Multimodal Mondays: Exploratory Podcast Reviews

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Kim Haimes-KornToday’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at or visit her website: Acts of Composition


Although a relatively new phenomena, podcasts take us back to early media technologies (before television and computers) as audiences gathered around the radio to listen to stories. They also remind us of childhood memories in which we listened to stories read aloud to us before we could even read ourselves. Now, digital technologies provide easy access to expansive collections of stories where authors can create experience, develop characters, and engage through aural storytelling.


Studies suggest that audio stories are potentially more impactful than other media forms in which visual dramatizations direct the storyline. In this kind of participatory media, audiences engage their imaginations through individual visualization and are less likely to be influenced by preconceived depictions – an important part of oral storytelling. In the article, Inside the Podcast Brain: Why Do Audio Stories Captivate, Communications Professor, Emma Rodero, argues that, 


Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production, and that of course, is something that you can never get with visual media.


When teaching digital storytelling I want students to experience this genre and explore stories that might interest them. I direct them to This American Life, a massive collection of weekly public radio podcast episodes that offer many possibilities for interest and engagement. With an extensive archive of over 6,000 stories that reach back to 1995, the podcasts combine the human interest of journalism and the engagement of stories. Their website explains: “Our favorite sorts of stories have compelling people at the center of them, funny moments, big feelings, surprising plot twists, and interesting ideas. Like little movies for radio.”


This multimodal assignment asks students to choose a podcast series of at least five related episodes of a subject of their choosing. They listen and review series in an interactive blog post in which they present an overview, review each episode, and connect to larger ideas through the lens of their own perspectives. 

Background Readings and Resources



Steps to the Assignment


  1. Brainstorm: Brainstorm and create a list of ideas, themes, and subjects of interest.
  2. Review the site: Explore the webpage for This American Life.
  3. Choose a series of podcasts: Have students choose five related podcast episodes that fall under a similar theme, subject, concept or idea that they want to explore and consider from multiple perspectives. The challenge is to build a series and expand their ideas through an exploratory search for related, connected subjects. Their overview section will demonstrate the process of this search and connect to the related episodes. Encourage them to explore the many ways to search the site in different ways:

- Recommended: This is a good starting place for some interesting podcasts that are categorized for you. It also has folks recommending their favorites.

- Related: Each of the podcasts generates a list of related subjects below. This will help you to add to your list.

- Keyword Search: Use the search function to generate keyword searches that group your ideas.

- Archive: You can browse the archives by date. Each week has a different theme that can help you shape a direction. Start with those and then add according to keywords or related subjects.

Assignment Details and Requirements

On their blogs, students create a landing page with their overall review of their series and an exploration of their idea/concept/subject. They should create links and a drop-down menu to separate pages for each episode.  

The overall review should be 500-800 words and include:

  • an overview/review of purposes and connections that make up their series;
  • a written review for each episode with direct links to the podcasts;
  • at least five purposeful, related links (exploratory paths);
  • at least two multimodal components (images, videos, etc.); and
  • a list of references.

Each episode review (200-300 words) should include:

  • at least two embedded links; and
  • at least one multimodal component.


Reflection on the Activity

One of the most interesting parts of this assignment is when students research to find the subjects and podcasts for their chosen series. They often start out with one idea that morphs into something completely unexpected as they find related stories to make up their series. For example, Lydia explored “Reruns” as a metaphor for life, history, and personal perspectives.  Sean looked at “situations where we don’t belong” and explored podcasts on environmental, psychological, and physical dimensions of the subject. Others, like Emily, focused on a particular time – middle school – and explored personal connections, brain development, and external cultural influences. Sarah whose subject of “Prisoners” opened up to “prison as family,” “therapies with prisoners,” to DNA exoneration. Nick looked at the ways we interpret coincidences as signs and how unexpected situations draw us together. This assignment expanded their ideas on research and the learning potential in stories. In the reviews, students provided substantiated recommendations and reflected on the connections between these stories and the ways they contributed to their thinking and learning on their subjects.

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.