Active Learning: student-generated podcasts
What is the idea?
Podcasts are a prevalent source of media that most of us listen to and engage with daily, whether they be for educational or entertainment purposes. A student generated podcast is a current and engaging way of allowing students to co-create and complete group work. This idea will discuss step by step how students can make a seven to fifteen minute episode. Students can develop learning development skills such as: research, collaboration, criticality, debating, and presentation skills alongside digital and creative skills such as script writing and audio editing, combining theoretical critical thinking and reflection within a digital and interactive medium.
Why this idea?
Student generated podcasts are an effective active learning tool that also enhance students’ collaborative learning skills (Edirisingha, & Salmon, 2007). Using student generated podcasts is a valuable group work activity. Podcasting has specific tasks and roles that students can assign to each other. Cane and Cashmore (2008) explore student generated podcasts as learning tools that successfully enhance team working skills as students had roles in the production process and shared the workload.
By incorporating ‘podography’ (Laing & Wootton 2007) into your pedagogy it can improve sessions with students as it offers a unique learning experience, and in my own practice has improved students’ motivation when tackling theoretical research materials. Student generated podcasts are unique as they combine a creative task with a research focused output. Unlike essays and other more conventional ‘academic’ tasks, podcasts encourage students to think, problem solve, and present their research findings creatively. The process of production fosters students’ development and curation of a number of skills such as: critical and creative thinking, analytical, devising, script writing, presentation and teamwork. Snelling (2019, n.p.) states that podcasts ‘lets students practice their presentation skills in a low-risk environment’. Furthermore, podcasts are a student-centred activity. Podcasts create a narrative and produce a digital storytelling product, and during the task students improve their digital and reflective skills (Jenkins & Lonsdale, 2008). Using them within my own teaching in the subject of Theatre and Performance with my first year undergraduate students in their classes of 10 on their Contextual Studies module. The podcasts help them investigate, analyse, and research a particular theatre practitioner which helps them when they have a later summative assessment of an essay. I have seen how it has boosted students’ interest, and motivation in the subject material for the rest of the module and their engagement with the later summative assessment.
How could others implement this idea?
Student generated podcasts are easier to set up and run than might have previously been thought, and you do not need to book out a media production room or technical equipment to use this as an activity. Students will need:
- A device with a microphone and recording software – most smartphones, computers, laptops, or tablets have these, students may need to transfer the file from one device to another to edit the audio.
- Access to editing software – I’d recommend Audacity which is free and has a very easy to use interface, it also has a phone app that can be used to record and edit audio.
- A place to host and share the final podcast episode – this could be your Virtual Learning Environment or a shared drive folder on Google Drive or OneDrive or Microsoft Teams Channel.
To use this as an activity you will need to familiarise yourself with audio editing software, just the essentials such as how to cut audio parts, add in additional audio and export the final version, so that you can advise students if they need any help with this. I learned all of this through a YouTube tutorial that is linked below. Give the students a demonstration of how to edit the audio and also signpost them to the video tutorial. As the tutor you need to put the students into groups. The students should assign themselves roles such as: researchers, hosts, scriptwriters, audio editor, producer. You’ll need to decide how long you would like the podcast episodes to be. I’d recommend between seven to fifteen minutes long. If it is a large class of students, you may want to do seven minutes.
You as the tutor also need to decide what the podcast’s topic should focus on or explore and decide what type of podcast format you want the students to do, alternatively you could allow them to choose. The following are the most common formats of podcasts that I have found that you could use as a framework for your students’ podcasts. In the appendices there are two examples of scripts that some of my first-year students have written, Appendix One is a roundtable discussion, Appendix Two is an interview with the playwright, and Appendix Three is an interview with an expert.
Roundtable discussion – All members of the group contribute to the discussion of a topic presenting a variety of views and facts.
Interview – Some of the students act as hosts and others act as the interviewee, asking questions and discussing a topic. There could be more than one guest for the interview if it is a large group.
Debate – Hosts of the episode are given a topic and prepare alternative views for discussion and debate the topic trying to come to a resolution or summary at the end of the episode.
Narrative – The hosts explore the narrative of a topic. This may be the narrative or history of an event, movement, or theory.
Storytelling – The hosts of the episode explore a topic and involve their own personal reflections and opinion in the discussion.
Students should brainstorm in their groups should brainstorm and create a plan of action to get the podcast episode completed. They should research the episode and encourage them to include this research within the script of the podcast as they write it. I’d advise telling the students to structure their podcast episode with a script, just like any other research task. After the script is complete the students can then record the episode on their device and use editing software like Audacity to edit and export the audio file and upload it to the hosting platform.
