Podcast Project in the Class Part 8: Evaluating


I am still reworking and adding materials to this series of posts

Grading, mechanics and workflow

One of my main goals behind focusing so much on the different elements of all the areas that make up a podcast was to help students find a way into the material as well as organizational possibilities. Another reason is that I wanted student to develop the criteria by which they would be evaluated.

During the penultimate week of classes, as a way to reinforce what they were doing while creating their podcast, I started asking them about all the different elements and what we should be looking at to determine the quality of a podcast. As they threw out different elements, I typed and organized their responses within a Word document displayed for the class to see. The more I typed, the more clear that there were distinct areas areas within the outline. Students started debating over which areas some elements belonged to. When they were satisfied they had all of the criteria in all of the right places, we read through it one last time. They asked me what I thought and I said, “It looks good.” That’s when I announced that I was going to convert the document to a rubric and use that to grade their final project. I also announced that my assessment would only be one among the entire class’s assessments. That is, they were going to evaluate each other’s projects based on the criteria they themselves developed to determine their projects’ grade.

To help make my life “easier” through automation, I used Google form to create a rubric with all of the criteria, and added a ranking scale along with descriptions for how well the elements worked in their projects. Here is a pdf of the design view to give you an idea of what my students saw. To see how it actually works, you can go here and try filling it out. The color-coded tables containing the description for the ratings is actually an image. I first created this form in Excel and used Techsmith’s Snagit application to take snapshots of each row (but I could have just as easily used Microsoft Window’s built in app, the Snipping Tool). I uploaded the appropriate images for each “question” in Google Forms’ design mode.

I air quoted “easier” at the start of the previous paragraph, because while it was easy (for me), the process has many steps to finally compile everything into a report for which I could then send a copy back to each group containing the (anonymized) individual assessments along with an overall score for the project’s grade. To do this, in Google Forms, you can download a form’s responses as an Excel csv file. From there, it was easy to see all the raw data. From there, though, I copied the data to separate worksheets for each group, randomizing the sorting as well as removing any authorial information. This also include Bonne’s and my responses as well. I did place my responses in the first row of the reports so that students knew what I had to say. From there, I created a separate file for each group’s work, formatted everything. then uploaded the feedback within Canvas (our content management system for classes). Here’s an example report of one group’s assessments. You may notice that the Endings section is blank for everyone but me–for some reason I left that part out in the original form (I’ve since corrected it). You may also noticed that students tend to judge their fellow students much more harshly. While my own grade for the project is averaged in along with the rest, I made it clear to the class that I reserve the right to override a project’s final grades in case students go astray. In the past, some groups tried something creative that was very unorthodox but still worked well–that is, students sometimes only see how projects didn’t fit exactly into how we had been discussing different elements in class. But for all that, for all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve only had to override one project’s final evaluation grade.

Podcast Project in the Class Part 10: Resources

I am still reworking and adding materials to this series of posts

Podcast

Groups

Journalism

  • I will update this with better, more specific information later
  • Code of Ethics Buccaneer.pdf
  • Bonne Smith’s desk
  • University of Oregon

Software

  • I may have to add another part to the series, or I may just list all the different things both my students as well as I used during the course of this quarter.

Equipment

  • I’ll list out some specific equipment we used in the Libary’s Audio/Visual lab.
  • But again, I may have to add another part to the series, or I may just list all the different things both my students as well as I used during the course of this quarter.

Podcast Project in the Class Part 7: The Suicide Podcast

I am still reworking and adding materials to this series of posts

As I noted at the beginning of this series, the topic for this quarter’s class podcasts was chosen by the editors of the college’s newspaper. For our inaugural project, the editors chose suicide as our topic.

Finding a Project Topic

To gain background information quickly, students read the following articles published by the newspaper:

Suicide in and of itself is a broad topic. These articles represent a range of subtopics that impact our local community. Within them are contained a range of types of sources and statistics, of which any could be a starting point for students. I asked them to keep an eye out for subtopics about which they would like to know more or that surprised them. For instance, the difference in suicide rates based on gender shocked people and so they wanted to know why that might be. One group’s project ultimately focused on why men were more likely to kill themselves.

