A New Medium for Academic Exchange
Traditionally, American sociologists’ largest venue for peer-directed verbal exchanges were American Sociological Association plenary sessions, events that could draw up to several hundred attendees. There could only be so many of these sessions every year. Plenary sessions had to be divvied up across all the niches within the discipline. You couldn’t be sure how much of the audience was really interested in the discussion. People would often drift off after a long day of sessions. If you missed something in the exchange, it was gone. If no one recorded anything, the content of the discussion was lost to the ether.
Podcasting is a new, affordable, and reasonably easy way to make verbal presentations, discussions, and debates accessible to large audiences. We estimate that the content posted on this site typically reaches audiences of between 50 and 300 listeners beginning an episode within a few months of being posted. This amounts to anywhere between a fairly well-attended ASA session and a main stage plenary. Moreover, I suspect that our audiences are more engaged than session attendees because they listen at a time of their choosing, and have the ability to pause and rewind. The content will remain on the web, registered on search engines, and will hopefully find more listeners over the long-term.
Podcasting is more than reaching bigger audiences. It can be used to create traditional presentations or debates, but also informal round tables, interviews, or polished documentaries. The medium renders qualitatively different discussions, and shows a different side than one that comes through under the bright lights of a formal panel or speech. It can bring qualitative work to life with subject interviews or audio from observed events. There’s a lot of potential.
Share Your Material
If you have segment or program ideas, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have polished segments or programs that you would like us to help promote, please let me know about it. We can repost or mention your content on our feeds or social media.
Not So Hard or Expensive
Podcasting does not require a big investment in equipment or software. You can do it on your current computer and maybe $60 for headphones and a desktop microphone. This picture to the right is not my equipment, but the set up is not far off: my home PC, headphones, a microphone, and maybe you use your laptop to look things up while recording.
I use (but do not endorse):
- Zencastr, a free but buggy online recording platform.
- Audacity, a freeware program to record and edit audio.
- I use old Sony MDR-NC7 headphones (you can do better) and a Fifine K669 ($28) (with an add-on pop filter).
- I host my content on a WordPress site on a GoDaddy hosting account.
Editing audio is not very difficult. I’ve created a tutorial that I give to students when teaching them about podcasting. It will be very apparent that I have virtually no expertise in any of this, and so I appreciate any improvements. The problem with editing is that it is time consuming.
One way to manage this bottleneck is to enlist help from students. I was able to secure funding to hire students from our college’s sociology and media studies programs. Students get a job that is related to their career interests, additional training and practice with audio production, web programming, and social media management, and material for their portfolios. These young people have a passion for this kind of stuff, and often bring much to the table on their own. It is a win-win arrangement, and so far it has been a very positive experience.