Honors students create podcasts for academic inquiry course

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JUNE 7, 2021 — Podcasts have soared in popularity in recent years, and now UTSA students are getting into the act. Honors College freshmen have collaborated to create podcasts for Storytelling Across Media, a course taught by Honors College lecturer Amy Hauck.

The mission of the course is to “explore the literary legacy of storytelling as a way to actualize identity, preserve history, provide social testimony, cultivate empathy, encourage social responsibility, and generate knowledge through engaging and sharing narrative.”

The three cohorts that have taken the course have engaged in multifaceted ways to study fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and multimedia. However, the primary emphasis was given to oral history as they explored the power of narrative.

“Students generally start out thinking ‘there’s no way I can do this.’ (But) most everyone is surprised by what they accomplished.”
In groups of three to four students, they created podcasts for their final projects. Each podcast explores a different topic in-depth through a storyteller’s lens. The students conducted interviews with experts from the UTSA community, including Honors College academic counselor and lecturer Alegra Lozano (Ending) and University Distinguished Scholar in Mestizo Cultural Studies John Phillip Santos (Creating).

Student groups then transcribed all nine of their interviews, which must consist of three students, three faculty, and either three professors emeriti or faculty who have been at UTSA more than 20 years. They went on to identify storylines and build a script. Next, they chose a narrator, recorded the narration and edited the whole thing to deliver a final product that was less than 15 minutes in length.

Although each podcast only covers one topic, the students strived to incorporate unique and unexpected perspectives on that topic. For example, the podcast entitled Stressing deals with personal stress, but also deals with stress on economies and the kind of stress on buildings that engineers must take into account when they are designing structures.

With each new group, came a fresh crop of interests and perspectives were explored. The library of podcasts has grown to 14 and it will continue to grow as Hauck continues to teach this course in the future.

She collaborated with the Institute of Texan Cultures to acquaint students with best practices for recording, interviewing, and capturing oral histories. She also joined forces with local consultants from Texas Public Radio, as well as Actors from the London Stage to help students develop their skillsets of voice acting and script building.

When designing the course, Hauck decided she wanted to incorporate podcasts so that students could “engage in storytelling in their everyday environments at UTSA through a medium they were not used to.” While the course design and project layout was entirely her own, Hauck said she took inspiration for the final product from shows like This American Life and The Stanford Storytelling Project.

Students left the class with the skills necessary to create their own podcasts in the future. “With apps like Anchor and software readily available—such as Garage Band, Audacity, and the like—it is relatively easy to begin producing your own content with a little bit of training and effort,” Hauck said.

In fact, two of Hauck’s former students, Mufaro Chitakure and Jesly Johnson, have plans to do just that. Chitakure purchased a microphone and he’s been using it to hone his skills while he decides whether he wants to go public with a podcast of personal stories. Johnson, a cybersecurity major, says she too may create a podcast focused on her area of study.

Both agree that the benefits they gained from the course extend beyond simply learning how to create podcasts. “In a more general sense, the class really helped me become more comfortable approaching professors as a freshman since we had to approach them for interviewing,” Chitakure said.

Johnson said that the course helped her prepare for her current job as an Honors peer coach. “The main task as peer coaches is to ask questions that will empower students to acknowledge their dreams or goals and provide them with the resources needed to fulfill them. As a result, framing questions in the proper way is crucial,” Johnson explained. She added that the knowledge she gained from the course would also aid her in a future cybersecurity career. “Cybersecurity majors have a strong connection to stories. During the incident response process after an intrusion has been detected, we must ask ourselves what story the evidence in front of us is telling us.”

Podcasts from the course can be heard on Soundcloud. “There are so many great ones that represent hours of hard work,” Hauck said. “And for all that, many amazing stories weren’t able to make it into the final cut—that is one of the hard parts of editing something like this. Students generally start out thinking ‘there’s no way I can do this.’ But when it’s all said and done, most everyone is surprised by what they accomplished.”

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