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[What is a Podcast] [Receiving Podcasts]
[Overview:  Creating Podcasts]

Here's a short video, by "Ask a Ninja," about podcasting and education - the basics presented with a fun twist.  To learn more, take a look at the multi-media and text we are putting together here.

What is a Podcast?

In 2005, Oxford Dictionary's "Word of the Year" was:

pod-cast (n.) a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.

This term beat out important emerging new words like "bird-flu", "persistent vegetative state", and "reggaeton".  While this definition gets us started, today it is slightly off-mark.  Let's look at what podcasts are and how they are created.

A podcast is a collection of digital media files which is distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds for downloading and playback on personal computers or portable media players. They are available to use 24/7, on-demand.  Think of them as radio or TV shows that you can sign up for and watch when it is convenient for you - there is no need to worry about when a show is scheduled for broadcast.

The syndication feed is important, it is like a magazine subscription, allowing users to "sign up" for the podcast and automatically download updates as new podcasts from a series become available.  The best part is most podcasts are FREE!

This puts the subscriber in control - the content we want to listen to can be set to download automatically.  The downloaded files are small and can be used on desktop or portable devises.  Think of it as a TIVO unit for the World Wide Web.

While one can start by just posting files - creating the syndication feed (RSS) is what makes them useful to listeners - this is a powerful new tool.  Podcasts enable people to listen, learn, enjoy, and stay current with media content that are of interest. 

Webcasts (posting audio/video online) stream presentation through a PC.  The media is not saved on that computer.  Podcasts give users the option of downloading presentations - the content then exists on the device that is playing the files.  Because content is downloaded to a local device (pc, ipod, MP3 player, copied to CD or DVD, etc.) media is now easily ready on-demand, even where Internet access might be limited.

While the term "podcast" comes from combining the terms "broadcast" and "iPod", podcasts DO NOT REQUIRE iPODS OR ANY PORTABLE MUSIC/MP3 PLAYERS.  Any personal computer can be used.  This technology is not about Apple/Mac computers - it's platform independent.  The idea is simply to allow people to download content so that they can use it when it is convenient for them.

Podcasting is a means to publish audio, video, or even print resources on the Web as a series of episodes with a common theme.  Podscasts allow users to sign up for automatic downloads of updates and new information when additional media is released. The three types of media podcats are:

  1. Audio.  Essentially an online, radio-style production
  2. Enhanced Podcasts.  Audio podcasts with pictures and graphics, similar to a narrator talking about a set of pictures or slides.  Currently, these require special formats and are usually created for iPods or Macs.
  3. Video.  TV style productions that include audio, though this same format can be used to create narrated slideshows using digital video formats that look like enhanced podcasts, but are compatible on devises capable of playing video.

The most common format usually consists of audio files (MP3 format) that are posted to the Web.  We recommend skipping "enhanced podcasts" all together - it is simple enough to create that style of presentation in a video format that a wider audience can enjoy. 

Educators, library media specialists, and anyone with something to say or share should be able to see the value of providing information in an audio or multi-media format, accessible on-demand, using technology that automatically notifies its audience when more information or updates are available. 

Word-processing and desktop publishing software has changed they way we write.  Each has have changed the way we teach writing.  Blogging is becoming a powerful tool in education, both to teach content and deliver academic instruction in an interactive format.  Podcasting will also become an important tool for teachers to reach out to the diverse needs of diverse learners.

Sometimes, downloadable streaming MP3 files are referred to as "podcasts".  This is correct in terms of format - these files can be used in iPods, MP3 players, PCs and even copied on CDs.  This falls short of the definition we are using:

Podcasting means connecting interested users with updates and additional podcasts of useful information. 

Podcasts are:

  • An audio or multimedia file of content representing part of an ongoing series of updates that is in a downloadable format (MP3 for audio, FLASH is a good option for computer-based video, iPods and many portable devices need their own formats).
  • Uploaded to a Web server along with an RSS feed, providing others with an easy way to "subscribe" and receive each part of an ongoing series.
  • Users are expected to download the files so that they can transfer them to any compatible device or storage media and enjoy them when it is convenient.
The differences between Webcasting and podcasting

  1. The use of technology to keep listeners/viewers updated
  2. Because podcasts are downloadable, they are portable

To achieve these objectives, podcasts use technology to provide a "subscription,"  RSS feeds.  Let's take a quick look at what this means.

[PFL HomePage] [Finding Podcasts]
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[Getting Started] [RSS Feeds] [Promoting]
[Tips & Tricks] [More Resources]
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Receiving Podcasts:  RSS Feeds

The key to podcasting is to communicate with your audience, automatically letting people know when there is more content they may be intereted in.  This is down with RSS feeds - an acronym for Really Simple Syndication (note:  technical enthusiasts might tell you that RSS stands for Rich Site Summary, whatever...)