The process for creating this podcast was similar to the practice one but more in depth, with added layers.

It just so happened that I discovered a new podcast just released at that time on Spotify, Gimlet Academy which is a podcast about how to create a podcast. In short, I can’t praise enough this series. Although it’s only five episodes which run about twenty minutes each, it’s packed with valuable information and better, many real world examples of things going well and things not going so well, along with professional advice. If I had found this this series before the start of the quarter, it would have been The Textbook for our class. But even so, it became my main Call Back Reference material for the rest of the quarter.


Focus Statements

Focus statements are hard for students. My initial attempt to get students to decide on a topic and turn in a focus statement met with resistance. Trying to get them to answer those timeless questions such as “So what?” or “Who is impacted?” or “Why should people care about this story?” was like pulling teeth. Enter Gimlet Academy. The first episode is called “Great Pitches.” Instead of talking about “focus questions,” it frames them as “pitches. Their discussion of bad pitches and what makes them bad was incredibly helpful. Their initial example went something like, “Nuns. What’s up with them?” This is why I don’t let my English 101 students write questions into their essays; they invariably fail for the same reason that example does. But I’m also guilty of having bad pitches/focus statements. I try to emphasize that it takes time to craft a good one. The podcast breaks down Good pitches into three elements and gives examples. Elements. There’s that word again. Looking for those elements helped making pitches much easier for my students. Here’s an example that one group came up with in response to the pitch episode. While they still had work to do tightening it up, what I really appreciated about it was how it showed their thought process as they narrowed down their focus using those three elements. I used theirs as an example for the other groups.

But what also helped with developing their focus statements was accidental. During a Library class on how to use the college’s databases to search for articles as well as talking about open source music and the Creative Commons, the director of the library used the groups’ recently revised focus statements as topics to demonstrate how to search the databases. Her discussion about the use of related keywords to find more articles and how it narrowed down topics greatly helped students to finetune their own questions and interests. So much so, the class ended up becoming a mini-workshop for their pitches. They applied the lessons from Gimlet Academy with their new found (visual) knowledge of keywords to develop much stronger focus statements.


Storyboarding

No matter how much or how I often I emphasized the importance of storyboards, students didn’t take them seriously until well after-they started their final projects. [NEEDS LOTS MORE]

  • Concepts–what is it and what’s it used for.
  • “It’s the script!”
  • something something something about in-class conversion of an introduction paragraph from an essay.
  • The Storyboard-After-the-Fact for the Practice Podcasts
  • discuss Storyboards in terms of a Living Document—the script, constantly updating. This might be considered as the drafting part of the Writing Process. It’s a way to try things out without committing too much time with actual audio.

The Suicide Podcast Project, Checking In

  • Sam Hines gave presentation of Database journals and Opensource Music, copyright, Creative Commons
  • She also gave presentation on how to use our temporary installation of our Podcast equipment
  • Status Updates
  • Continuing to adjust Storyboard, planning interviews, making time with each other’s schedules

The Audio/Visual Lab

One of the boons that quarter was that the Library had received a grant to create an Audio/Visual lab. We converted one of the conference rooms for the equipment, which began with a “modest” RØDECaster Pro along with four RØDE PodMics. With only an in-lab tour and demonstration, along with a How-to Guide, our library director was able to quickly get my students up and running. At first, even though our mics and recording equipment were professional, I thought students would prefer just using their cellphones because they wouldn’t have to plan too much ahead of time with the libary. However, they told me that the loved how easy it was to use the lab–they didn’t have to worry about finding a quiet place for recording their interviews or narrations, and all the equipment was set up and ready to go for them. It also helped that everyone knew where the library was located, so scheduling time with interviewees was easy.

[INSERT PICS OF THE LAB]


Re-engagement with the materials and process

For this particular assignment, I was trying to get students to understand the differences between “story and emotion” and “story as emotion” and the power of each. But I needed something to help them wrestle with this nuance but not overload them even more with another assignment. I know I dismissed Discussion Board assignments earlier. However, after talking with the class about my concerns, I decided to try them again based on their feedback. Asking my students help to frame the parameters of the assignment itself helped them into the messiness of it.

