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.”

A second benefit that Linder described is the online community and regular dialogue that emerged as a result of her podcast work. She states: “More importantly, not only has my own network grown, but we’ve also created a community of Research in Action listeners who are regularly chatting together on Twitter, asking questions that will be featured in future episodes and answering each other’s questions about research across disciplines.”

You don’t have to be a podcast creator to benefit from the podcast medium; You can be a listener, and utilize the podcast as a way to connect with other scholars in your field. Podcasting can be a way of broadcasting and growing your own digital footprint as a scholar, but it can also be a consumable tool and resource for teaching, learning, and networking.

In future posts, I will talk about the process behind building a podcast (technology needed, workflow, ideal support structures, etc.), discuss different pedagogical uses of the podcast medium in teaching, and brainstorm ways in which podcasting can be incorporated into fieldwork and research on both an individual and institutional level. For now, I will leave you with five podcasts to explore that are connected with academic audiences, and can serve as a model possible podcast projects in your own work, or at your own institutions:

  1. Turning first to my own field of study, Talking Musicology is a casual, conversational podcast in which hosts discuss current issues, trends, and hot topics of debate in the field music research. Topics range from discussing specific musical canons to theories purposed by recent publications. They frequently feature big-name scholars with recent book publications.
  2. Similar to Talking Musicology, Theory For Turntables (by Overthinking It) analyzes social science theory through the lens of contemporary and classic rock, pop, hip-hop music, often highlighting specific albums, artists, or musical works as the locus of their discussion.
  3. Coming from the perspective of Professional Development for graduate students, The American Psychological Association publishes a podcast geared towards discussion and workshop topics relevant to graduate students beginning their professional careers.
  4. For each episode of Kate Linder’s Research in Action (produced in partnership with Oregon State University), there are instructor guides to help teachers integrate podcast episodes into their course syllabi, teaching plans, and supplemental material.
  5. PhD in Progress is a podcast created by graduate students, for graduate students, to discuss issues and experiences encountered throughout graduate student life. Topics range from strategies for better productivity to working towards tenure-track jobs, to opportunities in alt-ac careers.
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