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Student Affairs and Podcasting: The New Frontier?

By Stuart Brown, StudentAffairs.com
Stuart@StudentAffairs.com

Over five years ago, Larry Moneta, now the Vice President for Student Affairs at Duke University, wrote The Story of Sally:  A Techno-Fable (Moneta, 2001) in these digital pages.  He described the fictional co-ed's technology related activities which included logging into the school website, checking her email and utilizing a file sharing program to download music.  If the tale was updated, employing today's technological advances, Sally's daily itinerary would almost certainly involve listening to a podcast episode from her iPod.

 

Defining Podcasting

Podcasting (or podcasts), "enables users to quickly and easily download multimedia files, including audio and video, for playback on mobile devices including iPods and other MP3 players" (Bausch & Han, 2006, p. 1).  Individuals subscribe to a podcast and then automatically receive all newly initiated installments.  Once a podcast is loaded onto a computer or digital music device it can be accessed and reviewed at the user's leisure, such as during a jog around the gymnasium track, waiting for the campus bus, folding laundry, or commuting to campus (Read, 2005b).  Technically, a podcast works through an RSS feed (Really Simple Syndication) which pulls down an .xml file containing the Internet address of the media source.  This is read by a podcast aggregator, commonly referred to as a podcatcher.  Apple Computer's iTunes [http://www.apple.com/itunes/] is the most popular podcatcher ("Podcasting to Hit Critical Mass," 2005).  Another well-known aggregator is Juice [http://juicereceiver.sourceforge.net/].

 

Higher education has begun to incorporate podcasts, primarily, within the academic setting.  This article, while looking at the growth of podcasts, will also explore how student affairs has attempted to utilize this increasingly popular technology.  In addition, the article will examine some of the issues surrounding podcast development.  The term podcasting has been attributed to Ben Hammersley, a writer for the Guardian newspaper, who coined the word in February 2004 while searching for "a new word meaning 'listening to audioblogs'" (Copestake, 2006).  The accepted lineage for podcast(ing) is a combination between "iPod" and "broadcasting" (Rainie & Madden, 2005).

Growth of Podcasts

Most online American Internet users are not really sure what a podcast is, even though this is rapidly changing.  According to a July 2005 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, only 13% of the online population had a good idea of podcasting (Rainie, 2005).  Still, this "amount[ed] to more than 6 million adults who had tried [podcasting]" (Rainie & Madden, 2005, p.1).  By July 2006 Nielsen/NetRatings was estimating 9.2 million members of the online community had "recently downloaded an audio podcast" (Bausch & Han, 2006, p. 1).  Bridge Ratings, a ratings and research company, predicts the podcast audience to reach 45 million by 2010 ("Podcasting to Hit Critical Mass," 2005) while eMarketer states the figure could go as high as 80 million podcast enthusiasts (Chapman, 2006) by that year.

 

Why is podcasting experiencing such rapid growth?  Jon Udell, a columnist for Infoworld magazine, outlined five major factors in his March 2005 podcast (http://weblog.Infoworld.com/udell/2005/03/03.html).   Gardner Campbell, a professor of English at the University of Mary Washington, outlined them in the November/December 2005 issue of the EDUCAUSE Quarterly:

a.   Internet activity is pervasive;

b.      Broadband has grown rapidly making it easier to consume large media objects;

c.   The multimedia personal computer is now taken for granted;

d.   The distinction between streaming and downloading material has begun to blur;

e.   The iPod phenomenon and rapid adoption of portable MP3 players.

(Campbell, 2005, p. 38).  Michael Lanz, an analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings concurs with this last point: "We can expect to see podcasting becoming increasingly popular as portable content media players proliferate" (Bausch & Han, 2006, p. 1[S1] ).

 

The commercial marketplace has begun to take notice of podcasting.  All the major television networks have undertaken podcasting, either with complete or highlighted versions of some of their leading news programs.  The ESPN sports network has its own podcenter page (http://sports.espn.go.com/espnradio/podcast/index) for their daily radio shows.  Newspapers as well as local television and radio stations have also embarked on such endeavors. 

