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Blog #4: Podcasting

Written by Nicole Mirra
January 14, 2017

By Dana Proctor

I have never been very good with computers.  Since childhood, I have always favored putting pen to paper and most often use technology to craft traditional texts in my academic and personal writing.  By a narrow margin, I escaped college without need of a smart phone and use my laptop to a fraction of its full potential.  Having always had access to various digital tools, I am living proof that such resources are not inherently valuable, but rather only as useful and constructive as the instruction that accompanies them. 

In a recent project for my multimodal literacies course, I explored the podcast medium and potential uses for these digital texts in secondary classrooms.  I had never listened to a podcast before this assignment; I had not even noticed that Apple’s podcast app came as a standard download on my phone until a classmate pointed it out to me.  What is a podcast?  How do I find a channel that interests me? How do I make a podcast? Where do I publish it?  Though I brought little prior knowledge to this assignment, I found the learning curve moderate and quickly began navigating tools like Voice Memo, GarageBand and Podbean in my efforts to record, edit, and publish my very first episode.

Before producing a podcast of my own, I searched through iTunes and websites like PodBean to learn more about what others were already doing with this medium.  Like many of its nearly 40 million listeners, I quickly lost myself in the story told by Serial, a podcast sponsored by NPR’s seminal broadcast This American Life.  In a captivating hybrid of investigative, editorial, and narrative writing, Serial tells one story each season, producing weekly episodes in real time.  In its first season the podcast examined the 1999 murder of a Baltimore teen and the case against her ex-boyfriend, currently serving a life sentence for the crime. Offering producers and consumers low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, this podcast modeled the medium’s potential for involvement in participatory cultures.  Millions tuned in to hear the story artfully unfold, while Adnan Syed, the convict at the center of season one, has since returned to court with a new defense bolstered by the evidence gathered and presented by the podcast’s production team. 

I also found useful examples of how podcasts might be used in secondary school classrooms.  Through PodBean I listened to podcasts published by students in a Tennessee magnet school, most often reviews and interviews produced by students working in pairs or groups.  Published periodically over the course of the year, these student podcasts exemplified important tenets of connected learning allowing students the freedom to publish personally relevant content for real purposes and real audiences.

When it came time to publish a work of my own, I looked to two tools to which I already had access but had never explored: the Voice Memo app by iPhone and GarageBand for Mac.  I found many useful tutorials online and quickly learned the basics of editing audio in GarageBand (Audacity is another great tool for PC users). Through trial and error, I learned that using the Voice Memo app on my phone and downloading the audio files into GarageBand through iTunes provided the clearest, most consistent sound.  I even turned my closet into a temporary sound studio that offered insulation from distracting background noise.  To involve my classmates in this part of the project, I asked them to record their own answers to the same prompt. Each of these recordings was its own digital text, and together they served as the textual evidence for claims I made about literature for youth and the reading done by young people.  To publish my final draft, I created a PodBean channel called New and Multimodal Literacies, choosing a title and profile image, writing a channel description, and tagging our podcast as K-12 Education so that other educators can easily find our episodes.

Though having only scratched the surface of the podcast world, I have great confidence in the potential this medium holds to teach students important skills in crafting texts across various media and genres.  While education standards and testing preparation frame curriculum and instruction in many classrooms, digital texts like podcasts provide students opportunity to meet such standards while also engaging them in more authentic social practices for the various uses of digital tools. From planning to publishing, students creating podcasts must pay careful attention to mode, media, audience, purpose and situation.  They must practice authentic revision and develop their own strong, credible voices.  Throughout the multiple drafts of my own podcast, my thinking evolved alongside my writing.  While students often view revision as correcting mistakes in grammar and punctuation, producing a podcast invites students to think more metacognitively throughout the writing process, continually reimagining the text itself. 

The podcast form also draws a clear line between students’ own ideas and secondary sources.  On the page, students can easily mistake the regurgitation of research as their own original analysis, but literally hearing their own voice as distinct from the others in the podcast, students learn to assert their own ideas and resist allowing the arguments of others to dominate the text.  Learning to trust their own voices is pivotal for any young writer, but for ELLs in particular.  Podcasts provide these students the unique opportunity to communicate freely without the self-editing that traditional writing typically prompts.  In this way, podcasts invite all students into connected learning experiences that challenge the notion of a single, standardized pathway to knowledge and recognize diverse forms of expertise. Students working with podcasts learn practical elements of writing craft and genre, but even more importantly they appreciate the power of spoken word.  They learn the value of alternative perspectives and the need for authentic discussion.