12 April 2010

MP3, MP4, MOV, M4A and M4V format information

One of the more interesting aspects of educational podcasting is the variety of different formats used. In addition to the ubiquitous MP3 format, there are also audio/enhanced formats such as M4A and M4B as well as the MOV, MP4 and M4V video formats.

We have updated the podcast channel listings to include information about the format of every podcast listed, making it much easier to see "at a glance" the format used for a particular format. This is most useful where some podcast channels incorporate every format in their RSS feeds!

For every item listed in our podcast directory, we are using one of the following symbols:

for podcasts using the original MP3 format

for podcasts using the AAC format for audio/enhanced podcasts

for podcasts using the AAC format for audio/enhanced podcasts

for video podcasts using the new codec

for video podcasts using this general format

for video podcasts using this traditional format

We hope this much requested information is useful for users of our educational podcast directory.

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22 July 2008

Where's that podcast channel?

We've all had that experience "now you see it - now you don't". Occasionally, you may find that some podcast channels are no longer listed within our podcast directory. This can be for a variety of different reasons:
  • the podcaster has ceased to provide/update the podcast channel
  • there may be technical problems associated with the RSS feed
  • the content of the podcasts no longer meets our criteria
  • the podcast channel was never listed in the directory
  • the podcast channel has been removed for another reason
This process is part of ongoing quality assurance processes, we regularly review the content of our podcast directory - new podcast channels are added and, sometimes, podcast channels are removed. You may also find that not all podcasts associated with a channel are actually listed. As a general rule we maintain a list of up to 25 podcasts though less than this may be displayed on screen. However, displays always include the most recently published podcasts with the newest listed first.

Where a podcast channel and podcasts are no longer listed an advisory notice is now displayed on screen. We trust this is update is helpful to you.

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24 May 2008

Validating RSS Feeds

Right from the outset, the RSS specification provided an international standard for the exchange of data in a common format. With the addition of the "enclosure" tag the way ahead for referencing files was introduced, heralding the basis for podcasting - the rest is history.

There are many software and online products that will help to manage the production and publication of podcasts, most generate the associated RSS feeds on behalf of the user. Whilst many of these automated RSS feed generators produce a file that can be used with RSS aggregators and RSS enabled web-browsers, often the RSS files themselves do not validate and can cause problems a range of problems.

If you haven't tried this before, it is always worth checking whether your RSS file is valid by testing in with an RSS feed validator. The "Feed Validator", for example, is an excellent online tool to not only check whether the RSS feed is compliant but also highlights any problems and provides guidance on how to rectify the situation.

You will be surprised to discover how many RSS feeds fail the test!

Where a valid RSS feed passes the online test, you are given the option of including the valid RSS banner on your website or blog. When did you last see this banner feature anywhere on websites?

If you want to see this validation in action, see the results from the validation check for our podcast feed or the RSS feed generated by Blogger for this weblog!

If you create your own RSS feed, write software or online systems, the RSS Advisory Board publish a most useful "best practices profile" which contains very clear guidance and numerous examples.

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22 March 2008

Search and locate

We have upgraded the search facility in our directory to improve its functionality and ease of use, especially for children and young people.

As before, you can select the subject categories for the search from the pull down menu. This separates the categories even further to narrow the range of podcasts and speed up the search. However, the main change is that the search will locate a match in the podcast descriptions and will now highlight those located with blue text.

We have also included a few further enhancements to make sure that searches are more effective. Regardless of the format of the search text (which can be one or more words up to a total of 20 characters), the actual search process is not case-sensitive. Therefore, a search on "john james" would not only match john james but also highlight other permutations such as John James, JOHN james, john James etc.

Hopefully, children and young people in particular should find this improved search facility easier to use.

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08 August 2007

Succession planning

Whenever there is specific expertise amongst educators within any educational organisation, there is always the need to consider succession planning to ensure there is continuity of experience and provision for children and young people.

