Podcasts: Why?

I’ve been grappling with that leadership meme that’s floating around (thanks, Christian & Rick, for keeping me up the other night) but until then, can someone tell me what’s the point of podcasting? What’s your game here?

Full disclosure: I’ve listened to maaaaybe a couple of podcasts in my life, so it’s possible I’m simply not the audience. I’m an irregular audience for a photography podcast, NPR’s This American Life, and Slate’s Spoiler Special. Given the comments, I’m not sure what an avid podcast-listener looks like, but I’m pretty sure I ain’t him. Whether this constitutes an informed opinion of podcasting is, as it always has been, up to the discernment of the reader. From my perspective, the medium has offered up a survey of its advantages and disadvantages without much of a struggle.

In return, for the podcasting enthusiasts, here are a few reasons why your podcast isn’t feeding my iTunes jukebox, why I secretly wonder if podcasting is only on the guest list of Educational Tech Initiatives simply Because It’s There, if it’s simply ed-technology for its own sake.

  1. My time is really important to me and I read faster than you speak.
  2. My daily commute is five minutes each way. (Don’t throw things. Ow ow … okay ….)
  3. I tried working out to Brian Dvorak’s education podcast but my heartrate never got into the red.
  4. From my experience, podcasts are largely unedited and free-associative.

#1 and #4 are my most most salient concerns, really. If you have to drive a lot or if you, for whatever reason, spend a lot of time with earbuds in, it doesn’t seem that large a leap from audiobooks to podcasts, so that’s great for you.

But I was listening to someone awhile back — forget who, but he podcasts on his drive home — and I dug the immediacy of it, the sense that someone very smart was talking to me. But I couldn’t help wondering if, well, this couldn’t have been, y’know, a little tighter. If, maybe, edited on paper, this could’ve been a more potent experience. From the perspective of one who invests a lot in writing and drafting, who carefully deploys even sloppy colloquialisms like “gotta,” I just can’t trust my ideas to my voice, which wavers, stammers, and can’t double back on itself for proofreading.

The most annoying thing on this blog to me is my only foray into podcasting. I included it as a memento for myself (that was a big day) but nothing I say over the course of those 20 minutes wasn’t written better in the accompanying seven-page manifesto.

So what about it works well for you?

Update from the comments:

Tim says:

I feel powerless when listening to podcasts…like I’m on the podcaster’s schedule, and I have no control over what the podcaster’s topics are nor how long he/she rambles on about them.

He prefers RSS, which feels familiar to me. More crucially, I think, is his remark, “I’ll stick with NPR in the car ….”

The Internet has democratized video and audio distribution and, while the cream has risen dramatically to the top in video, I don’t think we’re seeing the same growth in podcasting yet. I say that tentatively, given that I haven’t heard all that many edu-podcasts, but how many educational podcasters reading this sit down to their desks a là NPR with a script, a semi-professional mic, and a copy of Audacity for post-production editing?

Tim shifts the discussion to the value of podcasting for students and Eric brings up several examples of podcasting put to good use, including: language learning, presentations from conferences, and speakers he couldn’t otherwise attend or see.

Eric and I both wonder “if [we] might just be missing something.” Can anyone offer a more nuanced perspective here?

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I agree with you Dan. In a way, I feel powerless when listening to podcasts…like I’m on the podcaster’s schedule, and I have no control over what the podcaster’s topics are nor how long he/she rambles on about them. Trying to skip through uninteresting sections of a podcast is frustrating, and while driving, can be dangerous. I’d much rather skim through my feed reader’s blog posts and only read what I’m interested in. I end up getting the same info in much less time. I’ll stick with NPR in the car, thanks.

    On the other hand, I would argue that having students create podcasts can be a solid learning experience. For example, students might have to research a topic, summarize it in a concise and informative script, and then articulately record and edit their work. Essentially, they’d be learning something and then teaching it to others, which is a valuable exercise. I do sometimes wonder, though, if it’s worth the time. Is it just another tech-based classroom tool/toy? Is it a waste of time if nobody outside of the class ever listens to the podcasts? Personally, I don’t think so. I’d love to hear what others think.

