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Podcast/Paper: Having Students Do the Same Assignment in 2 Media

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Compiled from images on Wikimedia Commons

Brief Assignment Overview: 

I have my students complete their first major assignment in two forms: (1) An individual 3-page paper and (2) a 5-6 minute group podcast. In both, they describe a text and situate it in historical context.

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

To get students to think about the ways in which presentational form/medium effects their inventional and organizational processes, as well as what counts as rhetorically effective.

Required Materials: 

Recording devices. If at least one student in each podcast group has a personal computer with a built-in microphone, that's fine. If that's not the case, or if you want to go hi-fi, USB microphones can step quality up a little bit. Access to some sort of editing software: Apple's GarageBand or Audacity are common options, and the latter can be downloaded for free online.

Audio Hijack Pro is also another useful software if students want to use clips from the text they're discussing in their podcast. The website can also be used to grab audio from YouTube videos if Audio Hijack Pro isn't affordable/available.

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

In my RHE 309K course, Rhetoric of Irony, students examine, analyze, and argue about the rhetorical and ethical implications of irony in political and popular discourse. Their first assignment is to choose a historical (before the year 2000) ironic text and describe the text, its context, and its use of irony to their classmates.

My course includes a lot of writing, of course, and I want to get students thinking critically about that writing from the start of the class. In order to do that, I wanted to supplement the paper version of this first assignment with something in another medium and/or mode. Because I have worked with podcasts and audio strikes me as relatively straightforward (in a sense, a podcast can be little more than a recorded speech, writing's other half in the history of rhetoric and rhetoric instruction). The podcast allows students to invent and organize their material in a different way than the paper, and with structured reflective writing and conversation can help them think about the particularities and peculiarities of written and aural/oral discourse. I've found it can open up productive conversations about the difficulties and tropes of academic writing. For instance, students often have an easier time inventing material for the podcast than for the paper (I do require a first draft of the paper that's due one week before the podcast and final paper draft). Even though a 5-6 minute podcast and a 3-page paper can accomodate about the same number of words, students frequently feel like they've have to make copious cuts to fit everything into the podcast and stretching to find enough material for the paper.

In short, this assignment allows students to think about the constraints and affordances of both spoken and written compositions, as well as how they might adapt rhetorically to both forms/media/modes (these aren't synonyms here, of course, but all potential frames for discussing these assignments). It can also be a useful method of invention and helping students think about the patterns and obstacles that crop up in their academic writing processes. 

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

There are a variety of ways to approach the podcast assignment. I didn't spend much time teaching my students how to actually make podcasts. I basically showed them what GarageBand, Audacity, and Audio Hijack Pro looked like on our classroom computers, showed them how to drag audio files into the first two and how to sync the latter up with other applications. I focused more on showing students how to search Audacity's robust wiki and how to look up GarageBand tutorials on YouTube, etc. Learning to learn these technologies for themselves, in other words, was a big part of the assignment. I also provided them 15-20 minutes of in-class time to work as a group a few times, which gave them a chance to play with the technologies while I was on hand to offer troubleshooting advice and general tips.

As an instructor, you might want to have some knowledge of the technologies, then, though being an amateur along with your students can be a productive learning experience. If you don't have a computer classroom with those programs, I imagine the shorter introduction described above would be best, leaving the onus on students to experiment with them outside of class. If you do, you could certainly conduct a more in-depth, participatory in-class tutorial.

If even having students download Audacity seems too daunting, this assignment could feasibly be completed by having students record a script using Windows' pre-installed and very basic Audio Recorder; all current Apples come equipped with GarageBand.

Instructions For Students: 

Since the meta-assignment comprises two parts (the group podcast and the individual paper), both assignment prompts are included below. The podcast comes first.

Unit 1 Podcast

Podcast: An audio program, often brief, that’s similar to a radio show but intended for digital download rather than live play. We have already spent some time addressing the important role situational factors play in creating a kairos for what counts as/is recognized as effective “irony.

We have already spent some time addressing the important role situational factors play in creating a kairos for what counts as/is recognized as effective “irony.” For instance, much of the ironic political critique of 1970s Saturday Night Live skits might seem dull or weird without a deep understanding of how Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were seen and thought of at the time, as well as what political contexts they were a part of. Without knowledge of Jon Stewart’s role on The Daily Show, the kairos of his Crossfire appearance would be much harder to understand.


Your first major assignment, then, is to create a group podcast in which your group situates an ironic text in its original context. Exploring, in other words, the situational variables that made up its kairos. For our purposes, the text must have been originally released before January 1, 2000 (in part because that’s a neat dividing line, in part because—as we’ll see later this semester—9/11 brought about some important shifts in many Americans’ attitudes toward irony). Your podcast should include your text itself, as well as relevant events, people, etc. that had some influence on the contexts out of which the text emerged. For instance, what cultures was the author a part of, and how might they have influenced her or his ironic rhetorical choices? How was the text originally distributed (British newspaper, 1960s Japanese television, FM radio, etc.), and how might the context of that material form shape the text? Who, if relevant, was in political power? Were any military or social conflicts going on in the background? Was your text responding to a specific previous text, or to a general cultural and/or political atmosphere? In short, your podcast should help your audience better understand your text and its kairos. Don’t give context for context’s sake, but bring to your listeners’ minds key contextual details relevant to your text’s rhetorical point(s) and the broader historical situation in which those points were being made in order to foster a better understanding of your text in its context.

