Category Archives: Podcasting

On podcasts, learning, and uni students

When I first went to university I wrote all my essays on a typewriter.  The desktop PC revolution and word processing programs were only just beginning.  In fact, the typewriter held fast in universities throughout much of the 1980s; some universities having specific rooms full of typewriters for students to tap away upon. I had my own typewriter; but even that posed certain problems.  One memorable comment from a lecturer on one of my essays was: “I think a new typewriter ribbon would have been helpful”! 

The change from typewriter to PC and word processing was a massive change for students – a change for the best.

Nowadays, university students have it pretty easy when it comes to doing their university work.  Students have laptops that can go anywhere and word processors that make writing and editing assignments relatively painless.  Thankfully, computers made “white ink” corrections redundant.  Students don’t have to queue for ages at photocopier machines to copy key journal articles anymore – almost all academic journals these days are available online via the university library.

University students today don’t even need to go to classes to listen to lectures since many lectures are now podcast, enabling students to listen to the material at a time most convenient for them.  Moreover, podcasts overcome the multitasking dilemma we “older” students had when trying to listen to lecturers and write down salient points at the same time! Podcasting, like laptop computers, give students greater freedom and flexibility for learning.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that university students are spending less time on campus and more time online, according to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. “Three out of four students use podcasts of lectures and a third believe online lecture materials can be a replacement for attending classes, according to the nationwide survey of 2422 first-year students by the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne”.

While we can say that technology has created the capacity for increasing a student’s online experiences, the other reason is financial.  The cost of education is much greater these days then when I first went to university (in the days when university education was nominally “free”).  Over the past 10-15 years, university students have had to pay expensive fees or take a loan to pay for their studies. For undergraduate students in particular, paying for education means there is a greater need to take part-time jobs to earn money to pay for fees, as well as the usual costs associated with text books and transport.

The negative side to all of this is the lack of on-campus activity that comes with university life.  If students are learning by themselves via online services, podcasts, and even wikis, where is the social interaction that is also part of the educational experience? 

People in the workforce do not work in social vacuums.  The lecture, with all its ancient history behind it, acted as a focal point for students to meet before and afterwards.  The death of the lecture means new focal points will need to overcome the loss of social interaction.  And I don’t just mean the fun part of social interaction; I mean actually meeting with other students (both by design and serendipity) to discuss what they have learned and what needs to be thought through.

It is interesting to compare the university experiences of students today with what will be their work experiences.  For the most part, employers want staff to be at work in a specific physical location.  Despite all the hype, working from home is still relatively rare.  Working with people at the workplace is still the fundamental organisational architecture that university students today will move into.

In the knowledge management industry, we are very supportive of face-to-face contact to establish trust to enhance workplace (working) relationships.  Trust is integral to many of the knowledge management initiatives that we like to promote, especially in terms of leadership, communication, collaboration, people networks, and operational effectiveness.

Information technology gives us speed and scale that cannot easily be replicated in face-to-face environments.  For example, knowledge management professionals like to promote online communities of practice, wikis, and podcasts too.  We see that there are many different ways to communicate information and knowledge and we try not to rely on only one channel.  We like to consider context and how our KM work best fits within that context.  In many ways, we are like both the university students and university lecturers of today’s world.

Getting the balance right in the context in which we operate is the real challenge.


On flickr and development agencies

There’s an interesting blog post from Timo at the Red Cross about the use of Flickr to showcase the international development and humanitarian work done by that agency (thanks Nadejda on KM4dev for the tip).  The Red Cross Flickr stream is really a terrific site and well worth a visit.  Where I work, AusAID has a Flickr site too.

Timo’s blog post cites eight lessons learned from the experience of using Flickr:

1. know your audience
2. newsworthiness beats quality
3. less is more
4. understand what you want to achieve
5. use Flickr groups
6. appreciate the work of others
7. need to give solid attention to Flickr to maintain traffic
8. be careful with creative commons licensing

What is missing, and Timo alludes to this in his blog post, is that Flickr needs better integration with other applications. Timo suggests that Flickr needs to better integrate with Facebook, for example.  In addition, I think we also need to work out how better to use Flickr to tell the stories behind the photos.  I still feel that the images, words and tags are not enough to really give me a strong sense of place and story.  There is greater potential for education and learning beyond just the images themselves, albeit I know how powerful images can be in their own right.

It would be great to be able to link the photos to a short podcast, perhaps a narrative fragment from one of the image subjects, to really give stronger context to the individual images.  Not sure if this is possible, but I am certain narrative would add to the user-experience.

On getting into podcasting

As you may know from my Twitter feed, I am back at work after my trip to the US.  It all feels kinda weird being back in an office after spending almost two weeks out on the plains and Badlands of South Dakota and Minnesota.  Anyway, I am back at work and back to the old reality.

But one interesting development is in play at the moment.  There is a growing interest in doing some podcasting among a few of my client areas.  At the moment, we make do with a very primitive system using a digital voice recorder.  It’s therefore not surprising that this is not well used because the recording and audio quality are so poor.   And, to be fair, this digital recording device is not really sold for podcasting use.

