Brody Smithwick is the founder of Lion Life Community, a non-profit organization that offers educational services inside of jails in North Georgia. He is also a graduate student at Kennesaw State University working toward a Master’s Degree in Professional Writing with concentrations in both Creative Writing and Composition and Rhetoric while teaching First-Year Composition courses at KSU.
Let’s be honest, teaching how to compose and use an annotated bibliography is not something that often induces uncontrollable excitement in our students. However, it is a necessary and useful instrument to put in their academic toolbox. While the formatting and summarizing components are important, getting students to analyze and synthesize their sources is where the magic happens—or doesn’t. In this assignment, we’ll take a look at how you can use podcasting to supplement your annotated bibliography assignments to get your students to engage in quality analysis and synthesis.
Background Reading for Students and Instructors
- The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 6, “Working with Others”
- The Everyday Writer (also available with Exercises): Ch. 14, “Evaluating Sources and Taking Notes”
- EasyWriter (also available with Exercises): Ch. 12d, “Synthesizing sources”
Assignment: Analyze and Synthesize Sources via Podcasting
Assignment Learning Outcomes
- Integrate appropriate source material for a variety of rhetorical contexts
- Read and analyze a rhetorically diverse range of texts
- Compose a variety of texts using key rhetorical concepts
- Synthesize source material
In this assignment, students will learn how to engage in quality analysis and synthesis by creating a podcast about their annotated bibliography sources. Put students into groups of twos or threes. With completed annotated bibliographies in hand, your students will pick two or three sources to discuss in the podcast. They will create a podcast script as a deliverable that also aids in ensuring the podcast runs smoothly. If you want, you can give them some stock questions to ask one another during the podcast that you know will guide the conversation towards strong analysis and synthesis. While not a necessity, I think this assignment works best if there is an overall theme to the class or if you group students together who are writing on similar topics.
- Introduce the Assignment and Explain the Technology
Link your expectation of the production quality of the podcast to how much time you are willing to spend on explaining software/hardware and editing tools. Sure, some students will be tech gurus and produce something ready for BBC on the first go. On the other hand, many students will struggle greatly with the technology component. That being said, you can either spend ample time in-class or make yourself available beyond the classroom to teach the technology side. Or simply lower your production quality requirement.
Here is a list of the free technology and other resources I provide to my students. I let them use what they are comfortable with even if I’m not familiar with it. Instead of requiring them to submit their podcast via our university’s learning management system, I ask that they turn in their work via email with very specific instructions on what to put in the email subject and how to name their files. This method has worked wonderfully for me so far.
You will also want to set a time limit on the podcasts. You would be surprised at how long these podcasts can run if you do not put a cap on them. I require a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of 30 minutes.
- Have Students Complete an Outline of a Podcast Script
By giving students an example outline, or Podcast Script, you will get a much higher quality podcast, especially because not all students regularly listen to podcasts. While podcasts can often sound like two or three pals simply shooting the breeze on the latest trends in quantum mechanics, they are not completely effortless and take time to produce. In fact, my students are often surprised that a podcast script is a real thing. The podcast script also gives you a chance to provide feedback mid-composition if you have students turn the script in before they create the podcast.
- Emphasize the Importance of Making Connections and Asking Questions
During the podcast should talk about how each source specifically pertains to their topic. Although they have already completed their annotated bibliography, their co-hosts will need a brief summary of the source. From there, you’ll want to coach them to explain how this source is functioning as a piece of evidence that supports their claim and how they specifically plan to use it in their essay. They’ll need to be familiar enough with the source to be able to field questions from their co-hosts. This where your stock questions can really come in handy for students that may struggle with coming up with questions off the cuff.
An example of how a discussion may unfold could look like the following: If Jim’s essay “Weimaraners: The Intelligentsia of the Canine World” is arguing that Weimaraners are the most intelligent breed of dog on the planet, one of his sources for the podcast might be a book about William Wegman’s amazingly talented Weimaraners. Jim briefly tells his co-hosts that Wegman is a popular American artist whose photography and art of Weimaraners dressed in human attire gained him a considerable reputation in the Seventies and Eighties. His art has been displayed in the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney, and The Smithsonian American Art Museum just to name a few. Jim has made the connection that this breed’s high intelligence allowed Wegman to create the portraits he is now so famous for. Jim plans to use Wegman’s work as a primary example of how Weimaraners have accomplished feats that shaped modern culture and that no other breed could possibly be capable of. At this point in the podcast, questions from the co-hosts will typically ensue.
Encourage your students to go where the conversation takes them and to become curious in one another’s work. Let them know that they should feel free to ask questions or challenge their co-hosts arguments--respectfully of course. This assignment puts students in a position of authority, as they are the expert on their topic and sources during the podcast. Many students seem to thrive when given that position. I think they truly feel as if they have a voice and something to add to the larger conversation.
In so many ways, talking is composing. Aiding students in discussing their sources with their peers, without the presence of the professor, yields rich conversations full of more in-depth analysis of their sources. Students move naturally into synthesizing their sources when their peers inquire about certain components of their research project or source. The podcasts my students create are often full of wit, humor, heated debates, and brilliant insights. After completing an annotated bibliography and doing this assignment, the general consensus of my class is that they feel well equipped to tackle their research projects. I like this assignment because it can be dressed up or down depending on your desired outcome. I plan to always incorporate podcasts into my course designs going forward.