Podcast Basics


At the most basic level, podcasting entails these steps:

  1. Record something in digital audio or video format.
  2. Use software to convert the recording to the right podcast format.
  3. Post the podcast somewhere online.
  4. Tell people how to find your podcast.

Before you create a podcast, you should figure out why you are podcasting, who your intended audience is and what their needs are, what type of podcast best meets those needs, what format you want to use, and what level of quality you want.

You also need to be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of podcasts, as well as accessibility requirements and legal considerations.

Why Podcast?

The main reason is that lots of people like podcasts, and university students are increasingly requesting access to class materials in this form. Other groups, such as prospective students, alumni, faculty, staff, community organizations, retirees, and the general public also can benefit from NAU-generated podcasts.


First decide whether you are creating your podcast for students, colleagues, or the public. Students appreciate podcasts of lectures they missed, or demonstrations of tricky procedures or concepts, and some students learn material more easily in visual or auditory formats, rather than text. Colleagues appreciate podcasts of presentations they were unable to attend. Members of the public enjoy access to academic material outside the confines of a formal class. All three groups can enjoy podcasts of campus events, such as lectures by guest speakers or highlights of athletic events.

Podcast Formats

You have numerous choices of file formats for podcasting. Each has its pros and cons.

Audio (.mp3, .mp4, .aac, .m4a)

Audio podcasts can be used for speeches, oral performances, musical performances, panel discussions, interviews, and other types of primarily auditory events.

.mp3 files are the most widely usable audio format.

Pros and Cons of Audio Podcast Formats
Format Pros Cons Sample Podcast

Higher audio quality

Smaller file size

Not all portable media players can play this format (although many can)  

Most widely used format

Plays on almost all portable media players




Video podcasts, sometimes called vodcasts, work well for demonstrations of procedures, for comparing and contrasting objects, for walking tours of cultural displays or field sites, and for showing dramatic or athletic performances. They require more planning, more equipment, and more postproduction than audio podcasts, and not all portable media players can display video. Video is not the best choice for a podcast if all you plan to show is a "talking head." For those situations, just the audio portion is equally effective, more compatible, and it requires less bandwidth and less production time

Enhanced (.m4a, .m4b, with .pdf)

Enhanced podcasts contain an audio track synchronized with images (for example, slide shows), web links, or other media. Like audiobooks, they can be divided into segments called chapters, making it easier for users to jump to specific parts of longer podcasts. Enhanced podcasts can provide a richer multimedia experience and they are a good way to include supplementary material. They can be played in iTunes on either PCs or Macs, but at this time the only portable media players that can play them are iPods.

Types of Podcasts and When to Use Them

Different types of podcasts work best for different situations. Your intended audience and the purpose of your podcast together determine what type and format you should use.

Captured Live Events

Captured event podcasts are recorded live while someone is speaking or performing. Example include class lectures or a guest speaker's presentation. The speaker wears a microphone, and the audio is recorded through the microphone and stored digitally on some kind of storage medium, perhaps an iPod or a hard disk or a portable flash drive. The quality of the audio is affected by several factors:

  • Quality of the microphone and the recording device
  • Recording volume
  • Ambient noise

Live events can also be captured on video for podcasting, which requires more equipment--including lighting and cameras in addition to audio recording equipment--and greater planning and setup as well as more postproduction time.

Prerecorded, Scripted Presentations

Some podcasts work better when scripted and recorded in a studio. For example,if your podcast is a video demonstration of a procedure, you'll want to script both the action and the narrative ahead of time, and plan your camera shots and lighting to best illustrate the procedure.

Writing a script in advance not only keeps you on track while you are recording, but it can also serve as a transcript.

Podcast Quality

The quality of podcasts can range from very slick to barely usable. In general, the higher the production values, the more planning, time, equipment, and cost required to create the podcast. However, many simple audio podcasts can be created at an acceptable quality level for little investment of time and low cost. Again, consider your audience and the purpose of your podcast. If your audience consists of students who missed a lecture, a simple, unscripted audio recording might suffice. The audio just needs to be clear and have an accompanying transcript.

Postproduction--the editing that occurs after the audio or video recording is complete--can make a big difference in the perceived quality of a podcast. During postproduction you can add introductions and summaries and can attach branding (NAU logos or department identification, for example) and supplementary material to your podcast. You can edit out the "ahs" and "ums" that creep into unscripted speech, and you can adjust the volume levels. You can splice together several clips, even if they were recorded at different times, to tell your full story. Postproduction does, however, take time and training.

Accessibility of Podcasts

When creating podcasts, don't forget to include accessibility features, such as captioning or transcripts, to accommodate people who have disabilities. Instructors who create podcasts for students are in many cases required to make the podcasts accessible at the outset, so factor in transcripts and captioning in your planning.

