Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Perspectives on Podcasting in Education

This E-mail was forwarded to me. It is from a person at another Institution, and this person is commenting on Podcasting.

Not doing it myself, but saw a presentation at a recent conference by guy who runs, a podcast on "Podcasting in Education". [Note: That would be me ~Steve]

Two major issues with podcasting come to mind that would need to be addressed by any higher-ed institution:

1. Bandwidth. Not a big deal for a few small, local podcasts with a small user base, but what happens when your podcast gets picked up by a major news service or starts getting thousands of hits? Could have a significant impact on University network bandwidth.

2. Accessibility. For us in the California State University system, this means that a podcast most likely will have to have a written text transcript to meet state web accessibility requirements. So who's going to make these transcripts for people doing podcasts? Seems like the same issue with captioning video, if you ask me, but perhaps a bit less complicated.

Seems like a technology with a lot of promise, in that it puts audio broadcast potential in the hands of everyday users, not to mention the ability to enable asynchronous broadcast of audio. However, in many ways, I think the issues with podcasting are similar to those regarding video streaming/video broadcasting.

Here is my reply:

I was forwarded your E-mail about podcasting.

The way I think of it is to remember podcasting is less than one-year-old technology.  Yes, it has problems. But the gauge of the usefulness of the technology is not just what it offers now, but what it may offer when it is developed.

Compared to streaming technology, podcasting (and related technology) is less bandwidth dependent, not more. Because it is download based, there is not the associated quality of service issues there are with streaming. It can be assigned the lowest QoS and still accomplish its mission. With associated compression technologies and networks with Fiber links, Gigabit and ATM backbones the overhead is really not that bad.

Also, as speech to text technology improves there is the possibility of autogeneration of text that can then function as metadata and be linked to a time base in the audio. Not only will this then improve access, it will provide searchability. How about the immediate application of podcasting for the visually impaired? Going the other way, text-to-speech, all written handouts can be immediately converted to audio and distributed quite economically!

Remember, the automobile of the turn of the 20th century did not seem to be much threat to the transportation paradigm of the period, the steam powered passenger train. Look at where the two are now. I think this needs to be given time and used where it does work.



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