 

The not-for-profit sector is being led by National Public Radio with almost 200 different podcast offerings (Potter, 2006).  Museums around the world "make countless hours of recorded information-like curator's comments, interviews with artists and scholars, and even interviews with subjects of some artwork-widely available" (Kennedy, 2006, p. E25).  Students at Marymount Manhattan College, through their "Art Mobs" [http://mod.blogs.com/art_mobs/] project, record their own idiosyncratic tour of Manhattan museums (Campbell, 2005).  This, on top of the millions of downloads from the 60,000 podcasts on Apple's iTunes (Friess, 2006b).

 

While the general population may just be discovering podcasts, post-secondary students are more in tune with this latest technology, as with most newly introduced Internet-related services.  In an April 2005 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, it was found that "nearly half of those who own iPods/MP3 players between 18-28 have downloaded podcasts, compared to 20% of owners over age 29" (Rainie & Madden, 2005, p. 2.).   In general, college-aged Web users "are nearly twice as likely as the average Web user to download audio podcasts" (Bausch & Han, 2006, p. 1.).

 

Expansion of Podcasting in Higher Education

The "portability and popularity of [MP3] devices" (Lum, 2006) has influenced the decision by many colleges and universities to slowly begin to incorporate podcasts within their networks.  For now, the majority of podcasting has been on the academic side of the house. Purdue University, maintains dozens of course podcasts through the University's BoilerCast website (Read, 2005a).  The University of California at Berkely, Stanford University and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor Dental School are just a few of the institutions that have contracted with Apple Computer's iTunes University [http://www.apple.com/education/solutions/itunes_u/] in order to freely distribute podcasting material over the Internet through the iTunes music store (Young, 2005; Read, 2006).

 

Higher education's adoption of podcasting is in line with one of the primary trends forecast by the New Media Consortium's Horizon Project, "a research-oriented effort that seeks to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, or creative expression within higher education" (2006 Horizon Report, 2006, p.3).   One of the two technologies they see as receiving "broad adoption" within the next year is podcasting, or what they refer to as "Personal Broadcasting," of both audio and video files.

 

Podcasting in Student Affairs

Although much has been written about podcast's increasing acceptance and usability in the classroom, very little has surfaced about podcasting within the sphere of student affairs.  As part of the research for this article, an email seeking information on non-academic podcasts was sent to the StudentAffairs.com email distribution list along with a number of student personnel oriented listservs such as FYE-LIST (Freshman Year Experience), DISCUSS-HOUSING (Residence Life) and STUDEV-L (Student Affairs Generalists).

 

The number of replies, while very low, was almost evenly split between professional staff highlighting their podcast creations with administrators stating how they are exploring the possibility of producing podcasts for undergraduate consumption (a listing of all the student affairs podcasts that were forwarded can be accessed at http://www.StudentAffairs.com/podcasts/).  From the small sample, Career Service Offices would seem to be in the vanguard of podcast development.  Miami University's (Ohio) CareerChat (2006) (http://www.units.muohio.edu/careers/podcast/ ) is "a series of informative podcast interviews with professionals who discuss  job-search techniques and various career topics"; North Carolina State University has produced a number of podcast episodes dealing with everything from how employers look for qualified students to personal hygiene and proper attire for interviews ("The Career Ambassadors," 2006)  (http://www.ncsu.edu/career/careertalk/index.php); while Tom Hilliard and O. Ray Angle of the Webster University Office of Career Services "interview experts in a variety of career development and employment issues" ("Career Talk," 2006)

(http://www.webster.edu/homecampus/homes/careertalk.html).  Other schools such as Folsom Lake College ("Folsom Lake College Podcast," 2006)  (http://www.flc.losrios.edu/~podcast/flc_podcast/index.html), North Harris College ("Podcasts," 2006) (http://www.northharriscollege.com/Templates/content.aspx?pid=54686&keepheader=yes&keepId=1932), Butte College "Butte College Chronicles," 2006) (http://bcchron.blogspot.com), and Tacoma Community College ("RSS Feeds and Podcasts," 2006 (http://tacomacc.edu/whatishappening/rssfeedsandpocasts.aspx) produce podcasts with a wider range of topics.