Besides student participation, the Reflection essay assignments were also key to getting students to examine what it is they were trying to do and learn about. They discover blah blah blah. Maybe take a quote or two from their essays?


Final Push

Bonne and I continued to workshop everything, troubleshoot, offer advice on places having difficulty. Worked well because other groups could chime in AV Room was greatly appreciated as having a quiet place ready to go. Cocreated a list of criteria by which to judge each other’s projects (at this point, they did not know they were going to be grading one another. Covid Happens


Grading [SHOULD THIS BE ITS OWN SECTION?]

One of my main goals behind focusing so much on the different elements of all the areas that make up a podcast was to help students find a way into the material as well as organizational possibilities. Another reason is that I wanted student to develop the criteria by which they would be evaluated.

During the penultimate week of classes, as a way to reinforce what they were doing while creating their podcast, I started asking them about all the different elements and what we should be looking at to determine the quality of a podcast. As they threw out different elements, I typed and organized their responses within a Word document displayed for the class to see. The more I typed, the more clear that there were distinct areas areas within the outline. Students started debating over which areas some elements belonged to. When they were satisfied they had all of the criteria in all of the right places, we read through it one last time. They asked me what I thought and I said, “It looks good.” That’s when I announced that I was going to convert the document to a rubric and use that to grade their final project. I also announced that my assessment would only be one among the entire class’s assessments. That is, they were going to evaluate each other’s projects based on the criteria they themselves developed to determine their projects’ grade.

To help make my life “easier” through automation, I used Google form to create a rubric with all of the criteria, and added a ranking scale along with descriptions for how well the elements worked in their projects. Here is a pdf of the design view to give you an idea of what my students saw. To see how it actually works, you can go here and try filling it out. The color-coded tables containing the description for the ratings is actually an image. I first created this form in Excel and used Techsmith’s Snagit application to take snapshots of each row (but I could have just as easily used Microsoft Window’s built in app, the Snipping Tool). I uploaded the appropriate images for each “question” in Google Forms’ design mode.

I air quoted “easier” at the start of the previous paragraph, because while it was easy (for me), the process has many steps to finally compile everything into a report for which I could then send a copy back to each group containing the (anonymized) individual assessments along with an overall score for the project’s grade. To do this, in Google Forms, you can download a form’s responses as an Excel csv file. From there, it was easy to see all the raw data. From there, though, I copied the data to separate worksheets for each group, randomizing the sorting as well as removing any authorial information. This also include Bonne’s and my responses as well. I did place my responses in the first row of the reports so that students knew what I had to say. From there, I created a separate file for each group’s work, formatted everything. then uploaded the feedback within Canvas (our content management system for classes). Here’s an example report of one group’s assessments. You may notice that the Endings section is blank for everyone but me–for some reason I left that part out in the original form (I’ve since corrected it). You may also noticed that students tend to judge their fellow students much more harshly. While my own grade for the project is averaged in along with the rest, I made it clear to the class that I reserve the right to override a project’s final grades in case students go astray. In the past, some groups tried something creative that was very unorthodox but still worked well–that is, students sometimes only see how projects didn’t fit exactly into how we had been discussing different elements in class. But for all that, for all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve only had to override one project’s final evaluation grade.

Things to think about for Next Time

Again, I wish we had started sooner to allow more time specifically on this project. While once we were only meeting for checking in, opening up problems to the rest of the class, I still think they could have used more time.

The Reflective Essay worked to get them to take another look at what they were doing and evaluating it.

It’s always an act of faith: the podcasts were much better than I imagined they would be.

After having done projects like this  before, I’ve started requiring better quality in the production (for example, interviewing someone in a coffee shop always yields poor audio). I was able to warn them ahead of time to be mindful and to test recording places.

The reflection essays show a great deal of understanding, if not also stress.

The students themselves were proud.