  2. Hey Dan,

    I see podacasting the same way as you do. It’s cool that it’s there, and I’m glad that technology has made it easy and possible… but… then what ? If you have somethign to say, just blog it and let me read it in my RSS reader… Maybe I just love music too much, there’s no real estate left in my ears canals.

    Hope you don’t mind if I end posting something similar on my own unworthy little blog.

    I read a bunch of your posts. Man, those Meyer kids can write. I’ll forward your url to a few of my buddies who are teachers.

    Glad to see you’re having fun !


  3. I’m kinda on-board here, too. On the other hand, my listening and experimenting has been very limited, so I’m not ready to pass any judgment.

    I’ve heard some ELL/foreign language teachers talk about the benefits, and I think I can see that.

    I do enjoy podcasts (or videos, or podcast/slideshow combinations) of speakers and presentations that I want to hear/see, but can’t attend in person.

    I also enjoy the podcasts over at TeachersTeachingTeachers.org because it’s a conversation that is often interesting but that I can’t always join “real time.”

    The conversations on that site have made me consider doing some podcasting for the film club I sponsor. After watching a film, I distribute some reviews/critiques and we all (usually me and the students) sit around and talk. I think an *edited* recording of this conversation would be interesting/useful to students in the club who couldn’t make that meeting and parents (potentially). It might also serve as helpful insight/justification for the administration. (When we screened Fight Club, there were some concerns, but the conversation afterwards more than justified the viewing.)

    So I do see some benefits, but I mostly agree with each of your four points. I wonder, though, if I might just be missing something …

  4. Eric,

    Sounds like a solid application for your film club. (Incidentally, I have something of a dark past as a film critic.) One of my favorite podcasts was a conversation over coffee between two film critics immediately after they’d watched [x movie].


    You had me confused at first. Like, how’s this guy know about the plural Meyer kids? Then I was like, ah, got it. You’ve got the better writer of the two twins in your country, I’m sure. Look forward to checking out your post on the subject.

  5. I’m with you. I have three or four podcasts on my iPod that I keep meaning to listen to, but dang it, I just can’t. In the hour that I would listen to a podcast, I can read a couple dozen blog entries carefully (and I can make decisions about another few dozen that I don’t want to do more than skim.)

    I did two or three podcasts on PTheory, but I came to the same conclusion you did…. plus, I noticed that I would podcast about an idea that I couldn’t get my thoughts together to blog about, which meant that it was even more of a blurt than my usual blog writing.

    Where I think podcasts are useful for the adults are:
    1) Conversations… when you have a good roundtable discussion where ideas are bouncing around, that’s interesting. It’s talk show.

    2) Screencasting… there are tech tips that are better explained as a screencast than a write-up. The “Heavy-Metal Umlaut” screencast is the best example of how Wikipedia works that I’ve ever seen.

    3) Some video-casting — I love watching Steve Jobs’ keynotes or the TEDTalks speechs…

    4) Good interviews — a great interview can make someone really dig deep into ideas that don’t always come out in writing. I still think that Steve Hargadon’s questions for me when he interviewed me got me to articulate some ideas that had been rooting around in the brain. I don’t know if anyone else enjoyed it, but I went back to listen to what I said because I knew that some of what I said would form the genesis of a bunch of new posts and ideas.

    But in the end, there’s still a TON of podcasting that I just can’t get into. A good podcast of an adult talking about a topic is very much the exception, not the rule.

    Where I think podcasting is incredible is for our kids. The notion of developing performance skills, developing voice, developing media creation savvy is incredible. I watched what our kids did with their podcasts in English class, and I was blown away by the finished product. These kids are thinking about voice and authorship and real crafted performance in ways that wasn’t on my radar in 9th grade. I got into that in 11th grade when I did “TV Sports” for my high school, and those experiences were invaluable to my development. We can expand the opportunities for kids to experiment with their own voices with podcasting, and even if their audience is only their classmates and parents and friends, that’s still a huge improvement over the student teacher closed environment of the past.

