A platform for student podcasts

From Scratch Media serves as a platform for student-produced podcasts. It's a ready-made podcasting infrastructure that instructors can use to connect student voices to listeners. If you're assigning or considering assigning podcasts, get in touch! We can provide a home for your show and/or link to your own course or show website. Contribute how-to advice for student podcasters or instructors teaching with podcasts on our Resources blog.

A writing pedagogy

Teaching and learning would be easy tasks if they involved straightforward transfers of information from person to person. This lesson has been particularly difficult for educators to learn about writing. For decades, misunderstandings about the nature of good writing and processes involved in producing it have fuelled remedial approaches to writing instruction across higher education. 

Dampening the push for change, some writing research raises questions about the efficacy of any effort to teach writing within classrooms. Leading this charge, Kent (1999) argues that the absence of a standard of “good writing” means that writers must be accomplished at the interpretive dance involved in reading and responding to the exigencies of each rhetorical context. In this way, post-process theorists like Kent remind educators that writing is communication; it’s addressive (Bakhtin) and full of others’ words (Voloshinov). It’s social action (Miller).

Often, school writing is wholly defined by the classroom-writing context. It’s written for a private audience of one (the instructor) and it’s stylistically egocentric, for student writers must perform competency above all else. Instructional approaches sometimes involve detailed formatting guidelines, little contact during the writing process, and summative feedback with a great deal of attention paid to imperfections at the sentence level.

Directed by the prevalence of this approach,  students arrive at writing centres looking for help polishing their product even before they’re confident that they’ve understood the assignment. In writing workshops and courses, students demand that writing instructors tell them the rules, as though a supercomputer has generated the answer to the ultimate question of good writing. The unfortunate truth, however, is that there exist no hard and fast rules for good writing. Any skill for crafting grammatical sentences will only be useful in combination with a knack for understanding and responding to the writing context. 

From Scratch Media contends that experiential design has the potential to transform students’ approach to producing effective writing from seeking rules to asking questions. Experiential projects tend to have audiences and purposes beyond grades and course credit. When emailing community partners, crafting reports, or fulfilling contracts for research or marketing materials, students must carefully consider their clients’ needs, preferences, expectations, political situation… Such contextualized assignments cast writing as communication and move writing resources away from the teacher-expert or textbook to the situation itself. This is crucial for preparing students to tackle writing tasks beyond graduation – where there may not be anyone to provide a template.

Related publications

Bell, S. (2017). High impact creative pedagogy using a maker model of composition. Journal of Faculty Development, 31(1).

A writing course

From Scratch Media is the result of a multi-year journey to design Research for Professional Writers, a mandatory first-year course in York University's Honours program in Professional Writing. The course proposes to build foundational research skills for writers in diverse contexts, from journalism to corporate environments. This challenge illuminates the variability of benchmarks of effective research and points to strategies for uncovering these benchmarks as a primary course objective.

The course is oriented around a multi-stage project: producing an episode for a narrative-style investigative podcast show published by FSM. The context of the show supplies the criteria for the assignment; students work together through weekly activities to derive ‘best practices’ on issues from methods of attribution to number and type of sources.

In course evaluations and blog entries, students report that the course is challenging, exciting, difficult not to get wrapped up in, and that the final product makes them feel “surprisingly proud.” Some students, though, express frustration about the lack of clear guidelines and my insistence that I don’t set them.  

As the Course Director, I provide support for the process of interpreting the demands of the writing context. This involves exploring of the writing context and offering plenty of opportunities for students to revise in light of feedback – from me, from their peers, and from potential listeners. I prioritize formative feedback because language is learned through social interaction. We can all think of moments when a reaction to something we’ve said served as a lesson about what to (or not to) say again. Of course, I also teach strategies for information retrieval, evaluation, engagement, and attribution.

The podcasting project promises to foster independent, adaptive, and responsive writers.

See the current course syllabus here!

Bakhtin, M. M. (2010). Speech genres and other late essays. University of Texas Press.

Kent, T. (1999). Post-process theory: Beyond the writing-process paradigm. SIU Press.

Miller, C. R. (1994). Rhetorical community: The cultural basis of genre. Genre and the new rhetoric, 6778.

Voloshinov, V. N., & Bakhtin, M. M. (1998). Dialogizing response in the writing classroom. Journal of Basic Writing, 17(1), 3.

Voloshinov, V. N. (1986). Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Harvard University Press.