Today’s undergrads are pulled in so many directions, including working full or part time while trying to get an education. Add in family responsibilities and trying to have a life outside of class, pushes reading to the back burner.
Professors need a new plan of attack. While my work is still in the early stages, I am convinced that podcasts can further student learning and become a modality for teaching as well as student assignments.
There’s a nice match between undergraduate students and podcast listeners. The Infinite Dial from Edison Research (2022) shows that 50 percent of people aged 12–34 listen to podcasts every month. That demographic matches well with traditional undergrad students.
Buzzsprout suggests a potential match between podcasting and education, with 64 percent of people say they learn something from podcasts and over 66 percent of podcast listeners having at least a bachelor’s degree.
With students listening to podcasts while doing something else (laundry, chores, cooking, commuting, etc.), can we use podcasts to steal some of their time? Can they at least supplement course materials? If students get distracted, let’s be the distraction. I found a number of ways to incorporate audio into my courses.
When it was time for my social media class to discuss privacy issues, one of the resources I assigned was “Your Digital Trail, and How It Can Be Used Against You” on NPR’s All Things Considered (Zwerdling & Schulz, 2013). I found that class participation was livelier on that segment than on the assigned articles, enabling me to drop most of my prepared lecture slides in favor of quality discussion.
I’ve also noticed better discussions of audio content than of text. Any episode of Disgraceland, a 30-minute podcast about the criminal stories surrounding interesting and infamous pop stars, can lead to good pop culture discussions. It’s a great teaching tool about elements of research, storytelling, persuasion, and finding your voice.
I have also used audio to initiate a class discussion of fair use of copyrighted material in education by talking about the use of music in a learning context. I use audio sample of songs and then have students debate whether a song was plagiarized or not. The audio clips of Marvin Gay’s “Got to Give It Up” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” have inspired spirited conversations. Once I threw in Weird Al Yankovic’s “Word Crimes,” and we covered how parody is free expression.
Convinced that listening to podcasts helps students learn and engage with material, I wondered about other audio possibilities. For example, because students tend not to closely read the syllabus, I recorded a three-minute segment explaining class participation policies, comparing them to audience participation at rock concerts. I urged students to “join together with the band,” using The Who’s classic in the background. I also showed them how audio can be used to tell stories and make a tongue-in-cheek point about grading and the role of professors by sharing “Music to Grade Papers By,” an episode of my music podcast, JB’s Playlists.
During pandemic-mandated remote classes, some students kept their cameras off during video conferences. When students did turn them on, we often had surprise visits from their pets, inspiring me to assign students to produce a media artifact introducing the pet (or one they wish they had). They could choose between a video, a narrated or automated PowerPoint, or an audio file or podcast.
The audio option was the easiest since they could record a simple story on a phone, and many did. While some “petcasts” turned out well, most didn’t. The biggest problem was poor audio quality due to students recording on a phone instead of using an external mic. Another problem was that recordings were filled with pauses and “um” fillers when students did not script their stories.
The lesson here is that students need direction in both audio scripting and recording. A good resource to assign students is Mike Russell’s tutorial on how to edit with Audacity. Adding video into the mix would have overcomplicated things, especially for first-years or non–communication majors.
Finally, instructors or departments can create a podcast series. I produce Co-Designed, a podcast about the student experience at Southern New Hampshire University, as part of our Center for Teaching and Learning. In each biweekly episode, my cohost and I interview students, faculty, and staff about their roles and experiences. Topics range from involvement in athletics from a nonathlete perspective to participation in our Undergrad Research Day. We simply decided we wanted to do a podcast like this, planned out a few episodes, set up equipment, and recorded it using Audacity. It’s that simple! As the show evolved, I’ve moved from host to cohost, handing the mic to Amanda Goyette, a talented student hoping to start a career in radio and podcasting. In this way a podcasting series can take a life of its own if it becomes popular.
Students appreciate the new technology. Podcasting still has a certain cachet or coolness factor. Having them create and produce media elevates their projects to a higher level in Bloom’s Taxonomy. It’s a new tool in the teaching professors’ arsenal and is worthy of further exploration and discussion. It also happens to be fun!
Edison Research. (2022). The Infinite Dial 2022. http://www.edisonresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Infinite-Dial-2022-Webinar-revised.pdf
Zwerdling, D. & Schulz, D. (2013, September 30). Your digital trail, and how it can be used against you [Radio broadcast]. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/09/30/226835934/your-digital-trail-and-how-it-can-be-used-against-you
Jon Boroshok, APR, MBA, is an assistant professor in communication at Southern New Hampshire University.