Friday, May 12, 2006

Podcasting Digital Lectures

Having the Apple MacBook working, I was about to make my own podcast using GarageBand when I had a call from the Australian National University (ANU) Scholarly Technology Services to say they had turned my web design lectures into podcasts.

The ANU already has a system which lets lecturers easily record and distribute lectures, called "Digital Lecture Delivery" (DLD). To record a lecture I log onto the PC built into the lecture podium and select DLD. This then looks up the university timetable to see who is due to give what lecture in that room and displays those details. If that is correct (which it always has been) I then click at big green button to start recording.

The audio from the room PA system is used for the recording. At the end of the lecture I just have to remember to click the big red button to end the recording. This is then made available to enrolled students on the course web system, by web streaming and as an MP3 file to download. I pointed out in a seminar on podcasting a few weeks ago that it was a small extra step to make these recordings into podcasts. STS took this to heart and created a test system using my lectures.

A small RSS file is automatically created from the course information already in the ANU's system, with the course name, the lecture time and the speaker's details. There are two versions of the file: a standard RSS one and one for iTunes, with extra information fields (the iTunes version doesn't do a lot more right now as there is little extra information to put in it).

One technical aspect is that the feed is available optionally using the feed protocol. This is prefixed with "feed:" instead of "http:" and is supposed to be more efficient for handling feeds. But if you don't have special software to handle the protocol (such as iTunes), you can just replace "feeds:" with "http:" and it works fine.

The test system works fine technically, but can't be put into production until some tricky policy questions are answered about who will have access to the feeds and how much security is needed on them. Judging from the PR material from some US universities, you might think that they are now giving free access to everything online: just download it. This is not quite the case and there are many reasons why free access to everything is not practical or a good idea. As one example some guest lecturers are happy to talk to the students, but not have their every word recorded and broadcast worldwide. The technology may be working but the policy to go with it will take a little longer.

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