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Podcasts transform education

Laura Wilczek | Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The iPod has changed the way people think about music and videos, and now it’s altering how Notre Dame students plan course projects.

Last semester, professor Christopher Clark, an associate professional specialist in the Kaneb Center, had students in his Applied Multimedia Technology course create podcasts for one of their five projects.

Podcasts are portable audio files that students may play with an MP3 player and are similar to television or radio broadcasts, but utilize a different channel.

Their popularity gave Clark the idea to have his students make “Snitecasts” about an artwork in the University’s Snite Museum, a project meant to challenge students and keep them up to date in the growing world of technology.

The popularity of podcasts prompted Clark to challenge his students with a project that would keep them up to date in the growing world of technology.

“The objective [of the project] was for students to gain experience using audio editing in a practical project,” Clark said.

Students began their podcast projects with just the title of the artwork and a short description.

“The next step for students was to formulate a review about the piece of artwork as well as set their podcast to music,” said Ann Knoll, associate director of the Snite Museum.

For senior Erik Flores – whose podcast discussed traditional Japanese masks known as Okames – writing the review was the most difficult part of the project, not figuring out how to record the podcast and use the equipment.

“[The project] took about four hours to complete [and the] actual recording took about half an hour,” Flores said.

A grant from Notre Dame’s Center for Creative Computing allowed students to use high-tech digital audio recording equipment to create quality three to five minute-long podcasts.

The grant is awarded each year to faculty, groups of faculty members or faculty-student teams with the intention of “supporting new and innovative initiatives with digital technologies that contribute to the integration of new media into the research or teaching environment,” according to the Center for Creative Computing Web site.

The high-end technological equipment did not intimidate students in Clark’s class, who said they found it rather simple to use.

“It wasn’t really difficult at all,” junior Zach Labrecque said. “Professor Clark arranged for us to use portable recording equipment and we edited the sound files using software called Audacity.

We were also required to add background music from garageband.com or a similar free-domain site.”

Labrecque’s project was on Chakaia Booker’s free standing rubber sculpture titled “Latent Emissions.”

The Snite Museum is likely to continue support of such projects in the future, Knoll said, and plans to upload the “Snitecasts” to the museum’s Web site.

Clark said he is also pleased with the success of the podcast projects and plans to incorporate podcasts in future projects. Next year, he said he is considering a series of podcasts about sculptures on campus.

“In the end, people could download them and take a walking tour,” Clark said.

Students in the class said they are excited their work will be available on the Snite Museum’s Web site and that Clark will continue to assign podcasts as a project in the future.

“I would gladly participate in a similar project in the future because I think that using technology to support the arts is something that could be very beneficial to today’s tech-savvy society,” Labrecque said.

In the meantime, students may listen to their peers’ podcasts for free through the iTunes Web site.

The term “podcast” – coined by Apple Computer, Inc. – was derived from the combination of the words iPod and broadcast. In 2006, an estimated nine million people listened to at least one of more than 40,000 available podcasts, according to the Snite Museum Web site. $80 million was spent on podcast-based advertising.