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NPR and Higher Ed
March 21, 2010 - 8:57pm

NPR is kicking our ass. Technology wise. Should it bother me that a bunch of elitist, left-wing, fair-trading, latte sipping, radio bloviating NPRians have figured out how to leverage the power of social media while us geniuses in higher ed remains stuck somewhere between the 21st and 11th centuries?

Two of the essential sources of news and content for people working in academic computing are the NPR Education and Technology podcasts. (Some day I hope we get big enough that NPR starts an educational technology podcast!) NPR has been smart enough to realize that: a) their content can be remixed and repackaged, and b) podcasting allows listeners to time and device shift.

The fact that I pay yearly membership dues to NPR is solely because of their willingness to repackage their content into podcasts. Each week the wonderful NPR education and technology stories are automatically synced to my iTunes and my iPod. In a sea of content related to education and technology, I never miss what NPR serves up. They have my attention.

The fact that NPR has been way ahead of higher ed in leveraging technology to deliver its content, in innovative ways across new mediums, is particularly striking given public radio's funding structure. NPR's national programming (Morning Edition, All Things Considered etc) is primarily paid for by local stations (affiliates) sending fees and dues for the programming. Local stations, in turn, raise most of the money required to pay for the national programs (and their local programming) through on-air fund raising campaigns. Understandably, the local affiliates are concerned that if listeners can bypass the local radio stations and download NPR content via podcasts the result will be a reduction in contributing radio listeners.

Wired Magazine, writing about the podcasting and NPR, put it this way:

"While most NPR programming has been streamed online for several years, the portable, time-shifted, on-demand nature of podcasting affords a new level of convenience and access. Yet, at the same time, it can turn ears away from local stations -- possibly for good -- which could be a problem for affiliates that rely heavily upon member donations to pay the dues to air some of the same programming listeners can now get free as MP3s."

In this context, the decision by NPR to provide its content via podcast seems particularly brave. In higher ed we are still figuring out ways to disaggregate, unbundle, and remix our content. Prospective students and existing students, alumni and lifelong learners may be have a high demand for the teaching and research produced in our classrooms and labs, but the opportunities to get at this content remain limited. We can debate what part of our knowledge production should be disintermediated from our campuses, and repurposed for various platforms, but surely some of what we produce would qualify.

The other area where I'm jealous of NPR is how far ahead of us they are in mobile apps. Have you checked out the NPR iPhone/Touch app? It totally rocks! Could you imagine an app this good for your college or university (or a consortia of higher ed institutions), one that allows students (or lifelong learners) the ability to instantly find and interact with all the knowledge being produced on your campus?

Come on everyone ….. are we going to keep letting NPR eat our lunch when it comes to technology and social media?

 

 

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