Co-teaching—I would like to do more of it moving forward. The organic nature and multiple perspectives it offers, really helped to motivate students

Podcast Project in the Class Part 6: The Practice Podcast

I am still reworking and adding materials to this series of posts

Interviews, Recording

For this practice recorded interview, students used their phones (or other recording devices). To help prepare them for the first part of this assignment which was to first generate a list of questions for their chosen topic, I added a reading from Ken Metzler, Professor Emeritus, University of Oregon School of Communication [BONNE, WAS THIS AT YOUR DIRECTION?]. I thought its section on the pre-interview especially helpful. We workshopped these in class, where we discussed the types of questions and how they may or may not be useful. We also discussed possible approaches as some questions felt more personal. They were to revise them before the second part of the assignment, the actual interview.

For the second part, I gave students the prompt for their first, practice podcast. Normally, the prompt would come first, but I wanted to be able to guide them through the process. And this “prompt” also has a great deal of How-To information for the recording and editing technology as well as a super-brief introduction into storyboarding and editing audio! It was a lot to take in, but given the short nature of a quarter, it was a must.

For this part, the groups only needed to bring in a copy of the recording to play for the class so that we could workshop them. I half led/half prompted with questions the discussion, focusing students on listening for the elements and organization, and their effectiveness.

The idea was for students to interview two people they did not know (though it could be a relative of one of the group members). In addition to getting used to talking with strangers, another point to this assignment was to get them experience with their equipment and software and how things might go wrong as well as how long the process of editing takes. Also, I wanted to make sure they specifically practiced cutting audio from the separate interviews and splicing them together to form their narration. In the past, for a video project, most groups opted for the one take approach. That is, they just recorded an interview with one person and called it good. I wanted students to realize that the interviews were the research part of an essay (their notes, photocopies of pages from books, citations, etc), and that editing of the audio was more like the actual writing part of an essay (developing your own thoughts, organizing them, and supporting them).

Besides workshopping the techniques and elements, we were also able to discuss the preparation successes and failures. Some students wish they had thought more about followup questions. Others admitted to equipment failure (i.e. not checking the batteries the night before).

Another important discovery they made was the importance of all of their groupmates to the success of a podcast. Being able to effectively schedule everyone took planning. Also, they realized how much an interview involved; it helped to have one person do the actual interview, one person to handle the equipment, and another to take notes, keeping track of time, jotting down when and what topics being discussed or important points being made or just good bits of dialog. While students knew they learned something, it wasn’t until they began work on the real project that they realized how helpful it was to work through many of these issues during this practice podcast.

One the things I have not yet discussed, but was part of their reading materials, was the release forms. I used a variation of one that I’ve used for years at other colleges that I created. I did, however, receive the blessings of my school’s resident copyright, permissions person. And speaking of release forms, it was also important for me as an instructor to get permission from the groups to use their work for educational purposes (future classes, blog posts like this one, etc.). I imagine as we move forward, colleges will create an institutional release form for instructors. But these work for now.


Things to think about for Next Time

This part went well. I would like to start it sooner, though. And as I mentioned earlier, I would like to integrate more of those journalistic questions (objectivity, ethics) into the discussions happening during this time. However, Bonne’s presence during this time helped to foster those discussions. But as you can tell, there was a lot to do all at once. But I really would like to have broken out the additional lessons from that project prompt.

I wish I had also saved copies of the recordings for the practice podcasts so that I could share them because some of them were excellent and would have been good examples for future classes. In fact, I liked them so much, I almost changed the Final project topic to these; I even put it to a vote to the class. Surprisingly, while the they thought this was a fun project, all of the students thought the suicide topic would be more challenging and that they would learn more from doing it.

Podcast Project in the Class Part 5: Interviewing, or “We have to do what?”

I am still reworking and adding materials to this series of posts

Interviewing, Purpose and Approaches

Interviews are kind of like making surveys: everyone thinks they are easy to set up, that you “just do them.” But there is so much preparation and research that goes into them before you ever talk with anyone. Hence, my (yet again), homework dump of reading materials. To my students’ credit, it became evident during our class discussion that they had indeed read the material as well as thought about them. My favorite of these readings is Bonne’s no-nonsense list that I found on her desk. It covers in broad strokes what most of the other readings spent going into greater detail for different scenarios and ideas. I tried to introduce to students to a range of styles as well as common sense (but often overlooked) tips and techniques for a successful interview. Even more valuable, was Bonne’s advice during class where she brought her years of experience to bear. Again, borrowing from The New York Times, I reinforced these ideas with this assignment.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that I keep making use of the word elements. And I really keep using it with my students. It’s because those are the elements for which they will be graded based on their use, arrangement, clarity, etc. It’s all for their podcast toolbox. Being able to identify these different elements will help students to notice them in other podcasts and then, hopefully, ask how they are being used, so that when it comes time for creating their own podcasts, they be able to see it in these terms in order to build a plan rather than being overwhelmed before they even begin.

