Case Study: AFRI 0550


ON THIS WEBPAGE, we share our insights on using podcasts for a course taught within the Department of Africana Studies at Brown University called African American Health Activism from Colonialism to AIDS. We have crafted this page to provide guidance and help to educators interested in experimenting with podcasting as a pedagogical tool, particularly in courses where sound or radio is not the primary object of study.

– Nic John Ramos and Laura Garbes

Navigating This Resource

We have set up this webpage as a focused step-by-step outline of what we did at each stage of our podcasting curriculum. These “steps” are each represented by a tab. You can take it tab by tab, but you can also use each tab as a stand alone article. At the beginning of each tab you will find a short description of the step’s rationale and objectives.

Intro to the Course and Pedagogical Approach

OUR CLASS has been taught twice (Spring ‘18 and Spring ‘19) as a 20-seat maximum freshman seminar course. The course attracts a diverse set of students from both STEM and humanities concentrations, a majority of whom identify as Black or African American and many who see themselves as future clinicians. Originally, our podcasting curriculum was a small bare bones component of a larger history-based curriculum full of text readings. Through a grant from the Swearer Center, however, we re-designed the curriculum for Spring ‘19 to better incorporate podcasting into the full design of the course.

We were lucky enough to have worked alongside and pool some resources from an initiative formed out of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) called Working Out Loud. We also received significant help from the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities (JNBC) and the Modern Media Lab (MML) at Brown. You will see us reference these partners and their resources throughout this webpage.

Supporting Documents:

Our Pedagogical Perspective on Podcasting
Quote: Students attune themselves to an entirely different method of writing and arguing.

LIKE MANY EDUCATORS, we see podcasting as an opportunity to enter students on the ground floor of an increasingly popular social medium that many conceive of as a potentially more democratic sound space. We firmly believe spaces of sound, such as podcasting, however, cannot truly be democratic unless more people have the knowledge and know-how to enter their voices and the voices of their communities into the fray. In these troubling times, we especially see podcasting as an opportunity to share and tell stories often misheard, untold, and unheard in history and on the radio. It was important to us that our students recognize that the voices of the communities they come from and/or the histories rarely hear elsewhere have a legitimate place in the academy and on the airwaves.

For educators interested in assigning podcasts as a component of the curriculum, podcasts can be an attractive pedagogical tool because it departs from the traditional written expository paper that often only one person sees and evaluates at the end of the semester. We have found that the idea that listeners potentially lay beyond the ears of their peers and instructor frequently serves as a motivation for students to think more seriously about communicating difficult ideas to broad audiences. If done right, podcasting can give students something they can share with their own families and communities who might be curious about what they are learning about in college. Many of our students see the podcast assignment as a form of advocacy that can shed light and enact change on a pressing social issue.

One student holding audio equipment gives instructions to another student.
Podcasting, however, comes with its own challenges. The K-12 system builds undergraduates to write expository papers well but students rarely come to universities knowing how to record and edit sound. Using microphones, researching in sound archives, editing software, and the ethics of using these all must be taught. Additionally, while podcasts DO require students to craft arguments and make conclusions, the manner in which these arguments and conclusions land on listener’s ears requires students to attune themselves to an entirely different method of writing and arguing that is specific to podcasts and journalism. This means students must be asked to listen to and analyze sound recordings and podcasts to develop enough of a “listening ear” to eventually “write with sound.”

The last but most important note we think important to highlight is that, just like any other assignment, we have found the quality of final podcasts from students can vary greatly no matter the amount and quality of attention and resources you provide. In that spirit, we have highlighted in yellow places where we think this curriculum can be pared down, and provide alternatives boxed below.

Africana Content

Quote: Our syllabus thus reflects an experiment to try to push both "content" and "method" to their maximum extent.

IN THIS SECTION we have given readers a chance to see the content not specifically related to the teaching of sound, podcast production, and podcast publishing. We hope providing this material can help educators, particularly at the undergraduate level, think about how to design a course to fit the curricular needs of instructors and their departments while incorporating podcasting. In this syllabus, we openly grappled with the challenge of pushing “content” without sacrificing considerations over “method” and “approach” in teaching podcasting.

In short, we sought to craft both good historians and podcasters by the end of the semester. Our belief is that combining these two elements would create more space for public history and intellectualism – something we believe is sorely needed in our contemporary moment. Our syllabus thus reflects an experiment to try to push both “content” and “method” to their maximum extent. We do not, therefore, by any means, believe that a good syllabus needs all the bells and whistles of ours.