Transferability to different contexts
The completed podcasts could be listened to in class and another activity could be created by asking the students to prepare for a question-and-answer session or a feedback discussion. It could be assigned as an independent learning or extension task asking the students to listen to the episodes outside of the session and make notes on their peers’ podcast episodes and have an in-class discussion. The activity could be transferred across any discipline, so long as there is a topic to be discussed, researched and debated the podcasts could be on any subject. For instance, in a case study of nursing students Dudas (2012) examines how podcasts are successfully used to promote active learning. Furthermore, the activity can be used across different educational sectors and student levels, it is not just limited to higher education, this could be used in further education or at high school level. Snelling (2019) recommends using podcasts to promote active learning and notes a case study of a librarian using student generated podcasts in their sessions with high school students in the USA. The podcasts, depending on the format used, could be used as a formative or summative group work assessment. Tutors could use the ‘Storytelling’ format to ask students to reflect on a work-based placement and use this as reflective evaluation. The narrative format can explore the history or development of a certain topic / theory chronologically. The narrative format could be used as a literature review, reviewing the existing literature on a certain research topic / question. The interview or roundtable discussion formats could be used with students to explore providing an overview of a topic to a general non-specialised audience. The debate format can be used to help students develop their critical thinking skills as they must consider other existing opinions and research and synthesise those sources drawing comparison and contrasts. I use student generated podcasts as a task in my sessions when teaching my first year undergraduate Theatre and Performance degree students. They have a module that contextualises contemporary performance practitioners and part of their assignments is an essay; I ask the students to pick one of the practitioners that they are interested in and write a podcast script either interviewing the practitioner or as a roundtable discussion debating the practitioner’s legacy and contemporary relevance. This allows them to consider multiple viewpoints and produce their own critical argument which then aids them in their essay writing. Student generated podcasts are a versatile and engaging group work task that can be applied across a variety of disciplines and can replace conventional group work activities like presentations.
Links to tools and resources
- Anchor – the easiest way to make a podcast: https://anchor.fm/
- Audacity free editing and recording software: https://www.audacityteam.org/
- Instructional YouTube Video on editing in Audacity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWFvG1-AmNk
- National Public Radio organisation has a helpful guide for students on creating a podcast: https://www.npr.org/2018/11/15/662070097/starting-your-podcast-a-guide-for-students?t=1631609962195
- The New York Times article on Teaching Students How to Produce Their Own Podcasts:
Possible places to host your files
- Google Drive
- Microsoft Teams Channel files section
- VLE Moodle or Blackboard
Cane, C., & Cashmore, A. (2008). Students’ podcasts as learning tools. In G. Salmon & P. Edirisingha (Eds.), Podcasting for Learning in Universities (pp. 146-152). Open University Press.
Dudas, K. (2012). Podcast and unfolding case study to promote active learning. Journal of Nursing Education, 51(8), 476-476. http://dx.doi.org/10.3928/01484834-20120719-02
Edirisingha, P., & Salmon, G. (2007). Pedagogical models for podcasts in higher education (Version 1). University of Leicester. https://leicester.figshare.com/articles/conference_contribution/Pedagogical_models_for_podcasts_in_higher_education/10076966/1
Jenkins, M., & Lonsdale, J. (2008). Podcasts and students’ storytelling. In G. Salmon & P. Edirisingha (Eds.), Podcasting for Learning in Universities (pp. 113-120). Open University Press.
Laing, C., & Wootton, A. (2007). Using podcasts in higher education. Health Information on the Internet, 60(1), 7-9.
Snelling, J. (2019). 18 tech tools librarians need now: Student-tested and approved: The best applications to fire active learning, from podcast creation and coding apps to VR. School Library Journal, 65(12), 14. https://doi.org/10.1049/et.2019.0219
Microphone-Audio-Recording-Podcast by TheAngryTeddy is used under Pixabay Licence
Appendix 1: First Year Theatre and Performance Undergraduate Students’ Contextual Studies Podcast Script – Roundtable example on playwright Samuel Beckett
Introduction – Host 1 – Hello and welcome to our weekly podcast. Our topic for today’s discussion is the Irish novelist, playwright, director, and poet Samuel Beckett. Samuel Beckett became considered “as one of the most iconic writers from the twentieth century” stated by Cambridge University Press in 2019. Today we want to explore that consideration and look at the themes within his work and try to understand why it is considered as absurdist pieces of work.
Host 2 -The first theme I noticed in his pieces is -Tragicomedy – he used his own personal life and experiences to create pieces, performances, and novels. In his later work he mainly focused on language, using very minimalistic movements, he wanted the cast to feel restricted to show pain to show the reality of what they are going through. However, there is a controversial change in his work as he turned his pieces to physicality rather than language after he took interest in Charlie Chaplin and how pieces can be performed through movement. He was also influenced by Buster Ketan due to physicality in his movements also the dangerous sides of movement.
