Quickstart for Podcasts

4 April 2018

What are podcasts?

Podcasts are digital audio files which can be listened to by streaming or downloading.

Why use podcasts?

Podcasts are sometimes used in lieu of a paper assignment or to augment a paper assignment. A podcast is devoid of visual material (think NPR) and this can be useful for focusing student attention.

How to teach with podcasts

Contact Academic Technology to talk through the learning goals of the assignment and these goals will give way to assignment criteria like length of the recording (short is almost always better!), whether the voices of interviewees or ambient noise are desirable, and the pacing of the assignment (e.g. script approved by instructor, audio collected, editing, polishing). AT can also advise on the equipment (hardware and software) your students may need to complete this assignment. For example some assignments might require students to “go into the field” to record and this will mean a device like their phone or a digital recorder (borrowed from PEPS) might be in order. Capturing good audio and doing minimal editing are things AT can help with as well.

Just as your learning goals determine the criteria of the assignment, they will also determine your grading rubric and talking about the rubric from the initial stages is a brilliant move. It’s pretty easy use Google to find rubrics but the trick is fine tuning the rubric so that it reflects your goals and guides the students. Criteria often found in podcast rubrics include:

  • Introduction that pulls in the listener
  • Clear audio
  • Smooth transitions
  • Correct and compelling content
  • Length

You may want to evaluate how the podcast assignment went for your students and reflect on your own experience teaching with podcasts. Academic Technology can help! We have a collection of student and instructor feedback forms to evaluate a range of instructional technologies — including podcasts. We can work with you to fine tune the form for your interests. Overall, our students say they are somewhat familiar with the tech tools used to make podcasts but have not created a podcast before, feel the assignment was a worthwhile learning experience (for the tech and the content), and would recommend continuing the assignment.


Here is a prompt for an assignment in which students were creating a podcast instead of writing another paper on a course topic:

In lieu of a paper each student will be in a group of approximately three students who will prepare a short (3-5 minute) NPR-like radio blurb.  The blurb will be connected to the topic your group represents. The steps of this project will be the following (more or less):

  • Find popular sources of info to base project on (annotate sources with Zotero), turn in by deadline
  • Use that pop source to find primary and review sources (annotate these sources), turn in by deadline
  • Create a short promo for your idea using the skills the AT folks share, turn in by deadline
  • Create a draft of the transcript of the blurb using the sources, turn in by deadline
  • Create the digital blurb that tells your story in 3-5 minutes, after several rounds of editing turn in the final product

At Carleton, a number of folks have been using podcast assignments. Below, two of those assignments are outlined:

  • Chris Elias assigned a 7-10 minute podcast as a final project in AMST 115. Description of assignment:
    • Content: The goal of this assignment is to perform a critical close reading of a song or piece of music and its relevance to an American social movement, historical period or event, or cultural moment.
    • Technical requirements: 7-10 minute podcast. The tone of the podcast should be conversational, but not casual or informal.
    • Evaluation: Contain all of the required elements (introduction, contextualization, and analysis); Use song excerpts judiciously and productively (i.e., you will play enough of the song to illustrate your points, but not so much that we lose the train of your argument.); Feature each speaker equally; Be professional—we all have “tics” in our speaking voices, but think of those tics (saying “um” or “like,” or giggling) as surface errors in a paper. Be sure to allow enough time to “edit” for those sorts of problems.
  • Thabiti Willis assigned a 4 minute podcast in HIST 181. Description of assignment:
    • Content: pick any historical case involving violent conflict on the continent of Africa and to use the work of one of these scholars to help you explore some aspect of the causes or consequences.
    • Technical requirements: no more than 4 minutes long, with no more than 60 seconds of found audio.
    • Evaluation: The podcast will be evaluated for the clarity of voice, depth of analysis, creative use of sources, and pacing. Average of group member scores of your work plus the professor’s scoring of your work equals your grade for the podcast and script.


Student-Generated Earth Science Podcasts for a Community Partner