Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

McREL Podcasts, & Switchpod

The Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) has a new podcast channel worth checking out. Rather than using a blogging tool like Blogger to post sessions, they are just using This is a great idea, and actually an easier proposition (most likely) than using Blogger.

Their 2nd podcast, “Is a laptop initiative in your future?” is excellent, addressing issues of digital immigrants and digital natives in the context of one to one learning. It is a good summary of research findings relating to one to one learning, and explores reasons for districts as well as states to pursue one to one learning initiatives. I like this quotation from the podcast:

The need for professional development related to new technologies is well documented. What is becoming increasingly clear is the need to provide specific kinds of professional development. It is imperative to change teachers’ practices: Therefore skills training, although important, can no longer be the sole focus of learning opportunities for teachers.

Amen! We have to be talking about the LEARNING ENVIRONMENT and education as a conversation more than we are talking about technology when it comes to any type of school change or reform initiative. In fact, like the state of Maine’s MLTI project, I think we would be better served to name these sorts of projects LEARNING INITIATIVES rather than “technology initiatives.” What we want to do (hopefully) is leverage technology’s ability to help students engage with the curriculum and other people– and thereby enhance their actual learning, including that measured by traditional assessments like multiple-choice tests. (Unfortunately, many people view technology as primarily a means to reinforce a traditional, transmission-based model of education, rather than a catalyst to facilitate dialog, conversation, and authentic learning. This is the real challenge, even tougher than budgetary issues: Expanding and refining the educational vision and paradigm of all school stakeholders to include conceptions of authentic- as opposed to fake- learning.)


McREL is using the commercial podcast host Switchpod. Unlike most website hosting plans, an account with Switchpod includes a fixed amount of storage space and “unmetered bandwidth,” which means it does not (apparently) matter how many people download your podcast. Popular podcasts can consume tons of bandwidth, so this service is worth checking out. A free account with Switchpod is also available, but it does have a monthly upload limit of 30 MB. That can go pretty fast for podcasts, which makes it important to encode at the lowest bitrate you can to maintain quality. For audio podcasts, I have found encoding at 32 kbps is fine, and really cuts down the file size of the podcast.

By using their own tag for their podcast RSS feed, McREL is smartly circumventing the advertising that would be placed in the RSS feed provided by Switchpod.

Thanks to Howard Pitler of McREL for these links.


My only suggestion would be to “burn” the feed with feedburner. Feedburner is a free service, and enables you to customize your feed, make it work with various podcatchers, make it work with non-RSS compliant browsers (like IE 6.0 for Windows), and also obtain some free statistics on your feed subscribers. I love feedburner! 🙂

If you have students creating podcasts, but running out of server space (or without server space) to upload their podcast audio files, you might check out the free version of Switchpod as an option. For K-12 contexts, I recommend school districts setup a podcast server or designate an existing server for podcasts and provide teachers with direct ftp access for file uploads.


Even though I think social networking sites and web 2.0 tools can be leveraged powerfully in schools to help students develop authentic literacy skills, I do understand the need for schools to exercise some level of control over the content their students are formally creating “for school.” There is a clear legal obligation for this oversight and monitoring as well, as Educational Law professor Dr. Scott McLeod discussed in a podcast interview in September 2005.

Allowing individual teachers to serve as gatekeepers for published content from classroom and student podcasts makes sense. It implies, however, that teachers will be responsible to listen to the podcast content first before it is web-posted, to insure it is appropriate and not offensive. That is a time requirement many teachers are likely to reject, given the present structure and demands of the average school schedule. Since podcasting qualifies as a potentially “disruptive technology,” however, many school districts will likely be slow to embrace podcasting as well as other web 2.0 technologies. In these contexts, when permission is granted but resources are lacking, a web service like Switchpod could be a great boon for educational podcasters.

Whether you are using Windows, Macintosh or Linux computer to podcast, the website Podcast for Free has great tutorials on using free tools like Audacity and Feedburner to podcast. I have more links and resources on my own Podcast Help webpage.

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