As an educator, I continue to be inspired, both in my making and listening, by podcasting’s independent spirit and potential for learning.
Though coming to podcasting almost accidentally, I find it incredible how the medium actively influences my practice of teaching, and how much I feel I’m learning myself.
But how did I go from academia to becoming a podcaster?
Before I thought of becoming an audio creator, podcasts of many genres and forms had become central to my daily media consumption. They seemed to hit a sweet spot of informality and accessibility, while at the same time being in-depth and expansive – but I didn’t expect them to be such an inspiring tool for (formal) education.
Along with a colleague in the film department, we had become somewhat obsessed with cinema-related shows, such as Filmspotting, The Greg Proops Film Club and The Project Booth, and wanted to produce our own. After much planning and discussion, the very first episode of The Cinematologists, was recorded live in Falmouth University’s cinema, back in 2015.
We believed there was space for a film podcast that crossed the boundaries between journalism, academia and fandom; one that utilised the inherent informality and immediacy of podcasting, yet carried a clear sense of scholarly curiosity and critical exchange focused on cinema in the digital age.
The podcast immediately became an educational enhancement to the students on the film course.
But then, through distribution of the show – which also contained interviews with directors and critics – we were amazed to realise that it was becoming a resource for students and educators all over the world.
Going from podcasting’s beginnings as a niche practice to the mainstream phenomenon we know today has been an uneven journey.
Podcasting was originally based on a development of RSS (Really Simple Syndication): an internet feed that, once subscribed to, is automatically updated when content is uploaded. With RSS code adapted to share audio in 2000, the seeds were sown for a new kind of independent internet radio. Apple’s iTunes directory was key to the further mainstreaming of podcasts – an editor-free directory that sorted internet feeds into categories and created charts, the directory made it easier to search and find something you liked.
The iPod 9 (remember those?) was the first mobile transporter of podcasts. When the smartphone arrived and seemingly became ubiquitous overnight, podcasts could be downloaded directly, giving audiences further control over their listening environments. Along with technological changes, crossover hits such as This American Life, Welcome to Nightvale, and most obviously Serial, brought podcasting into mainstream culture.
- Technological accessibility 📲
From its beginnings, podcasting has been used as a tool for learning across all levels of education. The “relatively” inexpensive hardware and software needed to make podcasts has meant that audio production, like many digital technical skills, can be learned independently by those wishing to use podcasting as both a teaching and learning method. Indeed, we are at the point now where a podcast can be recorded, edited and distributed entirely on a phone.
I have been assigning podcasts as core learning in my courses at university, for example, creating a playlist of podcasts on a specific film or director to accompany teaching sessions.
- Mobility (… and intimacy) 🚌
The mobility of podcast listening means students can listen as and when they choose, even, as a first-year student told me, on the bus on the way into class. But with mobility, there is also another element that makes podcasts a great educational source: the possibility of creating a unique relationship with the podcasters’ voice. What do I mean by that?
In a nutshell, podcasts have an intimate tone of address – speaking about even complex ideas requires a sympathetic nuancing of the dry language of academic articles.
- Sharing and Collaboration 🤝🏻
But it’s the combination of form and content that makes podcasting unique for learning. In my research, I’ve written about the idea of a unique “podcast space” – where the infrastructure technology (for audio recording and distribution) along with the planning and production, facilitates a specific forum for thinking and speaking about ideas in the moment. In other words, podcasting affords a more collaborative way of learning. Not just in terms of working together to create a show in a practical sense, although that is no doubt important, but the affordance of an audio media sphere for learning which attunes speaking and listening.
For me this echoes something of the utopian possibility of democratic learning that the internet promised. Unlike the anonymity of social media, a speaker’s voice is connected to their “self” in a way that provokes a kind of collaborative knowledge exchange, something that has echoes in the idea of oral history.
My experience as an educator and a podcaster brought me to the idea that the podcast space enables a knowledge exchange: one that reinvigorates the importance of listening itself. Podcasts, though fundamentally a digital form, offer a return to the elemental practice of learning through aural communication. Podcasting is simultaneously a technology, a practice and a medium, that reminds us of the too many times forgotten superpower every educator can draw on: the educational basis of speaking and listening.
If you’re curious check out the latest episode of The Cinematologists podcast: On Cinematic Pleasure.