But there is nothing like actually doing an interview to prepare a person. Originally, this was supposed to be a homework assignment, but more useful, we ended up doing it live in class. There was no recording equipment. I just wanted them to focus on being both an interviewer and an interviewee, to pay attention to the different types of questions being asked, and which prompted responses beyond the yes/no variety. Understanding how it feels to be interviewed would also help them empathize with their own interviewees and prepare for the array of possible situations. Admittedly, this was a silly assignment, but it highlighted the need to actually consider what each question is doing, not only its purpose to elicit content, but how it elicits that content so that can make better decisions that ultimately server their project.

Podcast Project in the Class Part 4: Elements, Elements, Elements: Podcasts and Story

I am still reworking and adding materials to this series of posts

I know, I know. For a post on Podcast, I haven’t discussed them much, if at all. That’s because the group information and helping students develop (and use) their plans is so critical to their success–no matter what project or its medium.

I broke out the podcast section into three areas of focus:

  • elements of podcasting and elements of storytelling
  • Interviewing/Using Equipment/logistics
  • Crafting the Podcast (putting it together/editing)

Podcasts, Elements

The discussion so far as I’ve laid it out doesn’t really follow the timeline for the class. The journalism foundational readings were homework during this time, while the the group documentation materials began a few classes after we started exploring the podcast materials.

At the end of this series of posts, I will provide a list of all the resources I used. But for now, I’ll just mention them as I discuss them during the course of the class. My original intention was to use NPR’s Teaching Podcasting: A Curriculum Guide for Educators as the main textbook for the class. It is an excellent, excellent guide with actual lesson plans as well as a list of other valuable resources. Each part can be downloaded as a pdf (there used to be a pdf containing everything but I can’t find it now). There is also a student guide. While I ended up changing direction for my use of this guide, I did use many ideas and parts of their lessons for the introductory part of the podcasts section, specifically, from the “Podcasting overview” section (download as a pdf).

To get a lay of the podcast land, we first began by discussing students’ favorite podcasts to see what things stood out for them and what interested them and why. What I really appreciated from this guide were the listening exercises where they had specific clips ready to be discussed. This literally saved me hours from seeking out my own clips from scratch. For example, we were able to listen and compare during class, Kind World: So Chocolate Bar and Hidden Brain: The Haunting Effects of Going Days Without Sleep. During the discussion, were started teasing out the elements of the podcast itself (beyond the story). This also benefited students who had never before listened to a podcast. To reinforce the elements we discovered and discussed during class, I gave them a homework assignment to practice looking for these elements. Also, to help students prepare for working together, I started making assignments like this collaborative (group work).


Storytelling, Elements

In addition to NPR, The New York Times also is an excellent resource for teaching podcasts. While I found much of the material aimed at much younger audiences, I did use (massaged) their material about storytelling. Armed with this initial checklist, students were then able to examine some podcasts looking for these story elements. For this, I once again appreciated the planned lessons and materials from The New York Times.

While the students didn’t realize it yet, they were building a list of both story and podcast elements for which we would use as part of their rubric for their final podcast project.


