I have a treat for you.
Last year, a completely lovely reader offered to do a write-up of how she teaches her students to podcast. I don’t typically post about curriculum/pedagogy (I’m more interested in telling you why I’ll die alone), but this opportunity seemed too good to pass up—especially since I didn’t have to write it! Ha. Anyway, at a time of year when so many teachers are about to start pulling their hair out from research papers, I thought this was a great alternative—or an assignment to do concurrently with whatever it is that you’re cramming to get in before June.
Here’s Tricia, spreading her knowledge like whipped cream cheese icing:
The Wonderful World of Podcasting!
By Tricia Maniaci
They know. And it’s not because they read the syllabus or course schedule. It is inevitable. We’ve written narratives, interviews, observations, and rhetorical analysis. It was only a matter of time.
The most dreaded of papers for students to write, and equally painful for teachers to read: the research paper.
We could speculate the whys (and there are many), but the one I keep coming back to is simple: It’s the last (ish) assignment of the semester and we are all tired; they are tired of writing papers and I am tired of reading them. We educators tend to save the worst for last. Clearly we dread this as much as our students; otherwise we’d be bouncing around the room the first day like a certain celebrity offering up free cars: WE ARE DOING RESEARCH PAPERS!!!! YOU GET A RESEARCH ASSIGNMENT! AND YOU GET A RESEARCH ASSIGNMENT!
One of the ongoing movements within Higher Ed (and probably
elsewhere, but Higher Ed is my circus) is making the classroom and assignments
more multimodal. I’m no Luddite, but my first response to that phrasing was
similar to Reese Witherspoon’s reaction in Legally Blonde regarding Harvard Admissions,
“What, like a fancy Power Point?” Look,
I grew up in an era of actual cards in a card catalogue. I was the tech guru in
my family because I could program the VCR. My generation invented the plethora
of excuses surrounding email and late assignments, because email was new. So to put me in front of a smart
board, hand me an iPad, and tell me to make things more multimodal, I will see
your technology and raise you a shrug and a vocal, “Meh.”
I teach English Comp. English Comp = Writing. Writing = Paper. Yes, the means by which we’ve written has changed slightly, from the quill to the pen to the typewriter to the laptop, but when it comes down to it, there’s not much in the way of multimodal writing. Essays are still essays. Where multimodal fits into this equation was beyond me (I was never great at math.)
Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees, especially if you teach the same thing semester after semester. So why would it occur to me the elements of a research paper are transferable when it comes to podcasts? Or documentaries? It wouldn’t.
Until I started binge listening Aaron Mahnke’s Lore. There it was, in one simple sentence, “Research assistance from Marcet Crockett.” My brain slowed, the car slowed (sorry, mom and her 4 kids in the van behind me). Research. Assistance. Research.
WHY AM I NOT DOING THIS?!
Podcasts are, in essence, a research paper. They are MULT.
Expletives flew from my mouth (also from the van behind me) and I called a colleague of mine to share with her my best idea ever. Instead of having my students write another paper, with the added element of painful research, I’d have them create a podcast!
The great thing about using podcasts in addition to essay writing is they literally contain every element of an essay. The process by which to create a well developed, carefully researched, and organized podcast is the same process by which a research paper is developed.
I still require my students to submit a number of written pieces surrounding the project:
- Detailed outline (this particular one is from my Folklore specific assignment)
- Annotated bibliography
- Script (Essentially, an essay. But script is more magical sounding. As if the Justice League would suddenly burst through the wall volunteering their superpowers to defeat the evil professor.)
I should note I use the term “script” loosely. I have my
students listen and evaluate a number of podcasts and we discuss the
differences between them. Some such as LORE are very scripted, while others
such as My Favorite Murder, are very conversational. I do point out even with
the more conversational podcasts, there is still an outline and producer
keeping the presenters on track. So if a student chooses not to write a script,
I make sure his or her outline is extremely detailed.
When I introduce this particular project, I have them listen to Lore or Unexplained. Besides involving a historical element (can we say cross curricular?!), they are also short (around half an hour). Because I teach college students, I am not limited to content, though I still vet episodes and provide trigger warnings.
The other great thing about doing podcasts is it’s extremely
accessible. I’ve had a number of students with a varying range of abilities
participate. It’s adaptable. Students can do a research project or a personal
narrative, or an interview. It can be as high tech or as low tech as you or the
creator wants. One of the best submissions I received was recorded with a
phone, in the shower of a student’s bathroom (the flushing toilet was a bonus
Since implementing this project with my students, I’ve
noticed they become more invested with the writing process. They enjoy creating
and writing, and I enjoy steering them in just one more direction that requires
research and writing. And I don’t have to grade a stack of apathetically
written research essays.
Hopefully the resources below will help lead you and your students away from the monotony of the traditional research paper. Know this isn’t a substitution, but an addition. I still firmly believe students need to know about writing and analyzing information, but this is one way to shake things up and give us all a much needed break.
Urban Legends, Ghost Stories, and Folklore, OH MY!, This is the assignment I give to my Comp 1 students. We listen to Lore and Unexplained as a model.
University International Project, This is from a colleague who teaches Mass
Communications, so it focuses a lot on the technical aspect, but provides some
great project ideas and curriculum plans. You can also see how I adapted my
lesson plan from theirs.
Modern Love and Narrative Writing, I stumbled across this gem on the New York Times Lesson Plans website.
Project Audio: The whole kit and caboodle complete with lesson plans, and curriculum guidelines. Another resource from The New York Times, this covers everything from project ideas, recording apps, editing, and production.
Podcast Rubric, The University of Wisconsin – Stout has this up on their website and I love it. Mostly because I hate writing rubrics.
Please note some of these podcasts may not be appropriate
for all age levels, so vet accordingly.
This is not an exhaustive list, just some of my favorites.
Lore, Historical, well researched, often touching, and a little spooky at times. This podcast covers a number of historical events and the folklore surrounding them. It would serve well for any kind of across the curriculum planning. If at any point you cover the Salem Witch Trials or Witch Hunts, I recommend Episode 70.
Unexplained, Like Lore, it’s historical in nature, but discusses the more unexplained phenomena such as aliens, poltergeists, and ghosts.
Ear Hustle, This is the perfect podcast for discussing civil rights and the prison system. Strong language at times, and can be graphic.
Cooked Conversations, A podcast that discusses recent political and social events happening, but may not get a lot of media coverage; this would be the perfect edition to a Civics or History class. Strong language and a bit controversial for some, but well worth the listen.
Reveal, Much like Crooked Conversations, Reveal is an investigative podcast that tackles social and political issues.
Story Corps, Probably one of my favorites when having my students conduct interviews. The even provide questions and interviewing tips for prospective submissions.
The Moth, When teaching narrative writing, this podcast is my go to.
Write Now, This handy podcast discusses the writing process. My students love listening to the writer interviews; it helps them see writers at any level struggle with procrastination, writer’s block, and motivation.
I hope you enjoyed Tricia’s abundance of linked resources, her Legally Blonde reference, and her project that will, with any luck, save you from an absolute mountain of sad research papers to grade.
And if you want real-life whipped cream cheese icing to enjoy, here’s a recipe for carrot cake I made this week that absolutely SLAYED. Here’s a picture of it, too.