A biplane upside down on nose with tail in air, in middle of a field

Test Pilot: Podcasting

A podcast on podcasting, overcoming a temporary William Shatner impersonation:

Recorded on Mac laptop using Audacity with Rode USB mic, in a soundproofed ex-audiology lab. Edited in and exported (.mp3, 64Kbps, constant) from Audacity.
Intro and outro music sourced from Free Music Archive, CC-BY NC ‘Curiosity’ by Lee Rosevere

Audio podcasts have it over videos in a few ways: you can listen while commuting or exercising; you don’t need to dress up to record them; their informality and intimacy help connect with listeners. Podcasts could be on pre-tutorial material, an interview with someone in your field, a round-up or intro to the coming week, feedback on assignments or you could have students record a podcast as part of their assessment. Or – why re-invent the wheel? – use existing public podcasts in your learning design.

If you have a favourite podcast or would like to contribute ideas on how to use one in teaching and learning, go ahead and comment below.

Listen to podcasts to get a feeling for the genre, for example:

Look on your phone – you probably already have a podcasts app that makes it very easy to find something to listen to.

How to podcast

In brief, to podcast you need to:

Produce

  1. Record audio – preferably in a quiet, low-echo environment
  2. Edit the audio (usually)
  3. Output in mp3 format

Publish

  1. Host the audio files somewhere accessible to listeners
  2. Publish a feed file with necessary info accessible to a service such as iTunes or a podcast app. 
    Alternatively, you could simply upload each audio file to a forum that emails it to students.

Of course, you need to know your audience and purpose – and design your output accordingly. Start off simply, then see how creative you want to be. Invite someone along for an interview, record some vox pops, invite responses.

There are many options for producing and publishing available, with different degrees of automation, features and cost. For a low-effort entry to podcasting, use Echo360 Personal Capture with your built-in computer mic or start recording with your mobile phone. Below are some variations on what you might use to produce your podcast. Get some help from a friendly learning and teaching staff member.

Performance and planning

Before you get before the mic, think about your aims, draw up an outline and take some advice on getting started from people who know what they are talking about.

Before you do that, here are my reflections after producing a podcast:

  • Clarify your purpose and think of your audience
  • What’s the story you are telling? (imagine just one person)
  • Practice does help.
  • Relax and talk casually but with animation
  • If you stuff up, just repeat that bit, you don’t have to redo it all
  • Edit out some ums, aahs and pauses, but don’t go overboard
  • At the beginning, I think I sound a bit like William Shatner, in staccato trying not to um and aah, though I settle down later. I also do have some vocal fry, but I’m OK with that.

Now for the professionals…

On podcasting voice performance
Tim Noonan: Your Voice, Your Personal Brand and Your Podcast 

A podcast on podcastingThe Audacity to Podcast 
Lynda.com course on ‘Producing Professional Podcasts’ –  (Sign in via your MQ OneID)
Note: Did you know you and your students now have access to the marvellous lynda.com library of how-to videos and courses?

How long should a podcast be? As long as it needs to be and no longer. Well, under 15 minutes is recommended, but if it is really interesting content, up to around 30 minutes (which should fit most people’s commutes nicely).

How often should there be a new episode? As often as suits the purpose. If using it for a unit of study, once a week might be a good frequency to aim for. Consistency is important, so if you can, have extra posts prepared in advance.

Recording

Quiet rooms

Try using a sound-proofed room or at least one with ample soft furnishings to lessen reverberation. The University has studios that can be booked, for example, the AVTS recording studio. Contact your learning and teaching team for other spaces.
The old audiology sound-proofed rooms in C5A are available for general use, contact Margaret Wood (margaret.wood@mq.edu.au) in Linguistics, who helped me with a place to record. Thanks, Margaret!

Software

Echo360 – use desktop capture to record and publish to your unit to Echo360 or upload an existing file to your unit; the feed produced for your students includes all recordings, including lectures. Check with iLearn support about rolling existing recordings over to a new unit.

Audacity is a simple, useful and free software tool to record and edit podcasts (See Lynda.com for the course ‘Up and Running with Audacity’). If you have an Adobe subscription, Audition is a more fully-featured option. Neither of these tools allows you to record two inputs, ie if you want to give an interviewer and interviewee separate mics. Hardware and software solutions exist to do this, but you should be able to get away with sitting side by side near the same mic or using a multidirectional digital recorder.

Mics

The in-built mic on my Macbook Pro does a good job, especially in a quiet, low-echo room, but a regular podcaster might want to upgrade. The central equipment store has some Macmice flexible mics for long-term loans as well as some better Rode USB mics for short-term.  For a panel recording of three or more people, we have a multi-directional mic and digital audio recorders available.

If you are recording interviews or on the move with vox pops, we have good digital audio recorders that can also be borrowed. There are decent low-cost audio recorders if you want to buy one of your very own. If you want to be quick, digital recorders will record straight to mp3, ready for upload.

Contact your Faculty Learning and Teaching Team to get your hands on recording gear.

Tip: Use headphones or earphones to check a test recording before recording in full.

Free music and effects

Music playing behind your voice can be a distraction, but how about a catchy intro tune to get listeners in the mood – or a sound effect to bring the story to life? If you have GarageBand (Mac) there are some free tunes included. If you use free sound, make sure you check the creative commons licence and acknowledge sources where necessary. www.freesound.org offers sound effects and you can find music on dig.ccmixter.org/free , Free Music Archive or YouTube.

Release form

If you interview someone, you should have them sign a release form so that it is clear how the recording will be used: release template.

Accessibility

A transcript ensures the podcast is accessible to all students. Transcription services are available online and are reasonably priced at about $2 per minute. Ensure that at least the information in the podcast is available in text form.

Publishing

You could publish by simply attaching the audio file to a post in an iLearn forum.

Echo360, usually for automatic lecture recordings, can also publish audio and video files beyond lecture content. Did you know that students can already get Echo360 lectures as a podcast?

Soundcloud – ease of use and an attractive interface, offers comments along the length of the podcast; free for up to 3 hours of recordings; one feed per account; paid account ($145/year for unlimited uploads (but still just one feed) and some stats).

Libsyn.com (from $5/month, but the $20/month seems the usual) which is more specialised towards podcasting.

WordPress (powering Teche!) has plugins for creating podcasts and other blog or site hosts offer similar services.

Featured image: ‘Plane comes down at East Boston‘ courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

2 thoughts on “Test Pilot: Podcasting”

  1. This is a fantastic resource! Thanks for such a detailed and thoughtful look at educational podcasts!

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