Perhaps it's because I've become very bored with my one hour commute to campus, but I've started to find new ways to entertain myself while driving. Now, I already have XM Satellite radio, and I can fritter away time flitting from one channel to another...most days. But I have the podcasting bug; no time to listen to 'em in office, what to do, what to do?
Well, if I could simply hijack my daughter's iPod, my problem would be solved. But since she doesn't want me cluttering up her precious disk space with podcasts ("Dad, I don't want to listen to French lessons.."), that was out. So is buying one for myself, at least until I squirrel away some more hard earned cash. So...enter the "laptop as mp3 player".
On the surface this seems like an ok idea. Until you realize that the cheap, onboard speaker doesn't really produce a huge, Who-like amount of db. I guess I could plug in headphones, but I don't really like to completely isolate myself from the world outside while driving. Not a big deal, we can just listen closely. But...boy, that iTunes interface was not meant to be operated with only one hand!
Despite these UI issues, I was able to listen to at least one 'cast on the way here. Truthfully, I had more issues with the quality of the academic podcasts I was sampling. I think it's time to reiterate some basic principles to all you would be broadcasters out there, from an old time, old school, old media guy like myself. To wit:
1. set a freakin' recording level. Do this NOW; before your students show up and you spend the next hour mumbling incoherently into your microphone. You want to get that meter (or slider bar) up to about "zero", perhaps a counterintuitive label, but you want to see that meter working towards hitting the "red zone". Record, playback, listen. Can you hear it? Is it faint? Distorted? Adjust volume up or down; repeat test/listen, lather, rinse, repeat.
2. use an external mic. If you plan to wander aimlessly while you lecture, then buy something like Belkin's mic that plugs directly into the iPod for recording. Very clever...place the microphone at about your 2nd or 3rd shirt button if you're a man. Remember, the capsule points up, not down!
3. Don't talk about visuals we can't see. "As you see, on this slide..". Please...post the slides online if you must do this.
4. Repeat questions from the audience. Typical snippet I listened to this morning: "Question?"...long silent pause for an inaudible student question... "No, absolutely not; that's not how I would define this situation". Uhm, thanks, Prof, very helpful, but what was the question?
5. Edit, Edit, Edit for scripted Q&A. Listening to the Colonial Williamsburg series of podcasts, I'm struck by how often interviewer Lloyd Dobbins says things like "ah, well...no, I'm not going to ask you that question" as he obviously scans his written list and then moves on. A little post-production goes a long ways towards listenability, folks. Audacity is free, iLife (with Garage Band) is relatively cheap. Both are fairly easy even for novices to use.