Educational Podcasting: A Taxonomy of Pedagogical Applications

Educational Podcasting: A Taxonomy of Pedagogical Applications

Catherine McLoughlin, Mark J.W. Lee
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-368-5.ch018
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The proliferation of Web 2.0 technologies generates a new wave of online behavior, distributed collaboration, and social interaction. They are already having a transformative effect on education, triggering changes in how teachers and students communicate and learn. The chapter illustrates the new forms of learning, communication, and participation enabled by podcasting and the pedagogical innovations that are possible with this audio-based Web 2.0 technology. Beyond having access to a wider range of content, learners can engage in creative authorship by producing and manipulating digital audio content and making it available for consumption and critique by classmates, teachers, and a wider audience on the web. A range of podcasting activities are described in contemporary learning environments. The emphasis is on tertiary education settings where students are engaged in content creation, self-directed learning, and metacognitive skill development. These examples are discussed in terms of how they are indicative of the pedagogical choices now available to teachers and learners.
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Podcasting technology allows audio content from one or more user selected feeds (channels) to be automatically downloaded to one’s computer as it becomes available, and later transferred to a portable player for consumption at a convenient time and place. It has enjoyed phenomenal growth in mainstream society, alongside other Web 2.0 technologies that enable Internet users to author and distribute rich media content. Jon Udell (as cited in Campbell, 2005) attributes this growth to five main factors:

  • 1.

    The pervasiveness of the Internet;

  • 2.

    The rapid growth of broadband;

  • 3.

    The widespread availability of the multimedia personal computer;

  • 4.

    The blurring of the distinction between streaming and downloading media content; and

  • 5.

    The rapid uptake of portable MP3-capable devices.

Adam Curry (2004), of MTV fame, first coined the term “podcast,” which is a portmanteau word that combines the words ‘iPod’ (the name of Apple Computer’s popular music player) and “broadcast.” Podcasting has also been likened to a TiVo or similar device that uses a process of time shifting to allow for flexible viewing at a time convenient to the user. Once downloaded, audio podcasts can be transferred to a variety of portable devices, including but not limited to dedicated music players such as Apple’s iPod, handheld computers, as well as many modern mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Podcasting has the potential to support learning in a range of settings and across the disciplines. This chapter outlines innovative pedagogical uses and applications of podcasting across a range of settings, including student-generated audio segments for distribution to and critique by peers. Students at colleges and universities worldwide are now engaged in creative authorship by being able to produce and manipulate audio files and video clips, tag them with chosen keywords, and make this content available to their friends and peers worldwide through media sharing websites and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds. Such applications are reflective of the new emphasis on user-generated content, creativity, and community-based knowledge building that are characteristic of Web 2.0.



Podcasting allows users to receive new audio material on their desktop computers automatically by subscription. It offers a low-cost, low-barrier solution for the timely delivery of fresh content as it becomes available, for transfer to or synchronization with a portable device when the user is next able to physically access his/her computer. The editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary declared “podcasting” the “Word of the Year” for 2005; they defined the term as “a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player” (Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 1). This is but one testament to the burgeoning growth of the technology and its au courant status in mainstream society. In fact, the word “podcast” has spawned a number of associated words, each with a particular meaning as Table 1 displays.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Micro-Content: Small, basic units of digital content or media that can be consumed in unbundled micro-chunks, and aggregated and reconstructed in various ways. Micro-content often forms the basis of micro-learning.

Podcasting: A portmanteau word that combines the words “iPod” (the name of Apple Computer’s popular music player) and “broadcast.” Refers to the distribution of digital audio files, typically in MPEG Layer 3 (MP3) format, through a syndication protocol such as RSS. The user subscribes to one or more feeds or channels of his/her choice using a podcast aggregation program, which periodically polls the feeds for new audio files and downloads them automatically to the user’s hard disk as they become available.

Micro-Learning: An emergent paradigm that involves learning through small learning units (micro-content) and short-term learning activities.

Personal Learning Environment (PLE): A system, application, or suite of applications that assists learners in taking control of and managing their own learning. It represents an alternative approach to the Learning Management System (LMS), which by contrast adopts an institution-centric or course-centric view of learning. Key PLE concepts include the blending of formal and informal learning, participation in social networks that transcend institutional boundaries, as well as the use of a range of networking protocols (RSS, peer-to-peer [P2P], Web services) to connect systems, resources, and users within a personally managed space.

MPEG Layer 3 (MP3): A digital audio encoding format that makes use of a lossy compression algorithm, which sacrifices the fidelity of the audio to reduce the amount of data required to represent the audio recording, thereby resulting a file size that is suitable for transmission over the Internet. Since the compression works by reducing the accuracy of certain parts of sound that are deemed beyond the auditory resolution ability of most people, for most listeners, an MP3 file sounds like a faithful reproduction of the original audio. MP3 is commonly used format for consumer audio storage, as well as a de facto standard for the transfer and playback of music on digital audio players. Most podcasts are produced in MP3 format.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS): A technology originally designed to facilitate the publication of text summaries of additions to frequently updated websites, such as news sites and blogs. The user subscribes to the feed(s) of one or more RSS-enabled websites by configuring a news reader or aggregator program installed on his/her computer with the URL(s) of the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) file(s) that comprise the feed. The program perodically checks the feed for new content and downloads it as it becomes available. RSS 2.0 feeds permit the inclusion of enclosures, which permit multimedia files (such as MP3 files in the case of podcasting) to be referenced in the feed.

Vodcasting: The publishing/syndication of video files instead of audio files using the same technology as podcasting.

Mash-up: Content or material that is collected from several web-based sources, and then modified, re-mixed, and/or re-combined to create a new formulation of the material. A mash-up is typically a digital media file including one or more the following: text, graphics, audio, video, and animation. Mash-ups are commonly seen in “Web 2.0” services such as blogs, wikis, RSS and podcast feeds, media sharing sites (e.g. YouTube) and social networking sites (e.g. MySpace, Facebook).

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