Introduction

This primer describes one way of bringing philosophical content to life by integrating podcasts with curriculum. Audio is a way to expand the range of voices, styles and genres that students encounter in philosophy; as an option, students create audio as well. This lends itself to classes that seek to bridge philosophy with real-life experiences, phenomena or case-studies: classes like applied ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of science and feminist philosophy.

Podcasts animate philosophical problems, represent perspectives that are often absent in philosophy curriculum or proffer dissonant views from standard textbooks are excellent deviant pedagogical resources. The creation of audio essays, in turn, invites students to explore for themselves the wide-ranging, deviant ramifications of philosophy for self-expression, social and ethical analysis and other critical forms of communication.   

Background Information

Courses and topics

Philosophical podcasting is useful for two reasons:  it allows for an inclusion of voices that are often absent from philosophical curriculum, and it dramatizes philosophical content with real-life scenarios.  It is relevant to courses that seek to include a greater variety of perspectives, as well as courses that connect philosophy with applied or actual examples, stories or case-studies.  Such courses might include:

  • Philosophy of Science
  • Social & Political Philosophy
  • Ethics/ Bioethics
  • Feminist Philosophy
  • Critical Race Philosophy

Assigned Texts

Philosophical podcasting involves bringing “audio” into conversation with philosophy as a way to augment curriculum, dramatize ideas and most importantly incorporate a wide range of voices within the classroom.  Assigned texts consist of carefully chosen podcast episodes. For example, you’ll find a curated set of episodes here that are recommended especially for philosophy courses.  In addition, there is an ever-growing array of excellent podcasts with episodes that lend themselves to philosophy.  You might peruse award-winners from Third Coast International Audio Festival, as a way to find outstanding audio to choose from.   

Additional Texts for Instructor

  • Jessica Abel’s Out on the Wire:  this is an excellent primer for discovering the conceptual issues at play within audio creation.  The book is gracefully written and illustrated and is based on years of in-depth interviews with leading podcast hosts like Ira Glass.
  • Rob Rosenthal’s podcast HowSound:  this podcast is essential listening for learning how to teach audio creation.  Each episode foregrounds an aspect of craft and is framed as a pedagogical lesson.
  • The Learning Gene’s “how to podcast” site:  this is a compilation of resources for teaching audio-creation in the context of undergraduate philosophy.

Motivation

There are three motivations behind philosophical podcasting.  First, students can find it difficult to connect the abstract arguments of philosophy to real-life scenarios or experiences.  Second, undergraduate students can feel fatigued by the need to produce conventional assignments written solely for their instructor to read and grade.  Third, instructors in philosophy can find it challenging to animate their curriculum and lesson plans with diverse voices, perspectives and insights.  This activity addresses these three difficulties by bringing audio essays into curriculum and by inviting students to produce their own audio essays.

Logistics

Philosophical podcasting ranges from minimal to more logistically complex.  In the more minimal case, the instructor will simply add one or more “audio essays” to the required readings of a course: students will listen, in addition to read, as a way to prepare for class.  This works better as a consistent design choice across the semester, meaning that students will always listen to something, as well as read something, before class.  This is better for two reasons: students will quickly become comfortable “listening” to material as a way of engaging with curriculum, and there is such bounty of audio that resonates with philosophy that it is not hard to find a semester’s worth of audio content.  

In the more complex case, the activity asks students to learn how to create audio essays themselves.  This works better in small groups as a semester-long project.  Instructors who want to dig into philosophical questions related to sound or creativity or other aspects of this activity might want to use in-class time to discuss the project as, itself, philosophically meaningful.  Otherwise, this works well as a research project, created collaboratively and due at the end of term. It’s an excellent idea to consider sharing these student audio essays under a creative commons license as an open educational resource.

