Episode 21-“The Peril of the Sonoran Desert” by Rebecca Dubin

In “The Peril of the Sonoran Desert” undergraduate Rebecca Dubin talks us through the changes happening in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. This audio was produced for the Anthropology first-year writing seminar on Culture and Climate Change, taught by Professor Sophie Bjork-James. Rebecca incorporates the interview-style podcasting we’ve seen featured in previous episodes this season. In this format, she artificially conducts interviews with experts on this topic using real-life interviews she found online. The responses of her interviewees are the actual answers of each respective expert; however, these responses are voice acted by some of Rebecca’s friends.

Rebecca’s use of soundscapes to accentuate the issues faced in the Sonoran Desert results in superior quality audio that grips and engages the audience. Growing up in Tucson, this issue is something Rebecca is passionate about and expressed that even if the Sonoran Desert does not draw interest or concern from our listeners, this sentiment can be applied to any natural ecosystem we hold dear. Throughout the audio, she draws wonderful connections and uses this interview format to personalize the issue and relay the words of experts in the field.

This interview-style of podcasting is something that’s been heard before in season 3 of VandyVox and could be a useful tool for audio assignments. If given the proper notice and time allotment, it could be beneficial and unique for students to interview experts in a chosen topic.

The assignment criteria had students focus on a specific region and Professor Sophie Bjork-James encouraged them to look for multiple sources from their chosen area to encourage further learning. Professor Bjork-James said she chose to assign a podcast instead of a regular essay so that the students could experiment with both form and voice in a productive way. She indicated that, in particular, first-year students often stick to the five-paragraph essay format when tasked with a writing assignment. Shifting away from a general essay and into a new medium of expression encourages the student to think outside the box, experimenting with new ways of presenting information and discovering their own voice along the way.

Here it’s demonstrated that podcasting can be used as a means of creative break out from the steeped structure of a five-paragraph essay. Rebecca even said herself that at first, she was a little nervous to work on this project because it was unlike anything she’d ever done, but as she dove deeper she truly enjoyed the research and the creative nature of this project, finding her voice along the way.

The interview-style podcast is a type of assignment that 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 conducting a podcast interview on this page too!)

https://www.npr.org/2018/11/15/662070097/starting-your-podcast-a-guide-for-students

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

https://businessesgrow.com/2017/05/25/podcast-interview/

Episode 16 – “Local Impacts” by Tanya Tejani

For some of us, climate change is something we worry about for our kids or grandkids, that global warming will make this planet a hard place to live 50 or 100 years from now. But for some people around world, climate change is having an impact on their lives right now. On this episode of VandyVox, we feature a short audio documentary by Vanderbilt undergraduate Tanya Tejani that takes the abstract threat of climate change and makes it relevant and personal. She uses Bangladesh as a case study, a country where two-thirds of the land has an elevation of 5m above sea level or less, a country where people are already being displaced from their homes due to rising oceans. Tanya uses the stories of climate refugees in Bangladesh to shed light on the impact climate change is having right now around the world.

Tanya produced this piece as a class assignment in a course on culture and climate change taught by Vanderbilt anthropology professor Sophie Bjork-James. We featured another piece of student audio created by one of Sophie’s students back on Episode 1 of VandyVox. In this episode, we feature the audio documentary “Local Impacts” by Tanya Tejani.

Back in March 2018, VandyVox host Derek Bruff interviewed Sophie Bjork-James about her audio assignments for the other podcast Derek hosts, Leading Lines. Listen to Sophie talk about her work with audio assignments in Episode 56 of Leading Lines.

Episode 12 – Dispatches from the Field by Kellie Cavagnaro

What comes to mind when you picture an anthropologist? Kellie Cavagnaro is a doctoral student in anthropology and comparative media analysis and practice (CMAP) at Vanderbilt, and she’s preparing to launch a new public anthropology podcast called Dispatches from the Field. The podcast will explore intersections between Kellie’s fieldwork in an Andean highland community of Peru and a mysterious 70-year-old ethnography produced by a Harvard anthropologist who claimed to have been bewitched. In the 1940s, Harry Tschopik, Jr., studied shamanism among indigenous people 14,000 feet above sea level along the shores of Lake Titicaca in Peru. In her new podcast, Kellie will revisit Tschopik’s work and connect it to today through conversations with the grandchildren of community members who participated in his research. Kellie told me that these cross-generational conversations will explore the adventurous but also problematic past of anthropology, while also demonstrating contemporary approaches to navigating and understanding cultural differences.

Here on VandyVox, we’re happy to share Kellie’s pilot episode, “What Pachamama Can Teach Us about #Feminism.”

For more on Kellie’s work, visit her website or follow @KellieCavagnaro on Twitter. For future episodes of her podcast, bookmark the Dispatches from the Field website. Kellie is producing her podcast with Adam Gamwell of Missing Link Studios, which produces the long-running public anthropology podcast, This Anthro Life. And for more about Vanderbilt’s comparative media analysis and practice (CMAP) program, visit the CMAP website.

Episode 1 – “Hagar Rising” by Sarah Saxton Strassberg

This episode of VandyVox features a short audio story by Vanderbilt undergraduate Sarah Saxton Strassberg called “Hagar Rising.” Sarah Saxton was a student in a fall 2018 anthropology course taught by Sophie Bjork-James on the politics of reproductive health in the United States. The final assignment in Sophie’s course asked stu

dents to research a contemporary reproductive health issue and produce a piece of video or audio that explores that issue. Sarah Saxton chose to look at gene editing, an emerging set of biotechnologies that have the potential to allow parents to pick and choose physical features of their children. Sarah Saxton used what she learned about gene editing and its potential effects on society to write and produce a piece of science fiction in audio form exploring the dangers of taking gene editing too far.

For those interested in using audio assignments in their teaching, what follows is a little background on the assignment that led to “Hagar Rising”…

Sophie Bjork-James, Sarah Saxton’s professor, was a participant in the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching’s Course Design Institute in 2016. The theme of that institute was “Students as Producers,” with a focus on assignments and activities that engage students not only as consumers of information, but also as producers of knowledge. Sophie’s multimedia assignment leveraged some of the strategies discussed at the institute, including asking students for project proposals and storyboards to provide opportunities for feedback as they develop their projects. Sophie also asked students to submit a producer’s statement along with each project, one that included a literature review, a reflection on what the student learned through the project, and a discussion of the process used to create the final product. Producer’s statements like these are useful for evaluating student work on non-traditional assignments like podcasts. Sophie told VandyVox host Derek Bruff that the assignment turned out very well in her politics of reproductive health course, and she’s planning on making podcasts a regular part of the first-year writing seminars she teaches in the future.