Over the past two years, we have selected and listed over 400 podcast channels in our podcast directory, over 80 from schools. During this time we have noticed some interesting trends. Many podcasts from schools are published on a regular basis; for example on either a weekly or monthly cycle. Some publish podcasts on an occasional basis whilst others produce a series of podcasts for just a limited period.

During a recent review of school podcasts listed in our directory, where podcasts were produced for only a limited period a number of factors emerged:
  • podcasting was a short burst of activity related to a specific curriculum topic or development of ICT skills;
  • the teacher with the expertise and/or interest in educational podcasting had moved on to another post (some may also migrate into education support services);
  • podcast production relied upon expertise and support obtained from an external source;
  • technical problems arose in producing podcasts or maintaining the necessary ICT infrastructure.
Of these, the most common factor was the teacher leaving the school - effectively taking the educational podcasting knowledge and expertise with them. This would seem to underline the importance of a policy for succession planning. Whatever podcasting expertise there is within a school, some action to share this expertise more widely would seem a sensible option. For example:
  • providing effective in-service or professional development of other teachers and adults;
  • developing the confidence and expertise of the children and young people themselves.
Has your organisation planned for succession?

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16 April 2007

Video Podcasts, iTunes and Apple TV

With the launch of Apple TV, it is likely that there will be increased interest in the creation and publication of video podcasts as the podcasting features within the popular iTunes are fully compatible.

So what is the advice to those of you interested in incorporating more video podcasts in your RSS feeds so they can be used with Apple TV?

Fortunately, Apple have included details in a section devoted to this topic within the latest version of their technical specifications. The video podcast section provides good advice on formatting the video for the specific format needed to optimise the video for both Apple TV and the iPod.

Good news?

Well "yes and no". As video buffs will remind you, as well as video compression formats there are also different screen aspects to take into consideration too - widescreen (16:9) or normal (4:3). Once you have decided on the format for the video source, the rest is relatively easy on a Mac. Choose a method using the built-in iPod converters of Compressor ("H.264 for iPod"), QuickTime Pro ("Movie to iPod") or iTunes ("Convert Selection for iPod"). To achieve the best optimisation, the minimum width for your video source file should be 640 pixels. The result of the conversion process will be an .m4v file using the H.264 codec that is compatible with Apple TV and iPods.

So will Apple TV find a home in the classroom of the future? We will all just have to wait and see!

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11 April 2007

Cyber Bullying

In the UK as elsewhere there is growing consternation about the recent spate of "cyber -bullying" of fellow students and teachers. It seems there is an increasing number of instances where mobile phones are being used to "film" students and teachers and then publishing the video images onto websites to cause at the very least embarassment but potentially much, much more harm to victims.

There is no doubt that such websites offer a simple and easy to use publishing and broadcasting service - a form of open-access video blog and catalogue. However, it is this very ease of use and opportunity to freely publish content (without editorial control) that can be abused. On a open-access video blog, the malicious cyber bully can hide their identity behind various pseudonyms by creating a fictitous account and simply ignoring the website terms or conditions. Often, the fine print of such terms and conditions include a section about submitting material that is not unlawful, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, harassing, hateful and racially or ethnically offensive. However, recent cases have shown that a determined cyber bully can readily exploit these loopholes to publish and broadcast before action is taken to remove the offending material. The damage is already done.

Fortunately, podcasts are not subject to the same kind of misuse but are, nevertheless, unregulated. One of the advantages of publishing audio, video or enhanced podcasts via an RSS feed is that the podcaster has full editorial control over the content and all the information to be published about each podcast. Others can only read the content of the RSS feed and associated podcasts. Creating and maintaining a RSS feed is much more time-consuming and important details such as the owner, publisher and URL for the RSS feed are located in the public domain, thus providing a form of greater accountability as well as social and moral responsibility. In addition, most podcast directories incorporate a decision-making or quality assurance process before listing a podcast channel.

It is important for us all to make "loud and clear" these distictions. If not, there is always a danger that the fallout from cyber bullying cases will persist in the public mind. This has the potential for seriously damaging the educational potential of podcasting as it is seen as "part of the problem" of intenet-based broadcasting and publishing.

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