Sound Education 2019 – Post 2

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October 12, 2019 by Dr. G

Friday, October 11, was the first full day of sessions for the Sound Education conference, with today’s talks taking place on the campus of Boston University.

The morning started with a keynote panel on The State of Audio Education. The introduction by Tom Webster (Edison Research) was fascinating! In addtion to reminding us that the definition of “podcast” has changed over time (no longer an Apple iPod product, and no longer to podcasts say “subscribe on iTunes” at the end), he shared:

  • 51% of Americans have ever listened to a podcast
  • 22% of Americans have listened to a podcast in the past week – but since this number decreased from the previous one, it shows that listening is still not a regular habit. Why do these people go away?
  • In the past 4-5 years, 2% of all audio consumed in America was podcasts. Now, it is 4%. In 2014, spoken word audio was 8% – now, it is 17%.
  • In the past, 60-70% of podcasts were hosted by “two white dudes.” In the past decade, content is getting more diverse, hosts are getting more diverse, and new podcast listeners are mostly female and younger.
  • Ten years ago, people listened to podcasts to learn something new. Now, people listen to learn AND to be entertained.

One of the big takeaways for me from the Edison Research summary is that content needs to be put everywhere it can be encountered, and that the audience is in control.

The panel consisted of representatives from Pushkin, Adonde Media, PRX, and Harvard University. They also had some interesting points I jotted down:

  • From Kerri Hoffman at PRX – Today, podcasting is where we were with black & white film. What’s to come? Color? Sound effects? Podcasting is in the infant stage.
  • The boundaries between books, videos, and podcasts is porous, and the audio book industry is growng very quickly
  • All podcasts need an information strategy. How do you take something important and make it interesting, and vice-versa?
  • Make a content portfolio beyond the audio product.


I then had to get online to attend a Zoom meeting back at Penn State – but I forgot my headphones back at the hotel, and there wasn’t enough time for me to go back and get them. And, I needed to grab lunch. So I did what I know several faculty do in these instances – went to the local CVS, bought the headphones and lunch, and then sat down in a student lounge at Boston University for my Zoom session (yes, it’s what faculty do!).

After lunch were several hour-long sessions. I enjoyed the session Podcasting on Earth, hearing about different podcasts and their different approaches to reporting on issues such as climate (and check out this all-girl panel, which took place on International Day of the Girl!). If you haven’t already listened to these, I encourage you to check out Living on Earth (which I have my students listen to already), TIL Climate, PRI’s The World, and Trump on Earth.

These women brought up some important points to keep in mind – for example, you need to bring your listeners along on the journey. Don’t overestimate the knowledge of your audience, but also don’t underestimate their intelligence (thanks for this, Laur Fisher!). There’s also “issue literacy”, sharing the science versus the ethics, balancing hope and despair, and one final note (which I also heard at the Podcast Movement conference… men say women’s voices all sound the same on the radio). If you are looking for climate-themed podcasts, one person in the audience shared that he has been posting them on Twitter with the hashtag #ClimatePodcastNetwork – check it out!

My next session was Podcasting in the Classroom. Although I’ve been having students generate podcasts (or audio narratives, or whatever you want to call them) for over a decade, it was interesting to hear approaches from other faculty. For me, the most informative part of the panel discussion was the sharing of responses to the question, why incorporate podcasting? There were some passionate replies, focused around the lost art of conversation (“conversation is dying in this country”), and ways to get students passionate about writing again and develop their overall communication skills (critical listening, collaboration, etc.). One of the reasons that is the main reason I do podcast assignments is that it gives students creative agency over their learning, that students can have ownership of directing part of their learning in my Earth science courses for non-STEM majors.

I headed to a session that explored how to Bring Archives to Life, and I look forward to exploring more of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting to see if there is a way for students to construct stories around archive materials and/or use archival materials to supplement their audio products.

I then attended the Audio and the Academic Career panel, which was a dynamic and honest conversation about the challenges, different in each discipline and during each career stage, of having a podcast. Yes, having a podcast gives you the opportunity to meet people you want to meet (via interviews, etc.). And as the research process can be very isolating, interviewing/talking to people can help you develop your ideas. But there was 100% consensus in the room that if you are pre-tenure and you are in STEM – don’t do it. Focus on peer-reviewed journal articles before engaging in this form of science communication (hurts me to say this, but it is true in all of the P&T experience I’ve had). One great idea was shared by the panel chair Aven McMaster – when you use a podcast or paper in your class, email that producer/author and tell them you used their work. They can then use your email to show impact of their scholarship. (thanks, Aven – I’m going to do this from now on!).

The day ended for me (I didn’t attend the evening socials – too many work-related emails to address that I wasn’t able to get to during the day) by attending the keynote on Audio Literacy and Why We Need It. I had a few key takeaways from the talk – the need to balance duration time vs. listener attention (the broadcast clock matters for radio, but it is different for podcasts), stories via audio should be kept in chronological order (it’s hard for a listener to jump around in time), and we need to elevate criticism of audio (and that faculty need to do this more with students). This quote captures what I believe the take-home message was from the presenter.

It was quite a full day! Off to get some real food for dinner, and then back for my final day in Boston for Sound Education.




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