Podcasting for Social Work Students, Part 1 – Describing the Assignment

One of my favorite technology-based assignments is the student-created podcast in my BSW macro social work class.  My motivation for this assignment originated several years ago from a very selfishPodcast desire to grade something beside another written research paper.   I was not looking to eliminate writing from my courses or minimize its importance for college students and professional social workers.  I wanted another way meet the needs of an organizational assessment assignment that was engaging and challenging for the students (and for me) in a course that already had two major writing assignments.  The idea for a podcast assignment came from a colleague in the English Department who asked students in introductory writing classes to create a podcast instead of a paper and then write a self-reflection about the process.  He contended that the students had to complete the same amount of research and apply the same critical thinking skills to complete the podcast as writing a paper.  He convinced me to try it, arguing if the assignment bombed I could easily go back to a written paper and quietly ignore any comments on my student evaluations.  Seven semesters later, podcasts have become an integral assignment in my course.

In this post, I would like to share basics of the assignment itself, and in  a subsequent post I will share feedback from students and other colleagues who incorporate podcasting into their social work practice.

Briefly, a podcast is an audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a portable media player, computer, or other device.  Podcasts are easy to create and do not require a lot of technical skills which makes it a good assignment for students and for faculty who do not have a lot of technology experience. I ask my students to create a podcast about a local social service agency to practice assessment and interviewing skills relevant for working with a human service organization, but students could create a podcast on almost any topic.  They could also work in pairs or groups to produce their own podcast.  I have my students create their own podcast. 

The assignment itself has three basic parts:

  1. Review a Podcast: I have found that most students have not listened to a podcast before and are not familiar with the technology so I start by asking them to select and listen to a podcast on a relevant social work topic.  The social work profession has some great podcasts and I recommend students  find a podcast from either the inSocialWork Podcast Series or The Social Work Podcast.  After listening to a podcast, students then write a brief review of the podcast that describes and assesses the podcast based on content, delivery and technical production.  While I do not put a lot of emphasis on how to assess the technical production of the podcast, I want them to understand that volume and background noise can affect the quality of a podcast.  Alternatively, students could also post their review on the podcast’s website as a comment.  For example, the Social Work Podcast website has a place for listeners to leave comments and rate each podcast.  Asking students to share their review publicly not only provides a public service to other potential listeners of the podcast, but also requires students to think about and produce work for a public audience, not just an instructor.

  1. Create a Podcast: Students are then create their own podcast which should be no less than 5 minutes and no more than 10 minutes.  The audience for the podcast is the general public including the instructor and their fellow classmates, but this could also be adapted based on the type of podcast you want students to produce.  I provide a specific content topic and criteria that need to be covered in the podcast, but I also encourage them to be creative and reflect professional behavior such as appropriate language, and no obscene music or sounds.  Some students chose to interview professionals for their podcast and others write and speak their own content.  Additionally, students can add music at the beginning and/or end of their podcast as a transition.  A sample podcast from a previous student is also available to give students an understand of how a good student-created podcast sounds.  To help with the technical demands of creating the podcast, I invite someone from my university’s Digital Media Commons  to speak to the class about the equipment need to record a podcast, editing software and how create an MP3 or MP4 audio file.  Additionally, students can use the Commons Lab to record and edit their podcast, and even set-up a consultation appointment with one of the technology experts.  Most academic institutions have a similar digital media lab and I highly recommend that you work with the one on your campus.  It reduces the students’ anxiety about completing the assignment.   Along with the podcast, students create a one-page handout describing the content of the podcast and provide a list of references. Currently, the students’ podcasts are only shared and listened to by myself and other class members through my university’s course management system.  All the members of the class listen to all the podcasts and then we have a class discussion about what students learned from the assignment, and what they learned about social services resources in their communities.  

  1. Self-Reflection:  After submitting their podcast, I ask students to write a self-reflection piece that answers the following questions: 1) What did you do to create your podcast?; 2) What did you learn from creating the podcast?; 3) How did podcasting compare to written assignments you have done in this class? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks?; and 4) How will you use podcasts in your future practice as a social worker?  Not only does this self-reflection give them an opportunity to think about and articulate what they have learned in the process of creating a podcast, it also gives me feedback about how to improve the assignment.

Those are the basics parts of my podcast assignment. I would be very interested in any feedback or questions from other colleagues who incorporate podcasting into their courses, especially in social work education, or from social work students who are podcasting for personal or professional reasons.  

Social Work Competencies: EPAS 2.1.1 Identify as a professional social worker and conduct oneself accordingly; EPAS 2.1.3 Apply critical thinking to inform and communicate professional judgments; EPAS 2.1.9 Respond to contexts that shape practice; and EPAS 2.1.10 Engage, assess, intervene and evaluate with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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