Fireside chats come of age: From FDR to podcasts

Here’s a proposal I’ve just submitted for The Radio Conference 2005 (here in Melbourne) :

“Fireside chats come of age: From FDR to podcasts

James Farmer & John Carmichael

In 1994 John Carmichael pioneered the use of voice recordings in distance education through pushing the boundaries of his University’s voice mail system (Carmichael, 1995). He used these ‘narrowcasts’ to minimise the isolation felt by distance students and counter any perceived disadvantages they felt compared to on-campus students studying the same subject. He referred to these broadcasts as intentionally ‘homely rather than slick’ and was inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s “folksy” use of the then still new medium of radio to deliver what came to be called fireside chats. The response to this innovative use of the Voicemail system was overwhelmingly positive.

In 2004, after experimenting with audio streaming lectures, Carmichael conceived of providing similar audio recordings, for his learners online. The intention is that these “fireside chats” would seek to cover topical and collateral material, convey the teacher’s enthusiasm for the subject and enhance a sense of student connectedness that would extend to students suggesting matters they wanted covered in the chats. Working with education designer and weblogger James Farmer, he has taken the concept of the ‘fireside chat’ broadcast into the digital age by developing a system which allows him to post audio recordings to a weblog environment, annotating and allowing interaction on their subject matter. These broadcasts also take the form of ‘podcasts’ as the webfeed generated through the technology allows users to aggregate the audio recordings to their .mp3 players (often ipods, hence the name) in the same way that a user might download email.

This paper reports on the thinking behind and cyclical development of the ‘fireside chat’ approach from it’s origins to the telephone system and to broadcast through weblogs and aggregation. It describes the approaches and technology involved, the pedagogical rationale and the possibilities for audio Internet broadcasting in a wider sense. In doing so it examines the development of radio as an educational tool and offers some perspectives on the future possibilities of the use of radio in a decentralised technologically advanced world where every teacher has their own frequency.

Carmichael, J. (1995) Voice mail and the telephone: A new support strategy in the teaching of law by distance education. Distance Education, 16(1)”

5 replies on “Fireside chats come of age: From FDR to podcasts”

  1. This looks great — and I think it’s super cool you identified this conference. With all the discussion about appropriate uses of audio in education buzzing about it’s worth remembering that a relatively mature and incredibly diverse medium has been broadcasting and narrowcasting sound for decades. It seems obvious we can learn from what works (and doesn’t work) on radio — and that doesn’t mean we have to turn our audiotracks into cheesy call-in radio shows…

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