What my students and I learned from a live podcast experiment.

To cut to the chase – I loved it!

Now for the rest of the story. Podcasting is nothing more than a person with a mic and a story well told. But, on a production level, it could get complicated when you add stuff like a ‘DAW’ or a digital audio workstation – a fancy term for a recording and editing software. Or multiple guests.

I love the spontaneity of podcasting, letting guests be themselves, warts and all. Yet I like to edit much; tighten things up, with intros, outros, multiple tracks for voices, and occasional sound effects etc. I use Hindenburg Pro for a bulk of the work, and Anchor.fm to upload the finished product to Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the likes.

The more ‘guests’ you have, the complexity ramps up. There’s overlapping audio when someone occasionally talks over another (a good thing?), bloopers that could be left in –and sometimes should – but at the expense of duration of the podcast. And sound levels to adjust, especially if you have a mic that allows for switching between cardioid (for voices directly in front), and omnidirectional. When I have forgotten to switch modes, the results have been…meh!

Some history here: There was a time, c. 2011, I when Derrick Mains and I hosted a radio show out of Phoenix we called Your3BL (listen here!) which stood for ‘Your Triple Bottom Line.’ It was out of KFNX studios hidden away in a nondescript strip mall. The man behind the glass did all the mixing and sound balancing, so it was pretty easy for us hosts. But Derrick and I liked to shake things up a bit now and then. Sometimes, we recorded the show elsewhere. Like one at Gangplank, a co-working space. There was a time I hosted it on a laptop in a classroom at Clark University in Boston with Derrick in Phoenix. We called in, through a dedicated phone line to the studio. That was one of the ‘live’ events that stretched my capabilities, but the recording taught me a lot about podcast production.

Recently I decided to interview two guests in school, and thought of upping the ante a bit. We recorded it in the gymnasium. That’s asking for trouble, if you know something about the cathedral-acoustics in a gym. Especially, when it’s the first time.

I wanted the acoustics to feel like it was a large space. Then there was the fact that we had two audiences: the ones in front of us, and the ones who would listen to the recording. The student audience in the bleachers came through loud and clear, cheering wildly when our two guests were introduced. But would the recording pick up the exuberance? To compensate, I had a back-up recorder on the desk, my trusty ZoomH4N Pro. I could grab that feed if I needed in editing. There was also a video camera at the back of the gym, hooked to a wireless lavalier mic which I placed next to our guests. This and the desk mic were plugged it in through the Scarlett Focusrite mixer. (That video mic feed came handy in editing, since one of our guests, an awesome pianist, played the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean which overpowered the desk mic. I was able to splice the better audio in later.)

You learn something! Like wishing I had two clip-on mics for the guests. I know, overkill! Or testing sound levels in the vast space before the real thing.

As for our guests, they were freshmen Reina Ley and Landon Madsen. A few weeks before, (Sept 2022), Reina had auditioned on NBC’s The Voice.  That same month, Landon, the pianist, had given a stunning performance at our talent show, Franklin’s Got Talent. The podcast were were recording, was a way to celebrate our student’s achievements, as we often do during morning assembly. Moments like this not only memorialize these particular achievements, they reveal something about all our students. The often unspoken talent hurrying through these hallways, toting trombones, football gear, trifolds, and other paraphernalia.

Here’s where the learning gets more interesting. This experiment in podcasting doubled up as an assignment for students in my class on Writing and Publishing in the Digital Age. I got them to help me set up the hardware in the gym. They were the ones manning the video camera, and doing the sound checks. Another was the photojournalist, with a regular camera. After fall break, these students will take this video feed and turn it into a news story, worthy of television. We have practiced with a green screen, so there will be an anchor, a reporter on the scene etc. Who knows where this will go! This, to me is what makes learning more hands-on, and lets them apply the theory of storytelling to real work they could publish (On Medium, the class website, and elsewhere) and see their output. Next month, they will be recording mock political debates in a history class, and produce a newspaper with many of these stories.

They, like me, love the challenge. After all, much of this (and the podcast) takes place in the Computer Lab. I remind my students, ad nauseam, it’s after all a ‘lab’ –where we are supposed to experiment!

There’s been massive outbreak of writing.

Will someone please inform the authorities?

There’s been an outbreak of writing in school. I suspect it’s contagious. Even those language deniers are catching it. They’re huddled in the student union during lunch break breathing in the same particles of plot and narrative. The writers’ disease, also known as storytelling, is spreading.

I’m talking about student writing that I alluded to a few week back. Fiction. Non-fiction. How-To books. The titles blow my mind. From the typical teen horror, to some on technology. There’s one on Dissociative Identity Disorder (If you hadn’t heard of it, it’s mind opening!), one about Photoshop, many on romance, a few on travel and family, and one written entirely in French!

I expanded on this in my Medium post, here.

In this COVID economy, my students’ eBooks shine a light

This year too I am so inspired by the work that students in my computer class have produced. Their capstone project is a 24-page eBook, and this year I relaxed the guidelines and let them choose any topic. I wanted to see how they use this moment in time to come up with ideas, rather with no boundaries.

I wanted to see what has been brewing in the minds of young people. I was in for a shock! This semester, I noticed more fiction emerging than all the semesters before, combined. Even the non-fiction was telling. Topics include, “The most tragic events in history,” the solar system, and one on somewhat gruesome events of World War II. But the outpouring of fiction made me have to allow them to go beyond the 24-page requirement.

Here are some of the topics:

The Mind Traveler,” “The Girl Astronaut,” “A Vacation in the Woods,” “The Mystery Letters.” Two books on Softball as a backdrop to drama, two on dance techniques, a romance, one on the harmful technologies affecting young people, and one two on mental illness. There’s more….

My students design the front and back covers using only copyright-free images, they control margins, and on my insistence, ad nauseam, use plenty of white space. Take a look at these, and let me know if what we are seeing an explosion of creativity in 12 and 13 year olds. Perhaps this year with so many ups and downs has rekindled the urge to read, imagine and tell stories. I hope I am right.

It makes being a teacher so rewarding!

Click on the images and they link to actual eBooks.