Digital Teaching and Science Communication

Creating Scientific Podcasts in Master courses

Posted by Moritz on November 29, 2020

What is SciComm

Science communication (SciComm) is almost as much as important as the science itself. An effective evidence-based SciComm empowers the public to embrace the unbiased view that scientists should have. This is underscored by recent developments and divergences between politics, science, and societies in the face of climate change, pandemics, and the global resurgence of right-wing populism. In higher education, master students should be equipped with professional skills in their study field, but also with multi-, inter, and transdisciplinary competencies. Besides, students should be ambassadors of their study fields, leading conversations about the research developments in their field and presenting results from own research.

The rising popularity of podcasts

Broadcasting scientific insights on television or radio was an excellent way to communication science to a broad audience. However, the media landscape is in a continuous process of disruption, and technological innovations are changing the way we consume information and entertainment. The format of podcasts skyrocketed most recently, integrating seamlessly into the needs of people’s lives: Knowledge, Information, and entertainment at your fingertips, flexible wherever you are, whenever you want it. According to data from Statista, every second adult under 34 in the US is regularly listening to Podcasts in 2020. Hence, even if we assume an even distribution independent of education level, 50% of our students now the medium like they vest pocket.

The role of science communication in academic learning

As university lecturers, we should unfold this potential and encourage our students to share, discuss, debate, and summarize research in an easily consumable format, accessible for everyone outside their subject domain. Many of us heard hundreds and hundreds of awkwardly similar student presentations on different topics that often remain similar through the semesters. Of course, students must learn to present their research results or other research professionally. Nevertheless, the format has several limitations, and students lack motivation: What is the presentation for? Who is the target audience? Does my presentation have any impact? There is not much sustainability in a student presentation. Students are happy to cross them off their list of things they have to do throughout the semester, whilst lecturers often do not learn something new and are just using them to grade.

Student Podcasts as an examination form

A student podcast can be much more engaging. Ideally, in a team, students are given a specific research topic or select from a pool (facilitators could even provide the opportunity to bring in their own topic ideas). The topics could actually be quite similar to standard presentation topics. Thus, facilitators provide introductory literature and, depending on the subject area, some guiding questions that students could use if they have no idea where to start. The students are then encouraged to unfold their creativity, develop a script, and select a podcast format to present the results to a specific target audience defined in the course, for example, their fellow students. Facilitators could even motivate their students by allowing them to publish their podcasts on the faculty’s website.

What you need to know to start doing podcasts with your students tomorrow

The podcast format can be predetermined, or students develop their own way from information broadcasting, interviews with other researchers, to role-plays. Teamwork is essential as the format benefits from interdisciplinarity and multiple skills. The goal is to do an effective and engaging SciComm by disseminating knowledge and information whilst entertaining the audience.

Recording and cutting have to be learned, nevertheless, there exist multiple intuitive free tools exist that do not require specific training (e.g., Audacity). Most of the headsets and microphones students are using have a decent quality sufficient after filtering out white noise or any other background sounds using basic software. However, course facilitators are encouraged to provide professional recording equipment (e.g., a basic Rode USB microphone or acoustic room divider walls), usually provided by the universities’ media departments. Not only is the quality of recording much better. The students also feel more confident and professional, which again increases motivation and, in the end, a better overall quality.

In my course Digital Innovation at the Technical University of Berlin, we had outstanding experiences with student podcasts. The podcasts were of high quality, and students apparently had a lot of fun while creating them.[^1] Although I would highly appreciate it, I have not yet seen a student podcast project turned into a permanent podcast series. I will not rest until this goal is reached. Please reach out to me if you need any advice on how to include this fantastic pedagogic tool in your class.

[^1] Find some examples from my student’s podcasts on our department website.