Using podcasts to have big conversations

August 20, 2019
Sometimes a conversation is too big for the classroom. There are too many ideas and too many viewpoints to fit neatly in one discussion. While a prof might assign a paper or break a class into groups to talk further, some people at MacEwan University are experimenting with a different medium – podcasts – to have these conversations.


With a series or interview style for everyone, podcasts have become the next big storytelling adventure. If you have internet access, you can take a deep dive into true crime mysteries, learn something new about people you admire, or have someone soothe you to sleep with calming bedtime stories.

“We all want to feel connected to something,” says Katrina Regan-Ingram, a faculty member in MacEwan University’s Arts and Cultural Management program. In 2017, she helped launch the Alberta Podcast Network, which is dedicated to fostering connections between Alberta-based podcasters and helping them reach new audiences.

“I have a background in radio and I’ve always believed there is something really intimate about audio,” she continues. “You put earbuds in and a voice is literally inside your head. You don’t get that personal feeling with video or with reading. Someone is verbally telling you a story, and that’s really powerful. Our drive for connection is part of it.”

So it’s no wonder that the world of podcasting has inspired people at MacEwan. Here are a few of the ways that this medium is helping students, staff and faculty take deeper dives into big conversations.

Taking a hard look at curriculum

Heavy conversations about tough topics is part and parcel for the students in the Bachelor of Child and Youth Care program. The Pass the Mic podcast project stemmed from a writing initiative based on group discussions centered on the complexities of identity. The overall project is an integration of writing and recording that addresses identity and experiences in Child and Youth Care environments that Dr. Ahna Berikoff, assistant professor, says “shed light on the limitations of a euro-centric curriculum and pedagogy in our university setting.”

She introduced the writing and podcasting project when she began to recognize that not all students experience the same sense of belonging in the classroom or in their program. So she invited students to come together in groups and collaboratively discuss and write about their identities and their experiences of not being represented in the curriculum.

Pass the Mic is about providing a forum — a place and space for students to take centre stage and express themselves,” says Ahna. “It is an appealing and powerful way for students to share their knowledge and experiences in an accessible and far-reaching manner.”

Students and post-graduates of the program have been sharing stories related to topics on Indigenous identity and knowledge, mental health, religious orientation, gender roles, racialization, disabilities and more — many of which overlap given that everyone has intersecting and complex identities. Engaging in discussions based on topics of identity and related experiences has the potential to prepare students more fully when working in the field, where they will be providing support to children, youth and families faced with intersecting experiences of oppression due to social inequity.

I’ve always believed there is something really intimate about audio.
—Katrina Regan-Ingram

Pass the Mic is in the initial stages of group discussions, audio recording and editing for publication. The participants look forward to the project expanding within the Child and Youth Care program and beyond.

The project recently received approval from MacEwan’s Research Ethics Board. As a research project, Pass the Mic will meaningfully engage students and post-grads in discussions relevant to their identity, experiences and concerns. “Students will create podcasts emerging from discussions and in turn foster agency when it comes to building awareness and alliances across our student body,” says Ahna. She continues that students will have opportunities to become mentors and educators in classroom contexts as well become involved in conference presentations and panels, and written publications — they will be able to share their knowledge and ideas to expand upon curriculum and pedagogy toward increasing inclusivity.

“It’s unique in that the students are the educators,” says Ahna. “They’re the bearers of knowledge, and their knowledge can be regarded to contribute to greater social awareness and equity. They can increase their agency by bringing attention to their experiences and build awareness to challenge and disrupt limiting colonial parameters informing curriculum. Overall, they can reimagine and actively contribute to what the Child and Youth Care program can continually become for all students.”

Keeping the conversation fresh

Arts and Cultural Management (AACM) faculty members Annetta Latham and Katrina Regan-Ingram connected over the idea of having conversations with people in the local arts community as a way to further the curriculum in the program. So in 2018, they launched Artful Conversations to reach a wider audience as well as to give students a new medium through which to learn.

“This podcast is interesting because we really approached it as professors and instructors,” says Katrina. “Criteria number one was how could we use the podcast to add value to the curriculum. Criteria number two was who could we talk to and have interesting conversations with that we could tailor to meet the needs of the curriculum.”

One of the first people Katrina interviewed was Terry Wickham, producer of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. “A lot of the questions that I asked Terry were about event and project management. If you didn’t know the theme of our conversation, it would still be interesting to listen to.”

AACM students weren’t the only ones getting a kick in the curriculum. Paul Johnston, section head of Recording in MacEwan’s music program, brought on board his students, along with a student research assistant, to help with the recording and editing — another learning experience integrated into the podcast’s production.

One season of Artful Conversations is now available, and the feedback from students has been positive. Annetta and Katrina are considering a second season because there is no shortage of people and organizations to talk to, which Katrina says is an opportunity to refresh the curriculum as needed.

Telling both sides of a story

When The Common Ground Podcast launches on September 4, host Irfan Chaudhry, director of MacEwan’s Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity (OHRDE), and his guests will tackle challenging and polarizing issues.

With a grant from Alberta’s Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund, the OHRDE developed the podcast (which Irfan describes as an “audio documentary”) to discuss hate and counter-hate in Alberta. The five-episode limited series includes a look at Truth and Reconciliation for Indigenous people in Alberta, polarizing views about immigration and refugees, and the perspectives of young Albertans on what to do about hate. The conversation is one that Irfan has been wanting to have for a while.

The challenge for Irfan and his co-collaborator in Calgary, Iman Bukhari (founder of the Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation and advocate for improved race relations) was interviewing people who espouse hateful narratives. A few were lined up, but opted out at the last minute.

"Our job now is to amplify the voices of the people we interviewed as much as possible, but then also make sure we’re correlating that with some of those counter narratives -- even when they're negative -- that were the initial thought behind this podcast,” says Irfan, who has spent his career studying hate crimes and human rights issues.

A podcast format was the best fit for The Common Ground’s conversations, and Irfan says he would be open to doing something like this again.

“A podcast is a very creative way that you can share a story in a number of different ways,” says Irfan. “It’s also a more accessible way that you can share your knowledge.”

Sharing knowledge is the foundation of a university, and people at MacEwan are exploring podcasts as a tool to disseminate information, have conversations and tell their stories.



Long reads and good listens

MacEwan launched its Clock Radio podcast in 2016 to capture some of the big news and discussions happening on campus. Past episodes and their accompanying long-form stories are still available.


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