During COVID, when we can’t all be together, how can we personalize and humanize our courses to engage students?
Dr. David Peña-Guzman, Assistant Professor in the School of Humanities and Liberal Studies at San Francisco State University, and Dr. Ellie Anderson, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Pomona College, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about creating academic podcasts for both curriculum and course promotion.
Mini-podcasts: A solution to student disengagement
About a month into the fall semester, David found himself asking how he could make his courses more personalized and create some semblance of human/human interaction when they weren’t meeting in person. He decided to stop relying on text communication and move over to mini podcasting, a term he coined to describe a 5-7 minute recording that replaced emails to his students.
His students told him that they really liked it, so David started doing lectures in the form of mini-podcasts. The feedback was so positive that he decided to continue this model of teaching into the future, even when in-person courses resume.
Why David and Ellie Launched the Overthink Podcast
Overthink is a podcast where David and Ellie, both philosophy professors, hold conversations about a given topic and draw on texts and ideas from the history of philosophy. Some episodes are conceptually driven and others focus on current events, such as the competing philosophies of freedom that inform the anti-masking movements during COVID.
“In general,” Ellie said, “we’re looking to synthesize discussions of current events and pop culture with a philosophical approach that draws on the history of philosophy.”
What she and David found was that a lot of people are listening to podcasts in different ways. A lot of folks no longer undertake long commutes where they might listen to a podcast. But they are taking walks in their neighborhood very frequently.
Overthink’s episodes are perfect for long walks around the neighborhood. Each episode runs 45-55 minutes, on the longer side for an educational podcast but normal for a mainstream show.
Could Podcasting Recruit New Students?
One goal is for students to see the kind of application that we make of the philosophical content that we read in class.
But another goal is to draw new students into philosophy classes. Word-of-mouth is the primary thing that brings students to classes, even more than a desire to major in the discipline. Individual professor’s reputations drive enrollment at small liberal arts colleges.
Podcasting lets one student tell another, “Hey, you should take a class in the Philosophy Department with Professor Anderson,” and not just have the student take their word for it. They can also say, “Listen to this podcast episode and see what you think.”
David and Ellie are also excited about being able to show that philosophers are doing exciting things that go beyond the bounds of the university, hopefully even within the university, it can draw students to their classes.
The Professor’s Guide to Starting a Podcast
“I would start off with a great co-host like David,” Ellie said. “One of the biggest things that David and I have had to realize is that, in becoming podcasters, it’s not just about becoming voiceover actors, but it’s also been about becoming editors.”
Start with the technology or an app that’s going to enable your editing services, probably also microphones. (David and Ellie haven’t gotten that far yet.)
The nice thing about a podcast is that there’s a really low barrier to entry. And there are a lot of really good apps and distribution platforms that make that easy. But learning everything and building an on-air dynamic takes a lot of time and hard work.
“For somebody who is thinking, ‘Should I jump into this podcast business?’ I think the most important question upfront would be to be clear about what your goals are,” David said.
Creating a brand requires a lot of editing a social media presence. In other words, a lot of work. Mini-podcasts, on the other hand, are significantly less demanding.
Set your goal, make a commitment, and go for it!
This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. David Peña-Guzman of San Francisco State University and Dr. Ellie Anderson of Pomona College. To hear this episode and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.
If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.