August 12, 2019

How one lecturer is using podcasts to make course concepts more real in her online course

By Jackie Amsden, Centre for Educational Excellence

Criminology lecturer Danielle Murdoch was introduced to podcasts by her teaching assistant. Now they are an integral part of her online course.

This time last year, criminology lecturer Danielle Murdoch had never even listened to a podcast. These days she wouldn’t run an online course without one.

In Spring 2019, Murdoch integrated episodes from a podcast series, Ear Hustle, into CRIM 241: Introduction to Corrections, an online course she offers through SFU’s Centre for Educational Excellence.

“My TA was really into podcasts and she told me about Ear Hustle. I had heard about podcasts, but never actually listened to any of them. I was interested in this one because she said [at the time] it was produced in a prison, by two prisoners and a prison volunteer, and that it described various realities of incarceration. I binge-listened to multiple seasons during my commute to work. I was hooked.”

Bringing course concepts to life in a way that printed words can’t

Murdoch explains that what drew her to integrate the medium into her course was its potential to make course concepts more real for students.

“The series brings to life what students are reading in the textbook about the experiences of prisoners and the dynamics and challenges inherent in corrections in a way that printed words can’t. What we are learning about is so far from the students’ reality, I think actually hearing the voices of the people affected by correctional services humanizes the realities of incarceration and enhances my students’ learning.”  

Murdoch’s conviction that the podcasts offer a richer view than a textbook can provide is supported by a comment in the student evaluations she received at the end of the course: “The podcasts within the discussions offered a different perspective than regular criminology courses. It was more in-depth and added more to the course than just how correctional institutions work and [what] works inside them.”

Integrating podcasts—the secrets of success  

The podcasts formed the basis of three discussion assignments. Links to the episodes were listed in the course’s Canvas discussion space alongside prisoner-created artwork by one of the podcast co-founders. Students were asked to listen to the podcast and respond to a series of related questions. 

For other instructors interested in integrating this form of media into their courses, Murdoch emphasizes the importance of paying attention to podcast length, quality and accessibility. 

“Length is important—if they are too long, even I get bored. For example, the Ear Hustle episodes I included are approximately 30 minutes long. Some podcasts can sound tinny, which can be very off-putting as a listener, so I was careful in selecting Ear Hustle because they are of professional quality. Most important of all to me is that the podcasts are accompanied by written transcripts for students, so that they are accessible to all learners—and free of charge.”

Podcasts can be accessed on mobile devices through apps such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, and Spotify.

Do it yourself

So, what’s next for the (now) confessed podcast addict? Making her own.

“Listening to podcasts has inspired me to learn how to create my own audio recordings for future online offerings of CRIM 241. My plan is to interview criminal justice practitioners, like wardens, probation officers, and corrections officers with hopes that these podcasts bring to the online learning environment what guest speakers bring to my in-person courses.”

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