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Podcasting Part 1: What is it, and Why Consider it as an Academic or Research Tool?

Is it possible to utilize the podcast medium for academic purposes? Absolutely yes! In so many ways! In a series of posts on the Social Mediums blog this year, I plan to explore different questions and perspectives on podcasting in academia, and how the podcast medium can connect with online communities and public research. To start our exploration, today’s post is an introduction to the concept of podcasting and provides some initial ideas to consider when thinking through ways that podcasts can enhance our work as researchers, academics, and teachers.

The Oxford English Dictionary described the word “podcast” as “a digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.” Like an on-demand radio channel dedicated to specific topics, podcasts have reinvigorated the medium of audio storytelling in the Internet age. The length of podcast episodes differs from one “show” to the next, though somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes tends to be where the majority of podcast episodes fall.

Utilizing the podcast as an updated version of the 1940s radio drama is the way in which many success podcasts have gained popularity – from Serial to The Nerdist, to Freakonomics Radio (all listed amongst the most popular podcasts by listenership numbers in 2015), entertaining audio storytelling is cited as a crucial element in the “podcast renaissance” over the past several years. People tend to listen to podcasts in places or situations they might also listen to music – while exercising, doing the dishes, on road trips, commuting, walking the dog, etc.

Having been heavily involved in podcasting for the Lecture and Community Engagement Department of The Metropolitan Opera Guild (I produce and host The Metropolitan Opera Guild Podcast as part of my work with the organization), I have longed believed that podcasts are a fantastic medium and platform to consider integrating into academic research and work, and could be an exciting platform for an academic institution to support. While academic podcasts may not garner subscriber numbers in the millions, they can be a way to foster community, dialogue, and collaboration between researchers in an online space while also producing content that is pedagogically valuable and digitally far-reaching.

As Kathryn Linder wrote in an interview about her work in academically oriented podcasting, working on her Research in Action podcast has created networking opportunities with other scholars in her field that otherwise would not have happened. She states: “A main benefit of hosting Research in Action is that I have a reason to cold-email pretty much any researcher, no matter how famous, and ask them to chat with me for 60 minutes…The show has also allowed me to build my own professional network of researcher contacts that I can reach out to if I have a question, [or] want to collaborate on a project.”

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Best Practices Projects

The HLBLL Rotation Curation Experiment

When I created an Instagram account in 2015 for the PhD Program in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages, I admit, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Instagram was a fairly unknown platform for me, despite its wide use among Millenials and in our program. Being so different than the two social media platforms we were already using in the program—Facebook and Twitter—proceeding in much the same way as on those was not practical or yielding results, although I tried.