Alternate Podcasting System

The Wimba Podcaster is a very easy to use tool that allows for the rapid creation of a podcast within your Blackboard website. However, it does have a few drawbacks that may make you need to use an alternate system. The drawbacks of the Wimba Poodcaster are as follows:

  • Recordings limited to 10 minutes
  • Imported files-size limited to 10MB
  • Can only be crated and managed from within Blackboard
  • Cannot handle Video Files

If your podcasting project has requirements that are ruled out by Wimba Podcaster's drawbacks, then think of using this different system for podcasting, which, whilst more difficult to initially set-up, is just as easy to use as the Wimba Podcaster once it is up and running. Its advantages are the following:

  • Unlimited Recording Length
  • No limitation on file size (though one should still use reasonable size files, meaning, below 50MB, so users can download them quickly)
  • Can be used on any website as long as the server supports PHP 4.0 (ask your hosting provider, but this is relatively common. Most Penn servers can handle this.)
  • Can handle iPod compatible video files (more on this later)

If you feel that you need the flexibility offered by this alternative system, then the following tutorial will walk you through how to set it up. The first thing to do is download that file that runs the system from the link below:

Podcast.php.tgz (File Currently Not Available)

Double clicking this file once it is downloaded will unzip it and reveal a file called podcast.php. If double clicking on the file doesn't unzip it, you ay need to install compression software, such as Stuffit Expander (free.) Once you have managed to unzip the file, save podcast.php to a readily available location on your computer, such as your desktop.

Next, open podcast.php in a text editor (Notepad on Windows, Text Edit on the Mac.) Do not use Microsoft Word to edit the file. You will see that it is a text file with a load of instructions at the top and code towards the bottom. About a third of the way through the file you will find the section where you can personalize the podcast. This is where you can set up things like the title and author of the podcast that will appear in iTunes for your users. The part of the file that handles these settings looks like the following (I've colored the different parts of it to make it easier to read in the tutorial:

image of edit variables

The comments above each setting describe what they are, but I will give a brief overview of each. Adjust each of them to your own settings:

  • maxFeed: This is the maximum number of episodes to have in the podcast feed. If the number of episodes exceeds this number, the then the oldest episodes will not be sent. The files associated with these oldest episodes, however, will not be deleted, just not sent to the subscribers. If you would like every episode to always be sent out, simply set this to a very high number, such as 100.
  • linkTAG: This is the website that your podcast relates to. However, this doesn't have to be the server where the podcast originates. For example, if you are hosting the podcast on Penn's Media SAS server, but it is a podcast about your course, then you would enter your course's website here. As you can see, I have entered Blackboard as the website (http://courseweb.library.upenn.edu)
  • descriptionTAG: This is the description that will show up to you subscribers in iTunes when they get further information on your podcast. This can be a short single line, or even a full paragraph of text describing what your podcast is about.
  • languageTAG: You can generally leave this set to en-us for any languages that use the normal Roman alphabet. However, if you are going to be using a language that uses a different alphabet, then enter the language code here. A full listing of language codes can be found at: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms533052.aspx
  • copyrightTAG: If you are using content you created, such as recordings of your own voice, enter your own Copyright text here. Otherwise, it is best to leave the copyright in the hands of the original content creators. It is also always a good idea to get permission from the copyright holder before distributing their content.
  • webmasterTAG: Put your contact email here.
  • generatorTAG: This is the name of the program that will be creating your podcast, you don't need to change this.
  • itunessubtitle: A short one line subtitle for your podcast.
  • itunesauthor: Put your name here.
  • ttlTAG: This is how many minutes the podcast should be used for before it is considered old and iTunes will attempt to refresh it. In other words, if you are posting episodes to the podcast once a week, you can have a very high number here, but if you are posting every hour, you should have a low one, so that iTunes knows to look for new episode more often.

As it says in the code, you shouldn't need to edit anything further down in the file. Save the file again as podcast.php. Make sure that your text editor doesn't tack ".txt" to the end of the file. The filename should be "podcast.php" exactly.

Now that we have the file ready to use, here's a quick description of how it works. There is a synopsis of this at the top of the code file podcast.php. Firstly, you place this file, podcast.php, into a directory on a web server. Then, you place your sound and video files in the same directory as podcast.php. Finally, you place text files that contain descriptions of each of the sound and video files into the same directory. Then, when a user sends their browser, or iTunes, to that web server. and asks for podcast.php, the web server. runs podcast.php. Podcst.php then instructs the web server. to look for all of the media files in its directory and send them to the user, along with a description of each one that it gets from the description files you uploaded. The great thing about this system is that, once you have set up podcast.php on your server, the only thing you need to do to add a new episode to your podcast is create the audio or video file, write a description, and upload them both to your server. Podcast.php will then take care of turning them into a podcast for you. Right, so now we'll move onto exactly how to place everything on the server.

