There are three major areas in which podcast technology is evolving. They span the spectrum from standards to usability, to the application of the technology. We will look at each of these areas below.
Standards: There are two prevalent formats for syndication, RSS 2.0 and Atom. RSS 2.0 is the earlier and more widely used format. Atom was developed later and ratified by the IETF. We can skip over the many details surrounding how we got there since this has been adequately documented elsewhere. A brief history of RSS can be found on Wikipedia1. Both formats work fine with the widely available RSS aggregators. New standards bodies have been formed to continue the standards process forward. Increasing standardization in this space would allow the focus to shift to increasing the application of podcasting to a wider number of areas, including but not limited to alert systems and application data retrieval systems.
Tools and Usability: This is clearly an evolving space. The traditional method of creating and publishing podcasts involve the recording of the audio or video content using a laptop or other recording equipment (including iPods), the editing of the recorded content, the hosting of the content on a server system, the editing of an XML feed file to publish the presence of new content, and the listing of the XML feed file in a podcast directory – such as iTunes. These steps often involved the use of separate tools and systems. iTunesU seeks to reduce the complexity in terms of publishing and publicizing the content. There are other more DRM-friendly efforts underway. The success of the next wave of podcast adoption is going to largely depend on the reduction in the complexity of the process. Odeo2 or Orb3 are such examples. For higher education, podcasting provides a wealth of potential benefits such as reaching a larger audience, increased interaction among students, faculty, administration and the community.
Application of the technology: Software vendors are incorporating this technology into Course Management Systems (CMS), while universities are expanding their usage into areas other than teaching. New delivery frameworks such as iTunesU have increased the feasibility of content generation and management at an institutional level. Examples include lectures, narrations, aural individual and group presentations, institutional announcements and training. This increases student interaction with content, the institution and peers. In the future Podcasting may enhance the learning experience with audio books. Content creators can easily insert content that positions the learner closer to the subject under discussion.
Podcasting will continue to evolve and we are seeing part of it with the inclusion of rich media podcasts - these refer to the combination of video, audio, and other digital media content. Online courses may see more of this type of content in the future as they could evolve into reusable learning objects.
Challenges and Opportunities