The introductory paragraph of the master syllabus explains the class as follows:

“This historical survey course examines African American activism and social movements from Colonialism and Emancipation to the contemporary period through the lens of African American access to health resources. The course also explores how marginalized peoples and communities are using new digital technologies, such as podcasting, to represent and intervene on historical inequalities. Thus, the course aims to produce public historians who are well versed in the history of medicine from the perspective of African descended peoples AND can produce social justice-oriented digital content based on their knowledge of history and marginalized communities.”

The master syllabus allowed students to understand the twin curriculum objectives (what we have referred to here as “content” and “method”) and how these two strands relate to each other. We understood the master syllabus might appear overwhelming to students so we provided students an addendum that allowed them to see all the elements specifically related to teaching the podcasting method. We also provided students an assignment calendar so they could see how the deadlines pertaining to content (readings) related to deadlines pertaining to assignments around developing method (podcasting listening and production skills). We hope all three documents – the master syllabus, the addendum, and the assignment calendar – make clear the two learning arcs of our single journey.


Listening to Content/Listening for Method and Reading Content/Reading Method

WHEN POSSIBLE, we assigned podcasts that related directly to course content and assigned readings that pertained directly to understanding sound and sound production. Assigning podcasts complementary to the assigned historical text allowed students to see how other historians and podcasters have chosen to translate text to sound and, likewise, understand how scholars have translated sound into text.


The Challenge of Teaching New Content and New Ideas Alongside New Media
Quote: We were asking students to produce stories that they often were just beginning to learn themselves.


ONE CHALLENGING PART of expecting students to lift up stories often unheard and untold was not just exposing students to new ways of presenting arguments not taught in high school (such as podcasting) but also exposing them to histories (such as the history of medicine from the perspective of the enslaved and formerly enslaved) they also were not accustomed to knowing. We found this meant we were asking students to produce stories and tell stories that they often were just beginning to learn themselves. As any educator might suspect, this dynamic – of learning and making simultaneously – presented a challenge precisely because learning about the stories of marginalized people demands reflection and caution.

A Primer on Media, Narrative, and Power

Quote: All stories are stories about power." - Chenjerai Kumanyka and Sandhya DirksTo foreground the ethical dimensions of storytelling, we begin the semester’s podcasting agenda with a discussion on power and narrative. The advance readings complicate the practice of finding or predicting a target audience. Day’s piece pushes back against the notion that folks of color, particularly Black folks, have to justify content about nonwhite stories lest they sound too particular or niche. Garbes’s piece provides a discussion point for the tendency of national outlets to conflate stories of “the national interest” with stories of interest to white upper-class consumers.

Learning Objective:  Students will begin to acquire a critical lens to knowledge production that directly relates to their final projects.

Curriculum Materials: 

Assigned Reading: 

Assigned Listening: 

“For makers and listeners alike, this presentation challenges the ways that stories privilege whiteness, quirkiness and empathy. Through examples and inquiry, Sandhya and Chenjerai show that there is no such thing as an innocent, objective, or purely entertaining story. All stories are stories about power, and storytellers hold the power to better interrogate the structures that shape our understandings.”


In Advance

Have students read and listen to above materials in advance. 

In Class

The class time dedicated to this section, the instructor will facilitate a clip analysis exercise: Dedicate time in class to discussing pieces of the Third Coast Festival’s podcast.

For each clip, the group will discuss the following questions:

  1. Who is speaking?
  2. What are they speaking about?
  3. Who are they speaking about?
  4. What systems underlie the story they are telling?
  5. What are the key words?


  1. Judging police by the personal (15:35-17:15)
  2. The empathy trap (17:46-20:34)
  3. Nia Wilson, BART (37:00- 38:30)
  4. Women in the Military (38:30- 40:35)
  5. Kavanaugh Hearings (40:40-42:10)
  6. Responsibility to have done some work coming into the space (43:00-45:00)
  7. Codeswitch, the other storm (45:01-46:11)


“The creation of a podcast was an indication to me that the traditional literary and evidence-heavy form of knowledge production and distribution are forms of structural prejudice, because they limit the rich research that has been done to a few privileged people that have been able to get a substantial amount of tertiary education, when radio can make knowledge so accessible, in terms of language and resources.” – Mamaswatsi

The Listening Ear

“Teaching people to think about how they listen is really important… all of our senses are conditioned by culture, ideology, race.” – Dr. Stoever, April 18, 2019

Learning Objective: A focus on listening, and discussions on listening in class, reveal to students the importance of the positionality of the listener and the audio producer in the interpretation of sound.

