MADE for U of T | Ep. 07 | Lori Beckstead

Related people and/or projects: Introducing M.A.D.E. for U of T

In the 7th episode of MADE for U of T (see all episodes), we hear from Lori Beckstead, an associate professor in the RTA School of Media and the director of the Allan Slaight Radio Institute at Toronto Metropolitan University. Lori teaches courses in sound production, including podcasting, and is co-host and co-producer of The Podcast Studies Podcast. She has two books in the works for publication in 2023, including Podcast or Perish: Peer Review and Knowledge Creation for the 21st Century and an edited vole entitled Podcast Studies: Practice into Theory.

Listen to the podcast: Podcasting for teaching and scholarship with Lori Beckstead


Or read the transcript:

Prefer to read rather than listen to the podcast? Below is a transcript of the interview.  It has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Inga Breede (IB): Hi Lori, great to have you here today!  So my first question for you is what inspired or motivated you to pursue a career both in academics and in industry, in media production?

Lori Beckstead (LB): So I have to be honest that a career in academics was never part of the plan. So it happened very strangely for me, but I definitely wanted to be involved in industry.  I love media production. I find it's a wonderful way to pursue lifelong learning because you can create media and tell stories around anything from any discipline. And I decided to get a teaching degree just as a sort of back-pocket strategy for later in my career.  But I ended up sort of teaching part time at Ryerson [editors note: Toronto Metropolitan University], and I found a passion for it. So, I pursued that, and became a professor as well. But it's a great situation to be in to be teaching about, and how to create media, because I can really bring those two hats together.  Being a professor and the academic side of things, and the theoretical side of things as well as staying current with production, and what's going on in the industry for these media.

(A cat meows in the background)

LB: And that's my cat, Ernie!  He likes to join my ZOOM meetings.

IB: Oh, it’s always ok to have a cat cameo.  Ok, so before this turns into a cat-focused podcast, my next question to you Lori was, what are some of the ways that an instructor can integrate podcasting into their own course?

LB: I like to think of the ways in which teachers can integrate podcasting into the classroom in three broad categories.  So first there's the professor-made category. I guess the categories are based on who makes the podcast. So there's Professor-made, there's student-made, and there's, you know, professionally-made, or at least you know, made out there by podcasters, so they're not necessarily professionals. They could be amateurs, but made by people who make podcasts. And so there's different ways you can use each of those.  The professor made ones can be replacements for lectures or supplementary materials for lectures, review material.  One of the ways I think it's useful to use in the classroom for professors to make them is, if you ever get guest lectures, and you know you don't want to prey on their time too much, you can have them in once and record that as a podcast and interview style podcast, and then that's like a bit of teaching and learning material that you can. You can go back to it again and again for future classes. And then, I guess a side note to the Professor-made podcast is also that it doesn't have to be used in the classroom, so it can be used for research and for scholarship. So I find it really enriching to have conversations with other scholars and researchers via a podcast where we can unpack ideas and kind of create knowledge in the moment. And I've had multiple situations where, starting with a podcast, talking to other scholars, becomes the idea, for a publication, or a book.

I think the more exciting thing is the student-made podcasts. So this is where we assign a podcast as a learning assessment in a course, and they are wonderful tools to engage students on multiple levels when they're producing a podcast. So I guess we can think of it, you know you could assign an essay in any given course, write an essay, research something, write an essay to show to show what you've learned. But if you take that and replace it with a podcast, then you suddenly go from: okay, there's some research, and there's some synthesis happening in an essay. But it's also only one mode of expression that many students frankly struggle with.  So now we're going from that to - we're still doing the research. We're doing synthesis of the learning and the information on multiple levels. So it's writing the script; how will you tell this story? It's also via editing the sound together. So you're engaging different sort of different preferences of learning, whether they're kind of auditory learners, verbal learners, etc. Then there's also the networking aspect. If you assign a podcast where they need to go and speak to professionals or academics or experts in their field, they're needing to reach out to people in their field and start to create networks and learn that skill of contacting people and asking them for their time. They, you know, learn interviewing skills if that's part of it. They learn storytelling skills, how to keep a listener engaged with what they're saying, as well as the technical skills of actually just creating the audio and putting it together. And then there's the collaboration aspect. So students can do this together. You know writing an essay together is often not very productive, but certainly podcasting is a medium really invites that collaborative aspect where people can bring their inherent skills and strengths to different parts of the production of a podcast.  And finally, the podcast that students produce can be public-facing. They don't have to be public-public, but certainly within the classroom you would like to play back the podcast that students produce, and the students love doing this! They love to hear each other's work in this way.  Whereas we wouldn't have them read an essay aloud in class. Really an essay is only read by us.

IB: Right, and you’re getting feedback from just one person.

