It’s Friday after school and six Desert Mountain High School students are sitting around a table talking about the FBR Open. For now, it’s just the students at the Palomino Library Teen Center who hear the conversation.
(Listen to podcasts inside story)
But thanks to the large silver microphones sitting on the table, this talk will soon become the latest show for the high school’s Podsquad.
The 10 or 15 students in the Podsquad create podcasts on any topic they find interesting, from band competitions to student travels.
The library recruited Desert Mountain Spanish teacher Suzette Korchmaros to oversee the library’s Teen Center, the after-school center that supports the Podsquad.
“Most kids, when they get home, what do they do? They’re texting. They’re going on the Internet,” Korchmaros said. “This is connecting to their world.”
The dictionary definition of a podcast is an mp3 audio file that can be downloaded to a computer or mp3 player.
But Palomino teacher and librarian Linda Schallan argues that definition doesn’t capture what a podcast really is — something users can subscribe to online, she said. Think of a radio show distributed over the Internet, but the listener gets to pick which shows to download and when to listen to them.
Users can find a podcast for just about anything, from National Public Radio shows and Harry Potter to Spanish instruction and NASCAR.
It was Schallan who brought podcasting to the Palomino Library, the Scottsdale Public Library branch located on the Desert Mountain campus.
Schallan got hooked on podcasts at a technology conference in March 2005. “It’s just so compelling and relatively inexpensive to do,” she said.
Then, in June, iTunes started an entire section dedicated to podcasts, and Schallan knew it was time to bring podcasting to the school library.
“All of a sudden, podcasts were accessible to anyone using iTunes. You didn’t have to be a big geek,” she said.
While some of the students originally started podcasting to get extra credit for Korchmaros’ class, they keep coming back for different reasons. Senior Cully Handel said he’s interested in the media aspect.
“I definitely think there’s a future in the digital distribution of traditional content,” Handel said.
Fellow senior Tyler Evans said his reason for podcasting is more personal. He likes being able to publicize things his friends are doing and give his opinion on what’s happening around school.
“People are more likely to pay attention to something on a podcast. Even though there’s no real authority, it seems like we know what we’re talking about,” Evans said.
That’s not to say the students don’t know what they’re talking about. While some podcasts are based mostly on opinions, others, like the FBR Open segment, took a lot of research to make sure the students were giving accurate information, said senior Harbandana Singh.
Korchmaros said she has told her students about all the different podcasts that are out there, but they seem to be more interested in listening to what’s going on at their own campus.
That view supports Palomino Library senior coordinator Ted Johnson’s vision for the program: teens talking to teens about what interests them.
“As an older person, you look at their ideas and creativity and you just have to smile,” he said. “You never know what they’re going to come up with.”
Desert Mountain’s site council donated $12,000 for the project — $4,000 for equipment and $8,000 for Korchmaros to supervise the program, Johnson said.
While the teen center uses professional equipment, Schallan also has a podcast recorder that cost $40. Schallan said she’d like to see these recorders used in every classroom.
There are a lot of applications for podcasts in the classroom, she said.
For instance, one teacher in Maine had his third- and fourth-grade students write scripts for and record podcasts about what they learned in class each week. A substitute teacher in New York got a class’s attention by having them create podcasts of poetry they wrote.
Schallan said she could envision classrooms creating study guides for tests or doing class reports by creating minidocumentaries on a subject.
“At that point, you’ve raised the stakes,” Schallan added. “The kids go, ‘Whoa, this isn’t just a paper that’s going to sit on my teacher’s desk, this is going out to the world.’”
Todd Wilder, education spokesman for Apple computers, said he’s seen instructors use podcasts to give students supplemental content and students create podcasts for assignments.
Wilder said he’s noticed more schools across the country — and all over the world — creating podcasts, although he didn’t have solid numbers.
The Desert Mountain students feel confident podcasting will get more popular and they like joining the trend early.
Or as Handel put it, “I think we may be visionary pioneers.”