Curriculum Materials: 

Assigned Listening: 

This podcast was assigned to match the topic of the course, African American Health Activism, and its interview-style format. During class we discussed both the content and the stylistic choices, and related it back to their projects, as they were about to embark on recording their first interviews.

We recommend you find a podcast that best matches the content you are teaching on, while still showing an audio technique you would like students to listen for.


In Advance:
In preparation, fill out the Story Structure Worksheet analyzing the Hidden Brain listening assignment. Note: You can use the story structure worksheet with any assigned listening throughout the semester.

During Class:
“When you make a recording, you’re making it from a particular perspective, and you’re looking at things in a particular way. And just because we think of sound recording as an objective, total process doesn’t mean that it is.  It’s more apparent when you are recording with binaural mics, little tiny mics that you put in either ear. Anyone that listens back can hear an approximation of how you are hearing the space. Sound recordings are in fact always marked by your physical body. Foregrounding that highlights the position of the person recording, and how the process of recording depends on how you move through the world.” Alex Hanesworth, April 18, 2019

Discussion Points (make specific to the advance listening assigned).

  1. Statues: How do the experts think they should be dealt with? How do you think they should be dealt with? Why?
  2. Proportion of how much Vedantam is speaking vs his guests
  3. Thinking through narrative and post editing: did all these interviews get recorded in this exact way? If not, what has changed?


“I’ve definitely been quite humbled in the process of audio editing and more so understand the effort it takes to make a really good podcast with really good cuts and such. I have a much larger respect for the podcast making industry.” – Ty

Soundwalk Assignment, by Dr. Jenny Stoever

“One of the things I do with students is try to denaturalize listening. I have them do a soundwalk , which is a mode of actually doing a walk through space and only listening.”  []

  1. “I do a sample one with them around campus, and as a class we discuss, comparing what some hear and others don’t (for example, the chemistry students didn’t hear the roaring of the chemistry building because they’re in there every day). We discuss what they attune themselves to and what they don’t, and how listening habits form.”
  2. “Then I have them create their own soundwalk of Binghamton, the city in which I teach. They spend a lot of time designing this, then they write an analysis and a sound map. Then they receive an anonymized sound walk to do and start imagining the person that created the walk, and realize all of the assumptions they have about the person. That’s when it sinks in, the moment the students realize that listening really is not universal.


We did a half-day podcast training on the techniques of podcasters, from story idea to execution. While we had different speakers from Now Here This and WBRU discuss each topic, the slides within curriculum materials can be used to guide students through the same topics.

We also worked with Brown’s Multimedia Labs to provide an introduction to interview techniques using an iPhone or Android voice recorder.

Learning Objective: One of the challenges of creating an audio story for the first time is the acquisition of technical skills like recording and editing. While students are still in the pitching stage of their audio story, this survey workshop will offer them an overview of the steps. This provides students the training to begin recording interviews, as well as a preview of the resources available to them in the weeks ahead as they begin the editing process.

Curriculum Materials: 

Assigned Reading:

Assigned Listening:

Fill out the story structure worksheet analyzing The Heart listening assignment for discussion. []

For class:

Collaborative Plan of Action []

Optional: If you already have an idea for your final assignment, fill out the story planning worksheet , adopted from the NYTimes lesson plan. []


During Session:
An overview of:

We used Audition because there was a free software download from Brown, but there are other free programs available, like Audacity, which are relatively easy to use for beginners and have helpful starting guides.



“Until this semester, I had no idea what Audition even was. I now have fully edited a podcast including fading in, fading out, cross-overs, and changing the volume of certain segments of the podcast to make it more appropriate. Additionally, by being so intimate with the material, I have learned to care and focus on details like tone, music, and sound effects that give the desired effects our group was looking for and produce something that had emotion and the ability to maintain the attention of the listener in an engaging fashion.”
Aiden Meyer


Quote: A pitch can be seen as a starting point of initial plans, which can change according to the fieldwork.Learning Objective: Students will learn from several audio storytellers how to turn a story idea into a more elaborated pitch which outlines potential audio sources 

Curriculum Materials:

Assigned Reading:

Assigned Listening: 

Post Lecture:


During Session:

    • Review the elements of “Steal This Podcast” with students and ask them to consider how each of their ideas maps onto a podcast structure.
    • Considerations:
      • Finding and Mixing Archival Sources: share with students the slides with websites of archival sound resources.
      • Following a story and adapting: a pitch can be seen as a starting point of initial plans, which can change according to the fieldwork (e.g., a new archival source emerges, an interview did not go the way a student expected, etc.)


