Lessons Learned from Six Years of Podcasting

Waveform in an audio editing programThe educational technology podcast Leading Lines that I host and co-produce is winding down after six great years. Through interviews with faculty, graduate students, researchers, technologists, and others, we explored creative, intentional, and effective uses of technology to enhance student learning, uses that point the way to the future of educational technology in college and university settings. We already had a few interviews recorded when the cancellation came down from the provost’s office, and we’ll edit and post those as we have time, but after that, there will be no more new episodes of Leading Lines. Thankfully, our catalog of episodes will remain available on the podcast feed for some time and will be accessible through Vanderbilt’s institutional repository for the foreseeable future.

Leading Lines logoLast month on Twitter, I shared some of the many, many things I’ve learned from podcast guests over the last six years. I encourage you to check out that thread and listen to a few of my favorite episodes. Here on the blog, I’d like to share a few more general reflections about what I learned through producing Leading Lines.

First and foremost, running an interview-based podcast was great professional development for me and my fellow producers. The podcast gave us an excuse to email people we wanted to learn from and about and then talk with them for an hour. Sure, some of those interesting people would have been up for a conversation without the podcast, but I think many of them agreed to be interviewed because the podcast gave them a platform to share their good work with a wider audience. Meanwhile, my fellow producers and I had the chance to learn from our guests and thereby develop the kind of expertise for which our faculty colleagues rely on us.

Leading Lines was produced by staff from the Center for Teaching, the Libraries, and (back in the day) the Institute for Digital Learning. Although we came from different units, there was a lot of overlap in our work with faculty on campus, and having a shared project like Leading Lines gave us an excuse to get together and catch up. This often led to things like cross-promoting each other’s workshops, starting new collaborations together, and just learning about our colleagues and their projects across campus. Any one of us could have developed a podcast by ourselves (and some did!), but having a team brought some added benefit to our professional work.

Having diverse voices on a podcast about educational technology takes more than wishing and hoping. It would have been easy to run a podcast about educational technology and feature white men in every episode, but we didn’t want to do that. We wanted diverse voices, and that required taking some intentional steps. One key step was to simply track the number of guests who were women or nonbinary and who were people of color. When our percentage of guests in those categories started falling, I knew it was time to change our strategy for finding and inviting guests, and so that’s what we did. One particular strategy that helped was reaching out to teaching center directors at other institutions and asking them to recommend women faculty or faculty of color who were doing interesting things with technology. I met a lot of great people that way.

Having now done educational development work in both video and audio, I can say with confidence that audio is far less work! For Leading Lines, I would either interview a guest in person using our portable audio recorder, which was dead simple to set up, or interview remotely via Zoom. In the latter case, I would record my audio locally using the audio recorder while the guest recorded their audio locally using their laptop or phone. It was easy to merge those two audio sources in editing to make it sound like we were in the same room. Editing audio takes time, of course, but it’s a simpler process than with video, where you really need a two-camera shoot to have the material you need for editing. And I’ve found that interview subjects are far more comfortable on audio than they are on video and, in fact, more willing to be interviewed for a podcast than a video production. Video work has its place in higher ed, certainly, but the return on investment of time for podcasting seems much higher to me.

Finally, one lesson that the podcast reinforced for me is that faculty and other instructors want to hear stories. Sure, a peer-reviewed journal article on the impact of some teaching practice is useful, but some of those can focus too much on assessment and not enough on the practice itself. Hearing a colleague talk about their teaching, the choices they’ve made, why they made those choices, what effects those choices have had on student learning… that can be both inspirational and intensely practical for those seeking to improve their teaching. A big part of Leading Lines was finding instructors with compelling stories and then letting them shine during our interviews.

Thanks to all of our producers and guests and listeners. As for me, I’m sure I’ll be podcasting again soon.

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