Now I am personally a big fan of podcasting; perhaps some latent interest from my primary school days when I was one of the four “broadcast boys” responsible for broadcasting educational radio programs throughout the school’s classrooms.  Some childhood interests never leave you.

In much more recent times were the discussions last year with Matt Moore in Sydney about his podcasting and podcasting techniques.  Matt has done some really interesting podcasts using relatively low-cost equipment and Audacity freeware.  Check out Matt’s blog and scroll down his label list to find podcasts.  As to regular podcast listening, I am a big fan of the podcasts from IT Conversations.

Since we are in the early stages of looking at podcasting and podcasting equipment at work, I thought I’d share this recent blogpost from Dan Benjamin on podcasting equipment to get the thinking process moving along.

Using social media

I often hear that some people are reticent to use social media in organisational contexts because they feel that unless they have high quality production equipment, there is no point.  I must say that I have some sympathy to this view. However, I also believe that having simple equipment can also be effective so long as you have a good story to tell, and that the purpose and use of your media makes sense for what you are trying to do.

When I worked at Rabobank in Sydney a few years ago, one of the young chaps in the IT area used his mobile telephone to take video of himself talking through the proposed move to new office premises at Darling Harbour.  He basically filmed himself (at arm’s length) walking through the new office premises showing the refurbishments on the floors we would be occupying.  He gave a personal and informative commentary. And despite the video being somewhat jerky at times (he didn’t edit the video at all), it was still effective – but the BBC it certainly was not.  He even did a nice story, encouraging all of us at Rabobank to visit, about an historic visiting Dutch sailing ship moored at Darling Harbour (Rabobank is a Dutch bank).

Think of it, a mobile phone was used to record video which was uploaded to the intranet.  Well actually, in the initial phase I think the video was sent around as a file attachment.  Soon there was some buzz within the organisation about his chatty and informative videos.  In the end, I think he either had the files loaded on the intranet or he was fired … I think probably the former!

His personality and use of (mobile phone) video in such a seemingly amateuristic and informal way was of significant appeal; far greater than the formal channels of communication (newsletter and text on the intranet) about the office move.  And had his initial video been official policy, turning his video into some high-end production would have destroyed the natural and honest appeal of his reports.

More recently, I have enjoyed a number of reports about the World Food Program in Malawi.  The reports are videocasts (sorry, I always refere to video podcasts as videocasts) called On the road: Malawi.  It looks like the video is shot on a hand-held camcorder.  The story is natural and easy going.  It really is like being there in a real place – not some media-constructed and phoney backdrop to showcase production quality and five second soundbites.  The video has been edited, but video editing software these days is inexpensive and can yield good results.

These two examples demonstrate that having low-cost production techniques can in fact communicate high quality information and knowledge in an effective way.  Certainly, one has to ensure that the video is (mostly) in focus and the sound is audible and can be understood, but you don’t need expensive HD cameras and top-end audio recording equipment all the time. 

And of course, one has to pick the right audience and story that best suits these low-cost production strategies.  A corporate video and advertising campaign are likely to require higher level production values than (say) showcasing an internal success story within the organisation.  Digital images for National Geographic and the weekend colour supplements in national newspapers will have different quality requirements than a digital photostory on an intranet or website.

Similarly, the number of social media distribution tools (such as blogs, podcasting sites, Picassa Web and Flickr, MySpace and YouTube, for example) allow for a far greater range of production qualities than ever before. Instead of not doing things because we don’t have everything perfect, why not experiment with some of these low cost production options and see how effective they can be?

On conferences

Apart from just moving house (again) and waiting to get the utilities connected (again), I have been thinking about conferences.  My thinking was instigated by an approach I received from a conference organiser to present at an upcoming conference in September on collective intelligence. Almost at the same time, another conference organiser contacted me asking about case studies in government that could be used to demonstrate effective collaboration. And, of course, there is the plethora of conference invitations and conference pamphlets that come across my email and my desk each week advertising future conferences with discounted early bird rates. The message is clear:  Get in quick, folks!

As I thought about all these conferences I was conscious of the fact that essentially they were all the same. The conference organisers invite speakers to present under a particular conference theme. People attend the conference to listen to these presenters, network with professional peers, and hopefully find some useful information and learnings that will be of personal or workplace relevance. It is pretty standard conference fare.

Now that’s all very well and I am happy to participate in such events. But I am thinking there could be other ways to provide conferences with something different. I know there are un-conferences and the like but I am thinking of something else.

Firstly, I’d be interested in a conference where the theme was not so tightly regimented. I am thinking of a conference at which there are presenters speaking on different and unrelated topics but from which the audience could develop particular personal or collective themes themselves. The audience would therefore become an active participant by discussing these emergent themes rather than having the themes imposed upon them. I see strengths and weaknesses in this approach – my interdisciplinary preferences are also at work here. But at least there would be some active thinking, rather than what often happens at conferences is passive and sleepy acceptance.

