Saturday, 15 October 2011

Thing 18: Podcasts

Thing 18 asks us to consider Podcasting and Screencasting. I'm going to tackle podcating first, and this might perhaps be from a different angle than expected from a blog like this, but I hope it has some relevance. I'll state for the record now that I have no expertise as such, it's based on my experience and if you know of any other resources that might be useful, then please do share and comment.

I find listening to podcasts difficult. I'm not completely deaf, and neither is it a volume deafness. It's a frequency deafness which means that I can't hear high pitched sounds. I'll admit this is a bonus when I'm faced with particularly squealy girls!*  I rely a lot on lip-reading and body language when I'm talking to people to help make sense of what they are saying. I don't really watch TV but am much happier watching with subtitling and prefer watching foreign language films in the cinema. If the person I'm listening to has a moustache or an accent I'm unfamiliar with, my level of understanding decreases. Which makes Movember tricky to navigate, with those 'taches flourishing everywhere. Try lip-reading someone with a moustache or a beard. It's near impossible as the lip patterns are masked. And I get distracted watching those 'taches bounce up and down!

So, I've avoided podcasts, but this darn Thing encouraged me to put my prejudices aside and give them another go. I'm afraid I didn't change my mind. I gave arcadia@cambridge a go and picked 'Scholarly Publishing 2.0 Squared by Doug Clow'.  These are my thoughts.

Make the podcast easy to find, and the content easy to identify.
There was very little information about the podcasts. It told me the title, and the speaker, but that was it. Clicking on the link sent me straight to the podcast itself. Another link at the bottom of the page sent me to list of seminars. In a different order from the last page. I had to scroll down and browse before I found the seminar I was interested in and another click gave me more info about the author, content and links to his blog and further information. But surprisingly, not to the podcast itself. I had to go back to my original starting point. Anyone landing on the page from a search engine wouldn't have found the link. But the list of podcasts on their own was pretty meaningless.

Once I started listening, it was helpfully prefaced by someone who introduced the speaker, his position, the date of the seminar and an outline of the topic. But I do strongly feel that this information should have been available on the podcast page itself. It would have given potential listeners the information they needed to make an informed decision about whether or not to listen to the podcast.

Describe visual content
During the introduction the presenter states 'It's not on Slideshare, the latest version is on this machine and nowhere else'. Those listening to the podcast weren't there to see the slides. We can get past this if the presenter is willing to describe the slides to his audience. It increases accessibility for those who may be in the audience and have poor or no sight. But to refer to a slide that as a listener, I can't see excluded me from some of the useful content. I did find the slides on Slideshare later. It meant having to pause the podcast and start again. Could the link to the slides not have been added to the information?

'Put your hand up if ...' Yep, funnily enough, I couldn't see that. And neither did you describe what happened or summarised the results. So you've just excluded listeners further from the conversation.

Speak clearly
'Things are changing... mumble, mumble, mumble'. Sigh.

Provide a transcript
There's two very good reasons for this. Apart from the obvious bonus of increasing accessibility, search engines are still unable to index audio material. Providing a clear description of the content (see point 1) and a transcript would increase it's findability and useability.

There are some great examples of organisations already doing this.

Podcasts have become popular for a reason. They are cheap to make and host online, easily portable and a great way for people to keep up with information on the move. In  a world where reading long documents on screen can be painful and we're encouraged not to print to save the tree's, they offer an alternative to text-based information. For people with sight impairments, learning or reading difficulties, podcasts are an accessible format. For those who are hard of hearing or deaf, (or even for people who don't have the equipment to listen to podcasts) more can be done to ensure we're not losing access to information.

Is any of this relevant to Thing 18? Maybe not, but it was something I though might be a useful perspective. I did attempt to actually address Thing 18 and considered how we might be able to incorporate podcasting into our range of services in my workplace. This is what I came up with.

  • A 'current awareness service' outlining recent developments on a specific topic. References and links to further information could be provide textually to complement this. Our customers do a lot of travelling, and this would enable them to catch up on the move.
  • Provide a series of 'seminars' on information skills.
  • Would love to do more on digital literacies within the workplace. A series of podcasts on 'password management', 'using online communities of practice' or 'taking part in web based conferences' might be the perfect vehicle.
  • A news summary of our organisation in the media.
  • We hold regular 'Brown Bag Lunch' sessions within our workplace, exploring a wide range of diverse topics. These could be recorded and made available for colleagues who were unable to attend or based in a different office.

All of these activities help to encourage learning and development and increase knowledge sharing within the organisation. We don't do any of this. Perhaps we should? I'll admit I backed off of turning one of our 'current awareness bulletins' into a podcast. I had no wish to inflict my speech impediment or Bristolian accent on unsuspecting listeners. But I will take this idea back into my workplace.

Further information

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines provide more detail about ways of increasing the accessibility of all web-based content.

Jisc TechDis provides some guidelines on Podcasting and Accessibility

* Apologies. Blatant gender stereotype!


  1. Thanks for the insights! I would like to do podcasts of library author talks (if I can get the recording quality improved) and will make sure to provide transcripts as well as using your other suggestions.

  2. That sounds like a great idea. I recently went to see Jeanette Winterson at Bath Central Library, and I know that several friends who couldn't make it would have loved to have listened to it later. Sorta like a 'iplayer / listen again' type service. Hope it goes well!