    But I’m not sure that 10,000 people need to listen to SLA students podcasting. In fact, I’m probably pretty sure they don’t.

  6. Dan–you crack me up. I always know where to come to see the other side of the Web 2.0 bandwagon. I haven’t listened to many podcasts, I have enjoyed audio books while walking and at the gym. I’m a visual, not auditory learner..I like to see it and scan through it. The one classroom idea I like is “just in time” reporting, where students report daily what’s going on it the classroom. Nice home-school connection for elementary kiddos. Have a good weekend. N

  7. No arguments here, although I do listen to several weekly podcasts (or “netcasts” as some would prefer to name them). The techno side of me enjoys listening to Leo Laporte at “TWIT” (This Week in Technology) and watching the video podcast at DL.TV (Ziff-Davis’s twice-a-week show). To me, they’re just delivering programming to me using a modernized medium — the first is a “radio show” that I can get in high fidelity via my laptop, and the second is a “television show,” but again using the Internet as the medium for delivery. I don’t own an ipod or similar device (my drive to/from work is also just five minutes like yours) but I enjoy the content at home on my laptop. I can even listen while I’m catching up on reading all of those verbose bloggers….

    As for a better pedagogical rationale – I think that I’m in the same boat as you. As a math teacher, I struggle to come up with educational reasons to podcast – and I have to be honest in saying that I doubt that my students really care to hear my voice wafting through their earbuds when they’re at home over the weekend!

    [I do enjoy the “MathGrad” podcast every few weeks — it’s a rather short seven or eight minute blurb on some reasonably interesting math topic by a doctoral candidate]

    I’m not trying to deprecate them, but just not coming up with a good need for them in the school setting. In a “glass is half full” kind of way, I guess that I’m glad that the technology is available if I do need it sometime!

  8. Yeah, the only podcasts I really listen to are for NPR shows that I can’t listen to when they’re originally broadcast (Brian Lehrer’s on while I’m teaching, and Studio 360 is WAY too early on Saturday morning around these parts). I’ve been saving them up for when I shake this stomach bug and start running again–they’re good treadmill listening.

    Other than that, I haven’t really been interested enough to play around.

  9. OK, I’ll bite, especially as all the comments so far just agree with Dan (yawn!).

    a) I agree with Chris Lehman’s reason #2, #3, & #4, (not #1 unless they’re really intelligent, informed and or funny people conversing)
    b) I’ve listened to scripted and unscripted podcasts and personally I prefer the former. Dave Warlick is an example. He also does interviews and podcasts some of his presentations, and those are more fun to listen to than to read.
    c) Of course we can read faster than we can listen. So obviously, the time and place to listen to a podcast is when you don’t have access to the Internet and/or can’t read the blog. Duh. (Or when time is not a key issue. It isn’t always.) Or for listening to talks/presentations that can’t be read/don’t have a text. (Duh.)
    d) Personally, I enjoy fitting faces and voices to people’s online writing, and one reason I enjoy listening to Dave Warlick’s podcast as well as read his blog from time to time is it helps me build a composite picture of the person and get to know them a little better (sound like a cop, don’t I?). Plus I just like that Carolina accent.

    Dan, you crack me up, too, but maybe not for quite the same reasons as Nancy gives.. You really jump in there, feet first. Right there in para #2 you write I’ve listened to maaaaybe a couple of podcasts in my life. So, obviously this is a considered, researched opinion, right? I mean, I almost quit reading your post right there: gee, another unmarried marriage counselor, great. Who wants to read that kind of opinion? Vita brevis and all that. And all those people who do listen to podcasts, they’re all idiots, right?

    Snark aside, tho, keep rattling the cages, man. We all need that from time to time.

    [Edited by Dan to close an html tag.]

  10. Chris, are those podcasts available online somewhere? Probably not something I’ll listen to on the drive to work, but it does sound like a great unit for the right English class and I’m curious.

