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Educational Podcasts: Sensical Strategies

Doug Metzger

UC Davis / Friend of Classics

Educational podcasts have proliferated in the past decade, and they reach a variety of listeners outside the scope of academic publishing. From busy commuters, to fitness enthusiasts, high school students, military personnel, and even manual laborers, podcasts have made on-demand educational audio available to anyone with an internet connection and music playing device. Top educational programs have tens of millions of downloads, and even specialty podcasts covering more esoteric material can be quite successful with the right writing and production.

The educational podcasting world is largely dominated by academically unaffiliated hobbyists. This can be a strength, as the vocational diversity of today’s educational podcasters can speak to a similar diversity of audience members. And it can be a weakness, as independently produced educational programs are often hastily composed, insufficiently researched, and not peer reviewed prior to release. My paper will propose several strategies for educational podcasts to be produced at an academic level.

The average research professor has neither the time nor incentive to create a podcast series detailing her area of specialty to the general public. Further, while podcasts on emerging academic research may be of some modest interest to the median consumer, a much greater interest exists in well done general introductions to historical periods, works of literature and philosophy, archaeology, and so on. I think academic departments are ideal entities to produce these general introductions, as well as, on down the road, more specialty educational audio programs, based on any given department’s research strengths. Through internal collaboration, and partnerships with existing podcasts and other universities, a single department could delegate the responsibilities of a podcast into a series of manageable and finite roles, with different individuals handling the technical, research, writing, production, music, marketing, and voiceover work, and with undergraduates and graduate students gaining vocational and research experience along the way. Or, alternatively, through a call-for-submissions methodology, a department could create a series of discrete introductory courses, with voiceover and recording work being done in house, and writing and research conducted by submitters. My paper will discuss some of these strategies in greater detail, leveraging my own experience as a PhD and classics podcaster.

My program, Literature and History, is approaching 600,000 downloads, with an average episode length of about 90 minutes. Beginning with the Sumerian Epic of Inanna and Dumuzi and poetry of Enheduanna of Ur, the show has moved forward to cover the literature of Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Canaan, Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic Greece, and the Roman republic and empire. With free online quizzes, and full transcriptions and footnotes posted on the show’s website, Literature and History has proved useful to casual listeners and more heavy duty academics alike. Although I am academically unaffiliated, many of the show’s episodes are produced in concert with professional classicists whose books I use in my research and who edit my episodes. From my experience, everyone in the academic food chain has an incentive to be part of a popular podcast, from the undergraduate looking for resume lines, to the decorated professor who wants a little extra promotion for her latest publication.

My presentation will blueprint some collaborative strategies for individuals and academic departments that seek to produce podcasts, and I’ll offer some handouts on the technical cogs and wheels of a typical podcast and hold a discussion afterward. I know many members of the academic podcasting community, from armchair enthusiasts to tenured professors, and everything in between. My collaborations with professional classicists have thus far been a fruitful and incredibly rewarding experience, and I look forward to inviting all attendees into the fun and increasingly popular world of classics podcasting.

Session/Panel Title

Podcasting the Classics

Session/Paper Number

40.2

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