“Jay Speaks” to “The Intercept:” A few miscellaneous thoughts

If you were a fan of the recent podcast Serial, you really need to read the three part series “Jay Speaks,” a three part interview with the Jay in the Serial show, Jay Wilds, conducted by Natasha Vargas-Cooper in The Intercept. The link I have there is actually to part 3 of the interview, but if you scroll to the bottom, you can get links to parts on and two.

If you haven’t heard Serial, this is likely to not make a lot of sense. But of course, I did listen to Serial and I thought was incredibly compelling, probably the first of its kind of long form journalism in the form of a podcast and as a story that evolved as it was reported, largely as a result of particularly active listeners, for better and worse. And this piece is mostly the “for worse” angle of things: basically, Jay feels like he was demonized by Sarah Koenig, which is the main reason why he’s talking to Vargas-Cooper.

A few thoughts:

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"Podcasting on a Shoestring"

Nick Carbone passed this article along to the WPA-L mailing list and I’ve been meaning to post a link to it here and possibly for English 516: “Podcasting on a Shoestring: Community college turns to open source and used computers for captured lectures” is a story about how some folks at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College put together some hardware for podcasting for virtually nothing. Besides being a great story about open source software and the value of “being scrappy” (I think the article uses the term “feisty”), I think it is in the vein of articles/materials I want to introduce to suggest that the “technology gap” is more or less meaningless, at least in a general sense.

Yes, I realize not all is perfect with the world. Someone posted the other day on WPA-L (not in response to this thread, I don’t think) about how she still can only get dial-up access to the ‘net in her rural and Appalachian locale, and how the broadband service providers are unlikely to make it out to her area anytime soon. These problems have not gone away. However, as the podcasting story suggests, less than ideal access is not a reason to not try, and the exception to the rule in this country is certainly not a reason to not do technology stuff in writing classrooms at all. If that makes sense.

Some things I learned from a land down-under (followed by a tangent…)

I’ve been following dannah boyd’s blog lately, and she recently discussed her role as a keynote speaker at one of the series of seminars put on by an outfit in Australia called education.au. Boyd was talking about MySpace (what else?), and there are podcast recordings of her talk there. Good stuff to think about with teaching later.

But perhaps more interesting to me in terms of teaching is the stuff that Jimmy Wales was talking about (this is where the tangent comes in). He was also a keynote speaker, and, among many other things I’m sure (I just listened to about 10 minutes of this), he talked about Wikia. As far as I can tell, Wikia is a free wiki service that works with the same software as Wikipedia and which is free because it runs ads in the right-hand column.

This seems to present a classic dilemma, maybe one that in and of itself ought to be a topic in teaching with computers and educational computing in general. On the one hand, there are a bunch of commercial services out there that provide a bunch of utilities and help for free that are perfectly useful in teaching with technology at all levels. Blogger, Wikia, pbwiki, wordpress.com, flickr, etc., etc., etc., the list is so long and so obvious to most that I am sure I don’t need to go any further than this. These services are reliable, robust, upgraded, and –oh, did I mention this?– free.

But there are two other hands here to this three armed monster. Other hand #1: the content generated by teachers and students are hosted and ultimately controlled elsewhere by these enterprises. Besides all the stuff about copyright and ownership and all of that, if one of these companies goes out of business or off line for some reason, all of your work is going to be gone. OH #2: It is generally considered unseemly and uncool to have ads on sites/tools being used for educational purposes.

This has been on my mind a lot lately because of the email situation at EMU. Feel free to go to EMUTalk.org to see the whole story, but basically, EMU’s email system crashed hard and was off-line for six days. I’m not going to sum up all of the frustration and anger going on over there because of all of this, but there was a lot. A LOT. EMU’s, um, “profile” in the national news has been a little bit higher than I would prefer as of late, and the only event that has happened in the last 12 months that has brought more traffic to EMUtalk.org is the firing of EMU President John Fallon, and he was fired largely because of the cover-up of a murder on campus.

Now, for me personally, the impact of this was severe, but not nearly as bad as it could have been because I switched to using gmail for as much of my email as possible in January. Even with the EMU email failure, I was receiving messages from outside of EMU at my gmail account– apparently, they get forwarded before they get to my EMU inbox. And it was a good thing too since I had a variety of work-oriented email messages from folks outside of EMU– potential students, for example.

