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Students Produce Podcasts Addressing Global Challenges

A teacher at a private school in the San Francisco Bay area is inspiring students to become more civically engaged by having them produce podcasts about global policy challenges. The podcasts tackle international issues from a local perspective, and are giving students direct exposure to people who are trying to make a difference.

Mark Lukach teaches at Woodside Priory, a private Benedictine school with students grades 6-12. Among his classes is a course called Global Issues, an elective course examining global policy challenges and how they’re being addressed.

“After teaching the class for a year, my students and I concluded that the material was heavy and depressing,” Lukach told me this week. “Students left the class worrying that the world was going to get blown up, flooded, over-heated, or some other form of the apocalypse. In the interest of giving my students a sense of hope and to empower them, I designed a project in which we made a podcast.”

The podcast Lukach and his students created is called The Global Issues Initiative. Working in groups of three, his students researched a global policy issue that interested them, then identified someone in their community working to address that very issue. Students plan, record, edit and publish the interview as a podcast.

So far, they’ve published three interviews, spreading them out every two weeks “to make it feel more ‘episodic’ in nature,” Lukach explained. Among the interviews produced by the students so far are Jason Doherty, the founder of the Daraja Academy, the first free school in East Africa; Emily Sugihara, the founder of Baggu Bag, a reusable eco-friendly shopping bag; and Silvestro Bakhiet, a refugee from Southern Sudan and founder of New Sudan Generation, which seeks to help Sudanese refugees rebuild their communities.

Perhaps the most interesting experience for the students so far has been their response to Annie Leonard’s video series, The Story of Stuff, which explores humanity’s global consumption patterns and the challenges to achieving environmental sustainability. The students felt as if Leonard could have gone further in terms of offering concrete suggestions for how people can reduce their own consumption of stuff, so they posted a YouTube video critiquing her work:

It didn’t take long for Annie Leonard to hear about the students’ video and respond to it. “Within a month she had contacted us via YouTube and had agreed to sit down for an interview with the class,” Lukach recalled. “The interview of Annie Leonard will be the final episode in the first season of our podcast, and is to me the true culmination of this project.” The students will also produce a “making of” episode, in which the students recount the process that went into producing the series. Meanwhile, Lukach is already planning to produce more podcasts with a new crop of students during the fall 2008 semester.

“I think that this project has incorporated some fascinating elements,” Lukach added. “First off, it is a cool example of students going outside of the classroom to engage the outside world and ‘outside the box’ learning and thinking. Secondly, it shows how interconnected we all can become through technology, and how useful it is for teachers and students alike to use the benefits of the internet to our advantage. Who would have thought that an internationally known activist would sit down with my students in my living room and answer questions from them? And finally, it is a cool way for listeners to potentially further explore issues that high school students take an interest in.”

“Beyond the technological realm, I was inspired to do this after one of my colleagues brought in an outside speaker to speak to his Environmental Science class, and the kids were shocked into action and awareness,” he continued. “Not to undermine my colleague, but that one speaker sharing his stories about his involvement in the real world seemed to carry more of an impact on the kids than the entire year combined. I think students best learn through attaching personal and emotional connections to a subject. So, rather than only have speakers come into class, get students to find someone out in the Real World who they’d like to talk to, and stick a microphone in front of them.”

But what do his colleagues at the school think about the project, particularly administrators? “The administrative response at my school has certainly not been hostile, but I don’t think I can call it entirely supportive either,” Lukach admitted. “I’ve been using the same crappy computer for the recording all year, and in fact, we even lost one episode due to a software meltdown in the middle of the interview, which went un-detected by the tech person in the group and myself until after the interview had ended and the interviewees were long gone. To be fair, now that the podcast is out and catching some attention, I’ve been promised a new computer next year, which would be great. My initial plan was to video the interviews, but lack of tech support made that impossible, and so we went with podcasts instead. Looking back, I’m happy we went with an audio podcast, because the popularity of podcasting is constantly increasing.”

“I am always looking for ways to use technology in the classroom,” Lukach concluded. “I’ve had groups write wiki essays in the past, we posted on YouTube, etc. My basic reason for engaging technology so heavily is because teenagers are extremely savvy at finding what is available on the internet and critiquing it. My hope, in the technological realm, was to get the students involved in the conversation. Web 2.0 is so cool because people can speak to each other and learn from each other. Students may know how to make funny groups in Facebook, but to empower them to reach and connect with someone via YouTube, or to make an interesting conversation available via a podcast, is something entirely different.” -andy

Filed under : People, Youth Media


Do you have an idea what happened to the YouTube video? It is no longer available… Thanks!

Hi Dima,

I can access the video just fine. Not sure what the problem is.

Thank you Andy!
It works fine now. For a while it would give “this video is no longer available” error.

My hat’s off to this teacher and these students. This is a true example of the service learning approach integrated with the use of the latest technology. I believe it is important to provide students with authentic tasks that allow them to engage in real-life issues. I look forward to viewing the “making off” episode.

By the way, glad you are thinking of more ways to reduce consumer consumption!

I will be doing a three session GATE class soon for 4-8 graders. 2 sessions, of two hours each, will take place in our computer lab. The final session will take place as a field trip to the Tech. Museum in San Jose. I want to do something that will blend students’ original ideas on how to make the world a better place with technology. Since the entire class is not very long, do you have some suggestions of what I could do? Thanks.

Thank you for posting the students’ inspiring response video. I was also moved by “The Story of Stuff” film, but was left wondering how to make a difference. I look forward to seeing the interview with Annie Leonard. This story has inspired me to help my education community learn about podcasting, thank you.

Andy, I am a social studies high school teacher. I have been asked by a supervisor of mine to try and find a website that is good for both students and teachers to upload podcasts to. Youtube is not an alternative at this point. If you have any suggestions of safe, teacher and student friendly sites, that would be great.


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