Benefits of Podcasts

The main benefits of podcasts include portability, subscriptions, material review, remote access, and alternative access, although the latter three benefits aren't restricted to podcasts. The digital audio and video that form the basis of podcasts can certainly be made available online in forms other than podcasts, and sometimes other forms are necessary to avoid copyright violations.


Podcasts, when loaded onto a portable digital media player such as an iPod, Zune, cell phone, or similar device, lets users listen and learn while doing other things, such as walking, exercising, riding the bus or train or plane, waiting at the doctor's office, commuting.

Some podcast content lends itself particularly well to portability. Here are some examples:

  • Narrated walking tours of a campus, lab facility, experimental garden, museum, or field research site
  • Clinical reference information for health professionals and students to carry while conducting patient rounds
  • Video demonstrations of wrapping and taping techniques for athletic trainers to use on athletes at sporting events


If you set up RSS (Really Simple Syndication) for your podcasts, people can subscribe, which means whenever you post a new podcast episode, it can be downloaded automatically to your subscribers' computers. People don't have to keep checking to see if you've posted new material.


Podcasts make it easy for someone who missed a live event, such as a class or guest speaker, to catch up on the missed information. Even people who attended an event sometimes want to go back and review what was said. Students can review lectures prior to exams.

Remote Access for People at a Distance

Not everyone has the option to attend classes or events in person. Podcasts give students at a distance access to the same course content as students on campus. For example, military personnel serving abroad can view a lecture via podcast that they otherwise wouldn't be able to see or hear. Or someone in Yuma can download a speech or presentation given in Flagstaff.

Alternative Access for People Who Have Disabilities or Different Learning Styles

Some people like having access to material in more than one format because it helps them learn better. A student can attend class in person and then reinforce the class experience by listening to an audio recording of the lecture afterward.

Drawbacks of Podcasts

Computer Required; Media Player Optional

Not everyone has a computer or a media player, and not all types of podcasts can be played on all types of digital media players, although newer models are increasingly compatible with most podcast formats. Students who don't have computers can use campus computer labs to gain access to podcasts.

Not Easily Skimmed

Readers can quickly glance at a printed page or web page to decide whether or not it contains useful information. Podcast subscribers cannot, however, quickly look over an audio or video podcast to see whether it's worth their time to download the file. To lessen this problem, write good descriptions of the podcast content so potential subscribers can make an informed choice about downloading the file.

More Copyright Protections for Other Types of Media Distribution

If you want to use someone else's copyrighted material when creating a media clip, and you do not have permission of the copyright holder, a podcast isn't the right way to distribute the clip. The TEACH Act allows more latitude in use of copyrighted media when the clips are streamed rather than downloaded (podcasts are downloaded); when the clips are password protected; and when access to the clips is restricted to times when class is in session. The best way to meet those standards is to place the media inside a streaming Adobe Flash player, place the player inside a Bb Vista shell (which requires students to log in), and to remove student access to the player when the class is over. The e-Learning Center can help you create and distribute media this way.

Creating podcasts requires planning, time, and technical skill on the part of the creator

Podcasts can be simple or complex, but they do require forethought and at least a bit of time to create. The time increases depending on the complexity of the podcast, the level of quality desired, and the amount of editing needed to achieve that level of quality. While podcasting tools simplify the process, podcast creators do need to learn at least a few technology skills to be able to produce an acceptable podcast. The more complex the podcast, the more skills and time needed.

Legal Considerations

Because podcasting entails making easily copied digital media, be sure to adhere to the laws that govern copyright and digital media.

Get a Signed Release Form If You Are Recording Someone Else

In general, you cannot distribute a podcast of someone else's presentation unless you have gotten the presenter's permission in writing. If you will be recording someone else, use either one of the release forms below to secure permission.

Keep the signed form in your files for future reference.

Adhere to Copyright Laws

You cannot legally create a podcast that contains someone else's copyrighted material unless you get permission from the copyright holder. Although educators have come to rely on provisions of U.S. copyright law known as Fair Use and the TEACH Act (.pdf, 1.1 Mb; search for Subtitle C--Educational Use Copyright Exemption), those provisions do not apply to digital copies of someone else's material that you make freely available.

In particular, podcasts lack protection under the TEACH Act because they can be retained by students for longer the class session, and because students cannot be prevented from sharing podcasts with others.

To avoid violating copyright law

  • Create your own original material
  • Use material available under a Creative Commons license
  • Use material in the public domain (which includes material created by agencies of the U. S. Government)
  • Get permission from the copyright holder

Copyright Resources

United States Copyright Office

University of Texas's Crash Course in Copyright

North Carolina State University's TEACH Act Toolkit

Copyright Clearance Center's Copyright Central

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