Podcasts and Digital Storytelling/True Crime and Empathy

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here before, but something you all should know about me is that I LOVE true crime. Give me some Dateline, 20/20, 48 Hours, Law & Order SVU (close enough to true, plus who doesn’t adore Olivia Benson!?), Reddit Let’s Not Meet, or Jon Krakauer and I will gobble it up. I truly believe teaching English is my calling, but I’m almost certain that if I wasn’t going into education, I would instead be pursuing a career in the criminal justice field as a detective. Okay, pause. If the title to this post is podcasts and digital storytelling (whatever that is), you might be wondering why I’m rambling on about true crime in my introduction. Stick with me. There is a connection; I promise.

As with any other educational concept I’ve blogged about this semester, let’s start by defining what exactly we are to discuss. I’m sure out of these two, more people are probably familiar with what a podcast is. Essentially, it is like a digitized radio program. Podcasts often present information of some sort, and listeners are able to download “episodes” from the Internet or a program onto their devices. One example of a podcast is the series “Serial”. Narrated by Sarah Koenig, Serial tackles a number of American true crime incidents in an investigative journalism style. Season one focuses on the murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee in Baltimore, Maryland. Season two dives into the story of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who was held captive by the Taliban and then charged with desertion. Ah, relevance. I promised there would be a point.

These classrooms have used Serial to fulfill state-standard requirements, which kind of surprises me. I love true crime, but I never really knew there would be a way for me to tie it into English. Alas, there is. The reaction from students has been incredible. Not only are they truly enjoying the content, but they seem to be engaged. It might appear strange to use podcasts in the classroom, but in all actuality there are a lot of benefits. As the aforementioned website states, “Learning through listening has surprising educational advantages as well. Students can listen to content two-to-three grade levels higher than they can read. . . An unfamiliar word that might stop them on the page doesn’t compel them to tune out from a story told aloud. Also, kids for whom English is a second language benefit from hearing spoken English and following along with an accompanying transcript.” I am SO excited to implement podcasts in my own classroom one day! Being able to tie one of my personal passions, true crime, into my classroom will be delightful experience. The fun thing is, there are myriads of different types of podcasts. If my students don’t respond well to true crime, I will simply pick something else. My students could also make their own podcasts. I love the idea from the article of creating a podcast based off of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. How neat would it be to have students turn Shakespeare’s Macbeth into modern day investigative journalism? I can already see one of my students playing the role of Keith Morrison now. There are so many potential creative uses. One thing I could see as an issue, though, is time. As a future teacher, it is my desire to assign minimal amounts of homework. To succeed in doing that, I will have to be willing to give up weeks of class-time in way of podcasts. However, I think in the long run it would be worth it.

Digital storytelling is quite similar to podcasts. As the name implies, it is stories that are told and captured through some sort of digital medium. My favorite resource on digital storytelling came in way of this article. A social studies teacher by the name of Alex Fernandez from a school in a rough neighborhood used digital storytelling to forge connections between his students. He encouraged them to get together and share their dreams, hopes, and aspirations. The curriculum he used focuses on three questions: where have you been, where are you now, and where are you going? As Fernandez stated, “They learn that the past can weigh you down, but if you have a growth mindset, you can change your life.” Digital storytelling can be such a powerful force. It serves as a reminder that as educators, we need to teach beyond the classroom. Helping students to grow as people is even more important than helping them to learn our content areas. I would love to have the honor to create a similar unit on digital storytelling in my own English classroom one day. This concept made me think of another organization I learned about earlier this semester when I was presenting on a short story by the Irish author Collum McCann in my advanced creative writing class. While doing research, I discovered that McCann was a founder of something entitled Narrative4. Essentially, it is a program that comes into schools to teach empathy. People are partnered up, they tell their life stories, and then each person presents the other’s story. Digitized or not, the act of walking in another’s shoes is important. That is my biggest takeaway from this section.

It’s only fitting that the two main ideas from podcasts and digital storytelling are true crime and empathy because really it is an embodiment for life. Since we are all sinners, there is evil in this world, and bad things happen (like murder). However, when others hear about the bad things, they feel for those involved, and it is almost like a call to action. We do not have the power to eradicate the bad things, but we can strive to make the world a more joyous place. That is a lesson I want all of my future students to know, and through podcasts and digital storytelling I know I can accomplish it. Who knows? Maybe through the lessons I could even inspire a student to write the next In Cold Blood. Bonus. 😀


10 thoughts on “Podcasts and Digital Storytelling/True Crime and Empathy

  1. I think podcasts are a really cool way to meet the standards and listen to something you are interested in, it kills two birds with one stone! Digital storytelling is also another way to allow endless amounts of creativity in your classroom. I think students would really enjoy both of these activities. Nice post!


  2. I was blown away by the variety of podcasts out there. If a student has a niche, there is probably an appropriate podcast for that. Implementing a variety of learning styles is always good, and podcasts and digital storytelling do just that. I think students could come up with some really good podcasts of their own through collaboration. Good, detailed blog post.


    • You bet. Instead of having the class as a whole listen to one podcast, it might be neat to implement a passion-based learning approach where students could pick whichever podcast they want and complete assignments that way. Good insight! Thank you for the comment.


  3. I liked how you explained what a podcast is and how it relates to digital story telling. I can see you are very enthusiastic by the thought of using podcasts in your classroom and, from learning more about you, I know you will be successful. Great post! 🙂


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