Friday, November 21, 2008

Podcast Producer

At Heartland's technology coordinator meeting yesterday, we had Brent Hayward from Apple set up the different features on the Mac OS X.5 server, including the wiki and blog server, ichat server, and shared calendars. The item that drew my interest was the podcast producer.

In a nutshell, podcast producer takes a lot of the work on the front end and moves it to the back end, making it extremely easy to produce podcast content in the classroom. The toughest part for the end user is to make sure the camera is connected and on. If they have that down, the next bit is pushing a button to stop and start. The back end workflow does the rest.

The end user has four options: creating a video, audio or screencast recording, or uploading a file (as you can see from the picture). And all are literally as easy as pushing the button.

The back end does require set up. You can create workflows that automatically post podcast content to your website running on the server. But, you can also have a workflow that posts to iTunes U, that creates iPod-friendly H.264, and one that encodes for mobile technology, like iPhones.

Even better, there are built-in features to add to the workflow, such as automatically adding a copyright or a title. You can even add a watermark over the content. If you are very comfortable with XML, there's a lot more you could do, but as Brent pointed out, you might be interested in contracting with Apple's Professional Services to ensure you get exactly what you want.

The biggest downside to this is the server power necessary. If you start off slow, or just are focusing on audio, one server might be capable of handling it. But, if you envision every classroom churning out content, you will need to array the process with multiple servers and an XGrid setup.

My experience with podcasting has been that its dominated by the teachers who are movers and shakers, looking for ways to enrich their classroom (such as Bob Sprankle). This tool brings podcasting to those teachers that aren't movers and shakers. It might very well be the foot in the door many integration specialists need to get the recalcitrant teachers interested. The very least can be said that it takes no change in teaching to make it work, and no technical skills.

Of course, the hope is that it does lead to a change in teaching, that it just doesn't become a way to broadcast the lecture that one traditionally does every class period, but rather to find new uses. Broadcast student productions. Better yet, have the students produce their own productions. Better yet, make it a regular feature, like talk radio or in the field journalism. As with other web 2.0 tools, podcasting takes learning beyond the walls of the classroom out into the real world, open for sharing, discussion and collaboration. Podcast producer is a tool that helps make that easy.

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