York prof shares podcasting infrastructure and writing tool, From Scratch Media, with other professors

A podcast infrastructure designed as a writing teaching tool is now available for other professors to use in their instruction.

Founded and managed by Writing Department Professor Stephanie Bell, From Scratch Media is a podcasting infrastructure that will help connect student voices with listeners.

from scratch media logo“Podcasts are incredibly useful teaching tools,” Bell explained. “They allow students to untangle complicated academic research and concepts for a knowledgeable but popular audience. The process of crafting clear, compelling, listener-friendly discussions can really test students’ grasp of a subject, and its significance.”

Recently, Bell made her podcasting website available for other professors to use. As a writing instructor, she is impressed by the extent to which podcasts teach effective writing. They’re powerful teaching tools, she said, because they force students to think about the listener.

After four years teaching writing using podcasts, Bell has found they prompt students to act like expert writers.

“Once they understand the project at hand,” she said, “students start asking all the right questions: What will listeners find interesting about this issue? How should I organize the story to help them follow along? How can I show them that I’m reliable? That my information is credible? What counter arguments might they think of?”

Bell is encouraged by this shift, and says when students begin to figure out guidelines from the writing context, they gain independence from teachers and textbooks and make a huge leap towards becoming expert writers.

One of the major issues student writers must learn to navigate is integrity, and Bell has been surprised by her students’ engagement with issues of copyright and citation.

“In four years and over 200 student podcasts, we’ve had no plagiarism and many lively debates about oral attribution and copyright,” she said.

The success of the course hinges on meaningful, collaborative assignment design. The podcast project encourages instructor involvement throughout the research process, and students feel a sense of purpose as they create a project for their classmates and the broader podcast-listening public.

But, the podcast assignment has also underscored just how difficult it is to teach writing.

“Most students have no idea what a podcast is when they begin the course, and here I am expecting them to produce one,” Bell said. “I think this is an interesting lesson for instructors who assign traditional academic essays. It’s easy to forget that students could be just as unfamiliar with our expectations for academic papers as they would be with something like a podcast.”

After four years, Bell’s class podcast show has become a home for do-it-yourself student podcasting.

To inquire about From Scratch Media or teaching with podcasts, contact Bell at stepbell@yorku.ca.