Author: Sabrina C. Higgins, Assistant Professor of Aegean and Mediterranean Societies and Cultures, Simon Fraser University
Role: Course Instructor
Author: Chelsea A.M. Gardner, Associate Professor of Ancient History, Acadia University
Role: Podcast Host
Author: Melissa Funke, Assistant Professor of Classics, University of Winnipeg
Role: Podcast Host
What did you want students to be able to do by completing this assignment?
Synthesize and engage critically with contemporary scholarship
Build media competency using various types of podcasting and editing software
Evaluate the role of podcasting as form of public scholarship
Develop research skills through a focused analysis of a chosen topic
Demonstrate a familiarity with primary sources (e.g. texts and/or material culture) and academic scholarship relevant to the chosen subject matter
Was there anything this assignment taught students that you felt they wouldn't have been able to learn through other types of class assignments?
This assignment offers students the opportunity to evaluate accessible digital media and to establish the skills necessary to research and produce their own audio or audio-visual output. Through a series of scaffolded assessments, students engage with podcasting as a form of public scholarship (Module #1) and are trained on various platforms in order to create their own multimedia output. In order to prepare for their own research, students are guided through different digital humanities projects and taught how to use existing digital repositories in the field of Ancient Mediterranean Studies (e.g. Peopling the Past, Attic Inscriptions Online, the British Museum collection, etc.) to enhance the digital literacy skills necessary for the completion of the assignment. They use these same resources to select materials that will be the focus of their final project: a 10-minute audio or video podcast relating to one specific topic of relevance to the course subject matter, in this case an element of daily life in the Greek or Roman world. This podcast comprises Module #2.
What is the course title and level?
The assignment was originally designed for an intermediate, 200-level (second year) undergraduate course, entitled “Daily Life in Ancient Greece and Rome” (HUM 231). However, it is currently being adapted for use in several upper-division courses with additional Digital Humanities components, including the development of an open-source website to host the podcasts. In advanced undergraduate and graduate-level courses, students will be tasked with creating a page (within an existing website) that describes their podcast episode, and includes images related to the podcast, as well as related resources and bibliography.
Note: This assignment can be modified to accommodate undergraduate and graduate students of all levels of expertise, and is suitable across disciplines.
What kinds of prior knowledge is necessary to complete this assignment? How do students gain this knowledge?
Students are not expected to have any prior podcasting experience or background knowledge of the course content. Due to the fact that students enroll in this course with varying degrees of knowledge of Greek and Roman history and archaeology, the course covers the basic elements of daily life within the Graeco-Roman world. Students are taught this information through weekly lectures that present the lived experiences of people in these cultures through close readings of ancient texts and analyses of the material culture.
Prior podcasting experience is not necessary in order to complete the assignment, as students receive training throughout the semester that enables them to complete the technical elements of this assignment, specifically on the relevant podcasting and editing software. By the end of the semester, students have the necessary background information, research skills, and technological training to create a 10-minute podcast.
This assignment is designed to introduce podcasting as a form of public scholarship and creates opportunities for students to actively engage with recent scholarship related to the course content. Through a scaffolded, two-module assignment, the students in this course learn to use podcasting as a medium for exploring the lived experiences of people in the ancient world, while also building various multi-modal skills that enable them to share their own research through their choice of podcast format (audio, enhanced audio [audio file embedded into a PowerPoint], or video). Students using the audio-only format are expected to incorporate detailed descriptions of any visual components (e.g. specific objects) into their podcasts, since the listeners will not be able to see the objects under discussion. These should be succinct descriptions of visuals without opinions on their content, with the goal of increasing accessibility for all listeners; links to any objects, images, or maps discussed in the podcast should be included in their detailed bibliography (see below) and should be open-access, when possible. Descriptions of geographical locations should be aimed at an audience with only a basic knowledge of Mediterranean geography.
Module #1: In the first part of the assignment, students are introduced to the concept of educational podcasts and are tasked with reviewing current scholarship (in both traditional scholarly venues, such as journal articles, as well as public-facing media) from the fields of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology, with an emphasis on works that focus on the daily lives of individuals living in Mediterranean antiquity. Through this assignment, students learn how material culture, texts, and archaeology inform our understanding of the ancient Graeco-Roman world.
In this module, students are required to listen to two episodes of Peopling the Past, a podcast which examines the lives of real people in the ancient world. There are three seasons of the podcast (Season 1: Greek Art & Archaeology; Season 2: Roman Art & Archaeology; and Season 3: Women in the Ancient Mediterranean), which are available on the Peopling the Past (PtP) website, as well as through major podcast platforms, including Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts. Students are able to choose any two podcasts from the available list, and they must take detailed notes while listening to their selected episodes. Next, they are asked to imagine that they themselves are the hosts of the podcast, and they have the opportunity to conduct follow-up interviews with each of the episode’s guests; this portion of the assignment requires creating an additional ten questions that they would ask each guest. The following question prompts are given to guide them in this task: What else do you want to know about their research? What questions went unanswered? What other details do you think a general audience might be interested in hearing?
Before submitting their final questions, students are required to carry out additional background research from the resources available on the Peopling the Past website (see this example of a podcast post), in order to hone the research skills required to investigate a narrow topic of interest.
By generating further questions for the guests, students consider how to deliver information in a concise manner; this prepares them for the creation of their own podcast in Module #2.
