iPod shedding light on campus life

Since their introduction in 2001, iPods have become so ubiquitous that it’s rare to go a day without spotting someone sporting the trademark white earphones in the gym, on a city bus or walking down the sidewalk.

Podcasts made for the digital media players have become increasingly popular and diverse also, even becoming commonplace on college campuses across the country as a way for professors to broadcast lessons outside of a classroom. But now students, who are usually on the audience end of a podcast, are turning the tables and using the medium as a way to have their voices heard.

Dennis R. Miller, director of public relations at Pennsylvania’s Mansfield University, decided last year that the best way to give prospective students and incoming freshmen an uncensored look at college life was to create a podcast for them using the voices of real students in a show he called “Freshmen Secrets Revealed” (http://podcast.mansfield.edu/).

“I just got the sense that this new medium was just taking off like crazy after the iPod was the number one Christmas gift last year,” Miller said. “The beauty of it is that it captures students in their own words, and you can listen to it without being limited by time or any other type of constraint.”

Eden Hartwell, a sophomore at Mansfield, was one of the students who spoke about her early college experiences on Miller’s podcast.

She grew to enjoy the production aspects of creating the show and moved on to helping edit and mix the podcast.

“The production became sort of a hobby, and I’ve gotten good feedback about the project,” Hartwell said. “I think it’s a success and a good way to be heard. I’d like to continue doing it.”

And they are. The former freshmen continue their discussions this year as a part of “Sophomore Stories.”

More and more Web sites catering to amateur and student podcasters are cropping up to make it easier to participate in the trend. WildVoice (http://wildvoice.com) is one such site.

The site offers free software (though you do have to register, also for free) called WildVoice Studio, which is designed to be amateur-friendly. The beta program allows anyone with a PC and a microphone to record, mix and publish his or her own shows to Web sites that support audio files. (Do note that the current version of the software is only compatible with Windows XP.)

“A lot of existing studio applications were modeled after programs made for professional musicians,” said Michael Levy, co-founder of Equicast Media, the company that developed WildVoice. “This is designed to be easier to use than those, for a more casual user who wants to have some fun.”

Many amateur podcasts take the form of audio blogs, where students can air their thoughts on current events, art, culture or personal experiences. WildVoice also allows students to use podcasting as a form of social networking, where users can choose to make their podcasts available to the general public, or to a specified group of friends and “fans.” They can also create their own profiles and organize favorite podcasters and types of content into personalized “channels.”

Pluggd (http://www.pluggd.com) is another recently launched site that allows users to browse podcasts, share opinions and create Web sites around their favorites, although it does not allow members to post their own podcasts.

Community sites that combine social networking and blogs with the new technology of podcasting provide amateur podcasters with a new type of hybrid hosting site, according to WildVoice user Jimmy Daulton, a sophomore at the State University of New York Stony Brook who goes by the handle “Jimbolito.”

“I expect it will appeal to anyone who uses a social networking site, a blog or one who uses _ or wants to start using _ podcasting,” Daulton said.

While many students record their own podcasts for fun and personal expression, they can also be useful, like Miller’s informative freshmen interviews, or as forums for discussion.

“Why not make club or campus announcements available in podcast form? Or be able to discuss current issues at your school without having to read over a blog you sat at for an hour making sure your point was somewhere in all that text?” Daulton suggests. “Podcasting allows you to just be yourself and to be heard.”