17 May 2018
Written by: Kate Tennis, Korbel School of International Studies
In International Relations and many related disciplines, we pride ourselves in producing strong writers. Most of our upper-level courses require students to produce long papers. While students learn a lot, it is difficult for them to showcase their work; in today’s crowded information environment, few people have the time or patience to read lengthy writing.
I didn’t want to lose the benefits of learning to write these longer papers, as I believe that the research, analysis, and writing skills are invaluable. However, I wanted to help students transform what they learned into a format that was more succinct and digestible—a portfolio piece that they could share with potential employers, colleagues, and even friends and family.
To meet these goals, I decided to try “One New Thing” in a 3000-level course on Current Issues in Human Security. The final project I assigned for the course was a 10-15-minute podcast, produced in small groups. But these podcasts were grounded in research that students conducted individually and presented as a traditional writing assignment in Week 8.
Students submitted a research plans in Week 3, dividing themselves into 2-3-person groups and describing how each member’s individual research project would help them collectively explore a single facet of human security in their final podcast. I then had a number of smaller assignments throughout the quarter where they were required to develop specific portions of their individual or group work.
I do not have a background in audio production, so benefited enormously from the support of the Office of Teaching and Learning and the Digital Media Center. Specifically, Rich Path in the Office of Teaching and Learning generously took time to teach me about me about recording and editing software, and provided an in-class recording demo. And Anna Winter at the Digital Media Center taught a fantastic workshop, introducing my students to audio editing in Audacity. Huge thanks to both of them.
How did it go?
Overall, the podcasts were very successful. The students brought a wealth of content from their individual research papers, and were excited about presenting this information in an acoustically compelling and interesting way. I devoted the last two class periods to “listening parties” where we played the podcasts and used them to generate conversations and Q&A for the groups about the topics that they studied. This gave students the opportunity to take ownership of their knowledge and recognize themselves as experts in their topical areas.
What lessons have I taken away from this process?
Most importantly, I loved watching students merge their individual and group work—but this required more support and planning than I had expected. While some groups had little trouble finding like-minded group-members and envisioning the links between their projects, some groups had less obvious affinity between their interests, and I played a larger role in helping them structure their collaborations.
Second, the idea of combining a longer traditional writing assignment with a shorter portfolio piece is one that I plan to carry into all of my future courses—it was hugely successful. But not all students were equally motivated by the audio format. Podcasts are currently a booming medium—leading to a “rebirth” or “second golden age” of radio. Indeed, many of our course “readings” were in the form of podcasts. So most students were excited to work in this format, but I got feedback from a couple who would have preferred to have had an alternative medium as an option.