LB: Exactly. Instead of just something getting submitted into cyberspace, and there's an audience of one when it's a written thing, but with a podcast it's an audience of many. So students get really engaged and excited by that aspect.  Then, beyond the student-made, there's the professional ones or the amateur ones.  You can use these in a number of ways. Obviously you can use them as supplementary material in your classroom. For example, history podcasts, and we, you know, sometimes we struggle, getting the disciplines that we are excited about, we struggle sort of getting them up off the page, so to speak, for students.  They can be incredibly niche. So you know, even if you're teaching in a very sort of narrow discipline, you can probably find a podcast that would help illustrate some of the things you're talking about. You can use podcasts themselves as texts to be studied. Sort of almost a literary approach where you're unpacking the text itself.  You can use them as case studies. You know, in business school, for example, there are entire podcast series that look at the startup of a business.  And there can also be a podcast can also be very current. So it's a way to tie whatever you're teaching in your classroom to something that's happening currently because you will find a podcast that does that. So those are my three broad categories, with many different ways to use them

IB: Lots of great ways, thank you so much Lori! The podcast series that you co-host, The Podcast Studies, examines podcasting through an academic lens. Can you tell us a bit more about one of your favorite episodes?

LB:  Sure, Yeah, The Podcast Studies podcast!  You know I have mixed feelings about the name because it's definitely on the nose. It's a podcast about podcast studies, but we decided to just go for it. So yeah, I love doing this podcast to be able to connect to other people in my field and also cross disciplines, because doing podcasts isn't just limited to people who are in media studies. Of course, it's across all disciplines, so we can find common ground in that. But I’d say that a couple of my favorite ones; I did an interview with a couple of fellows on generative podcasts. So they had written some AI programming to generate podcasts automatically with AI voices based on some input that either the user input or just input such as choosing a favorite color and then an entire podcast story would kind of evolve out of that. So that was just really interesting and a different way of using podcasts. But another thing that I did in this podcast, this is my own research and scholarship area of interest is using podcasts for peer review. I think podcasts can be a great way to generate knowledge and to review knowledge, and to have that review done in a public way, so that the obligation for public facing scholarship and sharing knowledge can be done through podcasts. I did a little test run on the podcast studies podcast, wherein I had written a draft chapter and I gave it to a couple of peer reviewers, and then we did the peer review in person via Podcast. So we spoke about the draft, and how it could be improved, and where there were holes and things like that. And it was just a really interesting pilot test, if you will, of one methodology for how podcasts could be used in the Peer Review process.

(Ernie, the cat, meows again)

IB: Hi again, Ernie!  So Lori, for someone brand new to producing a recorded audio narrative or doing podcasting. Where would you suggest they begin their journey of discovery?

LB: It can be overwhelming, because there is so much material out there for using podcasts in teaching, which is good and bad, because you know, there's lots of it which is great but it can be bad if you are overwhelmed, and don't know where to start. But I have a couple of suggestions here.  If you are interested in podcasting yourself, whether that be to create supplementary materials for your classes, then I would recommend thepodcasthost.com.  And this is definitely meant for anyone who wants to create a podcast, so it's not necessarily specifically for teachers, but it certainly goes through in as much detail as you want, because you can kind of drill down, but it goes through everything from set up to what microphone you need to what audio recording and editing software you can use, to developing show notes, etc.  So you can go as deep or as thin as you like there.

I would also recommend a resource by Nisha Yousef called “How to make a podcast,” and it's sort of an illustrated website version of I guess a e-resource you could say that takes, and this is more would be more geared towards the students who might be producing a podcast. You know why they might want to produce one, and so on. So I can actually give you a list of a lot of different resources that I find quite useful.  NPR has as a guide for educators, and this is kind of more geared towards teaching podcasting.  That's one of the  pitfalls, if you want to just use a podcast as an assessment in your class, is the balance between how much time and energy do you focus on the actual teaching of how to podcast, you know, you might say “I'm not teaching a podcasting course, I’m teaching a course in history” so it's finding that balance. Yeah, I think the NPR resource is for teaching podcasting. But again, you can kind of look at that and decide how wide or specific you want to go with it. And I think the important thing is, if you're using podcasting in a non-media production type of course is to, you know, just don't worry too much about the technology. Students can use what's in their pocket already. They can use their phone to record their own voice or other people's voices. They can use free software such as Garageband to pull that together. 

IB: Exactly, I mean I use Audacity which is free.

LB: Exactly. It really doesn't have to be complicated. And so don't fall down the rabbit hole of “Oh, we have to have all these mic’s, and we need a studio, and we need all these things.” You really don't, just do it DIY style.

IB: And selfishly, I know I could ask you way more questions Lori, being a fellow podcaster, but unfortunately we are all out of time for today.  Thanks for spending your morning with me and the MADE community.

LB:  Thanks everyone!  And thanks for inviting me, Inga.  Bye!


How do I join MADE?

If you're interested in joining the conversation, please fill out the Request to Join M.A.D.E. form and you'll be added as soon as possible.  Can't wait to see you there!

Article Category: M.A.D.E. Podcast