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Casting a New Light on Podcasting

By Mark J. Davis
 | Apr 14, 2017

TILE_04142017_w300Richard Simmons was ubiquitous on television in the 1980s and 1990s. His Sweatin’ to the Oldies videos and weight-loss products sold millions. In the past decade, talk show hosts continued to welcome his exuberant and inexhaustible energy. Then, in 2013, he quietly disappeared from the limelight and chose to cut off communication with the public.

Dan Taberski created the Missing Richard Simmons podcast chronicling the genuine stories of Richard’s positive impact on others and wondered what had become of the exercise guru. In March 2017, Taberski’s podcast reached the top of the Apple iTunes Store charts and ignited stories from mainstream news outlets. The power of the podcast was front-page news.

The term podcast is often attributed to journalist Ben Hammerslay from 2004. The term is a made-up word combining “pod” which references newly introduced Apple iPods, and “broadcast” for the rise in online streaming radio. It is more likely that you have consumed media without ever realizing how the podcast changed our lives. In a digital landscape led by social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, there seems to be less attention paid to a passive technology introduced just over a decade ago. Yet we regularly stream music and binge watch an entire television series.

In other words, the podcast helped usher in the era of on-demand media. 

Podcasted radio shows are similar to audiobooks; an episodic podcast allows you to enjoy chapters that build on one another. Serial is one of the leading examples, whereby users follow a true-crime mystery that unfold over several weeks. Fan fiction with original storylines have gravitated towards podcasting. At AudioFictions, fans of the Harry Potter have created over 200 original stories based on the J.K. Rowling’s series.

Video podcasts, sometimes called vodcasts, have become more prevalent as well. YouTube and Vimeo certainly owe their designs to podcasting. Consequently, this helped usher in more online education, whereby learners participate at his or her own pace. TED talks have allowed millions of viewers to watch brief presentations of innovative designs and fascinating stories. MIT OpenCourseware and The Open University feature access to recorded lectures with exceptional educational content.  Talks with Teachers, #edChat Radio, and The Marshall Memo give abbreviated educational research and instruction through weekly podcasts.

Teachers are also embracing podcast creations in the classroom. In several English classrooms at Barrington High School in Rhode Island, Bryan Caswell and Molly MacIntosh have begun capturing students’ oral histories as podcasts. The format was inspired by National Public Radio’s The Moth Radio Hour program, during which regular people tell short stories about their lives. Students in this project were given a thematic question such as, “When did you realize that your perception had changed?” Based on critiques from peers, the best stories were recorded as a live performance before an audience of parents, students, and teachers.

For the past three years, I have been working with literacy students who needed practice with writing and oral speaking. Using the Star Wars Radio plays, we remixed stories from the original trilogy and created an episodic podcast. Each episode includes students’ vocal performance along with music and sound effects. As we build more episodes, we hope to use a Creative Commons License to distribute them publicly.

Podcasting is a remarkable medium that is certainly worthy of a second look. If you have an interest, do a simple search with the term “podcast” included. Chances are that a podcast exists for you. When you are ready to dive into podcast distribution, try using a host such as SoundCloud or PodBean to reach a wider audience.

mdavis-headshot_w80Mark J. Davis is a high school reading specialist and a doctoral candidate at University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College. He is passionate about digital literacy with a specific interest in infographics and information visualization. Visit his website at or follow him on Twitter @watermarkedu.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).


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