16 years ago I started a podcast. It was an exciting time for educational technology. For those with long memories, you might recall that there was a huge shift taking place at the time in the way we use the internet, called Web 2.0. For those who were paying attention, this shift changed almost everything about the way we understood the web. It went from a one-way, information consumption experience to being a two-way, participatory experience that spawned a huge wave of ordinary people who were suddenly able to easily produce and publish their own content to the web. Around this time the world discovered blogs, wikis, podcasts, and all manner of innovative web tools designed to help anyone find their voice and connect with an audience.
I was curious to play in this new sandpit. Like many others, I started a blog, set up a wiki, signed up for every exciting new service that came along, like YouTube, Twitter and MySpace, and began to explore what this Web 2.0 shift was about, and as a teacher, how I might use it. They were exciting years for technology and for the ways in which educators were experimenting with these new tools.
It was 2006, and as part of this first wave of Web 2.0 users I wanted to try this new thing called podcasting. In a fit of enthusiasm, I opened up a tool called GarageBand on my recently purchased MacBook Pro, and started playing around with it. After lots of experimenting and playing around, I eventually figured out how to cobble together a system to record both ends of a Skype conversation, and then drop into GarageBand, add some music and effects and produce what I thought was a pretty cool end result.
I was teaching at a school in Canada at the time on a teaching exchange, and often found myself in interesting conversations with other teachers in the staffroom, talking about education, school, technology, and life in general. Inspired by this new possibility of podcasting I started to think that I could perhaps have similar conversations about teaching, with teachers from anywhere in the world, then record and publish them to the web. Much like the conversations around the staffroom table at work, I started to imagine how a podcast might be used to converse in one big global virtual staffroom.
Hence the Virtual Staffroom podcast was born. It began with a simple premise – to have conversations with leading teachers about technology in the classroom. Excited by the chance to learn something new, I delved into finding out more about the technical aspects of audio editing, figuring out RSS feeds and enclosures and how to publish and host these feeds, and then knocking together some graphics for my newly born podcast baby. Then on October 2, 2006, while still living in Toronto Canada, I published my first episode called Learning for Life, which was an interview with my friend Anne Baird back in Australia.
Thanks to the OzTeachers mailing list, at the time a vibrant and active online discussion forum for Australian educators, this first episode instantly found a receptive audience, and soon encouraged me to have a go at a second episode with another teaching friend back in Australia, Michael Cridland, called The New Web. I soon found there was no shortage of innovative educators who were keen to participate in this community podcasting experiment with me and so, almost by accident, I found myself off and running with what turned out to be one of the most successful Australian educational technology podcasts of its day. And while it happened to find a receptive audience who regularly told me how much they got out of listening to it, I can tell you that, for myself, being able to talk with so many incredibly innovative teachers from around the world was one of the most rewarding and enriching professional learning experiences I’ve ever been part of. I got to talk with a literal who’s who of brilliant educators sharing real stories of what happens in real classrooms. It was invigorating and exciting and creative and I loved doing it.
Production of the Virtual Staffroom continued for some six years, until 2012. Episodes were sometimes published with a regularity that almost resembled a real schedule, and at other times episodes only appeared sporadically when I had time to make them. I didn’t stop producing the podcast for any particular reason, other than that I got busy and life just kept getting in the way. But I certainly missed doing it.
In case you don’t know how these things work, the audio files for a podcast need to be hosted somewhere, and the published feed enclosure just points to them. In my case, the audio files were hosted on server space I was renting from the same hosting provider where this blog is hosted, along with some other files and services. However, at one point, I’m guessing probably around 2014, I decided to upgrade my WordPress blog by migrating to a better hosting plan, and in the process I unknowingly lost the additional server storage space I was using, which included all the audio files for Virtual Staffroom! I didn’t notice for a while and when I finally realised that the audio links no longer worked, and then realised why, I nearly cried. It was devastating to realise that six years of work, some of the work that I was most proud of, were gone, permanently deleted from the GoDaddy servers,
I optimistically thought I had backups of these audio files, but I never managed to find them anywhere. Then a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across some old portable drives and while combing through them I was elated to discover a backup of all the original Virtual Staffroom audio recordings, stored many folders deep in an old iTunes library backup. I’d resigned myself to the idea that I’d lost them all, so finding them after so many years was a wonderful surprise. I immediately set up an account with podcasting platform anchor.fm, uploaded them all, spent a couple of hours adding the metadata back, and then copied the embed codes back over the blog where they were originally linked. So everything is now back to normal (and of course, now backed up in several places!)
I know it might seem pointless to worry about recordings that are so old as to probably be irrelevant now. I’m well aware they probably don’t matter to anyone else, but they mattered to me.
More importantly, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed podcasting, how much I got from simply participating in the process, and also how much I realised that the work I’d done had been a positive thing for so many others at the time. And I still think the basic concept – conversations with leading teachers about technology in the classroom – is a worthwhile one. So I’ve decided that I’m going to do it again, and revive the podcast. The same basic concept, 10 years later, except with new stories to tell, new people to talk with, and new ideas to share.
So stay tuned. I’m looking for educators with stories and ideas to share. I believe the world needs to hear them. And if you’re a teacher interested in sharing your story, reach out. I’d love to talk with you.