After this session, students were equipped to write a full pitch.

Building the Skeleton

Part of a flow chart of Audio Production.

Learning Objective: In this mini-lesson, students will learn how to create a timeline and manage a collaborative workplan.

Curriculum Materials:

Assigned Reading:

  • Martin, Maria. “Crossing Borders” in Reality Radio, Second Edition: Telling True Stories in Sound. Durham: University of North Carolina, 204-211.

Additional Considerations:

For class:

Two cartoon figures with many speech balloons between them.NOTE: while every student has created their own pitch, only half were taken from pitch to podcast. Students took a poll of which podcasts they would be willing to produce, from 1 to 5. We then assigned students in groups according to their preferences. We recommend pairs so that the students can split all parts of the process.

During Session: Students fill out collaborative plan of action and discuss the timeline in small groups.

Outcome: After this session, students were equipped to conduct three weeks of fieldwork.

Editing and Arranging


Learning Objective: Students will learn how to edit the individual interview recordings.

We collaborated with Brown University’s Multimedia Lab student staff to provide technical training. We have provided the slides created by Sierra Fang-Horvath, who guided students through the process of editing sample sound clips. []


Learning Objective: Students will work with their recordings to create a broader narrative.

We worked with the Multimedia lab for these techniques as well, which allowed students to fade sound effects in and out, and to combine narration with interviews (as seen in the screen grab of the Audition File below for one of the group’s final podcasts, “Shadows in Harriet’s Dawn.” For this story, along with Nic and Laura’s commentary, see 

Transcript of Behind the Podcast: – deconstructing scenes from AFRI0550, African American Health Activism.[]

Ethical Use of Interviews

Learning Objective:

Assigned reading:

Advance Assignment:

Complete Fieldwork Log. []

During Class:

Guest Speaker Dr. Jennifer Lynn Stoever came in to

Primary Activity: Lunch Panel with Dr. Jennifer Lynn Stoever


Dr. Jennifer Lynn Stoever is the Editor in Chief of the Sounding Out! Blog. She received her PhD in American Studies and Ethnicity from USC. Currently Associate Professor at SUNY Binghamton, Jennifer teaches courses on African American literature and race and gender representation in popular music. In 2016, she published her first book, The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening (NYU Press).

Alex Hanesworth grew up listening to audiobooks in a nook somewhere on Fidalgo Island, WA and now spends her days studying, teaching, and making radio for Now Here This and the RISD Museum. She mostly makes stories about art, history, intimacies, and the intersections of the three.

Babette Thomas is a Black radio producer originally from Oakland, California and is also the one of the current managing editors of Now Here This. Her work is largely concerned with using sound and narrative to bring Black history in conversation with the present.


Co-sponsored by:

The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice
The Swearer Center at Brown University
The John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities

Audio Stories Podcast

While this programming required additional funding for inviting in speakers, food costs, etc., we’ve turned the panel into an Ethical Audio Stories Podcast [].

Instructors looking to replicate the discussion may refer to the podcast and transcript for some background. 

The instructor, after reviewing the students’ advance fieldwork logs, will conduct the Q&A discussion of turning fieldwork interviews and archival data into narrative.

Ethical Audio Stories Panel Transcript []


Quote: "Individuals should not be afraid to let external influence - such as interviews - shape (or even guide) their podcasts." -Mali“After talking with Dr. Jennifer Lynn Stoever in a small discussion in class about the sonic color line, it is ever apparent to me in which archives of sound filled with white, male dominant voices has been made a “standard” is a tool used to silence voices that do not seem to correspond to this standard, and thus we lose the important narratives and stories that explains deeper mechanisms of thoughts in different knowledge systems. Because of my troubles and successes with podcasting I now know how important it is to listen to the voices of people, and understand their own way of thinking and relationship to the topic that is not directly in agreement to the white, male dominant narrative.” – Ijeoma

“Another major insight that I gained is that individuals should not be afraid to let external influence– such as interviews– shape (or even guide) their podcasts. As long as the topic is a point of passion and interest, this approach has to potential to take the podcast to interesting and unexpected places. If our group was not given the time and space to figure out what we really wanted to say, our ideas may have been underdeveloped. For instance, we likely would not have come up with the idea of the “mobility of trauma” had we not first interviewed Ramos, Amoso, and Bath.” – Mali

“The challenge that comes with trying to stay true to the voice of both our interviewees and Jacobs, our archival source, while at the same time forming a perspective of our own was a very difficult, but rewarding process that I quite grateful for. During this particular phase of the audio production process, I feel like I really found myself having to apply all of the lessons and insights that I had gathered from the readings and our discussions in this course. The various audio production lessons and workshops also came in very handy for the process of combining our different elements of podcast production as well.” – Amber


“I’m grateful for this class for my newfound love of audio.”