Here’s an overall description of the activity:  several weeks into the semester, students will form groups, ideally based on shared interest in a theme or philosophical problem.  Two/thirds of the way into the semester, groups will share their works-in-progress as a way to inspire other groups, solicit feedback from classmates and the instructor, and open up the process to philosophical discussion.  At the end of term, students will submit their audio essays.  If there is time in the semester, it’s a wonderful idea to have a listening party, either on the last day of classes or as an out-of-class event. 

Here are the logistical requirements for this more complex form of the activity:

  • a good (“non-destructive”) audio editing program that every student has access to. An excellent choice is REAPER, which is free to download and use for 60 days (after which they will not boot students out); this makes it highly friendly to undergraduate work. Many students will already be familiar with entry-level audio editing. For students who are new to audio, consider using this prezi, created by a philosophy instructor for introducing students to REAPER.  
  • a trustworthy site that students will use to share files.  Many universities use google for university email; if the google drive at your university has unlimited space for students to use, it’s a good idea to require that students use google drive for their audio projects.  If it does not seem likely that students are familiar with google drive, consider inviting someone from the technical-support side of the university to attend class to give a brief tutorial about how to save and share files.  (The main challenge of audio-creation involves the management of files. The number one prerequisite is establishing and maintaining a highly consistent “file management” procedure. These are excellent skills for students to acquire and practice, in addition to being essential to audio-creation). 
  • equipment for recording.   It is a great idea to encourage students to use their own phones for recording content for their audio projects.  In addition, university libraries tend to have recording equipment that students can borrow.  If a small grant is available to instructors from their universities for teaching/learning purposes, here are some recommended purchases: 
  • small recorders (like the Zoom H1) that students can borrow
  • hand-held mics to use with the small recorders (like the Shure SM63 with cord): this is an excellent, relatively inexpensive way to record conversations that have high audio quality

Activity Plan

Describe how the activity will actually work. If students are given are prompts, include them. Include tips for making the activity successful and interesting.

The simple version of an activity involves adding listenable pieces to a course’s reading schedule.  These pieces might amplify the concepts or problems on tap for that lesson; they might also dramatize the stakes of the lesson by way of storytelling or in-depth journalism.  Ideally, the assigned audio will include a great array of voices, perspectives and even methods; this activity is a way to connect philosophy to a greater range of students in class, and also to a wider range of ethical, social and political issues.  A tip is to add some additional content to the course curriculum that draws explicit attention to the stakes of listening.  (Jennifer Lynn Stoever’s The Sonic Color Line, for example, examines listening as a practice that reflects and perpetuates racialized presumptions about voice, cadence, accent, rhythm and other elements of sonic communication). 

The complex version of such an activity has several steps:

  1. Lay out the timeline for the project on the syllabus.  Identify the date on which groups will be made.  If a technical support person is coming to class to teach students about file management, identify the date on the syllabus as well.  Identify, as well, the date on which groups will make progress reports on their projects (perhaps sharing audio clips or outlining their vision for the audio essay), as well as the final deadline.
  2. Specify the particular constraints of the audio project in an assignment sheet.  It’s a great idea to delimit the length of time for the audio essays (ie. 10 minutes or 20 minutes), and to request “show notes” from students that reflect the resources and references that they consulted.
  3. Decide whether the students’ work will be shared publicly under a creative commons license.  On the one hand, this is a way to stimulate excitement and a sense of shared accountability for the creative work.  On the other hand, this requires that every participant sign a permission form allowing their “voice” and work to be published under the creative commons license.  Participants should be free to decide the extent to which their identities are disclosed, if the work is published (they might use their full name, a pseudonym or remain anonymous, for example).
  4. It’s an excellent idea to make space at the very end of the semester for a listening party in which the class will hear everyone’s audio creations.  This is an opportunity to spark, solicit or suggest connections between the course curriculum (what the class has studied and learned) and the audio projects (what the class has created).  You might create a “listening guide” for the class that explicitly lays out the course content and its connections to the audio project.  (See the “listening guide” at the end of this Sonic Existentialisms course for an example).