Lately, when I’m in the middle of my high school library research lessons, I’ve been asking the students a question: “How many of you have listened to a podcast?”
Usually not one hand goes up. Occasionally, there are a few. (I’ve noticed that the podcast craze hasn’t yet reached the high school set like it has the 20-somethings.) No matter what the response, I take a break from showing them the traditional (and necessary!) databases and research resources to talk about the benefits of podcasts. My main focus will always be to help students find credible information. I create visually attractive Google Slides shows that are specific to the class subject, and include active links to enable me to demonstrate actual database searches. I have always added an extra slide with useful guides, such as writing resources. This year, though, I’ve begun including another slide in each of my presentations: podcast recommendations to enhance research.
“Sometimes, you may feel too tired to read a scholarly journal article,” I say to them. The entire class nods assent to this. I then go on to explain the many ways that podcasts can help them gain knowledge about a topic, and instruct them on exactly how to access these podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify). I even tell them it’s possible to lie on their beds and close their eyes, while also taking in information for an assignment. This seems to particularly appeal to them, as so many of them participate in multiple sports and after-school activities, leaving them drained by nighttime.
As school librarians, we are well aware that students learn in multiple ways. Individual learners relate to specific mediums that trigger responses in their brains. In the past, educators have focused mainly on speaking and reading to disseminate information; auditory learning has often been ignored. In a blog post for the Education Development Center, Monica Brady-Myerov writes that “the new emphasis on Speaking and Listening in the Common Core underscores the importance of developing and using tools that focus on listening.”
Podcasts have been sweeping the entertainment scene recently. Though not many classroom teachers have the leisure of incorporating these unique audio recordings into their lessons, school librarians have the flexibility to introduce students to this medium’s benefits. We should, of course, stress to students that anyone can create a podcast, and therefore they should use the same criteria to determine credibility as they do with websites. They also should not be encouraged to use podcasts as their sole comprehensive source for verified data and statistics. To prove how quickly podcasts are making their way into the research world, though, Purdue Owl has added an entry on how to cite podcasts. Even as we stress the research limitations of podcasts, we can still demonstrate how they have the ability to serve a valuable purpose.
For example, while teaching a lesson on using databases to find literary criticism, I directed 9th-grade students to podcasts such as Novel Conversations: Rediscover the World’s Greatest Stories. One student was studying The Grapes of Wrath and I pointed out a 38-minute episode about that novel where two hosts summarized it and discussed various themes. When a senior class came into the library to learn ways of researching influential people, I pointed out several helpful podcasts, including an episode of The Ted Interview Podcast in which the host interviews Mellody Hobson, one student’s subject. By listening to these interviews or discussions about their topics, students are able to internalize information within the context of a conversation, which can lead them to engage with the topic in a way they may not from simply reading articles about it.
It’s important, in this digital age, that we meet students at their comfort levels. Our goal, especially as school librarians who passionately value the written word, will always be to encourage more physical reading. And regarding research, we will continue to support the use of digital databases, and the practice of close reading and analyzing scholarly articles. But with the continual rise of technological applications, we also need to embrace these innovative platforms as an additional means of stimulating our students’ minds. Learning can often become tedious to teenagers and as the end of the year approaches, the majority of them experience a feeling of exhaustion. By inspiring them to look outside of their routine materials, we might just keep their natural curiosity for learning alive.
Articles about podcasts in education:
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.