Host 3 – Another factor I saw was the direct link to his Parents- He deeply missed his father when he passed in 1933 and from then he developed depression from mourning him. His only way of venting this depression was throughout his novels, performances, and other things of literature. His characters are mostly influenced by his father and other people he met in life. “Then his relationship with his mother became very resentful. He always saw being born as a great crime and I think the mother is tied up in that,” says Professor of Drama at Trinity College Dublin, Nicholas Johnson.
Host 2 – I was reading up on this not long ago. The book was called Dark Humour In Waiting for Godot by Gizi Emir if any of our viewers want to check it out I think this is a key theme in his plays, I would recommend. Enir says that Beckett incorporated a lot of dark humor into his pieces. I believe that in his opinion: “humor being the intense suffering of others and violence. The audiences laughter being the aftermath of their unfortunate situations.” Emir also says that when someone in a play, has witnessed something or are coming to terms with something, comedy is used to guide them from traumatic events. To be honest I feel like there are people out there who would lightly joke about certain topics or situations because they might feel uncomfortably by it.
Host 1 – Looking at his work I have noticed a theme of meaning of life throughout his plays as there is a key base around existentialism which means the problem with being alive. You can see from comments he has made in the past that being born wasn’t a decision of his and if he had the choice he would choose not to be born – “I had little talent for happiness”. In my opinion I do think the way he has written his plays, has a direct link to his own life as they have dark moments which highlights he suffered with depression keeping him bed until – mid day. Also the play named “Not I” can also be interpreted as a moment from his life as it involved treating women negatively throughout. This could be a huge way of showing his anger and failed relationship with his mother.
Appendix 2: First Year Theatre and Performance Undergraduate Students’ Contextual Studies Podcast Script – Interview example on playwright Samuel Beckett
Student 1 as Samuel Beckett, interview.
Student 2 as interviewer / host.
Topics: theatre of the absurd – Esslin’s essay
Themes & style, inspiration – use plays as reference
Relationships with other practitioners – Joyce
Use of set, Aristotle’s unities – space, time, action
PODCAST – Theatreverse
Student 2: Hello folks and welcome back to another episode of Theatreverse, the show where we bring the past to present and give you the ins and outs of all things Theatre. Today, I have a very special guest, back from the grave for a one night only interview, Mr Samuel Beckett!
Student 1: [deep sigh, monotone] Aye, I would say it’s a pleasure to be here…but I’d be lying.
Student 2: [awkward laugh] Well, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Student 1: [deep sigh] Yes, my name is Samuel Beckett. I was born in 1906 in Ireland, Foxrock to be exact.
Student 2: And what would you say you’re most known for?
Student 1: What a question. Well, before you rudely awoke me from my slumber, I was something of a playwright. I have a few novels under my belt, a few poems.
Student 2: Fascinating, and what is it that got you into that career path?
Student 1: I studied modern literature in college, along with languages. I taught briefly in Belfast, then in Paris. It was there I was introduced to James Joyce by a friend of mine.
Student 2: Would you say he was your starting point?
Student 1: One could say so. I assisted him with his work. He became a trusted friend of mine.
Student 2: And this friendship pushed you to pursue your own career?
Student 1: My first work was an essay defending his methods. His name gave me a foot in the door, if you will.
Student 2: And what fuelled the transition from novel writing to theatre?
Student 1: After the war, I had returned home to Ireland. I was in my late mother’s room, and suddenly it hit me. All this time I had felt that I would never surpass Joyce, that I would remain “in his shadow”. It was a revelation of sorts, that allowed me to change my thought process. I couldn’t be Joyce. I couldn’t beat him at his own game. His philosophy that knowing all there is to know had gone as far as he could take it.
Student 2: And what happened next?
Student 1: I wrote. Many of my works didn’t see the light of day until the 50s. Many publishers rejected my writings. It wasn’t until my companion finally found someone willing to publish my work Molloy. French critics seemed to enjoy it, it was met with a modest commercial success, and so they agreed to publish more of my works.
Student 2: Including what perhaps started your rise to fame, Waiting for Godot. Whilst playing at Théâtre de Babylone in Paris, in January 1953, it amazingly successful. What inspired your works?
Student 1: The life around me. War, poverty, loss, time. The meaning of life, the pain and suffering it brings, how truly absurd it is that we exist.
Student 2: So, would you say your own experiences played a big part in your work?
Student 1: Undoubtedly.
Student 2: You mentioned the word “absurd”. In his 1960 essay, Martin Esslin coined the term “Theatre of the Absurd” in which you are mentioned. He said “Each of these writers, however, has his own special type of absurdity: in Beckett it is melancholic, colored by a feeling of futility born from the disillusionment of old age and chronic hopelessness”. Would you agree with that description?
