Flexibility in Form: Podcasting with Spanish 50

February 4, 2022
Flexibility in Form: Podcasting with Spanish 50

Over the last two years, we’ve all had to make adjustments to our plans, whether as instructors, students, or support staff. One of the Learning Lab’s Media & Design Fellows, Ignacio Azcueta, recently demonstrated the importance of developing resources and course plans that are responsive to quickly-changing conditions. At Bok, we are heartened by the adaptability of our fellows and their students.

Ignacio Azcueta (PhD candidate in Romance Languages and Literatures) has been working as a Media & Design Fellow this academic year and as a TF for Spanish 50: Advanced Spanish II: Creative Writing and Performance during the fall. The course initially developed a podcasting assignment during the fully remote school year of 2020 - 2021, since this medium allows students to record in their homes.

“Spanish 50 is a creative writing and performance course that stands at the threshold between language and cultural competence,” Ignacio said. “Because of this, we need assessment tools that help us gauge these competencies [i.e., in comprehension, speech, writing] simultaneously. Podcasts are a form ideally suited to this goal: though podcasts are oral, they require some form of a script, and the quality of the conversation requires one to be articulate and have knowledge of a certain topic.”

Students were tasked with using poems and short stories assigned in the course as a way of imagining a conversation that might take place between the characters found in these texts; the podcast episode was this imagined conversation, allowing students to discuss themes ranging from love, death, politics, and beyond. With the return of in-person learning in Fall 2021, Ignacio recognized that the assignment had an opportunity to be elevated. “I thought, ‘Well, why don’t I kick it up a notch and start bringing students here [to the Learning Lab] and have them think more about form?’”

So in October 2021, Ignacio brought the students to the Learning Lab studio and led them on a close-reading of a podcast episode. They deconstructed its parts, analyzing how the music rhetorically and formally functions, how the different voices work, how the setup of the episode was constructed, and how the episode unfolded to achieve a specific narrative arc. Then, Ignacio helped students think through what they could do for their own podcast assignments.

Though the office hours Ignacio had planned to allow groups to record their assignments in the studio were cancelled due to unexpected HVAC issues in the building, the students were characteristically flexible, having adapted throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to unforeseen circumstances. Importantly, the students embraced and were cushioned by the knowledge they had as a result of the Learning Lab workshop’s activities.

After the student assignments were submitted, Ignacio reflected on the podcasts his students created and was especially struck by the way they played with form. This, after all, was one of his original goals: “Creativity, a lot of times, has to do with imagination and invention,” Ignacio said. “But here it also had to do with montage, with an imaginative use of the materials already available. I saw that students were very creative in their use of music and the way they combined the different characters.” In foregrounding many of these same elements, the workshop equipped students to use these techniques in their own production processes.

Ignacio expressed appreciation for the support of the Learning Lab. “I had a great time working with this assignment in the Lab. I would like to mention that the workshop wasn’t entirely my invention. I learned the skills to build my own version of the workshop from Marlon [Director of the Learning Lab] and from Jordan [Assistant Director of the Learning Lab]… I would like to thank both of them for their instruction and their support. I would also like to thank Casey [Learning Lab Studio Coordinator] as well, who participated in the workshop and helped set up the studio.”

If you are interested in working with the Learning Lab on a podcasting assignment, or on assignments that involve other types of media, please contact us at learninglab@fas.harvard.edu.