– Ope

Each of these tabs highlights one aspect of the podcasting curriculum that we see as integral to the process.

By foregrounding the power of narratives, students understood how narratives can be tools for social justice, just as much as they can be used to maintain the status quo.

By focusing on the listening ear, students developed a reflexivity of their roles as narrators and interviewers.

Providing an overview of techniques gave students a sense of the process from start to finish.

By pitching a story, students were able to commit to an idea that is an appropriate scale.

The story skeleton moved students from the idea stage to narrative in a collaborative format; the accompanying collaborative plan of action kept students on a steady workplan.

We relied on the expertise of the Multimedia Lab at Brown to edit sound clips and arrange tracks, ensured quality audio and taught practical skills for the production process.

As students wrapped up, teaching ethical considerations of interview usage offered another check-in point to ensure students were thinking critically about their production process.

The final tab, on postproduction, was not used in this particular course because we did not post full student podcasts online. However, we hope this will be useful for educators looking to help students publish their work.


The following podcast highlights one of the group audio stories, “Shadows in Harriet’s Dawn.” Through this project as a sample, we reflect on our podcast training curriculum provided in the previous tabs.

“It was a different experience for me because I usually only use visuals to spark memories, but audio is such a different realm because I hear what was happening and I could close my eyes and see it too. I’m grateful for this class for my newfound love of audio, specifically those that I create since I haven’t been able to get into podcasts. Also, the editing process was really satisfying for me as I added each piece and literally watched the story be put together. I’m so glad that we got to make the podcast and it’s something I’m very proud of creating.” – Ope






External resources

Jessica Abel’s book and interactive podcast, Out on the Wire.


Alarcon, Daniel.  2017. “Storytime at the Azteca Club” in Reality Radio, Second Edition: Telling True Stories in Sound. Durham: University of North Carolina, 90-96.

Boyle, Clare. Why Consider Language?

Day, Leila. 2007.  I Am My Target Audience. Transom, Atlantic Public Media:

Dirks, Sandhya, Chenjerai Kumanyika, and Isabel Vazquez. 2019. All Stories are About Power. Third Coast International Audio Festival, 91.5 WBEZ:

Garbes, Laura. 2017. How a Task Force Advanced a Prescient Vision for Diversity in Public Radio. Current: News for People in Public Media:

Henkin, Aaron and Wendel Patrick. 2018. “Steal This Podcast” from Out of the Blocks. WYPR,

Hicks, Justin, Laura Winnick and 

Kanngieser, Anja, Holly Ingleton, Mere Nailatikau, and Krystelle Lavaki Danford. 2018. Intro to Podcasting Manual. Climates of Listening: Suva Fiji:

Lewis, Alex and Yowei Shaw. 2014. “Lessons from Making a Historical Documentary” from Transom. Atlantic Public Media:

Martin, Maria. “Crossing Borders” in Reality Radio, Second Edition: Telling True Stories in Sound. Durham: University of North Carolina, 204-211.

Now Here This. Producer Handbook. Brown University: Providence:

Radio Rookies. “DIY Toolkit.” WNYC: New York:

Radio Rookies.  “Resources for Educators.” WNYC: New York:

Smith, Stephen.  2017. “Living History” in Reality Radio, Second Edition: Telling True Stories in Sound. Durham: University of North Carolina, 182-193.

Stoever, Jennifer Lynn. “Fine-Tuning the Sonic Color-line: Radio and the Acousmatic Du Bois.” Modernist Cultures 10, no. 1 (2015): 99-118.

Vedantam, Shankar and Maggie Penman. 2016. Remembering Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey: The Mothers of Modern Gynecology,”from Hidden Brain: A Conversation about Life’s Unseen Patterns: (00:26:37).

Yahr, Natalie. “Why Should I Tell You? A Guide to Less Extractive Reporting.”  Center for Journalism Ethics: Madison, WI: