities

Two “biggies” I want to focus on here are:

1. time-shifted delivery (tune-in when you want)
2. use of the voice, which can convey strong emotional content.

If you follow this thought through you as an academic have the ability for your voice, your emotion, your passion to reach the students in their own surroundings at a time they choose, this is a very powerful combination indeed!

As an example, I relish getting into my car each morning with my Zune player loaded with the latest episodes of my favourite casts. The fact I might get caught in morning traffic can actually be a bonus, giving me more listening time before having to engage with the socially demanding world, it’s “my-time”.

This time slot, and of course others, is time for you as a potential content producer, an educaster, where you can directly compete with mainstream broadcasting prime time, in advertising circles this time is highly costly which companies pay handsome fees for.

I hope that helps you think about the possibilities a little? Do let me know where we should head with this, maybe you need some tools, maybe you are already educasting, maybe it’s just too much time needed?

In any case do let me know, I really do want to hear your thoughts.

UPDATE: After writing this text I thought it might be a good idea to actually use an online service to record my voice reading the words, so you can see just how easy it all comes together. So I used Utterz and then grabbed an embed code for my blog which included the player below.