Preparing Your Students for Podcasting: An Interview with Sheila Tefft

Microphone on table

This blog post is part of the series of “Faculty First-Person” conversations.

Podcasting is taking off as a medium and its popularity has made its way into the classroom. Making podcasts builds practical skills and gives students another way to express the ideas they learn in class. Many students listen to audio to get their news and information, including podcasts, which makes these types of assignments relatable.

To create a podcast, students need to learn how to record and edit audio as well as operate basic equipment during recording. Script writing is another skill students hone through podcasting, as podcasts require a specific format for recording.

Podcasting Tools (all available in the Student Production Studio!)

  • Recording and editing software – computer programs like Audacity and Adobe Audition for production.
  • Microphone – a high-quality mic will make your voice come through crisp and clear.
  • Microphone accessories – a mic stand or boom to hold your mic and adjust it.
  • Headphones – needed for recording (so you hear only yourself and others on the podcast) and listening to the recording while editing.
  • A podcast hosting account – you can host your podcast on a free service like SoundCloud or a paid one like Blubrry.

Sheila Tefft, Senior Lecturer in the Writing Program, has had students produce their own podcast episode in several courses she has taught – most recently in her Podcasting on Health class in Spring 2018. She talked to us about how her students learned the ins and outs of podcasting, the projects they worked on and how podcasting compared to more traditional writing assignments. Read on to learn about how she structured these assignments.

Did You Know? The Student Production Studio on the 1st floor of Woodruff Library has everything you need to record and edit a podcast. You can also request help with learning how to use the equipment. Check out the details and make a reservation here.

Interview with Sheila Tefft, Senior Lecturer in the Writing Program

Professor Tefft has done several different podcasting assignments for journalism and other media courses. In an English 101 course, students chose a news event as the basis for creating a podcast episode. They partnered with one other student in their class to collect information and produce a podcast. Here’s a breakdown of the assignment:

  • Interview at least three people about the topic and record the interviews (two people with expertise in the topic and one student). Interviewees had to sign a release form since the podcast would be published online.
  • Write a script that includes voicers and narration that tells the story interspersed with sound bites edited from the interviews (students were give a basic structure to follow)
  • Edit the podcast with Audacity, an open-access audio editing software (the students each did this independently)
  • Students posted the unique version of the podcast to their personal websites on Domain of One’s Own
  • Students completed a peer evaluation for their partner

What inspired you to include a podcasting assignment in your curriculum?

Podcasting was long-time feature of the curriculum of the former Journalism Program, which was closed in 2014. When I began teaching the Multimedia Journalism course that year, podcasting was taking off in response to the national popularity of the investigative journalism podcast, Serial, and other podcasts such as RadioLab which had been around for a while and was a trendsetter in audio production. Podcasting is an intimate form of communication that is a fun and mobile way to learn and receive information.    

How did you originally design your first podcasting assignment and why did you choose the approach you took? 

My first assignment was based on the traditional two-three-minute radio story which includes sound bites from several interviews incorporated into a script that a student writes to introduce, narrate and then summarize the topic and interviews. It’s a straightforward format that is easy for the students to follow but still provides experience with interviewing, scriptwriting, audio recording and editing, and delivery and public speaking.

During the decade that I was journalism director, I felt that multimedia clearly was the future in journalism and digital communication. Our broadcast faculty made great strides in incorporating audio and video into our courses so that all journalism majors would gain a multimedia background. When I combined two of the journalism courses into the Multimedia Journalism, the new course reflected those years of multimedia creativity and innovation.

What have you learned and how has your approach changed since then? 

All of us have watched as podcasting has become a national phenomenon and past-time and practitioners have experimented with various format. Podcasts have now found their way into many fields such as science and health and are key to communicating complex topics. This past year, I placed a student in an internship at a research journal at the CDC. She has gain exciting experience in preparing podcasts to broaden the reach of this scientific publication.

The effectiveness of podcasting in communicating health issues came to the attention of Michelle Lampl in Human Health, and she and her staff asked me to teach a specialized podcasting course on health in spring, 2018. I saw this as an opportunity to experiment with various podcast formats and included audio and video on the syllabus. One innovation–I believe it was the first time tried at Emory–was a RadioLab-style podcast in which two students interview an expert and then weave into the sound bites an informal banter as the narration for the piece. We benefited from the opening of the new Emory recording studio in Woodruff Library that provided the students a real-world experience.

How did students learn the tools and technologies they needed to complete the assignment?

I have benefited from the support of the classroom technology staff in teaching students how to use equipment and obtain the best quality sound they can. We have made great use of the recorders available in Woodruff Library, although this year we have started using cell phones because of the strides in that technology. In the Climate Change and Society course which I co-teach to prepare students who will be attending the UN climate talks, we have used the professional cameras and recorders which the students shared. However, this year we will be using cell phones to create multimedia for the new Emory website for the Climate Talks programFor learning about the technology and audio production, my students extensively use the excellent tutorials available through Woodruff Library. The availability of these top-of-the-line educational videos has transformed teaching technology in the classroom.  

What are some of the challenges of podcasting?

My work in the last five years has focused on teaching journalistic writing and podcasting and other multimedia techniques to science students and others with little experience in this kind of writing and production. Even though students have been raised with multimedia content, many are newcomers to actually producing it. Journalism is the basis of all writing for non-experts, and students need to be able to communicate and share their knowledge beyond academe with the general public. Writing a podcast script requires a very concise, punchy style, and students do have to work at its mastery. The editing and production skills are other pieces of the process of creating professional-level content that require commitment and learning.  That said, judging from the interest in my courses, I think most students recognize the importance of this type of communication for their futures.

What kind of feedback do you get from students?

The many students interested in my courses suggest they value this kind of curricular instruction and opportunities to acquire knowhow that can complement their academic backgrounds. Many students have told me they appreciate the professional level of the assignments and the creation of projects that can help them obtain internships and jobs. For example, many science students know that in the future they will need to communicate with the public more effectively as well as an academic community.

Of course, there are students who aren’t interested in the investment needed to do interviews, learn a new form of writing, and produce strong content. I would say this represents about a fifth of the students. Overwhelmingly, though, I would say students recognize the value of this instruction.    

What advice do you have for other faculty who want to try podcasting?

The era of podcasting is now! Emory has a range of resources to help you implement a podcast assignment in your classes. It will help your students share their knowledge with the public and take their education to a new level of public scholarship.

Header photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash