José Cossa taught in Vanderbilt’s leadership, policy, and organization department the last few years. José regularly gives his students the option to produce a podcast in lieu of a traditional research paper, and his students often take him up on the opportunity. This past spring, José was teaching in Vanderbilt’s international education policy and management program, or IEPM, and four of the students in his graduate-level course on Africa and education put together a seven-episode podcast as their final project. The four students—Kelley Lach, Kenta Nagasawa, Sabirah Oniyangi, and Shashank Poudel— drew on course readings and class discussions to plan their podcast and identify guests to interview. They spoke with several African students on campus, as well as Vanderbilt faculty with relevant expertise, to explore such topics as the history of education in Africa, early childhood education, technical and vocational training, and more.
The students’ podcast, which they called IEPM African Education, stuck to an interview format for most episodes. Choosing the right interview subjects is critical to this format, and the IEPM students selected some really lively subjects for Episode 6 of their podcast, which we’re sharing here on VandyVox. This episode features three African students currently studying at Vanderbilt, including one of the podcast hosts, reflecting on their educational experiences in Africa and elsewhere. Their stories connect with many of the themes explored on earlier podcast episodes and in José Cossa’s course.
Why does José Cossa encourage his students to create podcasts as class projects? “I believe in the power of the spoken word,” Cossa writes, ” and in making complex information simple” through creative storytelling. Cossa believes in “pushing students outside of their comfort zones and guiding them into zones of exploration of (new) forms of communication” that aren’t part of traditional academic settings. He sees value in having students use new media, like podcasts, in academic settings to deepen their learning.
For the podcast assignment, Cossa asked his students to submit a producer’s statement of sort, a group reflection on the process of creating the podcast. This is a common feature of audio assignments, since these reflective statements can reveal aspects of student learning that aren’t obvious in the final audio product. The group reflections on IEPM African Education made clear how well the students functioned as a team. They shared the work of the podcast—deciding on topics, scheduling guests, learning to use recording equipment, editing the episodes—and filled in for each other when necessary to get the job done. The result wasn’t just a patchwork of individual contributions, it was a podcast that was more cohesive and more compelling than what the students could have done on their own. That’s the sign of a good group project, a task that really benefits from having team members work together.