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Podcasting and Education

A conversation with Rice University's Jeffrey Daniel Frey

Is podcasting spreading like wildfire across campuses, or does it just seem like it? Can good podcasts on your school's site boost enrollment? How can educators get started in podcasting on a budget? What's the first rule to follow in considering whether or not to create a podcast?

Campus Technology spoke with Jeffrey Daniel Frey, the Web services manager for enterprise applications in the Information Technology Department at Rice University. Jeff writes, speaks and consults on podcasting, as well as teaching a podcasting course to the community through Rice's School of Continuing Studies. He talked about some of the misconceptions about podcasting, as well as how he sees podcasting as a way to boost recruiting efforts.

Campus Technology: Let's start by talking generally about podcasting in education. You've done a lot with podcasting, and you write and speak and consult on the topic. What do you see happening out there?

Jeffrey Daniel Frey: One of main thrusts is people who say that they need to podcast, but why? Doing something for the sake of technology doesn't work. The first thing I look at is the "why?" I ask people, what's the benefit? What are the metrics out there? What are you trying to say?

CT: What are some things that people are doing with podcasts in education?

JDF: In my "whys" of podcasting, I list about five things. First is that people are podcasting their courses. That's just a given. If you're doing a podcast at a university, you're going to either record the whole [lecture], or pieces and parts…

Beyond that, if I look across podcasting… it comes back to the audience. My top five reasons for podcasting are for faculty, staff, students, development alumni, and--really the main reason--enrollment and recruiting.

There are different reasons for podcasting. Faculty want to share information… For staff, the reason is usually training. That's what a university does, it teaches. So what better way to disseminate information than to put it together in a podcast, so you don't have to send people all at once to a seminar?

Students, of course, are doing everything. They're doing podcasts themselves and putting them out there. With development alumni, it's raising money, connecting with alumni, making sure they know how they can get involved: that's a big portion of podcasting.

But the number one reason is really recruitment and enrollment.

CT: So podcasting really can increase enrollment?

JDF: That's what I see happening. When you think about it, all of the things I just talked about help with that as well. When you do a podcast and put it out there, [no matter who the intended audience is], potential students are looking at it and saying, oh yeah, that's interesting.

No matter how you're doing it, because it's a technology that potential students are picking up on and can grasp very quickly, that can happen.

But again, technology for the sake of technology is not a good thing to do. What's the story you're telling? Is it for faculty? Is it for staff? What's the meat of your presentation?  

Some people put together a podcast plan and say, we want to do this, then realize that a podcast isn't the best way to push it out there. And even if you are doing a podcast, it definitely should be transcribed. If you're doing a video, you might want to do audio as well because that's easy to pick up. There are different ways to disseminate the information to reach a broader audience.

CT: So it goes back to one of the basic rules about Web sites: it's really about content, not the medium.

JDF: Yes, know your audience, and start with the content. That's what we tell people when we're building a web site for them. Once we know that, we can figure out what the architecture should be around the content, then we can figure out what the delivery method for that content is.

CT: Back to your comment on recruiting, which I think is an interesting observation: Do podcasts enhance recruiting efforts because they say, here's a university that clearly knows and uses technology well? Or is it the actual information the podcasts contain?

JDF: I think it's a little bit of both. I think that a podcast can give a more real sense of what it's like to be at the university. Some people can't visit every prospective school…  so interesting to go to a Web site and actually get an experience of what it might be like there. When you hear a podcast with an actual faculty member's voice, or you see a video in which you're actually in a classroom, or you're touring the campus… If you can watch a video like that, it makes you feel a little more connected to the university. You can say, now I understand more what their classes look like, or what their students are like, or their professors.

CT: What's the top tip you can offer to an individual educator who wants to start podcasting?

JDF: If you can get past the "why"--why am I doing this and who is my audience--then you get to the technology. My number one tip is, do the best you can with the technology… Invest in the technology and the editing, so you can put out something that's of high quality. And it doesn't take much. Fro under $100 you can get a really good mic that plugs into a computer. There's free software to do the editing. I have information on my blog on podcasting technologies. For a small investment, you can push something out there that's really good.

So my tip would be this: Invest in the technology so you can put out the highest quality product that you can, whatever that is. Just do it. It's not hard. It's easy stuff.

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