Video Podcasts: Beyond Alpha

Tech IconAudio vs. Video

Steve Dembo recently blogged about video podcasts, vodcasts, vlogs, or whatever hip, trendy word you wish to attach to those nifty moving pictures that show up on your computer via an RSS feed. He makes a very compelling argument on why audio podcasts are right now better than video podcasts, mainly because audio is a media more accepting of multi-tasking than video. (That’s why all of those DVD players in those newfangled SUVs are set up so the driver can’t see them. We would have fewer intact roadside obstacles otherwise.)

The main thing is that with audio so many of us have mp3 players which we can use to listen to everything whenever we want. With video we’re more likely to want to watch it when sitting in our living room munching popcorn or a suitable alternative snack. So, until the Tivo handles video podcasts they’re more of an “alpha test” type of format.

I don’t quite agree…

I must say that while I see where Mr. Dembo is coming from, I think we’re at least at the “beta testing” level rather than merely alpha. Take United Streaming, for instance – my base school has set it up so almost every classroom is capable of going there and showing all those cool videos on a TV connected to the computer with nothing more than RCA jacks. (Most of our computers have VERY nice graphics cards.) My only complaint about the whole setup is that since I’m not a classroom teacher I don’t get to use that content myself.

Now I’ll be the first to say that there’s more out there than just the content that United Streaming has. I mean, just look at what they’ve got at, for example – one of their most recent offerings is a 52 minute show where several paleontologists are interviewed and even answer questions from an elementary class. This video is 100% free and could be shown in the classroom with the same hardware we’re using to show United Streaming. Since our 1st graders are learning about dinosaurs right now this video came out just in time.

Shorter Clips for Longer Retention

There’s a downside, however. A lot of people that produce educational videos feel the need to make them fit into a 30 or 60 minute timeframe. This is the standard for TV, and content creators tend to be influenced by what has come before. (I’d be willing to bet that most of the photoshop geeks who use the “burn” and “dodge” tools have never even been in a darkroom where those terms originated.) Unfortunately experienced educators have also been saying for years that the worst way to show a video in class is to hit play and back off.

Short clips, followed by student discussion are actually the way to go. Your brighter students will help keep the conversation interesting and the ones who would rather put their heads down and sleep won’t get the opportunity.

Enter the educational video podcast. It doesn’t take much for a science teacher to set up a camera and record a lab experiment, or a history teacher to record an historical reinactor discussing his or her period clothing. These short clips can then be uploaded to something like to be shared with the world and shown on TVs in classrooms everywhere. I know from personal experience that videos recorded at 320×240 resolution look just fine on your average TV, so they don’t even need to be that big.


I don’t think video will kill the podcasting star, any more than the invention of nuts and bolts killed the nail.

Different tools, different uses. all cool.

Oh, and don’t expect me to give up podcasting in favor of video casts. I may like my little mini-lessons, but I still have a great face for radio.

One response on “Video Podcasts: Beyond Alpha

  1. Teach42

    Hrrrmm… I guess I want to make sure that the distinction is made between vidcasting and educational videos. The key difference being the ability to subscribe to future content, like with blogs and podcasts. It’s a good question though, how does that figure in to the classroom setting. I was thinking more along the lines of the mainstream, but many many schools have a computer with internet in every classroom. Why not watch video casts on there? Especially if they were aligned to a specific reading or math series. How cool would that be to have a short video waiting for you aligned to your curriculum every day?