Student 1: I think it would be hypocritical of me not to. My work plays both with philosophy and existentialism, the comedy is within the tragedy.
Student 2: Tragicomedy.
Student 1: Precisely.
Student 2: Author Margaret Drabble mentions your relationship with your mother in her book “The Maternal Embrace: Samuel Beckett and His Mother May”. She calls it “close and combative”, describing your mother as “a formidable woman”. Would you say that this difficult relationship with her was the cause of most of your unhappiness?
Student 1: I could never truly escape my mother. She had her own ambitions for me, and whilst my brother remained obedient and settled, I found myself wandering in a different direction. We never saw eye to eye. I admit, it made me physically ill. We had our moments, a momentary truce here and there, but we always fell back into the old song and dance.
Student 2: Do you think she loved you?
Student 1: In her own way. As I loved her in my own way. Perhaps that’s a tragicomedy in itself.
Student 2: Within your work you played with non-linearity; your stories seemingly had no plot or timeline, everything was up to the audience’s interpretation. Do you think this is what interested people?
Student 1: I think people will believe what they want to believe. It doesn’t matter how or why I wrote my plays, it doesn’t matter what I believe the main message is; that’s beside the point. They’re lessons, no matter what they come out believing the audience will walk away having faced something we all fear; hopelessness. It’s as real as theatre can be.
Student 2: One may argue that it’s the ambiguity that’s made you so popular.
Student 1: One may.
Student 2: Your play Waiting for Godot is a great example of this technique. We have the characters but not their background. We have the play but no real story or development; the characters end the show the way they started, waiting for Godot, who himself is never actually revealed. It’s an entirely new concept.
Student 1: It’s absurd. To truly enjoy my work you must abandon reason, you must turn your back on logic and tradition. I give no details, not on the time, on the place, or on the people.
Student 2: It would defeat the purpose.
Student 1: Exactly.
Student 2: One last thing before we end; what do you think you brought to the world, to theatre, with your work?
Student 1: I think I allowed people to acknowledge ridiculousness of living. We all search for answers and meaning, adding symbolism and religion to fill in the gaps. We want a reason for our pain, our suffering. I created a way for people to look that in the eye. I wanted my audience to have an experience. It’s up to them to find the meaning, if there is any.
Student 2: Thank you for your time. I’ll let you get back to…your death now. Thank you listeners for joining me in this journey towards understanding the mastermind, Samuel Beckett.
Appendix 3: First Year Theatre and Performance Undergraduate Students’ Contextual Studies Podcast Script – Expert Interview example on playwright Samuel Beckett
Speaker 1: Hi I’m Speaker 1 welcome to my podcast “Throughout History,” we have Speaker 2 talking about Samuel Beckett. Speaker 2, could you tell me was Beckett a Theatre Director and Playwright?
Speaker 2: Yes, Beckett’s chosen style of theatre was Theatre of the Absurd but unlike Ionesco and Harold Pinter, Beckett centred his work around the human life. He wanted to unveil his viewpoint on how we are merely existing but he also wanted the audience to gain what they wanted for themselves from his oeuvre.
Speaker 1: Beckett had a particular purpose in mind when he wrote ‘Waiting for Godot,’ could you tell me what it was?
Speaker 2: Yes, when he established the piece, he makes the audience spend time waiting for Godot and he doesn’t appear and then tomorrow arrives, and we still do not see Godot. In an article from the Irish Times in 1956 a critic by the name of Vivian Mercier wrote: “Beckett has achieved a theoretical impossibility – a play in which nothing happens, yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.”
I think it’s Beckett’s way of portraying real life from his point of view.
Speaker 1: In what way is he portraying real life and why would he want to create a play where nothing happens?
Speaker 2: One of Beckett’s quotes is: “The end is in the beginning and yet you go on.”
I think this was a way of expressing his outlook in the sense that he believed that life was meaningless, implying that there’s a whole lot of nothing and then we die….
Speaker 1: Why do you think Beckett had this outlook on life?
Speaker 2: Beckett suffered deeply with depression sometimes only waking up at midday and his Father’s death in 1933 triggered his interest in existentialism.
Speaker 1: How does he create work that keeps the audience entertained at the same time as having a dismal approach?
Speaker 2: He uses tragicomedy in his work and jokes about death to give the audience a sense of both tragedy and comedy at the same time triggering feelings of catharsis for the audience which reflect on his own personal suffering.
Speaker 1: Who is Godot that the audience are waiting for?
Speaker 2: Godot is very symbolic in that it represents something godly or godlike that the audience are waiting for but doesn’t happen, displaying Beckett’s belief in existentialism. Godot also means death which symbolises where we all end up when we eventually transpire.