A lot of the debate on EMUtalk.org has been about the role of services like Gmail. The opposition to Gmail services has been (basically) that using Gmail gives Google way WAY too much data for them to use on/against you, it’s never good to trust an outside source for your sensitive data because of all of the scary terms of service agreements with these folks, and because of what I guess I can only describe as self-defensive pride. While a lot of my local ICT people express concerns about Google’s suite of services because of privacy, I suspect what they’re really saying is they do not like the idea that the university could “outsource” these services and get a better product.

In any event, the pros and cons of these free services that run little ads are complicated for sure. I guess I make decisions about these things on a case-by-case basis. I run my own blogs on server space I lease with the open source product WordPress, but I have my students use Blogger simply because it’s easy, reliable, and I don’t want to deal with the support issues. But because Gmail has so many services that I can’t get from EMU for my email, I am willing to put up with some very small and often amusing ads. Maybe the same will be true with Wikia as well.

"Podcasts replace textbooks for GATE students"

This is an especially misleading headline, but it is what it is: Podcasts replace textbook for GATE students, from the Mohave Daily News. Happily, looking at the first couple of paragraphs proves that they aren’t throwing away the textbooks exactly:

Instead of pouring over textbooks and completing worksheets, students at Diamondback Elementary School are making podcasts, creating virtual tours of fictional museums and putting together their autobiographies with digital cameras.

The Gifted And Talented Enrichment (GATE) program – offered year-round for kindergarten through eighth grade in the Bullhead City School District – launched a four-week summer program this year that has students working on MacBooks.

The MacBook runs both Apple and Windows systems, compared to the Windows-only computers the district currently uses, and has a built-in system that can take still photos and record audio and video.

Oh yeah– it’s kind of an ad for Apple, too.

This is an article that I hope is around in terms of a link next year when I teach English 516 again because it’s another one of those examples to me of the difference between just dumping laptops in the schools (and then being shocked– SHOCKED, I tell you!– when that doesn’t work) and actually integrating technology into pedagogy in a way that makes sense.

Will Podcasting "Hit it" this year?

See this article from Open Culture, “Podcasts to Hit Inflection Point in ’07.” Will podcasting become the next big thing? Here’s what these folks say: “The answer boiled down to this: Podcasting stands poised to proliferate in ’07, much like the web did back in ’95 and ’96.”

Personally, I dunno about that. I’m trying to do more with podcasting in both of my classes this term (note to self: I need to record one for my online section of English 328). I’m using them in two different ways. I’m posting audio notes/lecture materials into the online “course shell” materials (this is the emuonline interface), and I’m posting more informal/weekly updates about stuff going on in the class on the class web sites/blogs. Those are “real podcasts” in that you can actually subscribe to them with something like iTunes.

I am going to try to get some students to do some of this stuff too, but that’s a slightly different issue because of the online nature of the class.

I really don’t know how many of my students are listening and paying attention to these things, to be honest. In the research I did for my article “Broadcast Composition,” the evidence I came up with in my very small and limited survey was that about half of the students listened to them, and about half didn’t. I guess I could go with either the glass being half-full or half-empty on that one.

But one thing I am starting to work with/planning to do is skipping ahead to do some more videocasting this term. Maybe that really is going to be the next big thing….

Podcasting the Byzantines (and beyond)

According to this post on Open Culture, one of the most (the most?) podcast courses posted in iTunes is one called “Twelve Byzantine Rulers: The History of the Byzantine Empire” (here’s a link to the web site for the course). Not exactly the sort of thing that you’d expect; and yet, at the same time, it is one of those kinds of topics that strike me as kind of pleasant to listen to on my iPod while at the gym.

Podcasting– both the audio and video varieties– have been on my mind lately as I think about next semester. There’s the ways I want to include audio comments and podcasts in my online teaching, which will be all of my teaching in the winter term, but I also am trying to figure out ways to make podcasting a topic of conversation in my graduate course. And then there’s also a program sponsored by EMU Faculty Development Center on teaching faculty to podcast. On the one hand, I kind of feel like this is “faculty development support” I don’t need– actually, I think I’m reasonably well-equipped to provide support. On the other hand, signing up for this program would allow me access to a little bit of grant money. Hmmm….

Audioblogger soon to be no more….

Well, this is a bummer: according to the folks at Boing Boing, the audioblogger feature on blogger– which allows you to literally call in an audio file over the phone and post it to your blogger blog– is going to be closed down on November 1.

