Teaching on topics of war and peace can be challenging under the best circumstances but even more so when students are not given the tools to effectively engage with the curriculum. Educators frequently look for better ways to discuss these complex and emotional topics that will resonate with their students while still achieving important course objectives. Audio podcasts provide one such avenue for effectively engaging students. Audio components are not new to the classroom, but they are becoming more common as their public counterparts — such as podcasts and internet radio programs — have increased in popularity over the last decade. A recent push in classrooms, therefore, is an effort to identify constructive ways to use podcasts to help students interact with curriculum in a more personal way that allows for a better understanding of the topics being taught.
In “Podcasting Pedagogy for Teaching Peace and War,” the authors discuss the development of an International Security course they designed that utilizes podcasts in an interactive process of teaching, learning, and evaluation. Rather than having their students access podcasts as the finished product of someone else’s work, their educational focus is on the process of creating a podcast: i.e., the programming design, the investigation and interviewing of sources, and the construction of narratives around issues of war and peace. The authors cite previous studies that point to the strong learning benefits of podcasts when students engage in their production, specifically benefits derived from the responsibility of delivering a product, which “encourages a more attentive examination of its content and the development of academic responsibility toward it.”
Perhaps even more importantly, the authors also point to the educational value of podcasting’s ability to embody and humanize the study of war and peace in ways the field’s more traditional methods of teaching lack. A motivation for this study, and one of the authors’ criticisms of traditional International Relations teaching methods, is the way in which many current methods render the study of peace and war “abstract and disembodied.” University students often receive online reading lists that provide “little incentive to visit a library or archive, conduct interviews, collect different testimonies, or look for the concrete ways in which abstract questions of peace and war, or international politics more broadly, are manifest in people’s lives.” Developing podcasts, the authors believe, is a way to address this criticism because the process encourages greater creativity through the identification of and interaction with sources of information, rather than allowing students to be “passive absorbers of knowledge” who feel distanced from the material they are examining.
In 2018, nearly half of Americans over the age of 12 listen to podcasts — a sharp rise from the 11 percent who used them in 2006.
Their course was structured around four different activities: lectures on peace, war, and security; reading and debating on more specific themes (such as securitization, gender and (in)security, terrorism, and others); workshop modules on listening and developing a voice, multimedia analysis, and various technical components of podcasting; and presentations from radio and podcasting producers and experts. Throughout the process, there were also opportunities for peer and teacher feedback sessions to “ensure a more interactive and reflexive learning experience.” The students were then given the opportunity to choose their own subject (related to peace and war), style of expression, and types of sources or testimonies, as well as other creative elements of their podcast. Throughout the process, teachers encouraged students to question what constitutes “proper” academic practice when it comes to discussing peace, war, and violence, as well as their political significance. The teachers would ask students, “Why do we read or listen to some points of view over others?” And, “Why do we find certain sources more credible or relevant than others?” These questions helped the students develop their podcasts through critically examining what “sources, voices, testimonies, or experiences to bring into their podcasts, why and how.”
Through this process, the authors believe that the students “autonomously acquired theoretical and empirical knowledge” relevant to their chosen topic and sources. Another interesting observation from the course was the way podcasts helped the students reflect on the “scriptedness” of politics that favors some voices, opinions, and views over others. The field of International Relations and debates on issues of war and peace, argue the authors, are especially susceptible to scripts that encourage “binary-driven thinking” (friend/foe, north/south, good/evil, savior/victim) instead of deeper reflection. While developing their podcasts, students had to decide what scripts to employ and what scripts to “unscript” or “rescript” through deeper analysis, reflection, or clarification. The authors conclude by arguing that podcasts offer an important, alternative way of studying war and peace: they provide students with a creative outlet to humanize the study of peace and war that encourages the deconstruction of “black and white” binary thinking.
In 2018, nearly half of Americans over the age of 12 listen to podcasts — a sharp rise from the 11 percent who used them in 2006. This growth in podcast consumption reflects similar technology trends that have translated into the growing presence of tablets, computers, and “smart” devices in today’s classrooms — many of which have proven to be valuable resources to both teachers and students alike. However, new technologies do not necessarily translate into useful teaching aids or improve the learning experience of students. Introducing tools such as podcasts or other technology into the classroom should always be scrutinized and open for debate, but when new tools and techniques are found to be effective, they should be welcomed and encouraged. As our world becomes more integrated with the technology that surrounds us, it will become more important to harness tools that allow for creative ways to advance teaching methods and to help students address and comprehend complex topics.
Podcasts can be seen as a way to formally accept technology into the classroom. Cell phones, computers, smart devices, etc. are prohibited in many classrooms. However, denying students the tools (or, some argue, vices) that are becoming more a part of our everyday life is becoming more and more difficult to justify. By integrating podcasts, or other forms of technology, into classrooms, educators and students can begin to construct norms of acceptable use of technology in the classroom. In doing so, they will also be better-equipped to contrast acceptable norms with distracting or inappropriate use of technology, which can simultaneously remove the negative stigma of technology and discourage its unofficial classroom use.
Because students are becoming increasingly familiar with the underlying technology of podcasts, their use in the classroom can broaden educational options in an accessible, non-threatening way. Creating podcasts can serve as a tool to help students reflect or elaborate on class discussions or to record and share notes. Aside from the creation process, listening to others’ podcasts offers benefits as well. Educators can record classes or specific lectures to share with absent students, podcasts can provide access to experts and voices that would otherwise be inaccessible, and educators and universities can utilize podcasts to increase the reach and audience of their material.
Published in collaboration with the Peace Science Digest, which summarizes and reflects on current academic research in the field of peace and conflict studies. To subscribe or download the full piece, which includes additional resources, visit their website.