#cwcon: Accessible Podcasting

The first presentation I’m giving at #cwcon this year is about accessible podcasting as part of k8, “talk to the talkers: what is academic podcasting all about?” We’re hoping for a chatty, off-the-cuff discussion about academic podcasting, but I still prepared some talking points based on some guiding questions that we may or may not address today.

You can also access a Google doc with resources, tools, reviews, best practices, and tutorials (that Harley Ferris of KairosCast) started here. 


The image shows a scrabble board and tile that spell out This Rhetorical Life. A pair of white earbuds lie across the board.
This Rhetorical Life’s website banner //

I’m Allison Hitt, a recent graduate of Syracuse University’s Composition and Cultural Rhetoric program, and I’ve been co-executive producer of This Rhetorical Life for the past 2 1/2 years.

What is your experience with and interest in podcasting?

[Most of this comes directly from Episode 25: The Pod(cast) People Speak.]

First, I’ll offer a disclosure: I don’t listen to podcasts. I have a difficult time processing auditory information, which is why I’m immensely grateful at conferences when presenters share their materials and is why I try to live-tweet to focus my attention. So I’m the co-executive producer of This Rhetorical Life, but I don’t listen to the episodes beyond editing and transcribing them.

As a Masters student, I created podcasts for the West Virginia University Writing Center, and I enjoyed the processes of interviewing people, framing the episodes, editing and transcribing the audio. So I went to the early planning meetings of TRL three years ago with some production knowledge and a desire to take part in a fun collaborative project. When I re-read our meeting notes, I apparently said that I wanted to take part in “short formatted things that can open up the world.” I’m not sure what that meant then, but in some ways, being part of the podcast has opened up a world of accessible digital scholarship for me.

Even though I don’t listen to them, I really believe in the value of podcasts as teaching tools, as channels for composing and producing multimodal scholarship, and as an alternative mode for constructing arguments and making accessible disciplinary knowledge.

Coming from a professional writing and disability studies background, my participation with TRL has been about making this disciplinary information as accessible as possible, from the adaptive WordPress theme we chose for our website to the full-text transcripts of every episode. I care about this for my own work, but I think this is a particularly important concern for This Rhetorical Life as a potential resource for the field (and for audiences beyond the field).

And maybe that’s how my interest in the project comes back to taking part in something that opens up the world. Making audio accessible is important for deaf and hard of hearing audiences, and it’s useful for people who don’t focus on or process audio well, people who are in a time crunch for whom skimming a transcript is more effective, or for people with unstable internet connections who may benefit more from downloading a PDF than streaming audio. By focusing on accessibility at all levels, participating in this project has really influenced my work beyond the podcast and has made me really want to be more serious about producing and advocating for accessible digital work.

How does production context influence academic podcasting?

I feel like the TRL crew has this conversation a lot. Before we produced any episodes, we spent a long time talking about what we (individually) wanted out of the show and what the show could be. Our main goal was to make rhetoric matter to the cultural moment, and our ideas for how that might take shape involved

  • interview segments
  • analyzing current media events
  • a student corner
  • metacommentary on the processes of making
  • and a segment dedicated to composing in culture, focused on remix culture and intertextuality in culture

Of those, we’ve really focused on the first two: interview segments and analyzing current media events. In our early planning meetings, we were a group of 5 Ph.D. candidates with different ideas about what we wanted out of the project, different disciplinary interests, and different levels of technical skill. These differences are good and bad. They’re great because they function as a kind of checks-and-balance system, and different folks with different knowledges can weigh in on what a particular episode might need. Because of the constant turnover, though, our purpose shifts depending on who is working on the show at different points. It also means that as different folks have cycled through the show and we get to different stages of our Ph.D. program (i.e., comprehensive exams, dissertating, the job market), our production schedule gets really messy. This isn’t inherently bad, but it pushes on the genre of podcasting and the idea of a show with a central theme and consistent publication timeline. I think it also raises questions about the labor of the work.

To some degree, all of our episodes address “the practice, pedagogy, and public circulation of rhetoric in our lives.” And that’s helped us talk classroom practice, analyze media events, and chat with writing studies scholars about hot issues in the field.

What about academic podcasting allows, makes, or keeps it academic?

This is also something we talk a lot about. To generate content to launch the show, we encouraged other Ph.D. students in our program to create episodes as part of CCR 635 (Writing, Rhetoric, and Technologies). Our first few shows were heavily and squarely focused on issues and scholars in the field: an interview with Linda Adler-Kassner, a keynote address from Minnie Bruce Pratt, interviews with Tony Scott and Jason Palmeri about their respective books. Those are unmistakably scholarly episodes.

Our first foray into rhetorical analysis was in Ep. 5: The Rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street with Dennis Trainor Jr., which featured an interview with a documentary filmmaker about the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street. It also included a response from Deborah Mutnick, Professor of English at LIU Brooklyn. So in the episodes where we move into media analysis, we try to connect the themes back to rhetoric and the classroom or to include voices—whether directly or indirectly—of folks in the field. The same is true of a recent episode from this spring that featured an interview with Jennifer Siebel Trainor about her book Rethinking Racism but was framed within the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We wanted an episode about what events that were and are unfolding around us and used disciplinary knowledge as an entry point into that conversation.

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