Episode 20 – “Musical Cryptography” by Audrey Scudder

In this episode of VandyVox, we feature a stellar piece of audio, produced by Audrey Scudder for the History of Cryptography in the department of mathematics, taught by Professor Derek Bruff. Professor Bruff is the creator of VandyVox and hosted seasons 1 and 2 of the podcast. Three years ago, he replaced a paper assignment in his first-year writing seminar with an audio assignment and has been refining the art of assigning podcasts ever since. Professor Bruff asked students to take a code or cipher from history and describe its origin, use, influence, and mechanics. Audrey fully delivered with a captivating piece the bridges the worlds of mathematics and music.

Audrey told us at VandyVox that she’s always had a passion for music theory, and in particular, how music intersects with math, science, and linguistics, and I think that passion shines through in this audio. While providing historical context and explaining cryptography nuances, Audrey used music itself to augment and support the content of the podcast.

Breaking down the intricacies of musical encryption, she provides numerous examples between enciphering vs deciphering, different enciphering techniques, and how sheet music can heighten security and complexity compared to just auditory musical encryption. While explaining the portion about Stegibiza, which discusses how tempo changes can be used as a signal, Audrey actually modulates the tempo of her background music as a fun Easter egg for the listeners.

Finally, Audrey’s research culminates in an epic example, Edward Elgar’s Dorabella movement. She’s entirely successful at blending the storytelling and technical components that were required for this project, drawing the audience into an age-old mystery.  This is such strong, high-quality student-audio because of Audrey’s research and passion for the subject matter Professor Bruff’s thoughtfulness and intentionality behind the assignment. For the past three years he’s been assigning a podcast, each year produces another iteration project goals, rubric, and expectations. Professor Bruff said he noticed that as he built more scaffolding into the assignment, the quality of the student podcasts became stronger.

Each year, he updates a blog he writes titled “Building a Better Podcast Assignment”, where he breaks down the expectations, timeline, and process of building a podcast assignment. A link to this blog and a detailed summary of his iterative process can be found below.

Building a Better Podcast Assignment: https://derekbruff.org/?p=3558

Fall 2017

  • Assignment Duration: Two weeks.
  • Students listen to a professional podcast in class and identify successful aspects and techniques.
  • Students collectively contribute to a draft rubric. (Works well for novel assignment types.)
  • Had the Center for Teaching’s educational technologist, Rhett McDaniel, visit the class to provide an audio collecting and editing crash course using Audacity.
  • Pointed students to a collection of resources built over years of research to select a relevant topic for their podcast and submit for approval.
  • Students are given time in class to plan podcast episodes and workshopping podcast outlines, then have another week to produce and edit the audio for the episodes.
  • Submit 10 – 15-minute episodes via Brightspace along with show notes and producer’s statements.
  • Graded podcasts and gave critical feedback
  • Posted podcasts to Soundcloud


Fall 2018

  • Assignment Duration: Three weeks.
  • The additional week gave students more time and added another in-class session to workshop episodes.
  • Students now submit a full script in addition to an outline per the suggestion of Gilbert Gonzales.
      • This increases the scaffolding of the assignment and allows for preemptive editing to fix major problems and address gaps in understanding.
  • There are three in-class sessions total: 1) to discuss sample podcasts, 2) to workshop student outlines, and 3) to workshop student scripts, with 3.5) half of a class devoted to the audio editing crash course.
  • On the instructor side, Professor Bruff recommends using the Podlove Podcast Publisher plugin for WordPress. It’s free, has many options, and useful analytics, and mitigates the issue of running out of storage space on a free SoundCloud account.


Fall 2019

  • Assignment Duration: Three weeks.
  • Now students are also required to submit annotated bibliographies containing at least four credible sources, per the suggestion of Sophie Bjork-James.
  • Students create their show notes directly into WordPress so they don’t need reformatting.
      • However, Professor Bruff notes that they are already familiar with the layout of WordPress because they are consistently blogging throughout the course.
  • Students are now responsible for finding images to use for the podcast episodes with appropriate copyright considerations, i.e. public-domain images, Wikimedia Commons
  • Student scripts are run through Turnitin to assure that all work is original.
      • Ran into a problem of student mostly reading off a magazine article rather than creating original dialogue, using Turnitin should mitigate this.
  • Adjusted rubric criteria to include “enduring understandings” that asks students to include something enduring about the field of cryptography, tying their individual episode to the greater field.
  • Adjusted rubric criteria to include “working with sources” to emphasize the importance of copyright infringement and originality.