Because this is such an important part of podcasting, we will provide a brief overview here.  More detailed information is presented in our RSS Feeds page.  The following general concepts will be helpful when getting started.

An RSS document, also called a "feed", "web feed", or "channel", contains a summary of content from an associated web site or the full text.  RSS makes it possible for people to keep up with their favorite web sites in an automated manner.  Its easier than checking them manually.

RSS content is read using software called an "RSS reader", "feed reader" or an "aggregator".  The user subscribes to a feed by entering the feed's link into the reader or by clicking an RSS icon (most often, the "wave" icon shown above or a "subscribe" link on a Website).  This initiates the subscription process. "Reader" software checks the user's subscribed feeds regularly for new content, downloading new content and updates.

RSS feeds can be formatted in XML, a companion to HTML that is used to create Web pages.  The goal is to allow computers to communicate when content changes on a Website or set of source files. 

But this is starting to sound like computer geek stuff, to enjoy podcasts, we don't really need to talk about the technology that underlies the process.  If you want to know more, check out a more-detailed explanation of RSS feeds at Search Engine Watch.

Perhaps the easiest way to appreciate the value of RSS feeds is to imagine having a lot of interests and wanting to find media on the Internet about many topics.  Having to manually search each and every time you want updates could be frustrating and result in a lot of wasted time.  Having information that you seek automatically come to you would be a real advantage.

When you see an RSS, ATOM, XML, or SUBSCRIBE link on a Website, you are being offered the opportunity to receive automatic updates of text, audio, or multimedia information.  Its like subscribing to magazines you are interested in - the difference being it is FREE and the content is dynamic.  Sounds like a good deal, right?

Finding Podcasts

So how do you get started enjoying podcasts?  There are 2 ways:

  1. Aggregator Software.  Download or subscribing to podcasts with an RSS reader, also called "aggregator software" or "podcatchers".  There are a number of free programs that allow you to subscribe.  We recommend JUICE, a free program that you can download at the link here.  This is a short tutorial about using it:

An aggregator (like JUICE) can be set when a computer starts and run in the background. It checks the RSS feeds you sign up for at a specified interval, such as every two hours. If the feed data has substantially changed from when it was previously checked (or if the feed was just added to the application's list), the program determines the location of the most recent item and automatically downloads it.

The downloaded episodes can then be played, replayed, or archived like any other computer file. Users can automatically transfer the newly downloaded files to a portable media player, which can be connected to the PC running the aggregator, perhaps via a USB cable or Firewire.  However, most podcast media is used on the PC that it was initially downloaded on, never making it to a portable devise.

  1. PodCast Directory.  To conserve bandwidth, users may choose to search for content using an online podcast directory, like Podcast Directory,  Podcast Alley, Odeo.com, and PodcastPickle instead of using aggregator software to identify and automatically download files.  These directories usually allow people to sample online content and become familiar with different podcasts before deciding to subscribe.

    Automatic downloads from aggregators (option 1) are great, but studies show that many downloaded files never actually get listened to.  Directories provide access without accepting each and every update.  If a user finds a great feed at a directory, they can add it to their aggregator at a later time should they decide having automatic downloads are an advantage.

Subscription links are build into Web portals like Google and My Yahoo too.  They are being integrated into browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer 7.

Install JUICE, or an RSS feeder/aggregator of your choice, and visit some podcast directories - you're "good to go." 


Want see more about each option?  Here's a good video to get you started.:

This presentation is about using RSS feeds, comparing and contrasting the difference between manually looking for updated content and using RSS, automatically being notified when there is new content of interest.  This video recommends using "Google Reader"


This presentation is about using RSS feeds, comparing and contrasting the difference between manually looking for updated content and using RSS, automatically being notified when there is new content of interest.  This video recommends using "Google Reader"

So you can see - getting started with podcasts is easy.  All you have to do is to think of content areas of interest and use an RSS feeder/aggregator to sign up or go to a podcast directory like Podcast Alley to sample and perhaps subscribing to podcasts that sound interesting. 

[PFL HomePage] [Finding Podcasts]
[BreitLinks Podcasts] [For Teachers] [What You Need]
[Getting Started] [RSS Feeds] [Promoting]
[Tips & Tricks] [More Resources]
[Top]

Overview: Creating Podcasts

Now that we've talked about what a podcast is, the importance of RSS feeds, and reviewed how to sign up, perhaps you are interested in getting started creating them.  While anyone with information to share in the business or public sector can benefit from podcasting, teachers at all levels are discovering many advantages to podcasting. 

