Faculty Spotlight: Having Students Podcast

studentpodcast.jpgProfessor BJ Roche from the UMass Amherst Journalism Program shares her thoughts on the benefits of student-created podcasts as well as tips for other instructors considering having students podcast:

In journalism, as in many other fields, all roads are leading to the Web. Just about everyone who works in print is going to need to now how to work in audio and video. So it’s vital that students understand that their presentation matters as much as the content. Most students are terrible speakers. They mumble and use “like” a lot, so no matter how smart they are, they sound stupid. Podcasting requires students to think about how they sound, to develop some confidence in their public presentation, and to write for the ear as well as the eye.

A podcasting assignment enhances the development of several skills:

the research and writing of a topic;
the delivery, which includes thinking about breathing, diction and cadence—how words sound;
the choice of tone and musical accompaniment;
and the technical aspects of editing and revising the voice track.

So it’s definitely worth doing.

The technology now makes it easier than ever. We used Garageband to record, but you can also use easier, simpler programs, like Audacity, which is available as a free download, and is an excellent way to get started.

My first podcasting assignment was to write and produce a segment of “This I Believe,” the popular essay segment on National Public Radio, (www.thisibelieve.org).

Students had to read several essays on the website, then come up with their own “belief” and write about it. This was more difficult than you might think. Few had ever really thought much about what they believed!

We worked on several drafts of the essay before going into production. Students recorded their essays on their own digital recorders, (many MP3 players have a recording function). Then they brought them to class for our Garageband workshop. By the end of a two-hour session, we had finished products.

Tips for faculty:

Keep the focus on the writing! Make sure the writing has been revised, revised, revised, so it’s the best it can be. Push your students to be specific about their themes and ideas.

Keep the assignment short–no more than 3-4 minutes, which is about 400-500 words. This I Believe is a good format, because they are short, wide-ranging in subject and emotion. My recent favorite: Penn Jillette’s This I Believe

Have students record their pieces ahead of time so they have “tape” to work with in class.

Base the grade on the quality of the writing, and the tone, i.e., does the delivery, music and sound effects add up to a cohesive feeling about the piece?

If students are amenable, post the work to a showplace, like a blog set up quickly and easily on blogger.com, so their parents and friends can listen to their work. It’s a great way to teach students the importance of good communication, plus, parents get to hear what their kids are up to.

You can listen to some of the results here: scroll down to October 10.
http://umassjournalismwebwriting.blogspot.com/2007_10_01_archive.html

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