I've been listening to the Napoleon 101 podcasts, from Napoleon's family background up through young Buonaparte's role in the siege of Toulon (1793). The show consists of conversations between J. David Markham and Cameron Reilly.
It's an interesting example of the teaching and learning possibilities of podcasting. The learning object/profcast aspect is present, whereby one can absorb a lot of information in a linear fashion. It's available for timeshifting (I listened to this over the course of two days, between several drives and an early morning spell in the office). Each podcast file can be scrubbed, fast-forwarded, and so on.
How is this different from reading a text file transcript? As Gardner Campbell notes, podcasts offer the theater of the mind, done well enough, and Nap 101 is a good example. There aren't any sound effects, and no music beyond the (ironic) 1812 Overture. But you pick up on the excitement shown by Markham and Reilly, their differences and passions. The elder disagrees with the younger several times, and the live-ness of it evidences the intensity of scholarly debate more strongly than most written exchanges. Their discourses and tones differ, which is pleasant, and affords the listener many positions to inhabit (the questioner, the master of a point, the summarizer).
Gardner also argues that audio is good at showing a sense of common humanity - that's certainly clear here, as an Australian and a Yank discuss a Corsican refugee who drove France to rule much of Europe.
I found myself pushing back at the pocast at several points, especially as I disagreed with their coverage of the Revolution. For one, they skipped Valmy (1792), and presented the (Red) Terror as solely domestic, which makes little sense without the context of invasion and foreign wars. Perhaps they will return to this topic, backing and filling...
...but in the meantime I found myself as a listener both engaged and frustrated. Engaged, as this (arguable) error drove me to respond, rethink, and argue, which is exactly the sort of thing learning loves. But frustrated, as, thanks to timeshifting, I lacked a mechanism to push back. Had I been reading this as a blog post, for example, the comment space would rapidly fill up with my reply. As a wiki page, the edit button would be clicked quickly. But I had no immediate response mechanism. Nor did the podcast afford a necessary response space - podcasts are essentially readable, not writeable. Driving or walking, I could not immediately record my critique. I had to re-timeshift the podcast, carrying it back to other mechanisms (multiple browser tabs, text editor). In this sense there's a gap between social media and social software, or between rich media and social software. Not an unfillable one, but a speed bump that needs navigation, which is both a pedagogical and a technological point.
On a related note, this is the first podcast I've imbibed from the Podcast Network. They have a very broad-ranging set of offerings. Nap 101 is the only one listed under their education header so far, and is a personal project for Reilly, who's one of the powers behind TPN, I gather. Which does make their slogan especially delightful:
"real power can't be given - it must be taken"