Academic Writing Month is a focus for SAGE MethodSpace each November. Each year we offer posts about the practical skills and forms or publication relevant to researchers and writers. The focus for 2020 is on Publishing Trends (and what they mean for academic writers.) Certainly one trend is a shift towards the digital, and away from the dominance of the printed page. Podcasts are one example! See the unfolding series for AcWriMo 2020.
Summer 2020 was a roller-coaster for many in terms of preparing for a generally uncertain 2020/2021 academic year. I found out early that I would be teaching an MBA Research Methods module online in the coming semester, and I quickly realised that a three-hour online seminar just wasn’t going to cut it in terms of holding anyone’s (including my own!) interest. Pre-recorded lectures are all very well, but again, I knew that they couldn’t be too long – engagement would dwindle, and my students are all busy professionals who work full-time, study part-time, and are dealing with everything else that life had to offer. My solution? Podcasts.
Podcasts are a useful learning tool for several reasons:
- They are pre-recorded and can be played back again and again;
- They can be listened to ‘on the go’, while taking the dog for a walk, doing the washing up, or commuting to work;
- In place of face-to-face teaching, they are a way of bringing ‘guest lecturers’ into the class without worrying about tech/internet connectivity issues during live sessions.
The results were a short series of podcasts entitled Do Better Research, on topics such as visual research methods, ethics, and interviews and focus groups. I’ve had a range of guests: colleagues, academics from other universities, practitioners and students. I’m really proud of the results and have had numerous requests to share them among the higher education community, both for student learning and academic development.
In this ‘how-to’ post, I wanted to outline some tips for getting started on your own podcast, and some useful resources (no commercial endorsements, just platforms and programmes that I’ve found useful).
Getting started with a podcast can seem daunting, but it is mostly just a spoken word presentation. Importantly, though, it is not a replacement for a lecture. There needs to be something more dynamic and engaging within the media. I started my learning journey into podcasts with The Power of Podcasting for Storytelling short course – this is a great resource for the uninitiated. It talks you through what makes a podcast, how story (even for an educational podcast) is key and helped me understand the key practicalities of interviewing.
I have no special equipment – no fancy microphone, no specialist headphones. I have a laptop with an in-built mic and an internet connection. There is lots of fun tech you can get to help enhance the quality of your podcast, but if you’re just dabbling you don’t need it.
There are loads of software options for producing podcasts. Everything I use is free, so here’s what I use, and why:
To record interviews: Zencastr
Zencastr is a recording platform that is extremely easy to use. Create an account, ‘Create New Episode’, send the link to your guest, and start recording. You can have the sound files automatically uploaded to cloud storage (like Dropbox), and they are stored in Zencastr until you archive them. I particularly like this platform because it records each speak as a separate sound file – making it easier to edit out unwanted background sounds, and adjust the volume if one speaker is much quieter or louder than the others.
To edit interviews: Audacity
Audacity is a cross-platform multi-track audio editor. There are loads of tutorials for how to use it online (like this one: How To Use Audacity 2020). I particularly like it for three reasons:
- You can layer multiple sounds files in one project (for example, music, two different interviews, and a summary);
- You can ‘mute’ unwanted noise (so, for example, if someone coughs over someone else talking);
- You can use the ‘envelope’ tool to fade music in and out as needed.
Editing the podcasts in Audacity gives a podcast a professional finish, even if you just use it to add music at the start and fade into the interview.
To distribute the podcast: Anchor
Anchor allows you to host and distribute your podcast. You can even use it to record your podcast, but I prefer the editing options in Audacity. Anchor allows you to upload your podcast, add a title, description and image, and distribute it across media platforms like Spotify and Google Podcasts. It also gives you your listener statistics.
When you listen to a podcast on any platform, there are normally two extra features: music and graphics. Music for podcasts can be a minefield if you don’t produce your own. Royalty-free music isn’t always as it seems, and often you won’t be able to use royalty-free music for podcasts. After much searching, I found Purple Planet to be the best source for royalty-free music that was suitable for what I needed.
Canva is a graphic design platform that offers a huge range of options, templates, ideas and visuals that you can drag and drop to create decent logos and banners for your podcast.
Tips for creating a podcast
Start with a theme and plot a couple of episodes. I knew my podcast would be on research methods. And I knew my scheme of work included ‘what is research’, ‘research ethics’ and ‘the literature review’. So, I started there, thinking about what I wanted to impart to my students, and who else they might enjoy hearing from. For each of my guests, I outlined three of four questions that I wanted to ask them in advance, so they had time to prepare if they needed to. In my very first podcast, I asked two colleagues who I knew would be kind to act as my first guests – the safety net really helped calm my nerves.
Listening is the most important skill in a podcast. Listening to your guest as they start answering your questions helps make it more of a conversation, rather than an interview. Listening to the answers given, responding with follow-up questions, and trying to summarise the answers to help facilitate deeper learning are all great ways to keep the podcast engaging and flowing naturally.
Adding a summary at the end of a podcast also helps leave your listeners with the key messages – just like any presentation. Drawing attention to salient points also helps if you want to include a short ‘intro’ or ‘trailer’ to your podcast later.
Finally: You get used to the sound of your own voice. I used to hate listening to myself speak and dreaded any kind of recorded interview. Since starting to podcast, I’ve become immune to that awkward embarrassment, and I’ve become a much more confident speaker in other areas of my life. Because I’ve developed skills in active listening, I no longer fear saying something ‘stupid’!
Relevant MethodSpace Posts
- Kaleidoscope of Voices
- Research & Writing, Creativity & Collaboration
- Collaborative Writing in the Creswell Family
- View the Webinar: What Do Publishing Trends Mean for Academic Writers?
- Academic Publishing Trends: A Strategic View
- Free Course: How to Get Published
- How to Run an Academic Writing Retreat
- And So to Conclude: In Search of a Happy Ending
- Academic Writing with Pen in Hand