Whether you’re pivoting to meet emergency remote teaching needs or building a new syllabus and want to include some interesting new assignments, you’ve come to the right place! Like any course materials, podcast episodes are most effective if you assign them with some purpose. You can just assign the content, but we like Podcasts + Something to deliver the most impact! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

+ Discussion

Assign 1-3 episodes (for one night of homework, or over the course of the week) and a guiding question, and then have students engage in structured online discussions. You can run these discussions using Slack, FlipGrid, or a similar tool. Require that students do a minimum of six posts: 2 “original” posts (comments, observations, or questions), 2 responses to classmates’ posts, and then at least 2 other posts of either kind.

Examples:

  • Episode assignments: “Syphilis: Origin Story” + “Locked Up & Poxxed” + “Walking Corpses
  • Discussion starter: How did ideas about disease and sex shape the way people understood and talked about leprosy and syphilis from the medieval period through the 19th century?
  • Episode assignments: “The Little Ice Age” + “Trees That Fight Back
  • Discussion starter: These are two very different topics – but what parallels do you see between the episode about The Little Ice Age and Trees That Fight Back (Shintoism in modern Japan)? How can the natural world shape religious beliefs? How can religious beliefs shape human interactions with the natural world? 
  • Episode assignment: “Witches Brew
  • Discussion starter: What is ‘patriarchy,’ and how did it reshape beer-brewing in early modern England? Where else in our course have we seen the effects of ‘patriarchy’ in Europe/ the World?

+ Debate

For an assignment examining colonialism and the individuals–in this case, Joseph Conrad, Roger Casement, and Henry Morton Stanley–who carried out the tasks of empire, try this structured debate!

  • Assign the students “Hearts of Darkness” + Table of Contents, Chapters 1 (p 21-37) and Chapter 2 (p 38-47) in Burton, The Lake Regions of Central Africa
  • Divide the class into six small groups: one dedicated to the position that “Casement was an imperialist” and one dedicated to the position that “Casement was an anti-imperialist”, and so on, so that the three men each have a team dedicated to arguing one side or the other
  • Give the students 15 minutes to revisit their notes from the podcast and reading, and to do whatever research they need to
  • Make sure each student has a role – a Leader to deliver opening statement, 1-2 Researchers to take notes on and provide counter arguments during the other teams’ opener and rebuttal, and a Closer to deliver the closing statement
  • Bring the groups up two at a time, run the debate
  • The point was to show that every one of these Europeans (who at least, unlike the Berlin conferencers, actually traveled to west Africa) were complicated individuals, whose sometimes casual tourist, often economically self-serving efforts led to immense suffering in the Congo

+ Presentations

To mix content delivery up, let the students take charge! On a unit examining three theories of the cause of European witch hunts, Averill has the students break into three groups and prepare short presentations using assigned materials, a mix of podcasts and excerpts from more traditional readings:

  • Read Wolfgang Behringer, “Weather, Hunger and Fear: Origins of the European Witch-hunts in Climate, Society and Mentality” and listen to “Little Ice Age
  • Read Brian Levack, “State-Building and Witch Hunting in Early Modern Europe” and listen to “It’s Treason, Then
  • Read Marianne Hester, “Patriarchal Reconstruction and Witch Hunting” and listen to “Witches Brew

Students should work together to create an engaging presentation (with a visual aid) that clearly outlines: the main theory their sources presented for the cause of the witch hunts, and a brief discussion of the evidence that supports their theory.

+ Source Assessment

Students should be assessing and critiquing podcast episodes like they do any other secondary source! Options:

  • Write a review! Students pick 8-10 most recent episodes of a podcast (Dig, or any of the shows at lyceum.fm) and write a public history review using the National Council of Public History review guidelines.
  • For any assigned episode, have students identify the argument/thesis of the episode and the sources used.

+ Write An Episode

Have students listen to an episode with a FURTHER READING section, like “79 and Counting,” “Papa Can You Hear Me,” or “Devsirme,” read one of the articles from the Further Reading sections, and then write their own podcast episode! This gets students to think about how they would need to say something to be interesting to listeners, rather than just readers. Writing for a public audience, while engaging research (and appropriate citation) skills are important for all Humanities students!