Today I tried yet another podcast client. This one is a freebie called Doppler. It seems to work reasonably well. I pointed at the feedburner feed for my test blog at http://feeds.feedburner.com/LannysDemo and it brought in all the posts and the files too. So that was nice. But it still is not as good as iPodderX, though it does have a "link to enclosure" in the message. In Doppler it is a generic link, and doesn't say anything about file type or size. But it is manageable. One can use the blog posts as metadata for the enclosure. That I think is important. When I tried jPodder, it only brought in the files, not the messages from the blog.
This leads me to my first issue. Is the Doppler client idiot proof? My answer, no it isn't. It is simple to use, but not idiot proof. No software is and if this sort of thing is used only for instruction and the students use something else for their entertainment content (iTunes would seem to be the number one candidate) then they won't be very familiar with the application and might encounter issues that I can't anticipate here.
So why not use iTunes? That is an application many if not most students already know. My answer to that one is --- if it is only audio content to be distributed, iTunes is fine. But in any technical course, in my opinion, one wants to distribute some visual content - a PowerPoint presentation, a pdf file with images embedded, etc., along with the audio content and so one would like the podcast client to handle any file type as an enclosure. My understanding is that iTunes doesn't do that. Further, and here I'm only guessing, my sense is that this type of higher ed use of Podcasting to have arbitrary formats in in the podcasting may not have a parallel on the reactional side. Apple's business model has to first and foremost address the recreational market. So it seems to me that Apple doesn't have a good business reason at this point to move to supporting general formats for podcasting. I would love it if they did, but I'm guessing it won't happen any time soon.
So if one used iTunes as the podcast feed, then the students would get the other content some other way (most likely as they currently get it from the course management system). That puts us in a world where the students are using two different clients (the second one is a Web browser) to get to the course content. It would be much nicer to have one client for everything. One might argue that for other functions - checking out within course grades, participating in an online discussion, etc. the students are going to have to use the course management system anyway, so what is the big deal. My response to that is many instructors really only want the file distribution function. For that population having the student use two clients is nuts. Further, I'm guessing we're going to see more and more large multimedia files to distribute and for that podcasting is great because it can happen in advance of use. But if that occurs, then one wants the ancillary docs to come in along with the multimedia and that is true even if the instructor used the CMS for other purposes.
Now let me switch to the other side of the coin, the creation side. My campus is creating a tool like Feedburner, primarily intended for department or college Web masters to manage RSS on thier own sites. This tool, almost certainly more powerful than the Feedburner tool, is also more complex to use. I don't expect much uptake of it by instructors. The complexity may be a virtue for the Web masters, but I don't think it is a detriment for instructors. Having made the Feedburner feed, which is a one time thing, managing the podcast is fairly easy. The sole recurrent pain with adding enclosures to my blog is that I have to find and paste in the url for the file. So first I upload the file to a server, then lanch the file in a browser if possible, copy the url from there, and then paste into the blog. If the file doesn't open in a browser, I open the directory in which the file resides, copy the url for that, and then complete the url by typing the file name with the file extension after the dot.
There is nothing particularly hard about doing this, but it is clunky. With our course management system now, you can upload the file to the server and then select the file name and it will be inserted in the appropriate place in the organizer or learning module. Having to bother with urls for the file is dark ages stuff in my view. What I'd really like is to have the file sitting on my desktop, then drag it onto my particular blog post, and from doing that simple dragging, the file should be uploaded to the appropriate server and the url should be placed into the right box in the blog --- automatically. And did I say I'd like to do that for a file in arbitrary format?
We've been a little slower than some campuses going doing down the podcast route. The reward from that, I would hope, is that we do things a little more sensibly when we do role out a such a service. But I'm not yet convinced there is a sensible path to take that will fit the needs I've articulate. Maybe this is a glass half full problem. And maybe I'm just greedy.