Resurrecting the Podcast as an Engaging Assignment Option

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Lately in the DLMC we’ve been diving back into sound recording conversations.  Working with faculty, fellow staff, and the Media Mentor student staff, capturing sound has been the focus of multiple folks, and not just for film!  Podcasts have resurfaced as a teaching tool that provides a valuable set of skills for students and offers a different form of assessment for interested faculty.  As the podcast industry continues to experience a resurgence generally, it’s worth taking a look at podcasts as a tool for your teaching arsenal.

Podcasts as Writing

One of the best lights with which to view podcasts is through the lens of teaching writing skills.  While podcasting is by definition a medium focused on audio, authentic writing and writing concisely, for a target audience is a valuable skill that is essential for the production of a podcast.  Think about the following when considering a podcast as a method of teaching: 

  • Podcasts demand that students write cohesively and craft a narrative arc.  It’s an essential form of digital storytelling whose skills translate to other forms like video narrative. 
  • Podcasts require writing concisely and at a level that promotes understanding without losing a listener by using flowery language or jargon.
  • Podcasts promote thinking about writing for an audience.  

Podcasts as Projects

Podcasts are also great for teaching students about process.  This dovetails with writing, but having students think about a project holistically, from initial idea to deliverable can be extremely valuable.  While the content is the focus of the project, having students reflect on the ‘peripheral work’ of gathering resources (not just research), scheduling collaborative meetings or interviews, working through distribution logistics, and critically reviewing their own or others’ work can be an excellent exercise in several fundamental soft skills students need to succeed.  Good scaffolding is essential to this end, requiring students to check-in and reflect along the way.

Podcasts as a Technical Exercise

While often a secondary goal to content delivery and understanding, the practical aspect of having completed a podcast project is valuable in itself.  Understanding basic principles of sound, the basic equipment needed, and the use of that equipment are marketable skills for students as they move forward in their careers.  Here at the DLMC we can assist students with this part of a project, offering both equipment loans and training on both hardware and software used for podcast production.  Students can meet with full time staff, or Media Mentor student staff for peer to peer learning opportunities.  Our new podcast kits make it easy for students to get started working on projects right away with low barrier to entry hardware that can be coupled with free open source software that all students can use on their own devices.

Podcasts as Assessment

Far from the last consideration is assessment!  Podcasts provide a few valuable considerations here: 

  • Alternate assignments provide students with a way to express their expertise and content understanding in a way that is more malleable than a traditional paper, but that still contains a writing component.
  • Podcasts come in a variety of formats – what are you asking students to do?  Are they presenting information in an unbiased way?  Making an argument based on evidence?  Depending on learning outcomes, students might do either or both of these things. 
  • Podcasts usually require scaffolding over time.  This typically allows for multiple forms of assessment in addition to the final product!  Writing, storyboarding, research or resource discovery can all be individual components of a larger project, assessed independently with different aims or goals.
  • It’s a change of pace.  Don’t underestimate the importance of having something different to grade at the end of the term!

Exploring More

If interested in a podcast assignment, I’m happy to meet with you and discuss potentials.  The DLMC and the Learning and Applied Innovation team has both the physical resources and expertise to help you craft a project for your students.  Even if you don’t have a solid plan in place, we’re happy to be a sounding board for ideas and to let you know what is technically possible, and practically feasible.  

Andrew Smith