Podcast Project in the Class Part 3: some (Journalism) Contextualization please

I am still reworking and adding materials to this series of posts

Since one of the main objectives behind this course was to contextualize an English 102’s outcomes within journalism, here’s a list of areas we focused on:

  • Facts vs Opinions
  • The 5 W’s
  • Contextual Representation/Accuracy in Presentation
  • Primary Sources vs Secondary Sources
  • Ethics in presentation as well as interviewing
  • [LOTS MORE TO DO WITH THIS SECTION]

Things to think about for Next Time

I borrowed material heavily from the college’s newspaper production course’s textbook [REMEMBER TO GET NAME OF BOOK] While the materials were excellent, I simply assigned too much reading in clumps and not enough discussion (a few minutes of class). I ultimately would reference the materials as Call Backs in later class discussions, but without more focused time, students forgot or even didn’t read the materials carefully. I need to distill it into a small guide or overview. I would like next time to try using case studies highlighting different ethical situations and responsibilities for writeup assignments or in-class discussions. However, there is always so little time to spend in class on this. I do not like the discussion boards within content management systems–sure; they’re convenient for teachers, but as I’ve talked with students over a number of quarters, most students admitted that their responses were based on word count and really didn’t pay much attention to what their classmates were saying. That is, they were not really having a discussion. But enough about that (one day I will find a more effective way to recreate in-class discussions digitally without creating a pile of work for myself).

As this last four years have shown us, we need more discussions on how to know the veracity of whom students are interviewing. That we need to be rigorous enough not to accidentally pass along misinformation or unresearched information as factual. This helped a lot when we were trying to narrow down the specific focus for their projects.

Part of the “too much” of my reading assignments is that I was trying to front-load the quarter with all the journalistic information–almost as if trying to do an entire course in first few weeks. I did not integrate it enough throughout the entire quarter. Next time, I will build questions about ethics, presentation, details/objectivity into our class discussions about the podcasts themselves. In fact, I think I will add a section to the rubric for grading their final podcasts.

Podcast Project in the Class Part 2, Working with (Surviving) Groups

I am still reworking and adding materials to this series of posts

But if we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.

Dr. Jack Shephard, Lost, television series

As I’ve suggested in other posts, students working in groups is difficult but worthwhile–not only for the students’ projects but also in their professional lives beyond college coursework. I’ve spent many years trying various approaches to using them in my classes. It takes a while and experimentation to get it “right”–and even then, there is no final right way. And I have learned two important lessons:

  • Bend or break: be flexible
    • every class is different, and so while I by default prefer three members per group
    • for most class projects, depending on the project as well as having to account for the expansion and contraction of enrollment during the first two weeks of class, the number of members in each group might shrink to two people or grow to five (and in one quarter, even six people). Also, as the groups discover personality conflicts (ala some individuals not doing their work) or insurmountable scheduling difficulties, those member totals may change as members move into different (and sometimes form new) groups
  • Groups will implode
    • every quarter, invariably one group erupts and falls apart–and this may happen at any point after those initial two weeks. One quarter, there was a group that had a meltdown in the middle of class right at the end of the quarter
    • but all is not lost; however, you will need to be okay with becoming a marriage counselor. Basically, all of the daily stresses over an student’s other classes and school activities, home life, work life, or any other areas of life, all of those stress factors will grow exponentially the more people who come together to work on a particular project

Even knowing these two facts ahead of time, it still can be a frustrating experience. Early on, I first experimented with group written essays in my English 101 classes. At the time, though, I gave up after a couple of semesters and instead, only used group projects for my 200 and 300 level course, believing that students weren’t ready at the 100 level due to some lack of maturity. But as I had more and more success with the upper division courses, I slowly started once again integrating group projects at the 100 level.

What has helped me to help these groups succeed at any course level has been getting students to both reflect more about their groups and their personal responsibilities within them and as a contributing factor of the project’s success, and provide them with more ownership of the group process itself. As you might imagine, students are resistant at first to both.


So, what did I specifically do?

Assigning Group Members

  • For fairly full classes, I typically use Canvas’ Random option to create groups (mainly to force students out of their comfort zone). However, this quarter, half of my students were together in my 101 sections the previous quarter and had specifically signed up to work together in this class. So this time, I let them choose their own groups, and where they were hesitant or missed the first few days, I would ask different groups if they would take these people in. This seemed to help with some personality conflicts at first, but some students discovered that just because they are friends with someone, that doesn’t mean they will work well together, especially as they learn much more about one another. But I think that is a good thing.
  • How many members? I discussed this in a post for a different class project. I still think 3 members is ideal, but see the above lesson on being flexible.

