Podcasting in Class: Course planning for Spring 2024

As the semester winds down and final grading is in progress, I am looking ahead towards the Spring 2024 semester, when I will be teaching International Relations & Popular Culture for the first time. It is both a nerdy interest niche of mine, but I also think that field of popular culture is expanding, gaining more grounds, and operating as something relatable to our students. So, I guess – be prepared to see more of that type of content in the new year.

I have decided to incorporate a semester-long podcasting project as the students’ main research project, in which they will produce a public-facing piece of research. I imagine this is the first time most of my students will be engaging with such a project. But this is also a new assignment for me, and I am both excited and wondering what hurdles I haven’t thought of yet. I am building this on a previous guest post by John McMahon (2021) and his APSA Educate resource. Below, I have outlined the overall premise. What wisdom do you have to turn this project into something that can rival Joe Rogan’s podcasting dominance?

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Why bother podcasting?

2743534799_e1c988d6be_bAs it’s high summer, so thoughts turn to “interesting things I might do”. And one of the things to think about going is podcasting.

This is prompted by a conversation I had over the weekend with a friend who’s an architect. He had recently passed up the opportunity to present his company’s work at a show-casing event because he didn’t feel very confident about his presentation skills, to the point that there were “more downsides than ups” to it all.

Aside from being a shame in itself – he’s a very friendly and engaging personality and nobody likes to miss out on opportunities to sell one’s product – it also highlights the rather particular situation that educators find themselves. As my friend put it, profs get lots of practice at presenting.

Now, as you and I both know – and will recall at the next conference panel we attend – practice does not make prefect. Or even close in many cases. But the point still has something to it: we do spend a fair amount of time talking to rooms of people, so it’s not completely alien to us.

Any how, my suggestion was that my friend try podcasting. It’s good practice at speaking to others – even at a distance – and it invites you to have a focus in what you talk about.

This really matters in presenting. One of my friend’s issues was that his draft talk was rambling and unstructured, again a problem not uncommon in academic circles.

In the 18 months I’ve been running my Diet of Brussels podcast, perhaps the most useful choice I made was to stick to 5 minute long episodes. This was initially based on two key logics: 1) listening to someone talk about the European Union isn’t that interesting, so keep it brief, and 2) 5 minutes would mean prep for each epsiode could be kept to a minimum. So, boredom and laziness then.

But it also had the effect of requiring me to pick very focused topics each time, because it turns out that 5 minutes is very little time indeed. This, in turn, meant that the amount of blathering was cut back, as I tried to make sure I used my short time wisely.

I’m now nearly 200 episodes in and – thanks to the wonders of the British political system – I might now be locked into another 2-15 years of doing it, so I now have a bit more perspective on it all.

Firstly, regular podcasting has been very good for developing my confidence on speaking on various issues. This has been really important for my other work, as a Senior Fellow on the UK in a Changing Europe programme, which involves a lot of dissemination. If nothing else, it’s meant I’ve probably made an episode about whatever topic I might be asked about.

Secondly, podcasting is an excellent adjunct to face-to-face communication, be that teaching or more generally. I’ve been able to use my new skills to enrich what I can offer my students and it’s a very clear gateway into flipping the classroom. It’s also a space into which one can place the lines of further development that might not be possible in your teaching timetable.

Thirdly, it connects you to new audiences. This is a longer-term thing, unless you have a big, read-made group of people waiting for you (and if you’re feeling a bit nervous about it all, then maybe you don’t want a big audience right away). Indeed, because I’ve always worked on the basis that no-one listens to my podcasts, it has been very good for disinhibiting me and making me feel more comfortable about speaking my mind. Hence my continued mild shock whenever someone mentions that they listen to me.

Finally, it’s relatively low-risk. The worst that is likely to happen is that no one does listen to it and you give up. However, that should not be your aim. Instead, if you take it on its intrinsic merits, then it can be really helpful for you: public effects will come later.

So have a look at the technical guide I put together and try it out.

We’re podcasting again!

CjYLfnYUYAIP_Eo With our latest workshop all safely put to bed, myself, Victor, Amanda and Chad took some time to sit down and talk about what we’d covered and discovered during their time here in the UK. You can listen to the results on our latest podcast.

We talk about the differences in US and UK universities, how we adapt ideas to new situations and about our future plans. And Shot Jenga (which I am totally trying to fit into a class).

Thanks again to the PSA/APSA for their generous funding which made it all possible.

There’ll be more posts from us in the coming days on what we covered, so do keep an eye out for them.

