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Oral History Group Podcasting Assignment

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Students create podcasts as a way to think about composition beyond writing
Image Credit: 

"Microphones"via Sue Langford's Flikr stream

Brief Assignment Overview: 

Students conduct oral history interviews, write papers narrating the interviews, and then work in groups to create a multi-segment “radio show."

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Rhetoric: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

Invention, style, multimodal composition, digital literacy.

Required Materials: 

A way to record digital audio files for each student in the class

GarageBand software

Access to “This American Life” and “RadioLab” podcasts to discuss with your students as sample “papers”

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

Students do oral history interviews, write papers narrating the interviews, and then work in groups to create a multi-segment “radio show."

Students must work together to discover the best possible way of combining their individual papers into a podcast. They must also learn to use GarageBand. Finally, recording their papers gets students to think about concerns such as word choice, syntax, and overall style.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Familiarity with the rechnology and podcasting genre will help.  See "Instructions for Students" below for detailed explanation of how the assignment was implemented.

Instructions For Students: 

STEP ONE - Writing Assignment Description:

Paper III Assignment Sheet: Analyzing Culture/Oral History. (1500-1750 words)

This assignment requires you go out into the world and find a story worth recording. It’s a difficult task, really. Your first step is to conduct oral history research and make a record of interviews you conduct. You need to listen closely to how individuals process and frame their beliefs and/or respond to what you ask. You will nee to determine the overall purpose of your essay and make the stakes of the essay clear. Why is this story worth telling? To do this you will place the interviewees’ experiences and/or perspective within a larger historical, social, or political context OR you use the interviewees’ experiences and/or perspectives to make an argument about a larger historical or social context.

Prior to this assignment, we will read Paul Thompson, “The Voice of the Past: Oral History,” The Voice of the Past: Oral History (1988) and Hugo Slim and Paul Thompson, with Olivia Bennett and Nigel Cross, “Ways of Listening,” Listening for Change: Oral History and Development (1993). We will also have an expert in oral history research come in to talk about how to conduct interviews.

Although this particular assignment is a 6-8 page paper, it will also require that you record and save the interview(s) you conduct as mp3 files because you will use sound bytes from these interviews in your Unit IV podcast assignment.

STEP TWO - In-class Exercise:

Student “speed-dated” their papers. I put them into groups of three and they talked about how their papers were related for seven minutes. After 7 minutes, the groups rotated so that each students was in a new group. We repeated this exercise as many times as class time would allow, so that by the end of class, each student had an idea of who they might want to work with for the podcast assignment.

STEP THREE - Paper revisions:

I wanted my students to think about sentence structure in their revisions. I spent one class day talking about the following grammatical forms that their papers used and we talked about how they might revise their papers at the sentence-level. The following sentences were some of the examples that I used in class (the first two are adapted from in-class exercises that Patricia Roberts-Miller has done in her own classes):

Passive Voice, Nominalization, and Verb Choice:

  • Hubert was bitten by Chester. (The agent is the predicate). Biting happened between Chester and Hubert.

It seems as though the writer does not know which dog bit the other. So, she turns the verb into a noun through the process that grammarians call nominalization. This happens to your sentence when you really don’t know the agent.

  • Biting happened on the part of Chester toward the dog of Hubert.

The writer of this sentence knows the agent of the action, but doesn’t show the action in a concrete way, which makes the sentence unclear. If you are Chester’s attorney, this is your sentence, but it’s not rhetorically effective if you want your audience to understand what happened.

Using Punctuation Rhetorically

  • The family held a reunion on the Fourth of July, and everyone had a great time. vs. The family held a reunion on the Fourth of July; everyone had a great time.

Both sentences are grammatically correct according to standard rules, but the semicolon produces a tighter connection and give emphasis to the second clause.

  • My favorite activities are skiing, playing golf, and bowling; unfortunately, they cost more than my budget can stand. vs. Unfortunately, my favorite activities—skiing, playing golf, and bowling—cost more than my budget can stand.

The second sentence is tighter, and the dash acts as an attention-getter. It tells the reader: “Pay attention. This is important!”

STEP FOUR - Podcast Assignment:

(45-60 minutes total)

For this assignment, you will work with two or three of your classmates to create a podcast in the style of the radio shows (“This American Life” and “RadioLab”) we have listened to this semester. Initially, you will work as a group to discuss the pieces you wrote during the semester, decide on a target audience (or audiences) for your podcast, play with how to frame one piece per group member together in a cohesive way, and create a schedule and series of task assignments for group members.

Your next step will be to revise (dramatically) your chosen piece of writing so that it more clearly reflects the theme or idea that your group has chosen to explore in the podcast and the target audience for the podcast.

Then, your group will write a title for your podcast, a short introduction to your show, short transitions between the pieces in the show, and a conclusion to your show. You will be allowed some class time for the planning, but should use this time to create a schedule of deadlines for these parts of the assignment and divide up the labor evenly between group members.

You will use personal audio recorders and the GarageBand software in the DWRL lab to record and edit these audio stories. The podcasts will incorporate sound bytes from interview. You may want to include other sound effects that add depth, dimension, affect, or comic relief to your stories.

Evaluation Suggestions: 

Rubric for Paper 3 (I had the students read “The Transom Review” and they created this rubric based on that reading):

The story you tell must:

  • Give background, as well as consider carefully where to start and how to give background.
  • Make clear the stakes of the story.
  • Either build up central conflict so that the point of the story is apparent, or directly state the point.
  • Strike a balance between the big ideas (reporting) and the personal narrative (interview, quotes)

Students will get two grades for the podcast, one for their individual contribution and the quality of their revision, and a group grade for the overall cohesiveness of the podcast, the quality of the transitions, and how well it addresses the target audience they selected.

Additional Resources: 
Course Description: 

This assignment was implemented in an intermediate rhetoric and composition course.

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This assignment looks great. Here's a useful blog post from ProfHacker about assigning podcasts in the classroom: It's got some useful insights about what not to do!