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

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