 

All of the previously listed podcasts are audio files.  Only one institution, the University of Connectict's Waterbury Campus, reported dabbling in video podcasts (http://www.waterbury.uconn.edu/newhusky/videopod.htm).  These two-minute scripted vignettes humoressly address important information entering students to the University need to know.  Ohio State University's Ask the Techies (2006) (http://www.ohiou.edu/aac/lab/techies) is also a video podcast, but the weekly production is geared to explaining "the latest in cool technology from iPods to Photoshop" as opposed to delving into student affairs areas.  According to Rob Walch, author of the book, Tricks of the Podcasting Masters, the paucity of video podcasts is straightforward:  "It's still easier to create audio than video, and people have much more time in their day to listen than to watch" (Friess, 2006b, p. 5).

 

Reasons for Student Affairs Podcasting

Students are plugged in to the Internet and especially their MP3 players.  According to Lila Roberts, a professor of Mathematics at Georgia College and State University these units' "versatility and portability make…[them] a potentially invaluable teaching and learning tool" (Blaisdell, 2006, p. 4).  Through podcasts student affairs administrators can effectively utilize the assets of these media players as an important communication apparatus with undergraduate as well as professional staff.  There are a number of specific reasons for student affairs to commence podcasting:

 

Learning Styles-with the advent of podcasts a new dimension of learning has availed itself to students as well as staff.  Both audio and video could be a new avenue to introduce information, adding to the repertoire of different learning styles commonly utilized.

 

Training-podcasts can present a whole new avenue for training professional and/or student staff.  The portability of Podcasts can be utilized for information dissemination over the summer as well as to reinforce instruction and knowledge throughout the academic year.  Dorothy Leland, president of Georgia College and State University put it succinctly by stating the "location-independent access to digital multimedia material means that the delivery of instruction is less dependent on time and place" (Blaisdell, 2006, p. 4).

 

In order to best utilize the functionality associated with podcasts

staff members may also need to rethink the very nature of training and its associated learning objectives and goals.  What creative pathways are now open-through audio and/or video-through this fast growing medium?

 

Students are Podcasting-Student affairs staffs are always seeking effective ways to interface with the undergraduate population.  Since podcasting has become part of the student culture, by delving into this broadcast technology student affairs professionals can tap into a communication system already utilized by undergraduates. As Campbell observed, "This is a language they not only understand, but use, often on a daily basis" (Campbell, 2005, p. 37).

 

It's New- not that student affairs needs to jump on yet another technology bandwagon, but very few student affairs offices, or other parts of a college or university campus, are producing podcasts.  The inherent novelty invites recognition of a department's efforts, as well as possible awareness by the media, both on and off campus.

 

Quick Learning Curve-producing podcasts and making them available on the web is relatively easy.  There are technical barriers to overcome-both in creating and uploading a final product.  But with perseverance or with having a knowledgeable individual available to assist in the initial deployment of podcasts, the timeframe to master podcasting is comparatively quick.

 

Issues for Podcast Development

Why have student personnel administrators not been more in the forefront in developing podcasts for their various functional areas on campus?  Besides the aforementioned examples with Career Services podcasts, both audio and video could be utilized in a wide variety of offices such as Residence Life, Orientation, Counseling, and Student Activities.  Even something as straightforward as dining hall menus, like at the University of Connecticut's Storrs Campus, can be broadcast via a weekly podcast ("Menus served," 2006) (http://www.dining.uconn.edu/dds/weeklymenulistings.htm).

 

There are a number of reasons why student affairs has been slow to embrace podcasting.   They include institutional and technical support problems, a centralized, school-wide focus, proper equipment and training and quality control issues.