Group Planning documentation

Here is the assignment I give to my students but below is the list of the different parts of all their group planning documents:

  • A contract that lays out the expectations, policies/procedures, and consequences for not following those expectations of how group members will work together as a team and do their work.
  • A Skills Assessment form/chart to help group members discover what resources they have to start with (basically a resume)
  • Purpose Statement—another way I try to instill a sense of cohesion as well as a sense of seriousness is to have students think of their group as a business that was contracted to create this project, that they need to think about how they are going to comport themselves to the world. It also helps with direction/focus by including the group’s research question
  • Primary Tasks and Secondary Task lists—basically a Big Picture and In the Weeds view. The secondary task obviously will be updated once they start their project in earnest
  • Calendar—a schedule of goals for the longer quarter as well as weekly. Again, this will be updated, but it’s good for students to begin with a direction in mind
  • Agendas—to help keep meetings focused (a checklist of what they need to be working on). Surprisingly, almost every quarter students struggle with understanding the purpose of an agenda
  • Status Updates—weekly progress reports about what they planned to do the previous week and what they actually did, as well as what they were planning on doing during the next week. This is one of the most helpful documents for me. It not only keeps students on task as a group, it helps keep me in the loop throughout their project

I try to get students to understand that most of these documents are organic and will be continually developed/updated throughout the quarter. [REMEMBER TO UPLOAD SAMPLES FROM STUDENTS]


Things to think about for Next Time

I originally started using group planning documents for an upper division Technical Writing course, where document design was part of the outcomes–students designed all of their forms and we workshopped them. And while I’ve tried doing this in lower division courses, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I need to instead provide students with pre-constructed templates for these document. Not only does their creation process take too much time, they usually are not done very well. But more importantly, document design is not part of the English 102 course outcomes.

Status Updates were very helpful, but I’m now thinking that I should let the whole class see what all the groups are doing. I think it would help set expectations of where students should be at in terms of the projects. Also, I appreciate the power of peer mentoring.

Podcast Project in the Class Part 1: Podcasts as an English 102 Research Paper

I am still reworking and adding materials to this series of posts

Part 1: Introduction

This is an expanded discussion of a presentation I made for my English department faculty meeting at the end of 2019.

Currently, the roadmap takes this path:

  1. Introduction
  2. Working with Groups
  3. Contextualization
  4. Elements of Podcasts and Stories
  5. Interviewing
  6. The Practice Podcast
  7. The Suicide Podcast
  8. Workflow and Mechanics of Evaluations
  9. Final Thoughts
  10. Resources

It has been a while since I’ve written about my classroom experiments. A few years ago, my English 102 composition students created researched video essays. We had some really interesting results. Maybe I will eventually write about them. But today, I am going to walk through my English 102 class from last winter (2020), where instead of the traditional research essays, we created podcasts.

As my note above explains, this post is an attempt to fill in the gaps of a mere slide pack. I say, “this post” but really mean “these posts” as after having read through it/these, I realized that I’ve gone into much more detail and explanations than I would have for a slide presentation. So, as with an earlier set of posts, I’ve broken out this discussion into multiple sub-posts for readability’s sake as well as to satisfy my own tendency to beat to death horses:

The Backstory

The idea for using podcasts as research papers was born out of work for an NEH grant my dean at the time had written for creating contextualized courses for both English and Math with other disciplines–any approach was okay. I had recently started working with Bonne Smith, one of our Journalism instructors, on developing a contextualized English 102 research writing course for a newspaper course. At first, we wanted to take a community learning approach (teaching both the newspaper and the composition classes together). However, as the newspaper course requires students to interview and be accepted in order to become a member of the editing staff, it became apparent that those logistics would not work for every student. So instead, we decided to treat the composition class as a feeder course for the newspaper class, using journalism as the framework to generate student interest in the newspaper. After much brainstorming about various projects that could teach journalism skills as well as allow me the ability to still cover the principles of composition, research, documentation, and organization of information, we decode that the vehicle for this endeavor would be podcast creation. But as a feeder class, we needed the newspaper to be involved.

