Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Podcasts creep into my life

I've taken to podcasts in a big way, but only for one reason. Back in the US, I never felt any need to get into podcasts because whatever I wanted to listen to, I heard directly from people, the radio, or on TV (on the few occasions I chose to turn it on). The only time I listened to the radio was when I when I was in my car, or when I wanted to listen to a favorite program of mine aired on National Public Radio. Well, I might as well tell you my favorites: This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass; Le Show, hosted by Harry Shearer; and Car Talk, hosted by the pair of brothers, Tom and Ray Magliozzi; and Fresh Air, hosted by Terry Gross.

When I moved to India, I did not miss them - at least initially. After a while, withdrawal symptoms began to set in, and so I proceeded to subscribe to the podcasts of my shows through Apple's iTunes program -- using this program makes podcast downloading (and playback) a no-brainer. I tried listening to the programs on my laptop, but that's not the most convenient of things to do. Mostly because I am not used to sitting down and listening to the radio -- not since the 1970s when I used to listen to cricket commentaries or the Binaca Geetmala radio program.

So those podcasts sat accumulating on my laptop until it came time to give our Maruti 800 car of 20 years a decent funeral and get a new one. This time, I had the dealers install a stereo with a USB port. And then life as I knew it changed forever.

Driving in Bangalore is perhaps not the most unpleasant undertaking in the world -- I imagine life would be lot harder cleaning the city's sewers. Nevertheless, it's tough to get used to, and moreover, gets worse everyday with the rapidly rising population of vehicles. The noise, the pollution, and most of all the never-a-dull-minute weaving around leave me drained at the end of even a typical 10 km drive -- which could take anything up to an hour, or even more, depending on the time of the day. I need something to take my mind off of this.

USB port to the rescue! Now I download a mix of my podcasts onto a flash drive and I am on my way. So now, there is very little that happens on the streets of Bangalore that can stress me out. I am instantly transported to the streets of Boise, Idaho and am entertained, informed, and often even educated along the way. When I step out of the car, I am smiling. In fact, on many an occasion, I sit in the car waiting for a particularly interesting podcast segment to be over before I get out.

Which brings me to the reason why this post appears in this particular blog: man, what a way to disseminate knowledge! Now how might we incorporate podcasting into formal (and even informal) educational programs so that busy commuters may learn while they are on the move? It doesn't have to be only while driving -- one could be riding a bus and listening to a podcast on an MP3 audio player. It would be a useful way to catch up on a missed lecture or review on that was hard to follow the first time.

So, maybe Tegrity is indeed onto something here. In an earlier post I had called Tegrity a 'BandAid for a broken format'. But that was primarily because I don't believe that lectures are a particularly effective means of imparting education. I haven't changed my stand on lectures, but podcasts may be useful for disseminating useful information anyway, even if the efficiency of transmission might be low. I use podcasts mainly to occupy my mind, keep me entertained, and as a source of intellectual stimulation. I often get good ideas that are only tangentially related to the theme of a podcast simply by listening to it while trying to maneuver my car around town.

At any rate, I highly recommend podcasts - at least interesting and at least moderately informative ones - as a supplement to the traditional educational methods.

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