 

Institutional and Technical Support--The two primary reasons for the dearth in student affairs podcasts are institutional and technical support (Blaisdell, 2006).  Although faculty members seeking to introduce podcasting into their classrooms have these same issues colleges and universities have, for the most part, institutions have steered their limited resources more to the academic realm.   Institutional backing includes permission to access the school's servers and store files within its system.  Support within the Division of Student Affairs is also significant to convey the importance of podcasting to departmental staffs.  This recognition also puts less pressure on the self-declared technocrat, who may spend countless hours of his or her own time, in developing podcasts outside a defined and structured framework.   Technical support covers personnel well-versed in all aspects of creating a podcast-from recording or videotaping information, to digitally editing recordings, to properly uploading a finished product to the institution's server.

 

iDreaming-Convene a campus-wide podcasting task force to begin an institutional dialogue concerning the possible utilization and application of this technology.  At Georgia College and State University an 'iDreaming' committee was formed encompassing staff from all areas of the campus (residence life, admissions, library and academic affairs) (Blaisdell, 2006).  The committee was introduced to the concept of podcasting, including associated software, and asked to come up with a list of possible applications for the institution.  The results were a series of initiatives, which the school could support and evaluate (Blaisdell, 2006).

 

Proper Equipment and Training-Much of the literature and popular articles about podcasting briefly touch on the ease and simplicity of creating such an Internet broadcast.  However, the production of a podcast does require equipment with digital recording capabilities, software to properly edit audio and/or video, and an application to publish the ongoing episodic programs.  In addition, while the learning curve for mastering the aforementioned podcast components can be relatively quick there still needs to be adequate and centralized training to assist individuals within departments seeking to generate podcasts. 

 

Quality Control-Podcasts, whether audio or video, rely upon the spoken word.  Poor sound quality can be a subtle nuisance or a full-fledged bother to individuals downloading and listening to a program.  Podcast producers also need to be aware of background interference as well as "the quality of speakers' voices, speech patterns, intonations, and other sound effects [that] may not be the same as those of a professional broadcast" ("7 Things," 2006, p. 2). 

 

Podcasting Postscript

Is podcasting the Internet application du jour, or will this resource become a permanent part of the technological landscape at colleges and universities?  Student Affairs would do well to adopt podcasting as part of their operations.  Undergraduates are connected to this online broadcasting system and student affairs has a unique opportunity to follow suit.  Still, there are some issues revolving around the technology.  Even though the hallmark of podcasting is "the ease with which audio content can be created, distributed, and downloaded from the Web ("7 Things, 2006, p. 1), there are a number of barriers for student affairs professionals seeking to successfully introduce the notion of podcasting within their specific units.  These include institutional and technical support, proper equipment and training.  There is also the phenomenon known as "podfading," a term coined by podcaster Scott Fletcher in February 2005, which refers to podcasts that simply vanish from cyberspace ((Friess, 2006a) .  "Podcasting is one of those things that's cheap and easy to begin to do, but takes a tremendous amount of time to keep going," stated blogger and former podcast host Brian Reid (Friess, 2006a, p. 2).  With all the duties and responsibilities competing for the time of student personnel administrators will the start-up podcasts end up on the podfading heap or become an essential component for disseminating information and connecting with the current generation of undergraduates?

 

References

 

7 things you should know about podcasting. (2005). EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative.Retrieved July 10, 2006 from  http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7003.pdf.

 

The 2006 Horizon report. (2006).   The New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, pp. 1-27.

 

Ask the techies. (2006). Ohio State University. Retrieved July 5, 2006 fromhttp://www.ohiou.edu/aac/lab/techies.

 

Bausch, S., & Han, L. (2006). Podcasting gains an important foothold among U.S. adult online population. Nielsen/NetRatings,   Retrieved July 16, 2006 from http://www.nielsen-netratings.com/pr/pr_060712.pdf.

 

Blaisdell, M.  (2006). Academic MP3s >> is it iTime yet? Campus Technology. Retrieved July 10, 2006 from http://www.campustechnology.com/article.asp?id=18001&p=1.

 

Butte College.  (2006).  Butte College Chronicles. Retrieved Jul 5, 2006 from http://bcchron.blogspot.com.

