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Students Giving Their Own Voice to American Literature

A new course that brings together English and media and communication studies is putting a different spin on the typical essay-based scholarly research by introducing a unique medium: podcasts.  

“Podcasting American Literature” diversifies typical academic learning by centering on the importance of literature through an audio medium. It is being offered for the first time this semester.   

Talia Argondezzi, the director of the Center for Writing and Speaking and instructor of the course, described how the class is a way to broadcast intricate literary research to a wide audience. The course takes its inspiration from a podcast series called American Icons, which discusses “the stories behind America’s most iconic works of art,” Argondezzi says.

With this influence in mind, Argondezzi adds that research is not only about writing and engaging with text, but how scholars then articulate those ideas to the public. Students, who are scholars in their own right, should be able to participate in this dialogue as well.   

In short, the students aren’t writing papers. They are reading the works of Edgar Allan Poe, James Baldwin and Louisa May Alcott and producing podcasts that explore different themes in the texts.   

The research and production of the podcasts still engages with writing, but in ways that are different than the standardized essay-based English course.  

“I don’t think there’s a big dichotomy between what the students would produce in a more traditional class versus what they would do for this class,” Argondezzi explains. “A recent New York Times article talked about the decline of text-based communication and how people don’t write things and read them anymore because there are podcasts and vlogs and video essays. But the truth is, that’s still writing. They’re still conceptualizing these ideas and expressing them. The complexity of the content is still high. They still have to say something interesting and say something with a purpose.”

The podcasts do, however, take on a more casual tone than an academic paper, allowing the students to show their personalities and creativity. And a big difference, Argondezzi says, is the audience.

“I want them to think about who is going to listen to them and what the audience already knows,” she says.

In fact, switching from the conventional essays to podcasts might be jarring for some academics, as a student in the class, Taahira Davis notes.

“There is a way that you do a podcast that’s not just a standard paper because for a podcast you have to be more communicative and not so scholarly in a sense, but still getting the scholarly information in there,” Davis says.

It’s not that podcasts are a lesser form than the traditional research essay, but that podcasts and other educational mediums can be a creative alternative in spreading ideas in a way that is accessible to a broad audience.   

Another student in the class, Jadidsa Perez says, “We learn how to edit and we learn how to interview…and so it is more literature based, like a typical English class, but with technology involved.”

Podcasting American Literature takes on various aspects, such as literary texts, technology and public speaking. These areas are interwoven through the creative leadership of the students.

Davis says the podcast format allows for creativity and nuance with producing an argumentative thesis. Specifically, Davis’s group focused on Alcott’s Little Women and whether the character Jo is a representative LGBTQ+ character. Davis and the other students devised a conversation structure in which they had a scholarly argument. The podcast format added complexity and character to the project.  

Perez notes ways in which students engaged with nuanced ideas. She says the students are able to speak with a scholar on the subject of their podcast, something which was novel and rewarding.

“I haven’t had that many chances to just talk to a scholar that graduated from college so we felt like actual journalists talking to people that studied [the topic] extensively and have wrote articles and books on it,” Perez says.

Podcasting American Literature uses nontraditional educational formats, intensive reading and writing in order to communicate scholarly ideas to a wide audience. It is beneficial because it is unconventional and intertwines modes of education like writing and reading with podcasting.

“I think podcasts are a great medium for education because—especially since society’s getting so technology-based—they are a great way to get a lot of information,” Davis says. “When you’re doing a podcast, you do a lot of different research, so you’re learning a lot. I think it’s innovative in that way and I enjoy it.” –By Madison Bradley ’18