Saturday, January 14, 2006

Podcastercon2006

Sorry for three days of absence from this blog. I needed some time to recuperate after the Podacstercon which I attended last Saturday. It was a marvelous experience. For more information check out the Podcastercon blog, the wiki, a nice article in News and Observer, the blog reports via Technorati tags, Technorati search and Google blogsearch and pictures on Flickr.

Kudos to Brian Russell for organizing an unconference and taking the concept to the maximum. All sessions were designed by participants by editing the wiki ahead of time. Some of the open sessions were designed on the spot! With at least half of the participants constantly online via their laptops, and two big screens in each of the two big classrooms, it was possible to make changes on the go and still be confident that all participants would be cognizant of the changes.

At one point someone asked "What are we supposed to do now?" and the next person answered "This is our conference. We'll do whatever we want. So, let's do something" That's the spirit! I did not see anyone uncomfortable with the free-flowing format. Everything that needed to happen happened and everyone was always in the loop.

The attendants, of course, are all used to the concept of swarming and connectivity and the order emerging out of chaos, so this worked perfectly for this kind of crowd. Still, if the conference gets bigger in the future (there were about 300 participants this time around, more than a third coming from out of state) and spreads over two days, perhaps a little bit more structure may be neccessary, but not too much more....

In the morning I attended The 411 - How to Podcast session. A little bit too non-linear and occasionally over my head (and I am a blogger, familiar with a lot of online stuff!), but I still managed to learn a lot or at least become familiar with some of the aspects of the process of making a podcast. Perhaps I should have gone to the Podcasting For Everyone open session in the afternoon - I heard it was better geared towards beginners (No, I do not regret attending the Podcasting and Traditional Media: Competition and Cooperation session - I have learned a lot about the radio business there).

First I need to chase down the tech-support guy to fix my sound card so I can do this. Then, guided by Brian's excellent Indy article, the book I got after the conference - Podcasting Hacks - also Podcasting For Dummies I just ordered, and the online tutorial Podcasting 101, I can get myself started on podcasting.

On a number of occasions in the past I've been frustrated when I wanted to include a paragraph or so from a source that is not available online (e.g., a book) in my blog posts. Mostly, I ignored it, sometimes I transcribed/retyped it, but in the future I plan to just read it into a microphone and embed an audio file into the post. How about a weekly podcast from James Dobson's childrearing books followed by my written commentary?

I met some extremely interesting people at the conference, as well as several bloggers I knew from before. We had dinner at Rathskeller and a beer at Fuse. It was a very valuable experience.

But the main reason I went to the Podcastercon was to attend the Education Session. It was worth it! David Warlick led the discussion. You can see his own comments, the workpage that was updated in real time during the session, and an excellent review by Teach42. There is so much material in all those places, there is no way I can summarize all of the session here, so just go and investigate by yourself.

What I want to do is record my lectures and have them available for students. I am teaching in March/April next time and I will definitely do this. But what was most interesting to me was the way this technology adapts to the psychology and sociology of today's students. As David stated in the beginning, today's students are extremely connected to each other. When they come into the classroom and are asked to switch off all of the electronic equipment (cell-phones, iPods, computers, etc.), we are cutting off their 'tentacles'. Now if I were a squid and someone cut off my tentacles I'd be very uncomfortable to say the least.

What the new technology does (and what freaks some people out) is that each student's work becomes public (not neccessarily to the wide world, but at least to other people within the school if the website is password-protected). In the past - and present - the only reader of the student's work is the teacher. In the future, all the work will be read, heard or seen by their peers. How is that going to shake the social organization of the classroom? Is that going to break down the traditional division into cliques of jocks, nerds, etc.? Is a popular jock going to be deflated when exposed to be a half-illiterate dummy, and a shy Goth girl in the corner becomes popular due to immense writing, speaking, acting or video-editing talents? Is the motivation going to rise for students to perform always their very best? I have asked similar questions regarding blogging in the classroom before. Is it going to have an effect like this?

That is why, I think, Fred Stuzman's work on The Facebook is so important (although it is a work on progress - he has done no stats yet, and I seriously doubt there is going to be a significant difference between # of friends that liberal and conservative students have, or the subtle changes in proportions of liberals and conservatives over time - it is only freshmen and only one semester so far, and a more longitudinal study is needed as I have stated before). What do you think?

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