So Bonne and I decided that the topics for the podcast would be chosen by the editors of the college’s newspaper each quarter (pending their approval, of course). These topics would revolve around the campus and larger community issues (we’re a small community college and saw this as a opportunity to encourage our students to learn more about their college and town). The topics would be based on sets of stories and articles on which the newspaper had published during previous quarters. This not only provided the field in which my students played, but also acted as a source from where students could begin their initial research, to get a lay of the land, so to speak. Also, it showed how students just like them could produce/publish materials that would be seen by a much larger audience than their classmates.

It just so happened that the during previous quarter, the newspaper had published a series of articles regarding suicide. These articles provide an overview of other research and statistics that we used to prompt discussion for our students. We then asked the students to look for topics in the articles about which they wanted to know more; that is, to find topics they were interested in and in which they could dig deeper. At the end of the quarter, the students would be able to submit their podcast to the newspaper, and if selected, would be published on the paper’s website. This way, we could better connect the class to the college’s newspaper.

A continual source of surprise for me still is the realization that the front part of the course proved to be so much more difficult and demanding than any technological aspects, whatever that may be (audio, video, multimedia).

Because of that lesson, I’m going to spend much more time over the course of the next few posts discussing Groups, Interviews, and Medium Structure [BLAH BLAH BLAH]. While I do not plan on getting into the trenches of specific technology such as Audacity or even the Rodecaster Pro (compliements of our Library’s still developing Audio/Visual lab), I will note what we used, or at least some of my suggestions to students on what they could use. I am currently developing instructional materials for that new A/V lab (which is in desperate need of naming!). The quick explanation for why I am not going to discuss that is because I did NOT teach the specifics of any recording devices or audio editing package. I merely suggested apps and general approaches, offering my assistance as needed. Only once or twice over the years of doing projects like this has any group actually asked me for specific help. And in those cases, I googled alongside them and learned as they learned. Of course, having lots of experience with all sort of programs did help. But still, the lesson ought to be clear: trust your students’ abilities.

So why a podcast?

Like an essay, a podcast typically introduces the topic that is the subject of the episode, then supports it (using primary as well as secondary sources), then arrives at some sort of conclusion. In the movies or in books, this is commonly referred to as a beginning, middle, and end, though a podcast’s beginning and ending may be much shorter. And like an essay, some research will be required prior to interviewing anyone. That is, in order to know what kinds of questions should be asked of the interviewees (sources), the interviewers (author) will need to know more about the topic of their podcast (research paper).  But all this will stem from developing a research or focus question (The Pitch).

This is not to say that all podcasts are research projects. They obviously can be creative works such as stories, poems, plays, music, etc.. All of which require no research. I can easily imagine for an English 101 class, a professor who is teaching the narrative essay. This could make for an interesting podcast as well as learning moment to reinforce the elements of a story such as translating written transitions to audible ones. What all these modalities of essays, or any creative work, require is the ability to tell a story. Depending on the goal of the class or project, there will be different ways to tell that story. The same is true of podcasts.

However, what I typically focus on in my English 101 composition course is the argumentative essay and its elements and structure; it allows me to touch on all the other types (narrative, compare/contrast, etc.) because a well-written argument, in my experience, often includes many elements/strategies from those other modes. I personally am of the ilk who believe that all communication is a form of argument. In English 102, I continue to focus on structure and elements but switch to a medium with which students have much less (even zero) experience. I do this in order to help slow students down during the creation (writing) process to be more deliberative and reflective so that they can make more informed choices about that structure and why they use whichever elements they choose. Part of that process is choosing what not to include, which is just as important as what to include. Organizing that content is dependent upon what story is being told as well as its goal and audience—and the medium. In other words, the medium of the story isn’t a special case; as with podcasts, those dependencies are true of other mediums like videos, multimedia projects, blogs and all the rest.

The goals behind this contextulized English 102 composition class were for students to learn:

  • more about the structure of writing by using a less familiar medium (podcasts) and so, more about the possibilities and power of narratives
  • research methods, documentation and integration of sources
  • collaborative learning (group work)
  • more about journalism: interviewing and reporting, integrity and ethics
  • empathy; how to create relationships within the community and the value of primary resources; that is, not merely using people as resources for their own gain
  • more about the college’s newspaper course to increase their student enrollment

Part 1: Introduction