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Spotlight On

Dr. Zaid Haddad

Dr. Zaid Haddad

Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies & Curriculum and Instruction
The University of Texas at San Antonio

Podcasts as Pedagogy Innovation in Graduate Teacher Education 

Dr. Zaid Haddad started using podcasts within his courses after hearing from a doctoral student in his department (Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning) who had designed an undergraduate course based on the NPR podcast Code Switch centered on Race and Identity. The Code Switch team even traveled to UTSA and produced an episode based on their experiences interviewing doctoral and undergraduates, which you can listen to here. Soon after, Dr. Haddad and a group of graduate students codesigned and piloted a Critical Perspectives course with the goal of producing weekly podcast episodes completely planned, led, edited, and published by students. 

Check out his podcast: Transformative Talk: Critical Conversations for Teachers.

Curious to know more? Read our Q&A with Dr. Haddad below:

I understand that you pivoted from having your graduate students write responses to your course readings to asking them to record and create podcasts. Can you talk a little bit about how that decision came to be?

I’ve been teaching at UTSA for six years and each year I have tried to innovate my teaching whether it be through the curation of new readings, incorporating new projects or finding new ways to connect the courses I teach to one another. I had recently switched the format of my weekly reading responses from a question-and-answer format to a more open format that was dialogical in nature where students were asked to identify quotes or ideas in each reading that resonated with them and to respond authentically in their journal assignment. I started seeing things I had not seen before—students were more conversational, related the readings to their current experiences in classrooms, and took a much more critical approach to the content than I had experienced prior. This shift in the interaction with the readings became evident in class discussions more and more and students were talking about the readings more.

While this was happening with the reading journals, one of our doctoral students was able to offer a course that she designed in one of my summer classes as a project that was based on the NPR podcast “Code Switch.” The course was an African American Studies course that used that podcast as the text for the course and basis for the course content that centered on Race and Identity. The doctoral student that created and taught the course reached out to the Code Switch team and they traveled to UTSA that semester. They produced an episode based on their experiences interviewing our doctoral student and the undergrads in her class. (Here’s a link to the episode, it’s pretty amazing) With the shift in my students’ interaction with the readings and being inspired by the Code Switch Goes to College episode, I thought to myself: “I can do this, we can do this in my classes.” So that’s the origin of the idea. I knew I wanted to publish a podcast and I wanted my students to be the ones to produce it weekly to help them navigate what they read and to give them an opportunity to practice a new skill that they could then take into their classrooms. The following semester I worked with my CI 6123 Critical Perspectives class to create the podcast. As the inaugural group to produce the podcast they helped me develop the vision, mission, and name of the podcast. Together we created a process that after a couple semesters and iterations we have honed to a weekly process where in triads or pairs they review the readings and their classmates reading journals to identify key topics of interests for their episode, plan an in class (or virtual—pandemic life!) facilitation experience with those key topics for the whole class to participate in, and outline, plan, and record their episode in time to send to me to publish by Sunday evening. Producers are given free rein on the content they develop so long as the essence of that week’s readings is evident in what they produce. The episodes have had a variety of content included. Most include the producers engaging in a conversation about what they read and relating to their experience while also quoting classmates reading journals, often they include recorded portions of the facilitation activities that they developed for the class, and some have even invited guests for in depth interviews and panel conversations about a topic. Each episode has been unique and provided me with a deeper understanding of how the class and especially the producers of each episode make sense of what they were assigned to read.   

What has the move to podcasts done for your experience as a professor?

It’s made my experience much more fulfilling and I find myself engaging in more nuanced conversation with the students. Additionally, it makes life easier because the producers essentially become my co-teachers for class that week. I meet with the production team each week in addition to their required production team meetings. In my meeting with them I assess their understanding of the readings, help bridge any gaps in their understanding and we collaboratively plan what they will include in their facilitation and what I will include during class.  

What about the experiences of your students?

Students have loved the change. Because the courses I teach in the masters program are part of the core in our C&I program I will often times see students who take my courses back to back, so in any semester I will always have about half of the class that has taken a class with me before and thus can be experts in the course structure around the podcast. I try to form student groups that have at least one person who has experience with the podcast that can be a leader of sorts so that no one group will be left without an experienced person to guide them.

What kinds of things have you heard from students regarding the format of your course? 

They love it. It makes the content we cover more accessible and the conversations we have more courageous. Students are more vulnerable in class and the entire experience is one that they find affirming. Part of this is also because of the way I approach grading—I do not use a traditional points-based grading system. Instead, I use what I have come to call Dialogic Conference Cycles where all work is assessed together with the student during a midterm and final conference that each last about an hour. In conferences I review all the work assigned and submitted prior to each conference. Anything that is not complete by conference is discussed and a plan for completing the work is developed. All my students finish all of the assignments in a course, that’s the only way they earn a grade. There’s more to the process, but you get the idea here. So the podcast and how it is produced fits into the overall framework of my courses. I have not had any negative responses, knock on wood.

Besides being used as an instructional tool within classrooms, how else could you see podcasts being used in academia and the research world?

Today anyone can create and post a podcast. They are accessible and ubiquitous, and I can see many ways to use them in academia. They are ways through which we can share our stories-counter stories-testimonios providing the public with frameworks from which to connect their own experiences. Additionally, we can use podcasts to promote the research and great work that we do every day at colleges and universities that often go overlooked.

What tools do you use (& recommend) for beginner podcasters?

anchor.fm is the website I use to publish the podcast I have my students produce. The platform is easy to use. You can import your own recordings or record right into the app/website and edit what you have there. It will publish your podcast for you, not only on Anchor.fm but also in all of the major podcast platforms (google, Apple, Spotify, etc.), my podcast is available on 9 different platforms I believe. Additionally, anchor allows you to have a connection with your listeners by allowing them to send voice messages to the podcast team. I use this feature in my classes when I have undergrads share something related to an episode or want to have students provide feedback to the production teams. There are options to monetize your podcast as well as a slew of analytics available about episodes and listenership.

What are some of your favorite podcasts?

I listen to NPR’s Code Switch, obviously. Democracy Now! Today Explained, by Vox for the academic side of me. And for the fun side of me I listen to Race Chaser with Alaska and William (about RuPaul’s Drag Race) and The Bald and The Beautiful with Trixie Mattel and Katya (two Drag Race alums talking about anything).

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