Module #2: In the second part of this assignment, students create and submit a final project in the form of a 10-minute podcast (audio, enhanced, or video). Students are expected to focus on a single element of daily life in ancient Greece or Rome, which should be a topic that sparked their interest during the course of the semester (e.g., the lives of women, the institution of slavery, food, clothing, sanitation, etc.). The narrow focus of this project requires the students to move beyond generalized themes and to delve deeper into a single topic related to daily life in the ancient Mediterranean world, requiring them to build on the research skills acquired in Module #1. Prior to submitting their podcasts, students are provided with in-class workshops on various types of software, digital resources, and production methods used in the creation of a podcast, including workshops on Audacity, GarageBand, and iMovie, as well as select platforms to which their final projects can be uploaded (e.g. SoundCloud, YouTube, etc.).
In addition to the production of this podcast, students are also required to conduct academic research, create a script, and prepare a bibliography, all of which are submitted to the instructor as components of the assignment. Students are encouraged to incorporate other forms of digital scholarship into their research, specifically digital repositories of primary sources and online, open-access collections including those listed above and others (the Ancient Graffiti Project, the Met Collection, etc.).
How much time did you allot to this project?
Module #1: The first module requires approximately 30 minutes in-class, during which time the students are given an overview of the Peopling the Past project as a whole and are introduced to the format of the PtP podcasts; they are then shown how to navigate the PtP website in preparation for their assignment. Students must then dedicate time outside of class for the following tasks: actively listening to two 30-minute podcasts, conducting additional research on the topic, and formulating a total of 20 questions to be submitted to the instructor. Two weeks are allotted for the completion of this module.
Module #2: Students receive 3 hours of in-class training for their final podcast projects; this consists of workshops on relevant software and editing platforms. They also have the opportunity to attend guest lectures with experienced podcast hosts, who offer their expertise and advice for best practices to the students. Additional time outside of class is required to record and produce their own podcasts, a process which includes: identifying and researching an element of daily life in ancient Greece or Rome; compiling a bibliography; writing a script; and recording, editing and producing the final, 10-minute podcast. Students are assigned this module at the outset of the semester and are encouraged to begin their research after the completion of Module #1 (mid semester).
What kinds of support or training did you provide to help students learn to use new techniques or specialized tools?
Over the course of the semester, students are exposed to a number of educational podcasts and asked to assess this type of public-facing content (Module #1). Subsequently, the students participate in a number of workshops in order to develop the skills necessary to record their own podcast, including introductory training on Zencastr and Audacity. They are also given the option to enhance their final output with video features using Microsoft PowerPoint and iMovie and additional workshops are created to familiarize students with these types of software. Finally, students benefit from guest lectures by experienced podcasters who offer their expertise on developing, recording, and editing podcast episodes.
Did you need any specialized equipment, tools, or human resources to make this assignment feasible? If so, please describe.
Podcasting requires minimal equipment and this assignment can easily be done at no cost to the student. Online recording platforms, such as Zencastr, are free for non-professional users. Audio equipment, including microphones, can be purchased by the instructor or department and shared among students. There are excellent post-production and editing software programs, such as Audacity and Garageband, that are free to download. Some podcast hosting services (e.g. Podbean) have free subscription options; these services allow podcasters to live stream, record, and/or publish their podcasts to various platforms (e.g. Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, etc.). If you do not want to publish your students' podcasts, or you prefer to host them locally on an institutional website (or private account), you will not need these services.
How did you assess or grade this project?
Module #1: Students were graded on the following criteria:
The successful creation of 20 new and relevant questions based on existing podcast episodes that demonstrate:
An understanding of the main topics discussed within these podcasts.
The ability to critically analyze research and formulate questions related to a particular topic.
Engagement with sources outside of the podcast itself that inform the questions being posed.
Module #2: Students were graded on the following criteria (please note: there are two separate graded components for this module):
The construction of a narrative that carries listeners through the topic explored in the final podcast episode.
Engagement with contemporary research on the topic.
Demonstrating familiarity with the ancient texts and material culture relevant to your topic (i.e. the ability to analyze ancient materials).
Clear audio and sound quality.
The inclusion of high resolution and open-access images (for enhanced and video podcasts).
Exhibiting a basic understanding of the technology used in the production of the podcast (audio, enhanced, video).
NOTE: Each type of podcast comes with its own set of challenges. As such, students were evaluated on their basic grasp of the technology and the quality of the final product. In all instances, however, the podcasts were primarily assessed on the quality of the research and the way in which that research was communicated to the intended audience.
A bibliography that includes at least 5 different academic sources.
A clear demonstration of the research undertaken for this project through the inclusion of all relevant notes taken during the data collection/research phase of the project.
An awareness of the relevant primary sources, material culture and recent scholarship related to your topic.
A clear outline of the episode and accompanying notes or a complete script.
If you assigned this project again, would you change anything? If so, what?
In future iterations of this project, it would be beneficial to seek out relevant existing resources from one’s institutional library related to podcast production, rather than creating in-class workshops from scratch. Such resources might include training sessions on various types of audio and video editing software, as well as digital repositories (Digital Loeb Classical Library, Brill Online Reference Works, etc.).
In addition, we would also create a central repository where students could upload their final projects; such a submission system, perhaps through an institutional cloud storage system or online learning management platform, would be much more reliable than email submissions (wherein most audio and video files are too large to accept).
Describe any trouble spots or complications someone else might want to be aware of before trying a similar assignment in a course of their own.
This assignment requires basic working knowledge of podcasting software and editing tools in order to guide students through the process of producing their own final output (audio, enhanced, or video podcast). It would be helpful to familiarize yourself with the podcasting process, as well as the resources available to your students and to enlist the help of library and digital humanities staff at your institution for the preparation of student training modules.