Getting Comfortable: A UCCS podcast

When history professor Carole Woodall and her students came up with the idea of doing a project instead of final essays for her “Islam and the West” course, she didn’t shy away from trying something that was new to both her and her students – a collaborative podcast.

The podcast, “Getting Comfortable,” follows a similar structure to Woodall’s course, which “provides a lens to start unpacking the historical, political and cultural legacy attached to the history of Orientalism – the idea that there is a basic distinction between the East and the West that is given form through the imagining, emphasizing, exaggerating and distorting of differences.”

“This podcast is about the nuanced dichotomy between Islam, understood as a merged religion-civilization and group of people, versus this abstract idea of ‘the West’ which is relative and dependent on many factors,” said student Catherine Bauder. “We explore the context behind this comparison and try to understand why these biases, misrepresentations and perspectives have shifted over time.”

The podcast was formed from the idea to do an “unessay,” a different approach to research projects that’s growing in popularity on campuses. Instead of a written essay, professors like Woodall are exploring other avenues to see how students interpret material and learn their curriculum.

“I was exploring with educational technological platforms during COVID as I did not favor discussion boards. I was in conversation with Angie Dodson in the Faculty Resource Center about alternative platforms, and I started using Padlet, which reproduces a white board,” explained Woodall. “I use the Padlet for in class and takeaway writing, and the engagement and caliber of writing has varied until this class. By the second week of class, the students had set such a high bar in terms of critical engagement on the Padlet. The third week was again a phenomenal expression of collective engagement. By the fourth week, I realized that writing papers would limit the engagement, and asked the students for unessay ideas. One of the students, Amanda Espinel, immediately suggested a podcast and the rest of the students chimed in with enthusiasm about the podcast idea.”

Espinel had done an unessay project in a previous class by recording podcast episodes instead of a traditional essay and felt this medium would apply well in “Islam and the West.”

“I asked Professor Woodall what she thought about podcasts and potentially creating and producing something that would showcase our learning process throughout the course. She said she had no idea about podcasts but that she was 100% on board with providing us with the space to creatively learn about Islam and the West,” said Espinel.

To conduct the project, the participants formed five teams that each consisted of student pairs working together to spearhead a few episodes.

“There were five groups of two and as a class we went through the syllabus to pick which three modules each production team would cover,” said Espinel. “Together in class we brainstormed names, taglines, a mission statement, ideas of intro and outro music, cover art, episode length, and overall, how to stay structured and consistent in each episode.”

“After completing the assigned readings and viewings, I filled out the preliminary outline for our episode. Our team would complete it with our own points and specific quotes we wanted to be sure and reference,” added Bauder. “We would have the bulk of the episode typed up, color coded and ready to read for our practice run. As we practiced it, we made it more conversational and ironed out any awkward phrasing to make it more approachable and attractive to a wider audience base.”

The name “Getting Comfortable” was suggested by student Jayda Wayman and serves dual purposes for the podcast.

“‘Getting comfortable in the process of overturning discomfort’ is a statement that speaks a lot to me,” Wayman explained. “It can be intimidating to be asked to deconstruct the notions that you have learned and that the people around you purport to have, especially when being asked to deconstruct ideas surrounding ‘taboo’ topics that are not discussed. Getting comfortable in the process of overturning discomfort means embracing that sometimes you will be wrong, say the wrong thing or put your foot in your mouth, but that it’s necessary to learn. You have to embrace the discomfort to challenge what has become normative, both on the grand scale and in your own life.”

“The name is twofold,” Espinel elaborated. “We wanted this podcast to be approachable and accessible to anybody listening, like they could curl up on the couch and ‘get comfortable’ as they listen to our podcast. We also have the awareness that this content might be new to some and deconstructing previous information and opinions can be difficult for some and cause discomfort. ‘Getting Comfortable’ is for both the listener and us to step into the possible discomfort of learning something new and finding a more inclusive perspective.”

This unique approach to a final project gave Woodall and her students the opportunity to engage with and learn from each other more heavily, as evident in the collaborative nature of the process and the Padlet posts, and shows how much teamwork and joint effort the “unessay” style encouraged.

“This endeavor wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the interest and passions of everyone involved. Everyone produced their own episodes, but there were also numerous times when we would all come together during class time, often spontaneously, and discuss the structure, progress and issues associated with the production,” said student Matthew Reese.

The project worked so well that Woodall plans to continue incorporating podcasts into her future classes.

“I will continue to offer the course as a podcast project and am already thinking about ways to tweak the approach so the next season is connected yet different,” Woodall said. “What was notable was the level of discussion which was taking place amongst everyone. There was a constant buzz in the class, and I found myself thinking about this project constantly over the course of the semester. I can easily say that it was more work than I could have imagined and well worth every second. I am one very proud mama bear and am incredibly honored to have been part of this project and for these students to have been part of my story!”

Listen to “Getting Comfortable” on Spotify, Google Podcasts and Apple Podcasts.

About the UCCS College of Letters, Arts & Sciences

The College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at UCCS is the university’s largest college, enrolling nearly 6,000 students across 21 departments and programs. The college offers 19 majors and 53 minors in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Students can also choose from five accelerated bachelor’s and master’s degrees, nine full master’s degrees and three Ph.D. degrees, as well as pre-medical and pre-law programs. The mission of the college is to position graduates for success in their personal and professional lives, with a focus on thinking, creating and communicating — skills vital to employers and graduate and professional schools. Learn more about the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at UCCS.