SAS computing provides a server specifically designed for hosting media files. To access it, got to http://media.sas.upenn.edu. The front page looks like the following and gives instructions on how to sign up for an account on the server if you don't already have one:

picture of media.sas

Once you have an account, click on the link on the website to http://www.media.sas.upenn.edu/manager/index.php This will take you to the login page:

picture of Pennkey

Logging in will bring you to your home folder. There is a legend of what each of the icons on the site do:

picture of legend

Next to your home folder, there should be a text box and a create folder button. We are going to create a new folder to place the podcast in, so type a name for the folder into the text box, and then click the create folder button next to it. My folder hierarchy looks like this, but yours may be different:

picture of directories

Below the folder you just created, it will say "Empty" indicating that there is nothing in the folder. First we will upload podcast.php into the folder, so click the Upload button. This will bring you to the upload page:

picture of upload options

Click on the Browse button to select podcast.php on your computer:

picture of browse file

Once you have podcast.php selected, click ok. Then set the drop-down box next toe "Media Type" to "text." And the "Media Format" to "html." When you are finished, you screen should look something like this:

picture of upload det filled

Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the window, and click the "Submit" button. After a second or two, you should get a confirmation message saying that the file was uploaded successfully:

picture of confirmation

Click the "Back" link to go back to the directory listing, and you should now see podcast.php in the folder:

picture of uploaded file

We now need some media (audio or video) to add as our first episode. To create audio you can use the free Audacity. We have a tutorial on using this software here. Be sure to save your audio file as an MP3 file.

When creating video, it is important to note that iTunes and the iPod can only handle a very specific type of video. It must be an MP4 file with video encoded in .H264 and audio encoded as AAC, with an image size of 320X240. Right now that probably sounds like gibberish to you. However, there are a few easy ways that you can use to convert video from almost any format into this iTunes compatible format:

  • Use Quicktime Pro: The Macs in the LRC in Williams hall have QuickTime Pro installed. Open the file you would like to convert, click File:Export... and then in the drop down menu at the bottom of the screen, select "Movie to iPod" as the setting which will do all of the hard work for you:
    picture of QuickTime iPod export
    Quicktime Pro is also available on Windows and Mac for end users and costs $39.95 - http://www.quicktime.com
  • Other Mac Software: Other software you can use to perform this conversion on the Mac is:
    • Instant Handbrake (Free) : A 1-click solution to get video off a DVD and into iPod format
    • Full Handbrake (Free): Does the same as above, but with many more options if you want to adjust advanced settings
    • FFMpegX (Donations Accepted): The mother of all video conversion applications, can convert from almost any format, to any format, including WMV and Real video.
  • Other Windows Software: There are very few 1-click solutions on windows, so here are a few tutorials on how to do it:

Using any of these methods, you should end up with a file with one of the following extensions: ".mp4",".m4v", or ".mov" If you end up with a file with an extension other than these, then it will likely not work in the podcast and you should attempt your conversion again.

Once you have your Audio or Video file ready, we need to make a description file for it. This description file is going to be a plain text file that contains a description for the episode. For example, if your episode is for a language class, you may want to include a transcript in the description file so that students can follow along. To create the description file do not use Microsoft Word,but rather use Notepad (on Windows) or Text Edit (on the Mac.) The important thing is that the file needs to be a plain-text file without any formatting.

Create the description file and enter the description for your episode:

picture of description

When you are satisfied with the description file, save it in the same folder as your media file. When you save it, name it exactly as the media file is, but with a ".txt" at the end. For example, my media file is called "peking2.mp3" so I will name the description file "peking2.mp3.txt"

picture of description name

Secondly, when you save the file, make sure to set the text encoding to "UTF-8" as below:

picture of encoding

Now that we have our description file and media file, we can upload them onto the website. Go back to http://media.sas.upenn.edu and log in using your PennKey. Browse to the folder where you originally uploaded "podcast.php" and click the upload file button. Now, click browse and select the media file from your computer. Under "Media Type" set it to "Audio" if it is a sound file, and set "Media Format" to "MP3" If you are uploading a video file, set "Media Type" to "Video" and "Media Format" to "Quicktime" before you click the submit button to upload the file, your settings should look something like the ones below:

picture of upload mp3

Once you have uploaded the media file, repeat the above process to upload your description file. Under "Media Type" select "Text" and under "Media Format" select "HTML." Before clicking the submit button, your setting should look something like below:

picture of upload description

When both files have been uploaded, click on the back link and you will see the contents of the folder. Here you can see the two files that I just uploaded. The podcasts.php file, whilst in the same folder, is simply not visible in my window in this picture:

picture of all files

Congratulations, your podcast now has its first episode. To add new episodes now, all you have to do repeat the process to upload a new media file and description file. Now let's subscribe to the podcast in iTunes just as your students would:

Firstly, you will need to get the address for your podcast. To do this, in the window above, scroll until you can see the entry for the podcast.php file:

picture of podcast.php

Right below its name, click the link that says "Show URL." This will make a window pop-up showing the file's address:

picture of url popup

Copy this address as this is the address you will give to people you want to subscribe to your podcast. For example, you could publish this address in your Blackboard site to let students know where the podcast can be found.In order to subscribe to the podcast, the students will copy the address and then open iTunes. On the left hand side of the iTunes screen they should select "Podcasts" to go to the podcasts section:

picture of iTunes menu

In the iTunes menu they should click "Advanced:Subscribe to Podcast..." which will bring up a window allowing them to enter the address for your podcast that they just copied:

picture of subscribe address

When they click "OK" iTunes will download the most recent episode of your podcast to their computer, and give them the option to download earlier episodes. Further, iTunes will automatically check for new episodes daily, and download them as they arrive, so, when you add a new episode to the podcast there is no need to tell the students about it and hope that they make the effort to go and download it, it will all be done for them. Here is how my podcast looks in iTunes:

picture of podcast expand