Science through Story: Podcasts in OEB50

April 7, 2021
Grace Burgin

When OEB50: Genetics and Genomics wrapped in Fall 2019, Professors Robin Hopkins and Dan Hartl, who co-teach the course, decided to incorporate a creative project that would allow students to engage course material in new ways in the next iteration. Little did they know that the next iteration of the course would be on Zoom!

When it came time to design the creative project, Hopkins and Hartl turned to OEB graduate student Grace Burgin, a Media and Design Fellow at the Bok Center’s Learning Lab. Media and Design Fellows (MDFs) support innovative course development within the FAS, partnering with faculty and Bok Center staff to design a variety of digital tools, course materials, and assignments for undergraduate courses and departments.

In consultation with the faculty, Grace chose podcasting as the medium for the OEB50 project, both for its feasibility in a remote semester and for the ways in which it would push students to present science without relying on diagrams and data visualizations to do the heavy lifting. The audio-only format required students to heighten audience interest by explaining the rationale for and implications of research studies, using sound effects to set the scene, and perhaps most importantly, relating genetics to people through stories. This last outcome was a key part of the success of the project for Hopkins:

I think one thing that was really special for me hearing the podcasts was the way that they turned to storytelling, and I think that is something that is just becoming more and more acceptable in science. [S]o, science is supposed to be objective and it's about the facts, it's not about the people, and one thing that Dan and I do often in our classes is talk about the people. We talk about the stories behind how these things were discovered, the mistakes that were made, the funny anecdotes from interactions with some of the scientists, the people behind it. It was really special for me to hear the students bringing stories into their podcasts, either personal ones or making them up by becoming characters that had stories.

Across the semester, Grace worked with the Learning Lab to develop a series of scaffolding assignments that would set students up for success on the final podcasts. The process involved preparing students for the technical aspects of making a podcast and giving feedback on the scripts and content of the podcasts at various stages. Grace asked students to deconstruct a familiar podcast to identify the communicative “moves” involved and to record audio on their phones in different types of spaces to compare the effects of background noise, echos, and whispers.

The podcasts were a huge success! The final course meeting was devoted to sharing and celebrating the final products. The next iteration of OEB50 will definitely incorporate a version of the podcasting assignment and continue to use and build on the materials Grace created.

As for Grace, the experience as an MDF was a highlight during this year away from campus:

It was definitely a really awesome learning opportunity for me… [H]aving both interactions with the students and with Robin and Dan and the TFs, and then [working with] the Bok Center to co-create what this project would be was really, really useful for me... [I]t has made me both more excited about teaching and also [made me] feel more confident and capable about teaching in a creative way.

For more information about using podcasts in your teaching, visit our web resources and reach out to the Learning Lab at to schedule a consultation.