You will work in either pairs or trios. All members must agree on the chosen text. That choice is yours, not mine, as is how you divide the workload—as long as you do so in an equitable manner and all group members’ voices appear at least once in the final podcast. Keep in mind this collaborative project’s potential relevance to your individual Learning Record.


Your podcast is due on the wiki by the beginning of class Mon., Feb. 18. Upload it as an .mp3, .aac, .or .wav file. Podcasts must be 5-6 minutes long. We will listen to all groups’ podcasts in class that day. The time limit is strict, and you should make use of that time in a rhetorically effective—in a kairotic—manner. In addition to the release of your text itself, your podcast must introduce and set up at least three additional contextual variables: events, people, wars, other texts, private or public squabbles, or responses to your text. You should verbally cite at least two sources in your podcast. Source requirements are covered in more detail in the corresponding paper assignment. Your primary rhetorical goals are to inform and to entertain. Make a podcast that will hold your classmates’ and my attention. My feedback on the timeline will be given in written form, with each group member receiving the same write-up.

Paper 1


In addition to the group podcast, you are responsible for writing an individual paper in which you describe the context out of which your text arose, the significance and ironic message of the text itself, and how that specific message responded to/interacted with your text’s kairos. Keep in mind your primary purpose is—as with the podcast—to give your readers a better understanding of your text by situating it, not to offer context for context’s sake. Always make sure you explain the relevance of that context in terms of your text.

You should try to avoid taking a position on whether your text’s message is “good” or “bad.” Try to stick primarily to describing and summarizing text and context rather than evaluating. If your text was rhetorically ineffective or responded poorly to its context, let that point be made via exposition (for instance, that it’s faded into history or has a powerful legacy) rather than direct argument. Let me know if I can clarify here.

Though you can draw on your group’s conversations, brainstorming, etc. in writing your paper, the actual process of writing should be undertaken individually. If you have questions about the boundaries of collaboration and plagiarism, check the course strands or with me. Basically, your paper should have different sentences, paragraphs, and overall arrangement than your other group members’, though the basic content could be largely the same.


Your paper must have at least four sources. Two of those sources must be scholarly; two must be broader historical or primary sources. We’ll discuss these distinctions in class on Jan. 30. If you aren’t confident in this area and want to get a head start, however, feel free to talk with me in advance. Easy Writer also has advice here. Your paper may share one scholarly and one historical source with your other group members’ papers. The other scholarly and historical source must be unique to your paper.

Paper 1 should be at least 1000 words including the works-cited page, heading, title, etc. That should make the body of the paper around 3 pages. The paper should be properly formatted according to MLA guidelines, which we’ll discuss as this unit unfolds. A full draft of the paper

(1.1) is due in the corresponding wiki folder on Mon., Feb. 11. Paper 1.1 will be peer reviewed in class on that day. A substantially revised version (1.2) is due in the corresponding wiki folder by the beginning of class on Mon., Feb. 18. 

Evaluation Suggestions: 

I use The Learning Record to assess my classes, so students get qualitative feedback from me on both the podcast and the paper. I offer marginal comments on the first draft of the paper. In response to my comments and a peer review, students set three revision goals--each including what the goal is, why they've set it as a goal based on peer review/my comments/personal reflection, and how they plan to carry it out--for writing/revising their second draft (the ".2" in the prompt above). I approve those goals in advance of the revisions, then focus my comments on them in assessing the second draft.

My commentary on the podcast, which focuses primarily on invention, organization, and audience awareness, is the same for all members of each group and is about a paragraph in length.

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

I wasn't sure how this approach would go over this semester, which was the first time I assigned both podcast and paper. Students seemed enthusiastic about the podcast. In addition to being more "fun" than a traditional paper, it seems the unorthodox and novel nature of podcasts for school purposes led them to feel more freedom in inventing and organizing. They were, in other words, much less prone to podcaster's block than writer's block. I require the paper to be more conventional in terms of college writing for a rhetoric course, but the podcast gave them ample material to conventionalize for the paper.

Additional Resources: 

The Scholar Electric on Incorporating Audio Assignments:

Audacity's wiki:

The Learning Record:

Course Description: 

What is irony? It’s a rhetorical device that has been called “infinite absolute negativity” and “the key to the tightest bonds of friendship.” Jane Austen uses it to poke fun at Victorian social norms, Stephen Colbert to mock American politics, television shows like South Park to critique—well, just about everything. Irony’s complex history is part of the reason its definition is so hard to pin down. Working towards an understanding and definition of the term will thus be one of the aims of this course.

Irony’s presence in individual rhetorical exchanges can be equally hard to identify, however. Consider the times you've been reading something online—say a friend's Facebook status—and found yourself asking, "Can this person possibly be serious?" This course, then, will also examine how irony functions practically in political and popular discourse.  The effective use of irony requires both the speaker and listener to share a mutual understanding not only of the position being ironically stated, but the other party’s unstated beliefs and the actual critical message under the surface. Traditional rhetorical variables—speaker, audience, purpose—are all present, but layered in a manner that requires especially acute rhetorical awareness. This course will thus necessitate that students assume and practice a rigorous rhetorical consciousness as they engage with irony as both a concept and a complex rhetorical device, constructing and critiquing ironic arguments as they consider the historical, political, and ethical implications of irony’s deployment from Socrates to Swift to sitcoms.

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