Podcasting for Social Work Students, Part 3 – Advice for designing the assignment from Jonathan Singer

PodcastOne of the experts in social work podcasting is Jonathan Singer who runs the Social Work Podcast.  He has been podcasting since 2007, and the goal of his work is to disseminate research by and for social workers to improve their practice and outcomes for clients.  I spoke with Jonathan about his thoughts on working with students to develop their own podcasts and he recommended educators considering the following three points as they develop podcast assignments:

1. Clarify the scope of the podcast.  Specifically, identify the content to be covered by the assignment, the skills students will need to complete the assignment (such as research and critical thinking skills) and even potential resources for the  students.  Start by knowing what you want the students to do first and then consider the audio venue.  This is where I started with my assignment.  I knew ahead of time that I wanted students to learn about their future practicum agency and practice basic assessment skills for understanding a human service agency.  Later, I realized that students could conduct an informational interview with someone from the agency and practice interviewing skills.  This is not any different from how one would approach a written assignment or even an oral presentation for class.  You can still give students creative license to pick their own topic, but make sure there is a framework that lists what they need to cover in the podcast. Some questions Jonathan recommends ask as you design your assignment:

  • What topics will be covered in the podcast?
  • How board or narrow should the content be covered?
  • How will I help students narrow the topic if needed?
  • How will students need to frame the podcast from introduction to conclusion?
  • Where will students get their information for the podcast (i.e. the scholarly literature, interviews, etc).

2. Define the target audience for the podcast.  Jonathan suggests your assignment should state who will potentially  listen to the students’ podcasts, whether this will actually happen or not.  Who should your students be addressing for the assignment?  This is easy for a written research paper because the audience is typically the instructor.  Similarly, an in-class presentation targets the entire class, instructor and classmates.   A podcast has the potential to reach a wide audience because it can be uploaded to the Internet and to be freely shared and downloaded by anyone.  Students could produce a podcast for policy makers, professional social workers across the country or the general public. This is the reason a podcast is a powerful tool, because it gives students the ability to reach people outside the learning environment.  For my assignment, I have a more modest target audience for the students – their classmates.  I use the podcast as an opportunity for them to teach each other about different agencies and resources in their future practice community.  I do encourage them to think about the podcast as if it would be going be put on an agency website which reinforces the idea that they can create work for a public audience.

3. Finally, consider the production quality of the podcast.  How will the students record and produce their podcasts?  Are you expecting high quality sound and post-production?  The reality is that as social work educators, we are not here to teach audio recording skills, but we do need to give students some basics guidelines so their podcasts do not sound like they were recorded at the airport or in the bottom of a garbage can.  Most smart phones provide students with all the tools they need to record a podcast, but may not provide the sound control or editing software needed. Jonathan recommends providing students with a basic primer  about how to use podcast editing software such as Audacity or Garage Band, and encouraging them to use the “normalizing” features of software which will even out the sound quality.  As with an oral presentation, students should do an introduction and conclusion to their podcast and this could include music. Editing software allows students to add in music or remove the “ums” and “ahs” that come from normal speech.  Again, a University’s digital media lab can be very helpful with this process and often can provide both access and  in-class instruction to equipment and software that is helpful in recording podcasts.

When selecting music or other content for the podcast, please make sure to educate students about copyright laws and remind them to only use content that is in the public domain or have a license (such as a Creative Common License) that permit free non-commercial use of the content.  Here are some resources that can help with the technical production of a podcast:

Devices to Create Content:

  • Digital Voice Recorder
  • A computer with a microphone (most laptops have built-in microphones)
  • A smart phone (download a voice recording app)
  • Google Voice voicemail (generates .mp3s of voice messages)
  • Skype ( can record calls and generate .mp3 files)

Ideas for Finding Public Domain Content: 

  • Jamendo (royalty-free music available for download)
  • Freesound (royalty-free sound effects available for download)
  • The Internet (you can grab content from the internet and record it in Audacity)

 Well, that’s it for my series on podcasting in the classroom with social work students. Any thoughts or suggestions?  I would love to hear about others’ experiences with podcasting, both educators and students.

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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