When it comes to grading, initially Professor Bruff had the students workshop a draft rubric to collectively set the student expectations as well as build a strong foundation for the type of work that goes into creating a podcast. Then, he created a rubric and updated it every year. The current rubric has three main criteria, “content”, “communication”, and “production”, each containing subcategories that can be placed in one of four assessment categories, “poor”, “acceptable”, “good”, and “excellent”. Here, each of the four assessment categories is valued from 1 to 4 points, respectively, and contain a brief description of the quality of work that would earn placement into that category. Below are links to Professor Bruff’s Fall 2019 rubric as well as the handout describing the assignment for students.

Fall 2019 History of Cryptography Podcast Assignment Rubric: https://derekbruff.org/blogs/fywscrypto/files/2019/10/Podcast-Rubric-1.pdf

Fall 2019 History of Cryptography Podcast Assignment Description: https://derekbruff.org/blogs/fywscrypto/files/2019/10/Podcast-Assignment-1.pdf

Episode 19 – “Pretty Funny” by Erica Simpson

Transport yourself back to the 1960s and rediscover what it means to be a “beautiful woman” by Hollywood’s standards and meet the woman who contested those ideals. In “Pretty Funny: How Barbra Streisand Challenged Hollywood Conventions”, undergraduate student Erica Simpson analyzes the beauty and gender roles prevalent in Hollywood in this time period through a modern lens for a class in Cinema and Media Studies taught by Professor Megan Minarich. Professor Minarich seems to have podcasting assignments down to a science.

The crux of the assignment was to present an argumentative narrative about a Hollywood musical film independent of those covered in class. In general, the students were graded on the episode content, their storytelling effectiveness, the strength of their argument, and a peer-review portion. The points breakdown for the podcast project and peer review are outlined below:

  • Podcast Project (250 possible points)
    • Podcast: 200 points
    •  Script: 25 points
    • Show Notes: 10 points
    • Producer’s Memo: 15 points
  • Podcast Peer Review (45 possible points)
    • Podcast Internal Peer Review Draft: 10 points
    • Podcast External Peer Review: 25 points
    • Podcast Overall Peer Review Summary and Revision Plan: 10 points

Professor Minarich also defines a list of pieces that must be incorporated into the podcast, including a 3-part thesis statement, addressing relevant aspects of the five categories of film art, and incorporating 4 – 6 reputable secondary sources. Her full rubric for the podcast project broke down the podcast into subcategories, with assigned maximum point values, that can be rated in four categories: poor, acceptable, good, and excellent. Within each subcategory, a verbal description of what embodied “poor”, “acceptable”, “good”, and “excellent” work was provided, and a score is assigned to each category.

This detailed process of breaking down exactly what she expects from the students and their podcasting performance task provides a structure that shapes the podcasts into robust academic tools. Beyond providing detailed rubrics, Professor Minarich planned field trips to Vanderbilt Student Media to meet Jim Hayes to discuss podcast best practices and recording. Additionally, she established proactive deadlines for mini objectives throughout the semester; an example is featured below.

  • Important Dates (Sample)
  • R 10/3: Visit to Vanderbilt Student Media with Jim Hayes (meet in Sarratt 363 at 1:10p)
  • T 10/8: Discussion of podcast episodes (see Brightspace)
  • R 10/17: Internal Peer Review of Script – Full Draft Due (2 hard copies in class; copy emailed to Prof. Minarich by 1:10p)
  • Su 10/20: External Peer Review of Script Due via Email (to your author and to Prof. Minarich)
  • T 10/22: Podcast Overall Peer Review Summary and Revision Plan due (hard copy in class)
  • Su 11/3: Podcast, Script, Show Notes, and Producer’s Memo due to Brightspace by 11:59p

            Since podcasting is a foreign assignment to many students, directly laying out this level of structure in the syllabus is pertinent to helping students understand the expectations of the assignment and provide the framework to be successful. Further, the peer review process allows students to glean insight into what other students are preparing, and providing feedback on other’s work will help make their own work stronger.