Let's look review the basic ideas needed to get started creating podcasting, one needs to:

  1. Create a series of short audio, enhanced audio (audio including pictures & graphics) or video files.  All you need are:
    1. A computer system with some hard drive space
    2. A  microphone that connects to the computer
    3. A simple audio editor, like the free shareware program Audacity
    4. An internet connection
  2. Post these files to a blog or Website on a server that is capable of "streaming" so that viewers can use the media.
  3. Create an RSS feed, an XML file that provides metadata (common buzzword today, just think "information about data") about the podcast series and individual podcasts.  This would include the purpose of the podcasts, producer, publication dates, length of podcasts, segments of each show, and the URL of the Website containing the podcast files.

This section of Podcasts for Learning is designed to talk about concepts - for more detailed information including step-by-step instructions, tutorials, and resources, please check out the sections I have created What You Need, Getting Started, RSS Feeds, Promoting, Tips & Tricks, and More Resources.

Creating Audio Files

Here's a short overview of creating audio files - for more detailed information, please check out our link for Getting Started and More Resources.  Let's assume that we know what we want to communicate, have our presentation organized, and are ready to comfortably give it. 

Creating audio involves having recording equipment, perhaps software for editing and enhancing, and saving them in a Web compatible format (MP3) ready for streaming.  There are several options - since most PCs accept a microphone and many laptops have an internal microphone build it, there is no need to purchase specialty equipment to get started. 

A headset with a microphone to get started can be purchased for less than $15.00.  There is no need to purchase specialty software, free shareware programs like Audacity will handle all of the basics and many advanced features as well.


Here is a short tutorial about using the freeware program Audacity.

At its most basic level, the process is easy:

  • Plug in a microphone
  • Open the recording software programs
  • Check that everything works and set levels so that the sound is as good as possible
  • Click RECORD and speak clearly into the microphone
  • Click STOP when you are done
  • Edit as needed (for example, cut out pauses or when you take a breadth - make sure the content flows)
  • Save the file to a compressed, Web compatible format (MP3).   When using Audacity, you need to also install a free plug-in for this conversion, LANE MP3.

Creating a Webpage

A detailed review of Web creation and design is beyond the scope of Podcasts for Learning.  We already have an Online Web Seminar - if you want detailed information about creating Webs, please check out Mr. B's Web Seminar, which is also by BreitLinks.

Podcasts need a "home" to host files - a Webpage with a server that supports streaming audio and video.  A podcast is really a feature of a Web page or blog (Web log) that includes a link to download audio or multimedia file. 

Use the companion Website so that people can learn more about you and the information and resources you share.  Make the Web that hosts your podcast a content-rich environment with as many resources and links as you can reasonably put together.  This "adds value" to your podcasts.

It also provides another access point to your podcasts - people using search engines to locate information may come across your work, not even knowing that podcasts are available.  Having a well organized Website full of information that relates to the themes of your podcasts will get people's attention and encourage them to share your link with others.

The good news is that there are many services and tools for blogs and Podcasts that are free.  A person can get started at absolutely no cost, though there are advantages to utilizing specialty software and hardware.  If you are looking for a free Web/blog service, try Blogger, from Google.  Just sign up for a free account.  Then you are ready to set up a blog (or multiple blogs). 

Blogger will offer many templates and provide an easy interface with support to create a Webpage.  For a detailed set of resources about the Internet, creating and designing Webpages, and most popular productivity software too, please check out Mr. B's Web Seminar, by BreitLinks.

When you have an Web compatible audio file (MP3), Web server or "host", and a Web page for a "home"; upload your files.  This can be done with free ftp software like Coffeecup or with the blogging service you may use.  Be sure to provide links from your Web/blog to your podcasting files - remember, people that visit your site will likely want to check out your audio/video files for too.

The difference between Webcasting and podcasting is that the former provides files for users to stream and perhaps download on their computer; the latter enables users to subscribe and download files, making your work fully portable and convenient to use.  This leads us to the next part of the process - RSS Feeds.

Creating RSS Feeds

Here's where we separate "Webcasts" from the "podcasts."  This will be a brief overview, for more, please see our links for RSS Feeds and More Resources.  Are you ready?  If you have followed everything up to now, you can handle this too.  Talking about and creating feeds will require that we look at how HTML and XML work. 

HTML is the language or codes that create the magic of Web pages.  The code is all text-based.  Those that understand HTML can make beautiful, fancy Websites using simple text-editors like notepad.  XML is a similar style of codes that are used for exchanging structured documents and data over the Internet.  Most RSS feeds are created with XML.