It figures. Computers and Composition Online recently published a special issue on sound that includes my article/website/podcast “Broadcast Composition,” and one of the things I talk about in that piece is the advantages of using audioblogger as a teaching tool.

I thought audioblogger was a pretty cool service– at least when it worked (it was always a little buggy). Make a phone call, talk for up to five minutes, and it automatically posts. That’s it. Super easy, and free is a really good price.

Well, the good news is there are other services, notably Odeo, which I think has more or less cornered the market on free podcasting. You can’t use the phone to record podcasts, but you can use their software– as long as you’ve got a microphone on your computer. And, as the Boing Boing piece points out, there are other services for recording audio for the web over the phone out there.

Still, I’ll miss the audioblogger stuff….

Podcast channel-surfing

I stumbpeld across this site, Odeo, which appears to be a non-iTunes related podcasting resource that looks kinda cool. One feature that strikes me as kind of cool is that it has a randomizer function on it. The first podcast it took me to was a talk show about veganism. Agh. So I just clicked on on the “play next” button and got something from South Africa. Seems like the way I watch cable TV when I’m feeling bored….


I went to an informal workshop/discussion this afternoon held by some folks in Continuing Education about audio files, podcasting, and some other multimedia technologies for teaching, mostly for teaching online. Mostly, a good time was had by one and all– mostly. I think the tech support guys for CE did a good job, and, while I was very much non-prepared and experienced some technical problems (which, on the plus side, gave me a chance to mock Windoze), I think at least some people got something out of what I said. So it was mostly good.

But not completely. Thus the title of my post.

Here are what I saw as the problems:

  • Podcast frenzy! Podcast frenzy! Not all but many of the faculty at this event were there because they had heard of this thing called Podcasting and, based on the buzz, they figured they had better get on the band-wagon and get on right now. But it seemed pretty clear to me that many of these folks– again, not all, but many– really did not know what they would do with a Podcast or if they would ever Podcast or, really, at the end of the day, what a “Podcast” was. I didn’t ask, but it might have been interesting to ask how many of the attendees had actually heard a podcast.
  • Tangent-Land. Somewhere along the line, someone brought up one of those issues, maybe the issue, that always comes up at sessions that involve teaching with technology: what about copyright, what about fair-use? For me, the main reason why these issues are always so frustrating are because no one— certainly no one has not made IP and copyright their full-time business– knows the answer. Furthermore, no one– certainly no one in academia– wants to admit that they don’t know the answer. So what ends up happening is people talk about things they may (or may not) know about IP and copyright, at least until someone says something like “we can’t solve that now, so let’s just move on.” Ultimately, I think this fear of the rules and not knowing them and being afraid of some unknown consequences are enough to chill innovation. But that’s kind of a tangent in itself, so let’s move on.
  • We can’t do that, real and fake. Okay, there is a lot of things we really can’t do with online classes and with things like podcasting. We can’t assume that all of the students have a high-speed internet access (though most of them do). We can’t assume students have this or that kind of computer, which is also probably true. But then there’s the fake can’t due. For example, it became clear after a while that there were any number of things that were just a lot easier to do with a Mac. So someone asked at one point “So, does that mean we can’t do this stuff if we don’t have a Mac?” (And, of course, my answer is why don’t you have a Mac already?)

    The most troublesome “we (or really, you) can’t do that” of the afternoon for me is I was told that it was “against the rules” for me to use a non-EMU server space to host teaching materials, as in any of the pages available here. The conversations I had after this event with various folks suggests this is just wrong, but again, it’s another example of a knee-jerk “we can’t do that” for no good reason sort of rule. Sounds like an administrator to me….

YackPack– something else I'll have to talk about in this podcasting article, I suppose…

See Yackpack, which (as far as I can tell after monkeying around with it for about three minutes) is a website/software that facilitates group podcasts. It looks quite easy and kind of fun. And it looks relevant to what I’m trying to write about, which is an expansion/revision of my CCCCs presentation on podcasting.

Of course, the tricky things about trying to incorporate this stuff into my online class this coming spring is I don’t have a lot of time to get it up and running. Classes this term end May 1 and classes in the spring term start May 8, which, given the rest of my life, is not a lot of time to do a lot of major revisions to the way I teach online. But it still might be worth a try.