When the pandemic hit, it raised multiple questions for our institution’s faculty. One of the biggest involved community-building: how do we make sure our students can engage in the same types of conversations they did in the face-to-face classroom? How do we make sure that, even lacking the context of a physical campus, they feel like they “belong” in higher ed?
“Creating videos” was the solution many of us grasped as we struggled to humanize ourselves. But over summer, I grew exhausted from making video content for students. I’d record but suddenly get stuffy and formal and “lectury”. Bringing in outside video from YouTube felt inauthentic. Also, I realized that streaming a lot of video was a huge strain on the limited bandwidth of our students, deeply affected by the digital divide.
So, I partnered up with Emily Campbell, Librarian and OER Liaison at College of the Sequoias, and Writability, an openly-licensed podcast, was created. Podcasts seemed to be an ideal solution for a few different reasons: podcast interviews with faculty and staff could create the kinds of informal conversations students were missing in the face-to-face classroom; they used less bandwidth than videos, accommodating our students with data limits and technology access issues; and, finally, they could be flexibly integrated into our students’ lives. Instead of being tied to a computer screen, students could listen and multitask.
The episodes are not lectures, but informal conversations, always with two or more voices, so students are exposed to diverse perspectives. Each episode is a conversation about writing or “colleging” more generally. Topics range from time management, to writing across disciplines, to resume writing, to using Wikipedia effectively. They include tips and explanations, but, because they’re informal, also present a lot of vulnerability on the part of interviewees: colleagues frequently swap stories of their own struggles as students.
The podcast is supported by Library faculty and is nested in a LibGuide created by COS Librarian Raina Yang. Interviews are recorded over Zoom, which I later edit. We use the Internet Archive to host the audio and episodes are conveniently available on podcast apps.
We are about 17 episodes in and it’s going wonderfully. Faculty across campus are using the podcast with a mix of other OERs to reduce the cost of course materials. Some sent out episodes in welcome emails in the beginning of the semester. Others have used them as just-in-time remediation, to support students when they get stuck.
Through feedback, we’ve learned that students enjoy listening and are learning from the episodes. They tell us they aren’t only learning about writing, but also about how to navigate college. They also report realizing that professors are “people too” after listening. Writability not only humanizes us, it inspires our students to persevere and succeed.
Professor, English Department
Librarian & OER Liaison