Student podcasters share their experience, advice with MIT Instructional Designers

Todd McKeehan group
Posted On: Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Podcasting is now becoming a staple across industries – even in education. This week, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Instructional Design Team looks to incorporate it into their studies, they sought the advice of Elizabethton High School students. These juniors in blended English III and US History at EHS created podcasts this semester about local people and events to submit in the National Public Radio Student Podcast Challenge – one of which was named the winner.

Kelley Hirsch, an instructional designer with MIT, said their work focuses on improving schools, and they’ll be using podcasts to help with this. “We’re learning about it as we’re going, so we’re excited to hear from you guys and to learn about your experience,” she said.

Incidentally, the EHS students also learned by doing, and they learned valuable lessons in the process. In a video conference on Monday, each of the 11 student groups reflected on their experiences and presented key pieces of advice to the MIT team. These included:

  1. Defining Your Audience
  2. Creating an Outline
  3. Choosing a Story
  4. Editing
  5. Finding Middle Ground
  6. Diversity
  7. Time Management
  8. Don’t Make the Podcast About Yourself
  9. Asking the Right Questions
  10. Passion for Your Topic
  11. Finding the Expert

One key area MIT designers hope to address is equity in education. One group of 17-year old girls interviewed a 100-year old female World War II veteran and found that although they have had drastically different life experiences, they found middle ground where they could relate. This also helped them shape her story in a way that other young people would appreciate.

Florence group of girls

“When we heard her talk about being a teacher and raising her kids, we could relate because we’re all women and felt that she’s someone we look up to,” said Kayla Story. “You guys will interview people with a different background than you as you explore equity in education, so it will be important for you to find middle ground. In our interviews, we learned about her childhood and asked her about changes in the world.”

Student Colby Dugger and his group spoke about the importance of focusing the podcast on the subject, not on themselves. They interviewed Dr. Josh Wandell, a local retired principal who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis but continues to inspire others with his message of faith over fear.

“As humans, we all have difficulty making a podcast about something because we all have a lot of self-interest,” said Dugger. “The story isn’t for you, it’s for your audience. The meat and potatoes come from those who are involved, not from you. You’ve really got to dig deep into the story and be more of a vehicle for the story than make it about yourself. It’s an honor to be a cog in the machine that are these community-based stories. I was disappointed that we didn’t win – not because I wanted to be heard, but because if Dr. Wandell’s story could affect just one person… that’s what we wanted. It’s a mental hurdle to be a part of something much greater than just yourself.”

Every group ended up with hours of interviews that they had to edit into a 12-minute podcast. This was no small feat for people who had never created a storyboard, edited sound, or even used the software. They had to select very brief clips from in-depth interviews, identify the story and audience, and organize and edit the media in a compelling way. Despite several hurdles, students say it was well worth the experience.

“It’s an honor to be able to talk to MIT about podcast creation when pretty much all of us were just thrown to the wolves,” said student Levi Shingleton. “One thing you should keep in mind is that everyone has the same tools, but everyone gets a different outcome. So be prepared to always come out with a little bit more than you expect, but in the long run, it’s better to have more than less.”


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