Successful podcasts for Student Affairs?

If we podcast, do they listen? Brock Read of the Chronicle recently touched on this topic when he mentioned a recent Business Week article and a Chronicle article both detailing some research and statistics about podcasts and how people listen to them (much of the data in the Business Week article comes from a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study – if you’re not familiar with the Pew Internet & American Life Project then you need so spend some time on their website as they do very exciting, up-to-date, and important research about Internet use). More accurately, the articles are about how people don’t listen to podcasts. While the number of people downloading and listening to podcasts has increased significantly we must carefully consider the potential costs and benefits before committing to this new technology.

For me, this has come to my mind as my institution works to implement a new web support team. Our content management system supports podcasting. But do we need to immediately utilize this technology? If so, in what areas? Let’s stick to the topic of this blog by focusing on student affairs.

In my experience, the utility of podcasts is greatest for those who travel and thus have time on their hands as they commute. As my current campus is 100% residential, our students don’t do much commuting. Even most of our staff don’t seem to commute very far. That’s why I don’t own a new mp3 player – when would I listen to it? I know that many of our students own mp3 players and listen to them often (you can’t help but see the white iPod earbuds stuck in their ears, especially in the library while they are studying). So of course to bring this discussion home to my campus we would need to talk to our students and find out what they really want and what they really do and use. But without that data we’re left speculating.

We’re back to the original question: Should we embrace this technology? To create quality podcasts requires (technical and human) resources, training, and planning. Excepting Stuart’s efforts, most of the discussions about podcasting have focused either on the academic uses (i.e. recording classes or similar material) or admissions/public relations (Dan Karleen at Thompson’s is a great source of info on these particular uses). In a paragraph entitled “Tech gimmick?” in a recent Campus Technology article, Dr. Hank Edmondson from Georgia College & State University noted that even in academic affairs, an area that arguably has greater access to IT resources and support, “[Podcasting will] make [classes] worse if you’re not ready for it. You can be a whiz technologically but shallow academically.”

Given the resources and circumstances necessary for creating podcasts, is anyone out there creating successful student affairs podcasts? I know that there are student affairs folks podcasting but are they successful and to what do they attribute their success? Is this a technology that we can all embrace or is it one that we must all selectively weigh and judge for ourselves (I bet you know where I stand on the issue!)? What are the factors we must weigh and judge?

I ask these questions because I perceive there is significant value in this technology and method of media delivery (Pew reported that 12% of all American Internet users have downloaded a podcast – that’s still several million people) but I also believe that it may be of very, very different value to different institutions and student bodies and thus the decision to dedicate resources must be made carefully. As the quote at the top of this webpage notes, technology is a tool – we must not embrace new technology merely because it is available and trendy but because it is truly beneficial for us and our students. Neither should we avoid new technologies out of fear, trepidation, or perceived lack of resources.

Update: Here’s some discussion about this topic from a higher ed marketing perspective. You can follow the trail of links and comments to find more.