Hello! My name is Lee Pierce (she/they) and I am a faculty member at SUNY Geneseo teaching courses in rhetoric, communication, speech, and media. Given my areas of specialization, it is no surprise that I’m drawn to podcasting as a teaching and learning activity. From longer, more polished conversational-but-well-researched-and-insightful audio publications to short back-and-forth exchanges via Anchor or Marco Polo, podcasting represents a way of interacting that is older than video or writing: our voice. My aims as a teacher are to equip students to contribute insightfully to speech culture, embrace a positive voice image that empowers them for success and making a difference, and take risks so that they can learn to tolerate discomfort and fail upward. Podcasting is the perfect way to accomplish all of that in a managed environment.
Podcasting is also more accessible to non-sighted learners than research papers, videos, or in-class presentations and suitable for all levels of technical skill; all you need is a basic App, such as SoundCloud or Anchor, and something to record your voice. The most challenging part is getting over the learned helpless of “I’m not a podcaster” or “I hate my voice.” Additionally, I use podcasting as a way to build my professional portfolio and encounter new challenges that can make my teaching approaches more nuanced. I am excited to share some of my projects with you here and reflect on my failures and successes.
Kinesthetic Teaching & Learning
We’ve heard of kinesthetic or tactile/movement-based learning, which is usually synonymous with kinesthetic teaching or teaching that appeals and connects with movement-based learners. Podcasting enables a different kind of kinesthetic teaching and learning. Although podcasters typically don’t move around while they are preparing, they still need to embody their ideas and use their body to create their projects. Except this time the body is represented by the voice, the throat, rather than the legs or arms. This is important both because it makes podcasting accessible for learners with a variety of disabilities–especially non-sighted and non-mobile learners. Also, it asks students to engage with their own work as a speaker and a listener and not simply a writer/reader. With reading, it is possible to go very fast and skim through our work, almost like it has a bad smell and we just want to get it done. Podcasts require a much deeper and felt engagement with a student’s own ideas and language use; in that sense it can be both more rewarding and more challenging than a traditional essay or even public presentation.
Additionally, podcasting has the benefit of enhancing the personal health of teachers because we can listen to, evaluate, and offer feedback on student’s audio assignments while commuting, out walking, or prepping meals. All we have to do is hit “play” to listen and then hit “record” to respond. Bam! Assignment completed and I never even had to sit down in front of a computer. Students will, at first, have a very confused reaction to this approach to teaching as it smacks of informality. That can create problems if, say, you are a teacher who struggles to enforce boundaries. However, I embrace the formality because at the planning and drafting stages of an assignment I believe that things SHOULD be formal and, also, I let my classroom management strategies handle my formality, not how often or through which media I engage with my students. Also if you struggle with immediacy perception, audio files could be a great way to close that gap with students.
By letting students experience the curriculum through their bodies, we help them make deeper emotional, interpersonal, and kinesthetic connections to academic subjects.Susan Griss, The Power of Movement in Teaching and Learning, EdWeek.org, March 20, 2013. https://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2013/03/19/fp_griss.html.
Being interesting rather than obsessing with grammar and citation styles is a top aim of my teaching style. I define interesting as being able to take familiar, often cliche, ways of thinking about our world and reality and finding new angles or insights to share with audiences. Being interesting is not only a prerequisite for getting a job or doing well in school but also for just being a worthwhile person and living a worthwhile life.
Becoming a more interesting person is my favorite payoff of the podcasting approach. When someone knows that they are interesting–that they have something truly worthwhile to share–they become intrinsically motivated by the joy of shaping and cultivating insight and ideas rather than relying on extrinsic motivation–grades or “likes” on a social media platform–and that is a key to life-long learning.
Nothing illustrates the principle of interestingness better than the following episode of a student-turned-amateur-podcaster, Cal Hoag, who recently began post-course work independent production on his own Soapbox Podcast exploring literary and rhetorical tropes in film and popular culture.
Feedback from Student, Cal Hoag
Podcasting is great because it ensures that you understand whatever it is you’re talking about. As you create a pod, you really have to internalize the subject matter and present it in an engaging way that lacks excessive jargon and other dry material. As I move on from college, podcasting will provide me with a way to continue fostering learning by providing me with a tactile goal (the podcast episode) to work towards every week.
Voice Image, Voice Acceptance
However, the biggest drawback–already hinted at above–is that all of the interestingness in the world can’t be realized if the student struggles with poor voice image. Like body image, voice image is an overall sense that your voice doesn’t quite stack up to the ideal. That fundamental anxiety for new learners and amateur speakers is exacerbated by the cliche advise and checklist of speaking perfection that often circulates in our culture. For example, consider the long list of potential screw-ups identified in an article entitled “Voice Image” from the pop-ed website, Write Out Loud (which I’ve excerpted here in question rather than statement form):
- Is it nasal as if the speaker had a peg on their nose?
- Does the voice use the upper/high registers continually?
- Is the voice is monotonous with little variation of pace or pitch?
- Are the speaker’s individual words distinct from one another?
- Is there a constant rising inflection at the end of each sentence?
- Is the speaker is hesitant holding back words and speaking timidly
- Does it race? Do words fly by without time for the audience to process the content of what is being said?
Probably the one thing that saves this list from being truly horrifying to new speakers is that it doesn’t mention the criteria for PRO-nunciation, the fascist cousin of E-nunciation, also known as articulation. Articulation, to use the list above, is the ability to put space around words (especially consonants) such that the individual words are distinct from one another. Certainly, articulation can be important. PROnunciation, however, is whether or not articulation is proper or appropriate; do you say “asK” rather than “axe”; do you say “piKcher” (picture) rather than “pitsher”? These are inherently racist, classist, and otherwise pointless questions. If you say to me, “let me axe you a question real quick,” I haven’t lost any meaning. Also, people who speak with those kinds of patois can be just as dynamic, engaging, and interesting as people who do not. However, they are often–for racist and classist reasons–the same people who are at the greatest risk for quitting a project, pretending they’re disinterested, or simply dropping a class with a podcast because they have a negative voice image. And who wouldn’t, after years of being told they can’t say “axe” if they want to [fill in the blank: get a job, make any money, succeed in society, graduate college]. Here I think we can take a cue from the best thing to happen to body image: the body acceptance movement. Voice acceptance, like body acceptance, is about making the most of what you get and recognize that there are a lot of ways to be pleasing to the ear. Some principles hold fast–no one speaking at a rate of 300 words per minute is going to be a pleasing podcaster. But what you do with your 160-180 words per minute can differ widely. Podcasting has infinite potential to give students a voice of which they are proud and that can speak truth to power and humor to chaos but not if we don’t do the work to help them start from a place where they might eventually come to love, not just accept, their voice.