Teaching and Learning Institute

Sociology prof uses podcasts to deepen student engagement with race

Jasmine Harris, Assistant Professor of Sociology, has started asking her students to create weekly podcasts–with tremendous results.

Despite having recently completed her doctorate, Dr. Harris often felt a significant generational gap between herself and her students. “We communicate differently,” Dr. Harris explained. “We want our information in drastically different forms, and from very different places.” Looking for a way to bridge this communication gap in her classrooms, Dr. Harris began researching communication styles among millennials and brainstorming ways to integrate what she’d learned—that the current generation receives and communicates information rapidly, diversely, informally—into her teaching pedagogy. One thing was abundantly clear: the traditional classroom inherently limited student engagement. As she explains, “I needed a way to reinforce class lessons using a communication style students prefer, and a method that encouraged engagement.” Finally settling on topic discussions via podcasts, an up-and-coming audio recorded medium, was not a decision that came lightly, she reveals: “A podcast seemed like a perfect fit, but also a scary one. I had no idea where to start.”

After some intervention from tech support and with grant support from the TLI, students in Dr. Harris’ SOC 255: Race and Ethnic Relations were given their semester-long task. Each student leads topical discussions on a predetermined class day by provoking the readings and posing questions to fellow students. This is often easier said than done, however, in a course dealing with such sensitive and volatile issues. The weekly podcasts, each conceived and executed by the week’s provocateur, provide an opportunity for students to discuss issues of race and racism in a more informal environment and without the pressure of speaking in front of fellow students.

What has resulted is a much deeper, more critical discourse on issues of race and racism from a diverse set of viewpoints. Students reference social media, current events, celebrity happenings, and on-campus experiences in their analysis of these issues on the podcasts.The discussion continues among the remaining students via blog posts on the course Canvas page. The effect has been startling. Dr. Harris remarked, “It has only been a few short weeks and I’ve already seen an increase in critical thinking and more robust discussion in general.” For Dr. Harris the number of unknowns and potential for disaster was well worth it. “When I first introduced this component to the class, the fear in my students’ eyes matched the fear in my own,” Dr. Harris chuckled. “It has been a great way to bond as a class. We’re all invested in the discussion.”