GIFTS: Creating Podcasts in the Media Classroom – Project Details

In recent years, I have grown quite fond of using podcasts as a demonstration of learning for students in my Mass Communication and Media and Society classes. It’s a great way for students to experience, first hand, sound/audio production, while at the same time, thinking about some media related topics.

I’ve gotten some requests recently to share the assignment(s) I use with my students, so here they are!

This first assignment is used in the course of an Introduction to Mass Media Communication class at a 2-year technical college. The course is a general education requirement, so I often get students from many different majors and programs of study; a majority, though, are Digital Media majors. The podcast assignment is one of several media production assignments during the semester.

Podcast Assignment Version 1

For this project you (and potentially a partner) must write and produce a 5-10 minute podcast on one of the topics covered in this course.  You may choose to broadly discuss a form of mass media, or you might be interested in looking at a very specific part.  It’s entirely up to you – so long as you’re discussing relevant information and creating something meaningful!

First things first… what’s a podcast?
We will have discussed this in class, but here are a few links for inspiration:

The Best Podcasts of 2018 (from the New Yorker)

Serial, “The Alibi” (2014)

99% Invisible, “The Sound of the Artificial World” (2011)

Radiolab, “Space” (2004)

Soul Music, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (2013)

If you want more, here’s a good roundup of the “top 25 best podcasts…

As you listen to these (or other favorites), make a few notes about the following:

  • What is the overall feeling of this broadcast, and how dies it differ from other types of sound media?
  • How about the timeliness of the subject matter?  Is this podcast more like news or film? 
  • How does the talent and production staff engage the user in an audio-only format?  Is it interesting or boring?  What would you do differently?
  • How long is the piece?  Could it be longer or shorter?

Now, it’s time to work on your own!  

**You may work with a partner on this project if you want.  Both partners should email me to let me know you are working together.  Please no more than 2 per group.

  1. What are you going to talk about?  Tell a story, teach us something, prove a point, make us think…
  2. Write your script and create a basic “storyboard.”  Include notes about narrative, sound effects, music, audio clips, etc.  (Read it out loud a few times to figure out timing!)
  3. Record your audio and mix your podcast (I recommend using Audacity – it’s free and very useful!) 
  4. Export as an MP3 file and upload to Moodle.  If your file is too large, you may email it to the instructor or post it to another file storage space like Dropbox or Google Drive.  Please submit a note in the Moodle assignment if you are submitting somewhere else.
  5. Post your final podcast/link to the week 5 discussion board

What are you graded on?

  • Your creativity – how interesting is your topic?  Are you approaching this project critically and asking good questions about our discussion of mass media?
  • Your attention to the course material – you are expected to cover some aspect of mass media communication… there are MANY ways to go with this project, but please focus.
  • Your writing – are you paying attention to the narrative and the story you’re telling?  How well are you positioning your argument  How well does your podcast flow and can the listener keep up with the storyline?  
  • Your production value – how does the podcast sound?  Can the listener hear everything?  How is the balance of talking and music/SFX?  How is your delivery?
  • This project is due before midnight on Sunday of week 6 (not week 5, you have two weeks to complete this project)

Podcast Assignment Version 2

This particular assignment was used in a course called Media and Society that I taught at a small 4-year liberal arts college. Students in this class actually produced 4 episodes of a podcast series; the idea was to have them develop some sort of “theme” or “brand” for their series. The serialized format also allowed them to explore many different aspects of media throughout the semester.

Some notable “brands” included: media and the environment, Marxist/Anti-capitalist, sports, pop culture, interview format, and historical.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION:

Our primary project format this term will be either a podcast series or a YouTube channel (your choice). You will be asked to produce four “episodes,” each exploring some facet of the topic we’re currently dealing with in class. Each podcast or video should be approximately 5-10 minutes in length. During the first few weeks of class, you should come up with a name for your series and draft some notes about the “brand” of the program…(we will work on this together!) will you use comedy or will you be more serious? Do you plan to approach subjects from a feminist or critical race perspective, and if so, how will that manifest in your delivery, scripting, and production techniques? Will you use a lot of pop culture references? Be particularly mindful of how the podcast format gives you an immersive multimedia channel in which you can communicate nuanced messages.

You are required to craft introductory and concluding elements (like a theme song, opening credits, references, calls to action, etc.). These should match the “brand” you’ve established, and will be included on each episode. If you choose to use YouTube, you can obviously include visual elements like photos and title cards/graphics. Podcasts should include music, sound FX, and narration.

There are a lot of free and or very low cost solutions out there for producing your podcasts. Audacity is a free Open Source audio production tool that works on both Mac and PC. Adobe Audition is a part of the Creative Suite, and is a very powerful program.

There are also a ton of royalty free, creative commons, and open source resources out there for things like music, sound effects, graphics, and videos. Make sure you’re not violating any copyright or intellectual property laws as you create these pieces.We will spend some time together during class going over tips and tricks for producing a podcast /video blog.

Podcast files should be uploaded to a service like Soundcloud (free for up to 180 minutes). Of course, videos uploaded to YouTube. You will then submit the URL of your episode in the appropriate assignment in the LMS.


Students report that this is one of their favorite assignments, and I really enjoy listening to their work! I hope this information is helpful for you as you consider using podcasts as a way to teach media!

If you’re interested, I’ve also published on this topic in Explorations in Media Ecology. Read the abstract here.

If you end up using this assignment in your courses, I’d love to hear how it works out! Please comment below and share your experience. Thanks!

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