Secondly, I’d like the keynote to be in the form of an interview. There would be an interviewer but I’d like the audience to be able to take part as well – perhaps providing some questions in advance from which the interviewer and conference organisers could put into some form of meaningful order (randomness would also work for me but I think effective interviewing relies on a logical progression). The interview lends itself more to a storytelling approach rather than a lecture. The Q&A format stimulates quetioning in the minds of the audience throughout the keynote – something that could be followed up after the conference as well.

Thirdly, I’d like conferences to have some follow-up. We go to a conference, hear some stuff, maybe feel pretty good about things, and then go home or back to the office. Why can’t we tap into the collective experience of people after the conference officially finishes? If the conference is interesting and participatory, then there is the opportunity to extend the discussion outside the formal conference environment.

And talking of follow-up, I’d really be interested in any game that could be developed to reinforce or stimulate further thought about the conference presentations. I am thinking simple card or board games, but more technical games on  a website would be equally useful (if a tad expensive!).  A “snakes and ladders” for effective knowledge management would be absolutely fantastic! Games are great information reinforcements and something worthy of considered thought.

And lastly, I’d like conference organisers to think more creatively about conference “notes”. A few Powerpoint slides from presenters in a drab folder doesn’t cut if for me these days, I’m afraid. It also makes it difficult for presenters since Powerpoint slides often become the presentation (the defacto content) rather than acting as a supporting element to the actual presentation. Powerpoint slides are not conference notes! I really like the idea of podcasts and I am a big fan of the podcasts that come out of the SXSW Conference each year. Great stuff!

Now if I can work out how to introduce African drumming into a conference I would be really satisfied…

On new ways to connect – the three minute soap

I was reading today’s Sydney Morning Herald online when this article caught my attention. The article is about a new web-based soap that will launch on Bebo next month. Mind you, this is not the first time I’ve commented on this type of thing – see a previous post on snack drama.

The really interesting thing is the genre and the communication channel – both particularly suitable for the mobile world. To date, much of the production of the three minute soap (or snack drama) is by amateurs and budding film producers experimenting through sites like YouTube. The real deal will come when advertisers and professional media production professionals start to invest in a big way in the three minute soap.

The appeal for the three minute soap has so far been on the production side of things. Grab a video camera and start shooting, hopefully with a reasonable storyline that will attract some regular attention. Much of what is produced today and channelled through YouTube is from amateurs and low-budget film-makers wanting to get product out into the world wide web.

The market is being driven by supply. However, demand will grow as more of these soap videocasts become known and gain sufficient following. As the market and consumer awareness develops, the supply will include more sophisticated production elements that will enhance the viewer experience, either through quality of production and/or quality of story and characterisation. Digital word-of-mouth through social networking will be a significant driver of demand. New production and editing techniques may develop that become unique to this type of media presentation and distribution channel.

Commercialisation will come about in a number of ways. Firstly, the three minute soap can be used to promote upcoming television series, movies, or games – almost like a set of pilot shows. Secondly, advertisers will use these digital videocasts for product placement and digital advertising. Thirdly, as the technology allowing for videocasts to mobile telephones improves sufficiently, a new and ubiquitous market platform emerges; just the thing for time-poor and attention-poor viewers to engage in habitual soap alone and with friends. And, there is the ability to leverage characterisation and the soap brand via other digital platforms – social media, blogs and other interactive fora.

Pricing structure needs to be considered. So long as access to the content remains nominally free, demand will accelerate. However, if commercial hunger overshoots demand by charging video subscription charges, then growth will be stymied. My tip is to grow the market first and see what happens before even contemplating pay-for-videocast soap!

But that’s not all. It will be possible for magazines to have sections of the printed product linked to videocasts as part of the magazine subscription or purchased as a stand-alone item. Imagine the gossip magazines with their grainy video shots of celebrities juggling groceries at the supermarket being available via videocast on a mobile phone or laptop? Videocasting using mobile telephony is exceptionally well suited for segmenting magazine news stories, either as stand alone content or as an extra to the print version.

I believe the genre will develop and really take off in the next 12-18 months.  The three minute “soap” is just the beginning of course. The genre can take different forms – news, profiles, and education being examples. My personal interest is in learning and development. Imagine a training manual with links to selected relevant videocasts viewable via your mobile phone for instance.

I will therefore be following the videocast soap (and any permutations) to see how the market grows in the coming year and where those learning and development opportunities might be be. And I’ll be watching mobile telephony technologies just as keenly over the same period.

Stay tuned….mobile digital video on your laptop and mobile telephone is coming your way.

On SXSW 2008

I am really disappointed that I wasn’t able to get to Austin, Texas, this year to attend SXSW Interactive. I will get there one day (I hope) but in the meantime we are fortunate that the organisers provide podcasts of the presentations and discussions.

Check out this interview with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame – some interesting discussion on how people in different countries are using Facebook and what Facebook holds for the future.

Warning: the interviewer is really annoying, thinks she’s clever, and she probably thinks she is real cute.  Not impressed. Note to potential interviewers and facilitators – “it’s not about you, ok?”