Student-Generated Earth Science Podcasts for a Community Partner

Laura Guertin, Penn State Brandywine
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Initial Publication Date: March 8, 2016 | Reviewed: November 25, 2019


A semester-long audio recording project, defined by the needs of a community organization, engages students in not only learning new content but sharing their new knowledge beyond classroom walls (and beyond the professor). This assignment, focusing on "engaged digital scholarship," challenges students to increase their information literacy and use of audio to effectively communicate scientific information for a general audience. This project has been embedded in several different introductory-level Earth science courses for non-science majors, with the resulting podcasts being shared with varied community groups. The example presented here focuses on students in a "Water: Science and Society" course generating podcasts that respond to specific content questions posed by Pennsylvania K-12 teachers, with the resulting podcasts posted on the website for the Pennsylvania Earth Science Teachers Association (PAESTA).

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Learning Goals

Content/concepts goals
For Part A, the information literacy piece

  • To learn more about a water science issue of interest
  • To learn how to evaluate online sources for currency, reliability, authority, and purpose/point of view
  • To learn how to generate an annotation of a source by summarizing and analyzing content
  • To learn how to utilize a free, open-source research tool that helps the user collect, organize, and analyze research and share it in a variety of ways

Higher order thinking skills goals
For Part B, the script writing/audio recording piece

  • Writing skills development - To learn how to write about water science for diverse and interested listeners
  • Media and information literacy - To learn how information is both produced and consumed, and to reflect on available sources and their appropriate usage
  • Critical thinking and research skills - To learn how to evaluate sources (not just existing podcasts) and how to critically analyze existing podcasts to determine how well a podcast covers the topic, to assess what information is missing, and to evaluate to what extent a podcast is effective in accomplishing its objectives
  • Collaboration – To learn how to collaborate with a community of active volunteer editors (your peers) in the development of science content
  • Technical skills – To learn how to use GarageBand to generate an engaging podcast, as audio training is growing in both educational and corporate settings

Other skills goals
For Part C, the student reflection piece

  • For students to reflect upon how and why they think the way they do about "water: science and society"
  • To reflect upon what subjects of articles they selected, what choices they made
  • To reflect upon the meaning of article content as well as selections and choices
  • To reflect upon what learning and growth has occurred
  • To reflect upon what they believe is the social value of being aware of current news and scientific discoveries relating to our planet
  • To reflect upon what they believe is their role as an everyday citizen and/or professional relating to water science and literacy
  • To reflect upon how they feel about creating a podcast for information/educational purposes and attitudinal change towards learning from audio

Context for Use

Type and level of course
This project has been designed for undergraduate introductory-level Earth science/geoscience courses for non-science majors. Each course section has had a maximum enrollment of 30 students, but the project can be scaled up to larger courses and/or have students collaborate in groups to generate the audio files.

Skills and concepts students should have mastered
The assumption is that students do not have a mastery and a limited introduction to the skills needed to complete the project. Integrated into the project design is a formal introduction to information literacy (how to search for quality/relevant sources), an overview of how to generate an annotated bibliography, a discussion of writing a podcast script versus writing a term paper, and how to record audio.

How the activity is situated in the course
The project is embedded throughout the semester in the course and is divided into three parts – Part A is the information literacy piece, Part B is the script writing/audio recording piece, and Part C is a student reflection piece.

Description and Teaching Materials

PART A (information literacy)

To start, each week during the first half of the semester, students are required to find two current news stories from an online source related to the topic of their audio project (the topic is pre-approved before Part A begins). Students evaluate that source based on the "CRAP test" method reviewed in one full class period and one half period with an instructional librarian. Students are shown how to utilize Zotero to organize their library of citations and to store an annotation they write for each source.

PART B (script writing/audio recording)

Students are told they will do more than just learn water science (or the subject area of the course). Students will generate an audio file, with a word-for-word script to match that audio file, that will benefit a population with an identified need – middle school students and teachers in Pennsylvania (and anyone else that comes across the website). The final outcome of this project (audio/text) is targeted to benefit the statewide organization Pennsylvania Earth Science Teachers Association (PAESTA). Students are reminded that as university students at Pennsylvania's land grant institution, they can make a difference for teachers and students that are part of our university's mission and target population.

PART C (student reflection)

Integral to their personal development during this service project is the process of reflection. Reflection is not an 'add-on' piece to their learning process. It is integral to the complex process of becoming an engaged citizen. Successful reflection enables self-awareness, personal and professional growth and improved practices connecting back to our overarching and secondary course goals. After full completion of the first two parts, students are challenged to write a guided reflection that connects back to their project participation.

Teaching Notes and Tips

There are several community partners that may have a need or desire to increase their education and outreach activities, such as informal education centers, local-to-statewide teacher organizations, local-to-state parks, arboreta, etc. It is important to consider the timeline of the semester vs. the timeline desired by the community partner. If a large number of audio files are generated for a community partner in one semester, you may need to seek out a new partner in the following semester, once their needs are met and/or to not "flood" them with too much material to use effectively. It is important to be clear on who will host the audio files at the end, as the community partner may not have the technical staff or server space to place the files on their organization website. Having students generate the script is not only important to be prepared for the recording, but then the organization is ADA compliant and has a file that will accommodate those with hearing impairments. For this particular activity, the involvement of the library instructional staff was key in helping students with Part A (information literacy) and to provide support throughout the project. A Media Instructional Specialist also visited the class and provided one session of instruction on how to record audio, how to insert sound effects, adjust audio levels of different tracks, etc.


A rubric is provided for each part of the assignment (information literacy piece, audio file piece, reflection) at the start of the semester. During the information literacy piece (Part A) and script writing/audio recording piece (Part B), there are ungraded checkpoints along the way to ensure students are making progress and their work is on track.

References and Resources

  • Clements, N., Guertin, L. (2016). Science literacy meets information literacy: Using Zotero as a teaching tool. College & Research Libraries News, 77(1): 14-16. (a report on how Part A - information literacy was introduced and carried out in the introductory-level courses with the engaged digital scholarship component)
  • Guertin, L. (2013). Community-based research with podcasting in introductory geoscience courses. CURQ On The Web, 34(2): 13. (a short description of two example podcasting projects from introductory-level Earth science courses)
  • Woodruff, J.B., Acuna, E.B., Silano, R.L., Guertin, L.A. (2009). Enhanced podcast of Pennsylvania tree biodiversity in Ridley Creek State Park. Journal of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science, 83(2/3): 90-93. (a research report of one example audio project where students collaborated with a local state park to assist with their outreach/education mission)

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