 

Campbell, G.  (2005). There's something in the air:  Podcasting in education. EDUCAUSE Review,  40(6), 32-47.

 

The Career Ambassadors. (2006). North Carolina State University.  Retrieved July 5, 2006 from  http://www.ncsu.edu/career/careertalk/index.php.

 

CareerChat. (2006). Miami University Ohio.  Retrieved July 5, 2006 from http://www.units.muohio.edu/careers/podcast/.

 

Career Talk. (2006). Webster University.  Retrieved July 5, 2006 from http://www.webster.edu/homecampus/homes/careertalk.html.

 

Chapman , M. (2006). Podcasting: Who's tuning in?   eMarketer.  Retrieved July 13, 2006 from http://www.emarketer.com/Reports/All/Podcasting_mar06.aspx.

 

Copestake, S. (2006).  How to create your own podcast.  Personal Computer World.  Retrieved July 27, 2006 from http://www.pcw.co.uk/personal-computer-world/features/2160476/podcast-party.

 

Folsom lake college podcast. (2006). Folsom Lake College.  Retrieved July 5, 2006 from http://www.flc.losrios.edu/~podcast/flc_podcast/index.html.

 

Friess, S.  (2005) Video and the podcasting star. Wired News. Retrieved July 13, 2006 from http://wired.com/news/culture/1,69462-0.html.

 

Friess, S.  (2006a). Podfading takes its toll.  Wired News. Retrieved July 13, 2006. February 7, 2006 from http://wired.com/news/culture/1,70171-0.html.

 

Friess, S.  (2006b). Podcasting after iTunes.  Wired News. Retrieved July 28, 2006 from http://wired.com/news/culture/1,71257-0.html.

 

Kennedy, R.  (2006, May 19). At museums:  Invasions of the podcasts.  The New York Times, pp.  E25-E33.

 

Lum, L.  (2006). The power of podcasting.   Diverse Online, March 9, 2006. Retrieved July 8, 2006 from http://www.diverseeducation.com/artman/publish/article_5583.shtml.

 

Moneta, L.  (2001).[S2] 

 

Menus served in the dining units.  (2006). University of Connecticut.  Retrieved July 5, 2006 from http://www.dining.uconn.edu/dds/weeklymenulistings.htm.

 

Podcasts. (2006). North Harris College.  Retrieved July 5, 2006 from http://www.northharriscollege.com/Templates/content.aspx?pid=54686&kee.

 

Podcasting to hit critical mass in 2010. (2005). Bridge Ratings. Retrieved July 14, 2006 fromhttp://ww.bridgeratings.com/press_11.12.05.PodProj.htm.

 

Potter, D. (2006). IPod, you pod, we all pod.  American Journalism Review.  Retrieved July 9, 2006 from http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=4053.

 

Rainie, L.  (2005). Internet revolution: public awareness of Internet terms.  Pew Internet and American Life Project, July 20, 2005, pp. 1-7.

 

Rainie, L., & Madden, M. (2005). Online activities and pursuits: Podcasting catches on.  Pew Internet and American Life Project, April 3, 2005, pp. 1-5.

 

Read, B. (2005a, September 9). Abandoning cassette tapes, Purdue U. will podcast lectures in almost 50 courses. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved July 6, 2006 fromhttp://chronicle.com/weekly/v52/i03/03a03201.htm.

 

Read, B. (2005b, October 28). Lectures on the go."  The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved July 6 from http://chronicle.com/weekly/v52/i10/10a03901.htm.

 

Read, B. (2006, May 5). Berkeley offers free podcasts of courses through iTunes.  The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved July 6, from http://chronicle.com/weekly/v52/i35/35a04401.htm.

 

RSS feeds and podcasts. (2006).  Tacoma Community College.  Retrieved July 25, 2006 from http://tacomacc.edu/whatishappening/rssfeedsandpocasts.aspx

 

Young, J.  (2005, November 4). Stanford u. makes podcasts of lectures available through apple's iTunes.  The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved July 6, 2006 from http://chronicle.com/weekly/v52/i11/11a04402.htm.