    Nancy, I assure you, despite the fact that I’m blogging from an adobe hut using a wi-fi card cobbled together from locust antennae, I’m decidedly pro-Web 2.0. Between Flickr, Gmail, Co.Comments, Sidejob Track, Basecamp, Google Docs, and, hell, I guess WordPress counts, me and Web 2.0 are good buds.

    It’s School 2.0 that has me a little suspicious and evaluative. Much obliged to you, anyway, and to Chris, Jeff, and Rich, for the raising the good out there in podcasting.

  11. Dan, I’m planning a podcast as part of an assignment for an admin class I’m taking. I do have to admit, part of me is doing it “because it’s there”, but a part of me is doing it for the purpose of interviewing a couple of people who are a lot more knowledgeable than I about the given subject. It may or may not be a regular thing on my blog, but I do think I can present some things in a different way than I would be able to in just written form.

  12. Weird. It’s hard for me to imagine that Santiago kid’s podcast being as powerful in print. Weird.

    Rick, look forward to seeing those on your blog.

  13. Dan,
    While I am not an avid podcast listener, actually I think I may have listened to two total, I have to agree with many of your points and some of the others in the comments.

    1. I can also read alot faster than I can listen. In the time it takes to listen to one 30-60 minute podcast I could have read 3-5 different full length articles.

    2. I also have a 5 minute commute!!!!

    3. One of the only reasons I think that I might want to listen to one is if it was a truly dynamic speaker that I just had to listen to and even then maybe I would just go to youtube and download the video (assuming it was there)

    However, with all that said, I do see the possibility of using it to help kids who can’t seem to go anywhere without the IPOD plugged into their ears. Rick Scheibner had a post about “Grammar Gir” and her impact on the podcast world. My ELA teachers seemed to think that was interesting. Also I someday think that a teacher who records their lectures and class information could benefit from podcasting or even video podcasting. Students who were absent could get the work and follow along with the teacher at the same time. Thus allowing the student to be caught up, just not with the work but also with the class instruction. It would take an extremley techsavvy teacher to pull it off, hey what about Dan, but it may be worth it in the long run.

    PS: I would link to stuff in the comments but I don’t know that much about HTMl

  14. I think some people like to listen to podcasts because they aren’t keen readers. Some people prefer to listen to the radio or to talking books instead of reading the material themselves. I like to do both, but when I listen to podcasts I can be doing other things too. Sometimes I can’t just sit and read and other times I can’t sit and listen. It’s great that we have a choice. I don’t think one is better than the other. It could be that your preference for one over the other depends on your learning modality. Auditory learners may prefer podcasts; visual learners may prefer blogs. Just a thought.

  15. I think that there is another audience that we are overlooking here. What about students (and their teachers) who are not so “good” with text? While many of you hear are “expert” bloggers and blog readers, this is not the case for all. As teachers, we differentiate for our learners who are not strong in reading and/or writing skills. For them, the listening to a podcast may very well make understanding attainable. And the production of that podcast may be a very simple way for them to demonstrate that understanding.

    Maybe not all subjects, maybe not all kids. But isn’t one of the fundamental ideas of web 2.0 accessibility and breaking down the barriers that kept all but the experts from participating. I love reading the blogs too, but let’s not forget that reading isn’t such an easy task for everyone.

  16. Yeah, there is the nagging sensation I’m dismissing an entire learning modality — something I try to avoid. I’m glad podcasts are out there for those who can absorb the medium’s drawbacks.

    I guess, more than anything, I’m trying to sort the available technology into two piles of Worth Something To My Pedagogy and Not Worth The Trouble. I imagine we’re all going for the same goal across the board, from Web 2.0 Skeptic to Will Richardson.

  17. As Dennis notes, some folks like to listen rather than read. I also think there’s power in a good interview. For example, the two DDDM interviews I’ve done so far on


    have been well-received so far, both by my students and others (you’re a data guy, Dan: let me know what you think!). Hearing presentations I couldn’t attend, getting to hear people’s actual voices when usually I only interact them via text, being able to think and reflect via my iPod while biking or driving to work with a distant school district: these all have value for me. I do tend to like more structured podcasts (e.g., Steve Hargadon, presentations) but they don’t have to be so professionally-polished that they start to reek of inauthenticity…

  18. Last night I set-up a playlist of TedTalks and listened while planning lessons. It was a pretty confluence of circumstances (I had the time; it was an audio-only moment for me; the TED presenters are great speakers) that brought about the best I’ve seen in podcasting.

