Podcasting for a module: I dare you! by Bo Kelestyn
Podcasts are everywhere. More precisely (according to PodcastInsights.com), there are over 2,000,000 podcasts (up from 1,750,000 in January 2021 when I initially wrote this article). So, why not throw in my own attempt into the void, I thought.
They are easy to start, very low cost to record and share, and everyone is entitled to an opinion. I follow a few and listen to them as part of my self-care routine. I thought they could be an interesting medium to experiment with for my new module. I designed a lectureless module (ahead of the global pandemic, I’ll have you know!) titled Innovation 101 (CH3G4 and CH417) and podcasts were a good way to invite guest speakers. I was hugely inspired by the Distance Design Education community, led by Derek Jones (@plug103 on Twitter) from The Open University, and the Design Theory and Methodology module at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who have been using podcasts as a pedagogy for a number of years.
What I did
I shared a 20–40-minute episode each week with a guest speaker asking the same questions about their innovation journey, relationship to creativity, failure, things that excite them, and advice to young innovators. These were really open ended, so some episodes delved deeper into certain topics, but overall, my aim was to show the universality of fear of failure and the ‘innovator’ label whilst celebrating diversity of thought, stories, and ideas.
What I thought would happen
This module was designed for UG Chemistry students, and I thought they were going to boo me out of the Department at a mention of the word ‘podcast’. The module was an experiment and I enjoyed talking to my guests so much! To hell with it, I thought.
What actually happened
Students L-O-V-E-D it! Yey!
What students loved
- Using it to get into a work mode and start their day: as simple as that. It was a semi-academic resource that made them feel like they were working without really doing anything. It was also a great way to ease into more intense content for my and other modules.
- Interacting with something other than videos: switching up the format was a great way to spark students’ curiosity and allowed them to multitask whilst listening.
- Having an option: The podcast was optional, but more and more students chose to reflect on it and make connections to the podcast when posting their weekly reflections (15% of the module was assessed on engagement with weekly reflections in MS Teams). Having a choice and directing their own learning made a difference. This was an optional module, so I did have that advantage.
- Learning from industry and diverse practitioners: with so many students taking the module to explore their interests, start thinking about their place in the world and the impact they wanted to make with their degree, this was the perfect opportunity to show there was no one way to succeed.
- Learning from academics: including academic staff voice was one of the best decisions and sparked so many ideas for my work on community building. Students really enjoyed learning about a more human side of academic superstars in their department they have struggled to reach out to or connect with.
- Expanding their network: I closed each episode on ‘how can our listeners connect with you and your work’ and encouraged all students to reach out to guests whose stories or ideas resonated with them. Having the opportunity to connect with others, especially during the pandemic, extended the cohort’s sense of community and their individual networks. It also gave me huge amounts of confidence and reassurance that I was doing something worthwhile. At least one student secured a job opportunity by connecting with one of the speakers and many other sought mentorship and career advice.
- The filtered and ‘approved’ content: there is so much out there and whilst students and I also did a lot of sharing and curation of resources and other podcasts, students loved having an ‘official’ and ‘approved’ podcast they could turn to.
How I started
I approached colleagues and friends that I really looked up to and I knew I would vibe with. I also approached a few Chemistry colleagues to give the podcast some familiarity and to talk to colleagues I knew less about. I was genuinely curious to find out more about how Chemistry does and sees innovation!
I asked for advice from students who do this so well. The Human Entrepreneur podcast hosted by Luke Netherclift and Varun Balsara, two of my former students, collaborators and just all-round superstars. Incidentally, whilst I was agonising myself with the should-I-shouldn’t I dilemma, they released a bonus episode on how to get started with podcasting, which gave me that sign from the Universe. They recommended Zancastr, which was so easy to use and although I paid for postproduction, it just took away any worries of losing files or compromising on the quality of the recordings. I bought some cheap headphones (I was not prepared to invest in anything more sophisticated at that stage) and asked Luke and Varun to be my first guests. That recording gave me so much confidence! Thank you, guys!
I did not edit any of the episodes or add any background music to it. I simply did not have the skills. I just trusted my gut and made sure my guests were OK with the raw and unedited format. I really wanted to challenge the perception of innovation, creativity, failure that students held and so the more unedited, raw and human centred my podcast would be, the better. Hard to believe, I know! It was scary and I had no idea what I was doing. But it did work, and I am still learning.
Podcast back by popular demand. Aside from doing this again next academic year, I am co-creating an extension of the module podcast with a student as a way to share stories of our academic staff members. Students crave proximity to academics and want to know more about their stories. This extension podcast will feature academics from the Department to help with building our sense of community, start conversations between different groups of staff and students in the department, and of course to inspire students with different stories of success. To me, these are some of the key pillars of a distinctive learning experience.
My inner critic tells me this success is due to some of the more specific learning needs students had during the pandemic. My inner mentor tells me if I succeeded this year, it could only get better. The podcast would not have been possible if it wasn’t for my amazing guests and all the support and encouragement from students, colleagues and friends. Thank you so much to each and every one of you!
If you are an educator, I dare you to give this medium a go (and if you have, I’d love to connect and hear how you got on!), especially if it terrifies you or you are finding yourself turning your nose up at it! There are so many reasons why it is a good idea to mix things up for your students and for your own development. My favourite among them is students really appreciate any help with filtering out the noise, particularly when it comes to online resources. 2,000,000 podcasts would give anyone information paralysis. I had some great results with it, and I think it will truly make your module stand out. It might not work for all disciplines, but I think it is a perfect way to add diversity to many subjects and create a real network for your learners and for yourself. Happy podcasting!
Where do I start?
You might find the 2021 TEALfest session titled Podcasting: Learn from a Professional with Jemima Rathbone very helpful. I also recommend checking out Descript for editing, good quality mics from Blue, and Pixapay for free podcast jingle music.