Podcasting for Educators

(Image credit: StockSnap from Pixabay)

Educators often have skills that make them well-suited to hosting podcasts, says Clive Young, content director at Pro Sound News and Podcast Pro (both sister sites of Tech & Learning). 

“Everybody these days is like, ‘Hey, I'm sitting around the house, I have nothing to do, I'm gonna start a podcast,’ but I think teachers, and educators in general, they are really good at interviews,” Young says, due to their experience talking with students and ability to shape stories and content. 

On April 1, Pro Sound News is hosting a Pro Audio Tech Summit that is a free daylong digital event that will include many sessions on podcasting. Young encourages educators considering starting a podcast to attend.

Since the pandemic began, some professors and K-12 educators have turned to podcasts as a way of providing material to students outside of a traditional classroom. Others have used the medium to launch shows for general audiences related to their area of expertise or to focus on subcategories of education. 

Tech & Learning talked with Young as well Dr. Kecia Ray and Dr. Frances Gipson, hosts of Tech & Learning’s Honor Role podcast, for some best practices and tips. We also collaborated with the six hosts of the AV SuperFriends podcast, asking questions for this story but recording the entire conversation for a future episode of their podcast. Watch for the release of that episode here.

Focus on Content  

Forget microphones, recording software, or about how to get your podcast on iTunes or Spotify, the first step is finding out what your show is and what need it fulfills. “We took a lot of time talking about this, knowing our own identity, and what kind of voice we would bring to the experience,” Gipson says of the Honor Role podcast. “We marinated in our ideas for quite some time to really think about what are the stories that need to be told, and how might we be of service to share those stories with others.” 

Ultimately, Gipson and Ray decided their podcast would celebrate fierce and formidable women in education, exploring how these leaders overcame obstacles, connected with mentors, and are helping to lead future generations of women through the glass ceiling and beyond. 

“Every guest who we've had has had a really unique story that nobody really knows about and that's been kind of the cool part of it,” Ray says. “You're kind of peeling the onion, so to speak, of these really high-performing female leaders.”

Similarly, AV SuperFriends podcast grew out of the live shows the podcasts’ hosts presented at conferences in pre-pandemic times. “It’s spinning off of our discussion at InfoComm, the last time we met in person that went really well,” says SuperFriend Justin Rexing. “We knew there was an audience for us.” 

To convert their in-person panel discussion to podcast form, the group ultimately settled on a format that consists of two linked shows: One is called AV SuperFriends: On Topi‪c‬ and has tighter editing; in the second one, AV SuperFriends: Off the Rails, the conversation is allowed to wander. But on both shows the focus is on audio visual technology and education. 

“Everything that we do is grounded in a core mission of wanting to create a space in which technology managers in higher education can feel like they have a nationwide community where people can relax and have fun and talk about their real problems and the real crazy [stuff] they do to try to solve them,” says Rachel Bradshaw, another SuperFriend. 

Be Strategic with Audio Investments & Talk with AV Folks at Your Institution

Some newcomers to the podcast space are tempted to invest thousands of dollars in a recording studio’s worth of equipment, but that’s not necessary, say the pros. 

“Keep it easy don't go out and dump thousands of dollars on stuff, the stuff is not your problem right now, your story is what you should be focusing on,” says Marc Eric Cholewczynski from AV SuperFriends. Christopher Dechter, also from AV SuperFriends, adds, “Step one is you need a microphone that's better than the one built into your laptop or something like that.” 

You can get basic professional-grade microphones in the $70 to $90 range that will do the trick, Dechter and Cholewczynski say. If the mic does not have a USB output, you’ll need a USB interface to connect with your computer. 

Headphones are also good to have. “They don’t have to be fancy headphones, they can be any headphones,” Dechter says. Wearing them will prevent the audio you are hearing from being picked up by your mic. 

If you’re really not tech savvy, you should consider reaching out to the AV team at your institution for assistance. If it’s a school or university-related project, they may have resources available. Even if it’s a personal project they might have suggestions and/or be willing to partner with you. 

Be Mindful of Length 

“There is increasingly a move toward shorter podcasts,” Young says. “They're calling them microcasts, which means under 15 minutes.” 

While there is an audience for long but well-made podcasts, Young says you want to be careful. “If it's so long that it's going to feel like it's a slog to get through, then really consider what is the message that you’re trying to bring across with this podcast? What are you trying to get to? And are you taking too much of the listeners time to get to it?” 

Ray and Gipson decided to make their podcast about 30 minutes, or the length of a nice walk, an activity they encourage their listeners to engage in while enjoying the podcast. “I love the concept of being able to go for a walk as you listen,” Gipson says, noting it helps reinforce a pattern of self care for their listeners and themselves. 

Be Consistent with Schedule and Plan on Working Out Kinks  

Consistency is a requirement to connect with your audience as a podcaster. Whether you’re releasing a show once per week, twice monthly, or every month, make sure that there’s a time that audiences can expect new episodes to drop. 

Before establishing that rhythm of podcast releases, you want to make sure you have smoothed out the format. Ray and Gipson interviewed friends who they were comfortable with before reaching outside their social circle for guests. 

The AV SuperFriends didn’t promote their first episodes because they were still new to the medium and working out how to transfer their live events into a podcast. “It's taken us a while to try to figure out how to not talk over each other, how to get that same interaction, but in more of a structured hour-long show bi-weekly,” Larry Darling says. 

Be Realistic With Expectations for Audience Size  

The podcast sphere has gotten increasingly crowded and listeners are drawn more and more to podcasts from studios they are already familiar with, according to Young. As a result, new podcasts shouldn’t expect to draw thousands, or even hundreds of listeners overnight. “If you get 50 listeners, and maybe you didn't know 20 of them, that's a great start and don't be surprised if it's like that for a while,” he says.

Eventually, quality content will find an audience. However, once you develop an audience don’t expect fame or fortune, says Jameson Rinehart of the AV SuperFriends. “People think that they're going to become YouTube sensations,” he says. “The money will come if you're good, not that we have any, but don't chase the money because that’s the quickest way to fail.” 

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is Tech & Learning's senior staff writer. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.