    I also printed out 20 pages of The Edge’s annual survey. I took them to the gym and, while reading, wondered how many of the same writers would retain even a fraction of their insight and lucidity if constrained by GCast’s podcasting utility, which gives you one take, no editing, no overdubbing, all via a mobile phone’s mic.

    I admire the enthusiasm of School 2.0-savvy educator bloggers, I really do. I think some temperance is necessary, though, and I guess that’s the role I’m continuously, though unintentionally, self-selecting. In that spirit, I need to point out that Blogger, WordPress, and Typepad democratize writing in ways that GCast and AudioBlogger and all of these one-take, no-edit, no-overdub utilities do not. Imagine typing your posts without a delete key — can’t correct misspellings, can’t correct syntax, and, most importantly, can’t spruce up structure to accentuate meaning. Moreover, with podcasting, it’s the listener who absorbs all of these costs.

    That’s how I see the current situation, anyway.

    Thanks for the heads up on your interviews, Scott. I’ll check those out and get back to you if anything strikes me. (By the way, I wonder on a daily basis if you’ve got the same website in your newsreader that I do: Information Aesthetics. If not, it’s you, man. It’s totally you.)

  19. I think the key for me is that it’s another tool. For me, personally, I haven’t gotten into podcasts either. But for other folks – it may be a way to learn and grow. I don’t want to toss out a tool just because it doesn’t work for me – it may be perfect for someone else. (I also have a short commute – I wonder if that might be the determining factor for a lot of folks.)

    I also echo Chris’ and others’ comments about the voice – in both senses of that word – it gives our students. There’s a difference between reading what a student writes, and then hearing that same student actually speak it from the heart. The example I give my teachers is Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech (but you could pick others). If you read the text, it’s a good speech (maybe even a great speech). But I think most folks would agree that it doesn’t compare to hearing him deliver it . . .

  20. Thanks for stopping by, Karl. Last weekend, your Fisch Bowl presentations were a fascinating intro to this School 2.0 thingie everyone’s so excited about. If you haven’t caught Google’s Master Plan, you should, and you’ll probably die. Nothing could be farther from the Google-topian model you put forward in your 2020 Vision.

    Anyway, yeah, it isn’t like the availability of podcasts is hurting anyone and, in the cases you note, it’s the medium of choice. I guess what I’m urging in all cases is that we always match form, content, purpose, and audience to the best of our ability. It doesn’t seem as though anyone would disagree with that. Podcasting worries me in particular, though, since the ease it offers the speaker often costs the listener, but that by no means disqualifies it.

  21. Yeah, I watched Google’s Master Plan yesterday (or was it the day before). Saw it on Christian’s blog from your blog. I thought it was very well done. I talked with my staff a lot about those issues when I posted 2020 Vision – and shared EPIC 2014 with them at that time as well.

    One of the things that scares me is that I’m still finding it hard to get them to think about all this (which was part of the purpose behind 2020 Vision). We’re so caught up in the day to day struggles of the classroom that it’s really hard to look forward a little bit. And if they aren’t aware of both the promise and the peril of Google and others, how can they help shape how it’s going to turn out?

  22. Without reading through all of your comments here, I look at podcasting as an extension of what your blog is all about. Sometimes you can do personal interviews with people, and a written transcript just won’t cut it.

  23. I love podcasts! I look forward to seeing my favs pop up in iTunes every week. Of course, I have a 35 minute commute and it beats the heck out of listening to what passes for radio these days. I mean, how many “Morning Zoos” can the Northern Colorado area really support?

    I would think, though, that it’s largely something that has to fit into your life. If I had a 5 minute commute I don’t know when I’d listen to them with two kids at home…..

    — Scott