Podcasts as a teaching and learning tool in Anthropology.

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By Paula Lacerda (UERJ – Brazil) and Carolina Parreiras (USP – Brazil)

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit us and face-to-face classes became impossible, we were forced to rethink how to teach our courses in a way that was not dependent only on remote classes through digital platforms. This is what moved us to innovate and reflect on the role of technological devices in fostering student engagement and participation. In this blog post we look at the use of podcasts in the teaching of Anthropology. We consider how an idea initially created for a specific course, in a public Brazilian university, became a larger experience of broader scientific dissemination and innovation, fostering more than student engagement and participation.

It is important to emphasize that academic podcasts are not something totally new. However, we want to reflect on the use of a technological product that can create new means for involving students with the seminar and the content covered in it. Anthropology is a discipline historically constituted by experimentation, so the creation of the podcast – in which we discussed authors and studies in terms of their contributions to this field of research – was a great laboratory to create, test, innovate technologically and seek new ways of presenting ideas, themes and trajectories.

The course “Gender, State and Subjectification Processes” was offered to a class of 30 graduate students during a semester and was part of the master’s and PhD Programme in Social Sciences. In face of the challenges created by the pandemic, and following recommendations to explore new ways of teaching in remote environments, we created CAMPO: An Anthropology podcast (Campo in Portuguese means field), available on main streaming platforms.

Podcasts are increasing in popularity as a way to disseminate academic content in a simple language. The format frequently involves thematic episodes that explore how and why a particular text or idea was developed, the main theoretical influences, how the study was received and later applied by other authors.  We chose to focus our podcasts on debating ideas, as this is the most important element in the teaching-learning process.  The text’s background and theoretical moves were collectively discussed in online classes after the release of the podcast.

Technology can be an important ally in the teaching and learning process during a time when face-to-face classes are impossible. We do not ignore, however, that in a country like Brazil, digital inequality rates are relevant and worrying. They attest to the non-democratic character of access to the technological apparatus and to connection networks. In our specific experience, feedback from students was very positive and, based on issues raised by them – for example, the difficulty of accessing paid streaming platforms – we managed to adapt the format and content. One of these changes was to use a podcast hosting program that allows for its distribution in eight different platforms, so anyone can choose where to listen and access the content.  Our experiences creating the podcast corroborates with discussions in the field of digital anthropology about the challenges of fostering and exploring new forms of engagement and participation, especially with the use of technology in educational processes.

In addition to the podcast, we felt the need to build other platforms (a website and Instagram profile) with three main goals: to publicize the podcast and promote engagement with the public, to present complementary educational materials (commented images, news, brief book reviews, all of which were related to the authors discussed), and to provide a transcript of the episodes, assuming a commitment to accessibility practices. Investing in accessibility was the main motivation to create digital environments that are more accessible to different bodies and ways of being in the world, and to minimize the already mentioned inequalities.

So far, we have produced 6 episodes, with an average duration of twenty minutes. We believe that the language used, and the short duration of the episodes, are elements to be considered in the production of materials as a podcast, catered to academic debates. Since it is not possible to speculate on the context in which the podcast is heard – whether in a study environment or not, with the possibility of taking notes or not – we consider it appropriate to use simple language, making each episode suitable to a varied audience, but particularly targeting undergraduate and graduate students, who already have a basic understanding of core anthropological themes and concepts.

Although initially intended for students of the course “Gender, State, and Subjectification Processes”, we consider that the accessible language of the podcast makes it suitable for teaching students at the graduate or undergraduate level, interested in similar themes beyond anthropology. Mapping of data from the podcasts associated with the website and Instagram profile data, indicates the circulation of the material beyond the initially planned audience, with people accessing the content in different parts of Brazil and from different age groups.

Our goal in this blog post is to encourage discussion about the use of technology in educational practices. In a situation like the one we are experiencing we hope that our podcast can serve as an example for other experiments and innovations in the teaching of anthropology.

Our podcasts are freely available on Spotify and are recorded in Portuguese. Campo: http://spoti.fi/34mg733

Episodes last approximately 20 minutes. During the first season, we covered the following authors:

  • Gloria Anzaldúa
  • bell hooks
  • Veena Das
  • Michel Foucault
  • Judith Butler
  • Mara Viveros Vigoya

Website: https://www.podcastdeantropologia.com.br Instagram:@campopodcast

For those interested in teaching using podcasts, here are some tips to begin a podcast:

  1. Before starting, it is important to have some questions answered beforehand: what content do I intend to address? How to approach this content (interviews with regular or occasional guests? A comment on materials such as new releases, news articles, classic readings?) Which audience would I like to reach?
  2. To produce your podcast, you don’t need to have any special equipment. The recording device on a mobile phone, a quiet environment, internet connection and a podcast broadcast platform are enough to get you started. There are free platforms (ex: Anchor, Buzzsprout) for broadcasting your material and through them, you can make your podcast available on different players (Spotify, ApplePodcast etc).
  3. The more direct and objective your language is, the more effective your communication with your audience will be. So, for starters, it’s good to plan short episodes. At the beginning of each episode, start with the name of the podcast and the subject that will be covered.
  4. Build your podcast’s dissemination strategies. A simple profile on social networks can be a good starting point. Creating a website requires a little more technological knowledge, but there are free platforms and tutorials on the internet that can help you in this endeavor!
  5. Accessibility is an important issue regarding podcasts (and any online content). Our strategy is to make transcript available of each of the episodes. This can be done using automated transcription tools posted in many formats on the website/blog. The following website was very important for us in making an accessible podcast: https://podcast-accessibility.com

Good luck!!

Paula Lacerda is an anthropologist and associate professor at University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), teaching undergraduate and graduate students. She is currently researching socio-political dynamics involved in demands for reparation in situations of human rights violations, especially based on the gender dynamics mobilized in the face of state structures. In the Campo podcast, she is responsible for the locution/narration, production and the research for the episodes. Contact: lacerdapaula@gmail.com

Carolina Parreiras is an anthropologist, postdoctoral researcher at University of São Paulo (Brazil). In her current research, the main goal is to understand the many uses of technology and digital connections in favelas. She is especially interested in local appropriations of devices and networks, and processes of digital inequality and digital violence. She is also deeply involved in the discussion of technological forms of knowledge dissemination. In the Campo podcast, she is responsible for editing, producing and the research for the episodes. Contact: carolparreiras@gmail.com

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