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PWR 91JS: The Stanford Science Podcast

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Scientific information can be shared in a variety of formats, from technical journal articles to popular television shows. One growing medium for science communication is the podcast, episodic programs that can be downloaded onto mobile devices and listened to anywhere—on the bus, at the gym, or while working at the lab bench. This versatile medium is adaptable to many different formats, including the engaging narratives of Radiolab and the expert conversations of This Week in Virology, and has broad appeal to both technical and non-technical audiences.

In this course, students will explore the podcast medium and its use as a tool for science communication. Through a series of workshops and guest speakers, students will learn the necessary journalistic and technical skills to produce podcast episodes including how to: find a compelling topic, develop effective interviewing techniques, record high quality audio, tell an engaging story, communicate complex technical ideas, edit audio files, add music and sound effects, and prepare the final podcasts for online publishing. Podcast episodes will highlight the cutting edge research being done at Stanford, and students will choose specific stories based on their own interests, from earth sciences to public health to big data. The course is open to students from all majors and disciplines, and students taking this course as part of the Notation in Science Communication can include their podcast episodes in their NSC ePortfolio. Final podcast episodes will also be published through Soundcloud

Annotated List of Major Assignments

Science Minute Episode (15%) Based off of Scientific American’s 60-Second Science, students will produce a short news bulletin of a recent scientific discovery at Stanford. These podcasts will introduce students to basic audio recording and editing techniques, and they will be published on iTunes along with the SciCast episodes (see below). Past episodes have reported on language acquisition in infants, optical computing, and urban agriculture.

Podcast Write Ups + Discussion (20%) In this weekly assignment, students will listen to an assigned podcast and write up a short analysis (~1 page) of the rhetorical choices made in its production. These write ups will then serve as basis for in class discussion of the podcast genre. We will also explore how to interpret and incorporate what we learn into our own podcasts.  Students will be responsible for leading one discussion during the quarter.

Story Pitch (15%) Students will pitch story ideas to their classmates. These pitches will include a short written description of the story (~1 page) and an oral presentation to the class. As a class, we will select stories and teams for the final podcast episodes.

SciCast Episode (40%) Students, working in teams, will produce a podcast episode based on Stanford research. As part of the assignment, students will interview researchers, and create an engaging and high quality audio story about both the research and researchers behind the work. Students will practice working in multiple modes, producing not only audio files but also writing copy and choosing appropriate visuals to accompany their podcast on the course website. The final SciCast episodes will be published on iTunes. Previous topics have included the complexities of water management in California, an exploration of the nature of human altruism, and the origins of the universe.

Final Reflection (10%) In this assignment, students will reflect on their learning in the course, specifically speaking to how they will approach different communication situations they face in future.

podcasting tools





Instructor: Jennifer Stonaker

Catalog: PWR 91JS

Units: 4

Grading: Letter

Prerequisites: WR1 and WR2, or Instructor Permission


PWR Track: Science Communication


Fulfills the Advanced PWR requirement for the Notation in Science Communication