ALPS podcast from Hong Kong

Because everyone has HK$163000 to drop on a solid gold Stormtrooper…

As you know, we’ve starting some podcasts this year. After the warm reception to our first effort, you can now listen to some thoughts from Hong Kong about how we all have to deal with institutional constraints, ways in which we can brings students into more active learning approaches and how to make it all hang together. Plus some other stuff.

Our review of APSA TLC Portland… in a podcast!

That’s right, we’ve decided to practise what we preach and have done a bit of experiential learning (well, the others did – I’ve got history on this one).

Myself, Michelle, Amanda, Chad & Victor sat down after a long day to talk about what we’ve got from the conference, as well as to look ahead to some new projects we’ve got coming up.

So sit back, turn up the volume and enjoy 20 minutes of conversation.

We’d love to get your feedback, both on our thoughts and on our podcasting. If it’s something you’d like to see/listen to more of, then we’re biddable, especially now that we’ve seen just how easy it is to set up.

Do it yourself, learn it yourself

brussels sprout atomium blue backgroundI spent an hour last night trying to produce an app. I’m not really happy with what I produced, but I am happy I’ve tried.

Over the past month I’ve been working on a new project, ‘A Diet of Brussels‘. Basically, it’s podcasts about Britain and the EU. It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about for some time, but the surprising outcome of the general election meant that things suddenly took a new turn.

Perhaps that’s not the right way to express it, since it was more a case of throwing myself in the proverbial deep end, instead of trying to over-think things, which I’ve noticed is one of my less-good habits (alongside not using the word ‘bad’).

Fortunately, I had already secured the main piece of kit, namely a decent voice recorder, at a knock-down price, so I was ready to go.

A couple of hours practising recording in a manageable way and editing (with Audacity‘s excellent freeware) to up the production quality fractionally, and I had something that I could live with other people listening to.

Next step was building a platform. Fortunately, I’d already made a website before (this one, since you ask), so using Wix was quick and easy, as was the purchasing of domain names. Soundcloud provided the main platform for hosting the audio files themselves, and will be good for a few months yet on their free plan: iTunes also was easy enough to set up a mirror for the files, for the trendier end of my audience. Throw in a new Google account and then I could add in a Twitter feed and a Facebook page.

And off I’ve gone. So far, I’ve made 17 podcasts in about a month and am still to settle into a proper rhythm, mainly because once I sit down and start recording, it’s much easier to record a couple more while I’m there. Add to that lots of pushing online to people who will propagate further and I’ve got an audience that is small, but respectable. A huge help with this was a couple of name-checks in the Politico Europe daily Playbook email, so I guess I have to reflect on my previous words on said organisation, at least in part.

In terms of learning, there are several big things here.

Most obviously, this is a form of experiential learning: I’ve got my hands metaphorically dirty in a number of new activities, in a way that ties together my L&T work with my other research. In the past month, I’ve managed to advance my skills and my thinking in ways that certainly wouldn’t have happened otherwise. As someone who other talks about getting students to do this, it’s only right that I should remind myself that this actually works.

I’m also reminded that things are never quite as difficult as one thinks they’ll be. Before I started, I thought that the quality of recording was going to be critical (hence the recorder) and it left me a bit hamstrung. I could blame listening to Serial for excessive expectations, but then I remembered that I’m not a professional broadcast journalist, but an academic, and just got stuck it. Now my model is that I’ll get better as I do more: classic active learning again.

The value of strong networks has become evident too. My logo comes from the most amazing glove-puppet you’ll ever meet, Berlaymonster, and the support from colleagues in Brussels and the UK has been invaluable in making this get as far as it has. I know that when I’m done with this post, I can ask for help with the app I was trying to make last night and get it.

And finally it’s all making me think about the value of patience. If you think you’ll change the world with your first effort, then you’re likely to be sorely disappointed. Instead, these things that time: this very blog has taken several years to get to where it is today (insert punchline here), just as our individual reputations have taken time to develop as they have.

But time is also about timing: I got lucky with the election result (even if it wasn’t one I personally cared for) and I got even luckier with the name-checking. I have the advantage that I know this project is fixed-term (until the referendum happens) and I know that because I’ve started now I’ll be much better placed when more people get interested nearer the time. And given that the key aim of the project is to help inform people about what’s what, that has to be a good thing.

In the last few weeks of class this semester we’ve been discussing life-long and life-wide learning: I’m really glad to be actually doing some of that.

Now then: off to ask a man about an app.