            Professor Minarich had the students email her a copy of the podcast script draft and bring two hard copies to class. One copy is given to a student they designate as an “external peer review partner” who reviews the student’s script individually outside of class. Then, students partner up with a different student, designated as an “internal peer review partner”, who then work together in class to review the scripts and discuss improvements. This provides students with two peer reviews conducted in two different formats.

Erica Simpson said that her podcast would not have been possible without the guidance and resources provided by Professor Minarich. Approaching the assignment through the lens of podcasting allowed Erica to take a more personal and fluid approach to discover the content she wanted to discuss, and she provided VandyVox some helpful tips.

When starting the assignment, Erica began with rough-cut audio, where she turned on the mic and allowed herself to talk through the memorable points of the movie. From there, she was able to reflect on what stuck out to her and used these to build the base of her assignment. However, the podcasting format of the assignment didn’t come without its hurdles. She relays that she initially struggled with finding royalty-free transition audio until eventually discovering a Creative Commons partnered website called FreeSound. Below is an excerpt from Professor Minarich’s syllabus regarding copyright laws:

An Important Note about Copyright and Fair Use: Films and their music/scores are copyrighted material. That said, if you feel it is necessary, you may use a very small sample of sound from the film in your project, since this is for educational purposes (as is my understanding from Frank Lester, Vanderbilt film librarian). Be sure to see me if you plan to do this. Do be aware, though, that since this is copyrighted material, you will not be able to share your podcast outside of the context of our class if you use any sound from the film itself. Thus, given the opportunities that exist for otherwise further sharing your work, I would strongly advise that you avoid using sound from the film itself or any music related to the film that is under copyright.

Student-produced podcast episodes that are of sufficient quality for public listening may be added to a class podcast on musical film history hosted on Soundcloud. A small number of very high quality podcasts containing no copyrighted material will be submitted to VandyVox for consideration. Additionally, you are also encouraged to submit your work to the Undergraduate Writing Symposium for possible inclusion. I am currently working with Prof. Bradley, Director of the Writing Studio, to determine whether podcasts containing copyrighted material are eligible for submission to the UWS. Those that do not contain copyrighted material are certainly eligible for submission.

Additionally, keep in mind that the Writing Studio supports multimodal writing assignments, too! You can certainly bring in your podcast to discuss it with a consultant at the Writing Studio.”

Erica also notes that trying to edit her audio clips in GarageBand was not so simple as a first time GarageBand user. Luckily, podcasts can be created with a variety of audio processing tools. Links to audio processing tutorials and royalty-free sound clips can be found below. More detailed questions about creating a podcast and dealing with copyrights and royalties can be directed to the wonderful Vanderbilt librarians and staff at Vanderbilt Student Media.

This article walks you through the steps to create and edit a podcast in GarageBand with an accompanying tutorial video: https://www.buzzsprout.com/blog/garageband-podcast-tutorial

If you are more comfortable using iMovie, here is a video tutorial on making a podcast in iMovie by YouTuber “TechTeacherNate”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVLPMIqX-JY

An option that’s available for both Mac and PC users is a free software called Audacity that contains the full suite of recording and editing options, similar to GarageBand. Youtuber Pat Flynn has a complete tutorial on using Audacity to create a podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xl-WDjWrTtk

Episode 18 – “Historical Feminism” by Tanya Tejani

In this week’s episode, VandyVox veteran Tanya Tejani unpacks the complexity of personal agency within 15th century female concubines under Islam, focusing on the Kano Empire in West Africa. The audio for Historical Feminism was developed for the course History of Sub-Saharan Africa taught by Professor Tasha Rijke-Epstein. Tanya uses an interview format to discuss this niche topic with Dr. Solano, a fictional scholar who embodies the semester-long research Tanya conducted. Her unique approach to this assignment gives a taste for the wide range of opportunities that podcasting can provide.

While Dr. Solano is a fictional character contrived to embody the collection of research that Tanya compiled throughout the semester, the idea of interviewing professionals and scholars in fields relevant to a course topic is well-suited for podcasting assignments. This type of assignment could be used to elevate the quality of a research paper, where the interview itself can develop interpersonal connections and foster academic discussions while the podcasting format can be tinkered with to be an authentic performance task. Below are some quick links that can help students set up their podcast and provides some specific considerations for preparing for a podcasting interview:

NPR: Starting Your Podcast: A Guide for Students (there is a specific section about interview on this page too!)


