Part II — A Podcasting Study!

On Monday, Stefanie shared the inspiration for her podcasting study and how she helped students identify the moves that podcasters make as they craft an episode of a podcast. As an added bonus, Stefanie used this podcasting study as a way for her IB students to dive deeper into Heart of Darkness

Today, in part two, Stefanie shares the nitty-gritty of how students get down to work, how they are assessed, samples of their amazing work, and how students reflected on the process! 

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Step Four: Get to work!

Once we had completed our novel study, I assigned the podcast project. I kept the list of requirements and expectations small:

  • Collaborate with classmates to record a 10-15 minute podcast
  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of Heart of Darkness in an engaging and well-organized way
  • Borrow podcast moves from our recommended podcasts or other favorites

Since this project fell during a busy time for students–the school musical coincided with our first trip to the state football tournament in fifteen years–I provided groups with at least a week of in-class work time, and the students did not squander it. Challenged to develop their own topics, questions, and structure for their podcasts, students poured over Heart of Darkness in a way I probably never could have led them to do by myself; they initiated their own close-reading activities!

As I walked around the room during podcast work time, I was reminded of a truth that is easy to forget: when I get out of my students’ way, they will rise to the challenge and astonish me.

I had planned on students using podcast technology for this project, but the preparation for the podcast challenged them to use technology in a lot of other innovative ways. A few of our favorite resources included:

  • The Project Gutenberg digital edition of Heart of Darkness and the “Find” feature in Google Chrome (CTRL+F)–a quick way to search the text for evidence and examples
  • JSTOR, Google Scholar, and Bloom’s Literary Reference for critical perspectives and reviews
  • Spotify for musical cue suggestions and inspiration
  • Audacity and Garageband for podcast recording (and iPhone Voice Memo in a pinch!)

Step Five: Share and review

Once students completed their recordings, they uploaded the podcasts to a shared Google Drive folder. I chose to share the podcasts through Drive in order to protect student privacy while allowing for easy sharing and listening among classmates. All groups were required to save their podcast files as .mp4 or .mp3 files, since those seemed the most compatible with sharing on Google Drive.Most of the files could play in the folder through Google Chrome, and those that couldn’t be listened to in Chrome were accessible through an easy Chrome Add-on called Music Player for Google Drive.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 3.58.39 PM

I will investigate a way to privately post and host the podcasts on a normal podcast site in the future. Since podcasts are a public medium, I wanted students to have more than an audience of one for their final product. The last step in the assignment was for students to listen to two other podcasts and review them using a simple Google form. The form followed my rubric and included a place for comments on the podcasts’ strengths and weaknesses.

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Step Six: Listen and enjoy!

On the night the podcasts were due, I couldn’t help but “peek” in the Google folder and listen to the first few minutes of the podcasts that appeared. That preview blew me away, and the full, final recordings made me laugh, cry with pride, and marvel at my students’ creativity.

Here are three standout student samples:

Among the highlights:

  • Clever podcast theme songs like “Do You Want to Go to Starbucks?” (a parody of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” about the podcast group’s preference for researching and planning at the Starbucks down the street) and “MAMBA 5” (a play on the podcasters’ first initials)
  • Creative and funny podcast names like “The HodCast,” “The DoppelGang,” and “TL; DR” (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
  • Character analysis using Magic: The Gathering‘s color pie
  • Analysis of the novel’s structure accompanied by musical cues that mimicked Marlow’s and Kurtz’s journeys in the Congo, from the hopeful opening chants of “The Circle of Life” to the angry mayhem of a song called “Lunacy.”
  • Sociological, feminist, theological, and philosophical analyses of Heart of Darkness
  • Inventive alter egos for podcast panelists (and an occasional Ira Glass impersonation)

Some groups followed scripts, and others spoke extemporaneously. Some groups used a lot of music; others simply made sure to have a clear recording of everyone’s voices. All groups demonstrated that they had studied our novel and were ready to discuss it in the IOC: mission accomplished!

My rubric for the project was simply a modified version of the official IOC rubric. Next year, I plan to create a new rubric that reflects students’ and my feedback on the review surveys. For example, I know that I want next year’s podcasts to pass what I’m calling “the laundry test”–can I follow this podcast while I’m doing my laundry?–since I noticed that students needed to do a bit more to anchor their listeners to their conversations and return to the podcasts’ central topics.

Students’ evaluations of their peers’ podcast were crucial to assessment. Because they listened to only two podcasts (while I had marathon listening sessions of four or more podcasts at a time), students noticed nuances and appreciated details that I missed. In the end, student reviewers’ compliments and constructive criticism became part of the final assessment document that I distributed to the podcasting groups.

Here is a sampling of the smart feedback students offered:

  • The intro was amazing! Super creative and hilarious. The sound was also extremely clear and the speech was easily understood and obviously planned out in detail. Excellent analysis and interpretations of the use of “darkness” and new inquiries formed.  Extremely interesting exploration of doppelgängers. Also really interesting noting the similarities between Marlow and the Buddha, I didn’t notice that! You guys did an awesome job. Great point about social criticism at the end. Great outing transition too!
  • I enjoyed your conversational speaking style and the general flow of the podcast. The podcast was well organized, and I liked how the “soul” was given a definition before the exploration of the topic–very clear thesis from the beginning. The passages showing the clear divide between the soul and intelligence were well presented and insightful (Kurtz retains intelligence during argument but has a corrupted soul which brings up the duality of mind/soul concept). I liked the connections made between the novel’s viewpoints and our own common perspectives as NDA students; It was a tactful tie-in for the audience. The podcast was well done. Again, nice job.
  • Although the script provided the podcast with fantastic structure, it also made it kind of hard to listen to in a certain way. Some responses didn’t feel natural, and the meaning had to be extracted from the bumpy nature of reading a script.
  • I enjoyed the outside references/unique perspectives on some of the themes of the novel, particularly the Taoist nature contrasts and the arguable strengths of the women (moved beyond mere “sexist” depictions). The opinions were well supported, and I liked the vocal inflections used in the supporting quotes–good reading. The contrasts of presenting and vocal style made the podcast fun to listen to. Nice Job.

The IB Learner Profile proudly states that IB students are risk-takers. I am so proud of my students for taking a risk on this new podcast project with me. The results were thrilling, the learning was palpable, and the experience is one I am eager to recreate.

What are your thoughts about podcasting as an authentic analysis product for students? How might this come to life in your classroom? What questions do you have? Leave us a comment below, or connect with us on Facebook @msjochman, @rebekahodell1, and @allisonmarchett. 

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