Whether they launched their podcasts at the suggestion of a parent or the gentle prodding of a tech-loving staff member, principals who have tried podcasting repeat the same refrain -- it is easy, inexpensive, and effective. The brief messages, filled with school news and posted on Web sites, can be heard and viewed by parents from their desks or via their mobile phones. Recording podcasts isn't "rocket science," say administrators, and it is likely that your school already has the equipment required. Included: Learn about the free tools that make podcasting simple and easy, even for newbies!
"In these changing times -- students and adults taking more online classes, the concept of apps for your phone, the ideas that learning is changing from memorization to knowing how to access information and discerning the quality of the information you are accessing -- I knew that I too must change," admits Principal Dave Beranek. "For a high school to run at a high level, you need to have communication with parents and students in a manner which fits their interests and schedules."
As a former technology education teacher, Beranek is uniquely poised to capitalize on new methods of communication to reach the community of Marathon (Wisconsin) High School. He became interested in podcasting when he discovered the variety of podcasts offered by iTunes. During the last school year, he created four podcasts and received positive feedback. This year, he plans to generate four to six. Beranek's topics range from general information to introductions to complex school initiatives.
"If you spend some time investigating podcasts, you quickly learn that almost everything has a podcast associated with it," Beranek reports. "As this is an emerging tool, I am focusing on using podcasting to support our more traditional communication efforts -- Web page, newsletters, and local newspaper articles."
In his conservative community, response to the podcasts has been slow but positive. Beranek feels that a steady approach has given him time to develop his skills. He likens that experience of podcasting to being a "talk show host" -- it takes a few "episodes" to become "professional."
At Marathon High, Beranek embraces the new outlets provided by the changing technological environment. He uses podcasting and email to convey information on a regular basis, and his latest pursuit revolves around the venue of Facebook. Last year, when a late snow storm caused an unexpected closing of school, Beranek asked a student to post the information on a Facebook page, in addition to the usual media outlets. The bulletin reached students more quickly than ever before.
"The best way to get involved in podcasting is to just do it," he advised. "Set a date that you must have a podcast finished, and then start working on it. I am not an expert, but I do think it is a great way to get information out, and I think it will only increase in the future."
When Steve Knobl started podcasting four years ago, he knew nothing about it. The school's technology specialist and a teacher who was training to be an assistant principal came to his aid each month. As time went on, Knobl did master the art of podcasting. Today he creates them frequently and stays on the cutting-edge of technology with updated cameras and software.
"I learned how to podcast while the principal at Bayonet Point Middle School," Knobl recalled. "Staff members mentioned it to me and said it would be cool if I would learn to do periodic podcasts since our school-wide initiative was to increase the use of technology pervasively throughout our staff and student body. When we started to get positive comments and feedback, I was sold on the idea."
When he arrived at Gulf High School in June of 2008, Knobl brought his passion for technology with him. Jeff Miller, a math teacher at the school in New Port Richey, Florida, assists Knobl with his weekly podcasts and functions as both editor and critic. The podcasts feature highlights of the week and target students, staff, parents, alumni, and the community.
"Specifically, I recognize student-athletes, teams, clubs and organizations, academic achievements, and academic and school announcements of importance," Knobl told Education World. "We have seen hits on our Web site increase by over 200 percent since last year."
Knobl's audience has been very supportive. Alumni and current students often offer guidance about what they would like to see more or less of and make suggestions regarding scenery and props.
"The technology is not that hard to learn," Knobl shared. "Do not be afraid to take the plunge and get trained. Start slow, keep it simple, and create a podcast each quarter for a year."
As administrators take command of the technology, they can increase the frequency of podcasts. Knobl observes a maximum length of two minutes so that users can tune in and access the information quickly. He also strives to be positive and upbeat, an easy task for Knobl because truly enjoys delivering his podcasts.
"When we surveyed our community at the end of last year, one hundred percent of those who responded said that they were very satisfied with the communication from the school," says Michael Randall. "We attribute this directly to the use of the podcasts."
Randall, the principal of Orinda (California) Intermediate School, began creating podcasts two years ago at the suggestion of a parent. His intent was to provide an additional means of communication to help parents stay informed about impending activities at the school. Podcasts are used to highlight events and activities for the upcoming week and to spotlight accomplishments of students, staff, and the entire school.
Podcasting has proven to be much easier than Randall originally anticipated. The only new equipment he required was software, which is used to record a message and mix the music, and a microphone to enhance the quality of the audio. Randall attended a 20-minute training session that explained how to record a message, save it as an MP3 file, and upload it to the school Web site. At this point, he proudly asserts that he can even record the podcast on his iPhone.
"I believe it is vital to take advantage of the technology and not be afraid to do it," Randall stated. "The entire process [of creating a podcast] takes me about 20-30 minutes per week, and it is an extremely valuable tool."
Orinda Intermediate also distributes a weekly electronic newsletter, but Randall has noted that recipients don't always take the time to read through all of the information. Parents regularly listen to the podcast, which is never longer than 90 seconds. It is short, to the point, and many listeners can even access it through their mobile phones. Randall does caution others not to officially begin podcasting unless they are committed to doing it on a continuous basis -- weekly or monthly, for example.
"I was surprised at how much people look forward to the weekly podcasts," added Randall. "I routinely have parents tell me how much they like it and look forward to it. It has truly helped to keep people informed of what's happening at the school."