Mark Schaefer’s 5 Steps to Conduct a Superior Podcast Interview


Tanya’s audio was produced for an open-ended creative project assigned by Professor Tasha Rijke-Epstein. The product of this project could manifest as a podcast, documentary film, comic strip, short historical fiction story, or research paper. For each creative medium, Professor Rijke-Epstein developed a draft rubric as a collaborative effort with the students in her initial class, then tweaked them for final use. The idea to have an open-ended project was born out of her work with the Center for Teaching’s Course Design Institute. Even though the 2020 Faculty Course Design Institute has been postponed until August, the staff at the Center for Teaching would be happy to assist with course design. Their contact information is listed below:

Location: 1114 19th Avenue South, 3rd Floor, Nashville, TN 37212

Phone: 615-322-7290

Email: cft@vanderbilt.edu

Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday

However, the Center for Teaching is currently offering an Online Course Design Institute, which is a new two-week online experience intended to help participants prepare to teach on online course. The institute is open to Vanderbilt faculty, postdocs, and graduate students and will be offered four times May through June: May 18th – 29th, June 1st – 12th, June 15th – 26th, and June 29th – July 10th. Below is an excerpt of what to expect in the Online Course Design Institute.

“During the institute participants will:

  • Develop a course plan for their upcoming online course, one that integrates learning objectives with assessments, assignments, and activities;
  • Build one or more sample modules for their courses, practicing the skills they will use to build other modules;
  • Plan strategies for helping their online students thrive, including strategies for promoting meaningful interaction, social presence, and equitable learning; and
  • Learn about the affordances of online teaching tools, identify tools that align with their goals, and develop practical skills using those tools.

The Online Course Design Institute will consist of a mix of asynchronous and synchronous activities, with time built in for individual course planning and digital tool practice. The total time commitment is expected to be 4 hours each weekday during the institute. Participants will work through a series of Brightspace modules leading through a course design process. They will also meet several times each week via Zoom in small cohorts for peer feedback on course plans. Each cohort during the May offerings of the OCDI will be facilitated by a Center for Teaching senior staff member.”

To learn more information about the Online Course Design Institute and apply for one of the offerings, please visit the following website:


Episode 17 – “Flag on the Play” by Max Schneider

Student-athletes are a huge part of campus life at any university, but especially here at Vanderbilt. In this episode of VandyVox, undergraduate Max Schneider tackles the implications of the NCAA Fair Pay to Play Act in California by interviewing USC defensive tackle, Trevor Trout, through his sports podcast Flag on the Play. Max dives right in, allowing Trevor to immerse the audience in the day-to-day life of a college athlete and the double-standards that accompany that contract. Not afraid to address controversy head-on, Max creates a space that allows Trevor to speak freely about his experience with the NCAA that brings a sense of gravitas, frustration, and authenticity to the topic.

Max, who is also involved with Hustler Sports 30 and 615 Sports Drive on VandyRadio, used Flag on the Play for a course in Communication Studies taught by professor Claire Sisco King. The following is an excerpt from her syllabus for the course that outlines the expectations of the students’ multimedia projects:

“The study of communication emphasizes the inextricable link between theory and practice, form and content, medium and message, style and substance. That is, the study of communication tells us that what we communicate cannot be separated from how we communicate. The purpose of this Design as an Immersive Vanderbilt Experience (DIVE) course is to help students reflect on core concepts in communication studies while creating their own public-facing communicative artifacts using human-centered design thinking. In addition to reading key texts in communication theory, students will have an opportunity to immerse themselves in research related to your interests and to produce multimedia projects related to this research. From digital films to social-media presences to websites, interactive maps, 3D-printed objects, and more, student-designed projects will put into practice theories of communication and, in turn, reflect back on our collective understanding of communication. The semester will culminate with a public presentation of projects at a public symposium and a discussion of how the process of design and “making” shape the communicative dimensions of our world. Students will submit a multimedia project designed to address a question, need, or problem related to their immersive research. The aim of this project is to explain this research to a non-expert audience and to demonstrate the ability to use communication and media with intentionality and creativity.”

While this episode of VandyVox only featured Flag on the Play Episode 4 with Trevor Trout, the full set of Max’s Flag on the Play episodes as well as some audio from Hustler Sports 30 can be found on his Sound Cloud via the following link: https://soundcloud.com/max-schneider-473587844