I've just finished listening to some student podcasts for my Writing in the Digital Age course. This is a course where the primary purpose is to explore communication in media networks and with emerging technologies, so the class asks students to try out a number of different tools. For nearly all the students in the class, this is the first time they've tried podcasting. Despite their Facebook/texting lives, they are largely social media virgins. When I speak with other faculty about podcasting, the primary concern they have is with overcoming technological obstacles. They have never recorded podcasts and so they are often concerned that their students would encounter problems that they would not be able to resolve. Of course, technical support for such problems usually exists on a campus in one form or another, but I understand the resistance to asking students to do something that you do not know how to do yourself.
But here's the interesting thing I've discovered having done this now for a couple years. I ask students to record podcasts for my online class. I offer up a video-screencast I created showing how to use GarageBand to podcast. It's nothing special. In fact, I'm sure there are now many better ones out there on the Apple website and elsewhere. The point is that the students figure out how to record these podcasts one way or another. They make three during the semester (each about 3-5 minutes in length) and by the end of the semester they have no problems at all in technical terms. Is this surprising? It shouldn't be. Look at YouTube and the millions of amateur videos made by college-age folks without any instruction. Sure, the quality of the video or audio is rarely professional-grade, and we might make any number of comments about the content of the videos, but certainly they demonstrate the basic technical ability to create an audio or video recording and upload it.
The real challenge in podcasting, as in blogging, is figuring out how to be interesting. My students' podcasts combine discussions of course readings, reflections on assignments, analyses of current events related to course, and the integration of personal experiences with technologies, media networks, and so on. Sometimes they are monologues. Often they work in pairs or small groups having roundtable discussions. I point them to other podcasts or talk radio as examples of how this works. In the first round, some students will read something they've written. Then they discover how hard it is to read something and sound interesting (something conference presenters could learn). Others discover it also is not so easy to just record extemporaneously without any plan. Eventually they find their way toward some happy medium. And some of them turn out to be quite good.
More importantly, they start to figure out the difference between an audio podcast and a wiki page or a written blog entry. And this is really the primary goal of the course: to recognize how technological and material contexts shape rhetorical practices.