Go to any Website you like, you can even use this one, and pull-down the VIEW menu, selecting SOURCE (in Internet Explorer) or PAGE SOURCE (in Firefox). 

You will see the code that creates that Website - this one uses HTML.  Note how the lines of code are full of <name of command> at the beginning of each step and end with </name of command> - these are called "tags".  Beginning and ending statements of code tell a computer what to do with the content in the middle.

XML works the same way - probably the most accurate way to create RSS feeds is to manually code them with XML tags.  It is possible to use software to create the tags for you - for many a better option.  Some freeware programs like 
ListGarden RSS Feed Generator, RSS Feeds Generator, </XML> Feed Generator can create these codes for you.

Brace yourself, here are the set of tags that we used to create our first podcast, Bill Breitsprecher's Guitar Music.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> <?xml-stylesheet type='text/css' ?> <rss version="2.0" xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/">
 

<channel>
<title></title>
<description></description>
<link></link>
<copyright></copyright>
<docs></docs>
<language></language>
<lastBuildDate></lastBuildDate>
<managingEditor></managingEditor>
<pubDate></pubDate>
<rating></rating>
<webMaster></webMaster>
<category></category>

<image>
<url></url>
<title></title>
<link></link>
<description></description>
<width></width>
<height></height>
</image>

<item>
<title></title>
<description></description>
<pubDate></pubDate>
<enclosure url="" length="" type=""/>
<guid></guid>
</item>

<item>
<title></title>
<description></description>
<pubDate></pubDate>
<enclosure url="" length="" type=""/>
<guid></guid>
</item>

<item>
<title></title>
<description></description>
<pubDate></pubDate>
<enclosure url="" length="" type=""/>
<guid></guid>
</item>

This was created in Notepad, saved as a .xml file, uploaded to our server, checked for accuracy at Feed Validator for Atom and RSS and KML, and then links to this feed were added from the podcast "home" Web (Bill Breitsprecher's Guitar Music) and the link to the RSS feed was submitted to podcast directories. 

The code illustrated above isn't perfect.  It could use another line at the bottom for ATOM.   We could also add some tags that are specific to the popular podcast directory iTunes.  The feed illustrated here valid and fine for our purposes.  What had been simple Webcasts (audio files sitting on a server), are now podcasts! 

If you want to know more about the details of the format and tags used to create RSS feeds using XML, we recommend you look over the comprehensive set of resources for RSS 2.0 at Harvard Law.  You don't have to hand-code these feeds, you can use software to create these to.

The tags I have posted could be used as a "template" - copy and paste the text into notepad and fill in the information between each set of tags.  If you understand what each set of tags (<> and </>) does and fill in appropriate data between them, then you will end up with a valid, usable RSS feed written to current XML standards. 

To finish our brief overview- note how I have presented all of the tags in 5 parts. The example above consist of:

  1. Information about the podcast series, called a channel. 
  2. A graphic for a logo and a link to the podcast's Webpage.  This section relates to the series (<image></image>).
  3. Information and links about the first of three individual podcasts or episodes, each called an item, in the series.  The first episode (on top) in the item tags is the most recent addition to the series.  Do you see the tags that identify each podcast as an item? (<item></item>)
  4. Information and links for the second of the three podcasts illustrated.  Each individual podcasts in the series has a a set of item tags (<item></item>)
  5. Information and links for the third of three podcasts in my example.  Again, each individual podcasts in the series has a a set of item tags (<item></item>)

The first time we saw tags in HTML and XML, they looked confusing - the more we worked with them, the more comfortable we became.  We will provide more information to help you in our RSS Feeds page and in our More Resources section. 

Once you work with XML and RSS feeds, this will make much more sense.  Please be aware that while there are standards and my example and the link to RSS 2.0 at Harvard Law follow them, there are slight differences between XML (my example), ATOM and the tags that iTunes use. 

Don't let the details of the code scare you - there is plenty of help available and free online validator services will check your work.  Once you get your first feed done, whether you use an automated service or "hand code" it yourself, the updates are easy because you are only adding additional sections of <item></item> for each new podcast.

We have reviewed everything you need to know to get started!  We suggest getting started by creating podcast presentation files (audio or video) first, then a "homepage" for them on the Web, upload the files, and then create an RSS feed.

The other sections of this Web will provide more details and resources to make sure your first podcast is a successful and fun experience.

[PFL HomePage] [Finding Podcasts]
[BreitLinks Podcasts] [For Teachers] [What You Need]
[Getting Started] [RSS Feeds] [Promoting]
[Tips & Tricks] [More Resources]

Last Update:  January 14, 2007