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Practising Public History: Podcasts and Videocasts


In order to diversity assessment in the final-year History module ‘Foreign Bodies, Contagious Communities’, Professor Roberta Bivins offered students the option of writing a blog, curating an online exhibition or producing a podcast or videocast for their applied assignment comprising 40% of their grade. Students who opted to create podcasts or videocasts were expected to create pieces that were 7 to 15 minutes long, and that used historical research to reflect on a contemporary political, social, cultural or public policy question related to migration. Students used clips from existing interviews and audio, such as news footage and existing oral histories, as well as material created themselves, including their own interviews and scripts. Students also submitted a bibliography and an 'audience statement' describing their intended audience and what it hoped to convey to them, as part of the assessment.

Using podcasting and videocasting as an assessment tool gave students who had previously been reluctant to contribute in seminars an opportunity to demonstrate their communication skills in ways that the seminar format does not always allow. Additionally, as students on this module were in their final-year, they were well-practiced in more traditional ‘academic’ communication and this brought them out of their comfort zone to think about how to communicate to a wider audience in their own words and style, while still engaging with the best and most recent academic scholarship. Professor Bivins also provided basic training in the audio-editing software Audacity and assured students that podcasts could be relatively low-tech while still containing a high level of intellectual content, which meant that students of all digital skill levels were able to achieve top grades.

Lesson plan

  1. In order to create the assessment criteria and instructions for the students, Professor Bivins first created a podcast herself, noting down everything she did and what resources she needed. She used this to create a set of instructions for students that matched the assessment criteria. She also shared this podcast with her students.
  2. Professor Bivins provided students with relevant examples of history podcasts.
  3. Students chose a contemporary issue to address in their podcasts.
  4. Students chose their intended audience and researched their audience further. They used this to complete 150-250 word audience statements, which they submitted alongside their exhibitions.
  5. Students attended a training session on using the audio-editing software Audacity, although they were free to use the video or audio software of their choice.
  6. Students produced their podcasts and videocasts using archival clips from the BBC archive and other digital archives as well as their own interviews and scripts. As part of this, students were encouraged to think about copyright and inform Professor Bivins if they thought there might be potential copyright issues.
  7. Professor Bivins ensured that Tabula was configured to accept a range of file formats and file sizes.
  8. Following submission, Professor Bivins provided feedback using the same categories laid out in the assessment criteria.

Tutor's observations

The opportunity to talk as themselves in their own voices is something that the students have told me again and again is absolutely precious to them and makes them feel empowered and feel like they have something to say and that I respect the idea that they have something to say.

Students who have previously struggled struggle with traditional academic essays tend to do very well in this assignment and vice versa.

Giving students such a wide-range of choices in this assignment, from whether they produce a blog, online exhibition or podcast to which digital tools they use, provides students with a safety net and means that regardless of digital skills they are able to either access training or produce something less technologically-demanding.

Student testimonies

Zakiya Ilyas, 'From Rivers of Blood to Brexit'

What it was like to be a migrant in Britain when Enoch Powell made his infamous 'Rivers of Blood' speech in 1968? And how does that historic event and controversy relate to the politics of Brexit today? In this podcast, Wolverhampton born Zakiya Ilyas reflects on this relationship in the home town she shares with Powell: Wolverhampton.

1_Practising Public History: Podcasts and Videocasts
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HI3H7: Foreign Bodies, Contagious Communities: Migration in the Modern World