We envision this proposed assignment working well in a freshman-level composition course or even an upper-level writing course that combines regular reading and discussions with an emphasis on developing rhetorical awareness. Essentially, students would work collaboratively in teams of three, and each week, one team will produce a digital audio summary and response to the class discussions for that period. These audio summary/response files will be uploaded to the class blog, where students can subscribe to the feed and download the files as podcasts.
Logistically speaking, this is a fairly simple assignment to implement. In a one-day training workshop, students can learn the basics involved in editing raw audio using Audacity audio-editing software. In addition to splicing together their own captured audio, students should also learn how to supplement that audio, always remaining mindful of the rhetorical effects of their choices. For background music and other incidental sounds, sites featuring Creative-Commons licensed music, as well as public domain or royalty free sites are plentiful on the web, and pointing students to such sites invites the opportunity to discuss issues related to copyright, intellectual property, or the cultural permutation of texts. Finally, students would learn the relatively easy tasks of uploading their sound files to the class blog and individually subscribing to the blog's RSS feed so that they can access the podcasts through iTunes or an RSS reader.
There are a number of expectations embedded in this assignment. For one, students are expected to adequately summarize, synthesize, and critically react to the material covered in class discussions, as well as address points perhaps overlooked in the strum und drang of normal classroom operations. Students are also expected to demonstrate good presentation skills. This applies not only to the structure and logic of their responses, but also to the delivery of that message, paying attention to vocal inflection, enunciation, control of tone, how different voices interact, and how supplemental sound components work together to create a cohesive, coherent text. As an extension of demonstrating good presentation skills, students should also develop an understanding of the unique rhetorical demands required to produce an exclusively aural text. Absent of any visual components, what strategies ought to be employed in order to "gesture" to one's listeners, or point out a supporting illustration, or to designate emphasis? Working with layers of sound, how does one ensure that the intended rhetorical effect is achieved sucessfully, rather than buried underneath a muddy, poorly mixed product? While confronting such questions are certainly important for completing the assignment at hand, the conversations surrounding these issues are perhaps more important, because they raises students' rhetorical awareness regarding not only sound production, but composing with other media forms as well.
Finally, it is important to remember that podcasts are technically different than regular digital audio files that listeners might access by visiting a static web site and clicking on a hyperlink. With podcasts, listeners actively subscribe to feeds in order to periodically download files. Subscribing to a podcast carries with it an implicit social contract between listener and producer, an assumption or trust that content will be provided on a regular basis. In other words, someone who subscribes to a podcast does so with the intention that he or she will receive files automatically without having to visit a site wondering if or when new content is available. Podcast producers, on the other hand, establish feeds based upon a sense of responsibility to their listeners to provide material in a timely manner. Less stringent than our earlier models of serialization (think: weekly television episodes) and more often than not lacking the big institutional apparatuses to support their production, podcasts represent a one-to-few media model that should be recognized as a unique communicative act with its own distinct set of rhetorical conventions. In short, this dynamic between podcaster and listener is more localized, contingent, and real than the dynamic surrounding legacy media forms, or even newer ones, for that matter. (If you build a website and no one visits, it is still arguably a website. Does the same hold true for a podcast?) Therefore, it is important to frame this "Weekly Wrap-Up" podcasting assignment with a discussion about audience. More specifically, Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede's classic article "Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked: The Role of Audience in Composition Theory and Pedagogy" is a productive text to draw upon because of how podcasting complicates the competing theories of audience analysis outlined in the piece.
Whereas students will have a clear idea of an actual, reachable group of listeners comprised of their own classmates (Ede and Lunsford's "audience addressed"), it is important to point out that there might also be a potential listenership outside of the classroom, one with a set of beliefs and expectations that can only be surmised ("audience invoked"). The challenge for the successful podcaster, then, is being able to negotiate between these two groups. Such a challenge involves being able to incorporate the actual feedback gathered in class concerning what makes for a good, clear, entertaining podcast that also accomplishes the goals of the assignment. It also involves some deal of detective work--absent an immediate feedback loop (such as, say, one might get with the comments section of a blog), students have to ask themselves who might be listening, and what strategies could be used in order to reach that distant audience. Sustained discussions throughout the course term about how different podcasts were composed to address real or imagined audience concerns will reinforce students' consciousness of their audience, enabling them to realize more fully the array of rhetorical choices they have at their disposal.