In this episode, we feature a short audio story by Vanderbilt undergraduate Sarah Eidson about Maurine Watkins, the American journalist who wrote the play Chicago in 1926. Sarah produced the audio story for an assignment in the provocatively titled course “Women Who Kill,” taught in the women’s and gender studies program by English lecturer Robbie Spivey. The course provided a critical look at classical and contemporary representations of women who kill. Maurine Watkins, the subject of Sarah’s audio story, wasn’t a woman who killed, but she covered the murder trials of two women as part of her work at the Chicago Tribune, then wrote her play Chicago about women accused of murder based on that experience. In Sarah’s audio piece “Writer’s Block Tango,” Sarah blends fact and speculation to explore Watkins’ motivations.
For those interested in using audio assignments in their teaching, here’s a little background on Robbie Spivey’s podcast assignment for her course “Women Who Kill”…
Robbie asked her students to make a podcast episode of 8 to 13 minutes in length, using the audio format to respond to the following prompt:
“When we talk about women who kill, we need to talk about X because Y.”
Before scripting and recording their audio pieces, students were asked to conduct preliminary research to identify a topic, then collect sources and write an annotated bibliography. Here’s how Robbie framed the audio production piece of the assignment:
“Support your claims with good reasoning, valid evidence, and when appropriate, good story-telling. Take advantage of the podcast medium to convey your message in ways you would not be able to in a traditional research essay or classroom presentation. For example, strategically use pacing, music, sound effects, ambient noise, other voices, etc.”
Robbie also helped shape her students’ expected audience:
“Address an audience made up of both college students and professors at Vanderbilt and other universities like Vanderbilt interested in conversations about “women who kill.” Your audience is interested in the conversation, but has not participated in the conversation with the sustained attention that we have over the course of this semester, nor has your audience considered the significance of your chosen topic. They may not even be aware that your topic is relevant to conversations about women who kill… As you design your podcast, think about what you want your audience to know, believe, understand, ask, or do.”