Saturday, April 16, 2011

Radio Lab and On Point

I'm a big fan of podcasting, in particular NPR, especially two shows: On Point with Tom Ashbrook, and Radio Lab. I listen regularly, almost daily, to On Point. Less often--but with great enjoyment--I download and escape with Radio Lab.

As an education tool, I've sometimes sent links to my students for particular shows that I believe would be of interest to them. Since they can be downloaded for free directly onto an iPhone or iTouch within a wifi zone, they are easy to get and have immediately on a device. The On Point shows are always forty-five minutes, which is the exact time of my commute, so I typically listen to one on the way to work, and another on the way home. They are based on the lively talk show format, with reasoned and thoughtful discussion, expert guests and lots of listener calls taken to enrich, deepen or broaden the discussion. Even more remarkable is the breadth of topics covered. For instance, just in the past five days, here are some of the shows' titles:

The American Civil War 150 Years On
Are College Campuses A Hostile Environment For Women?
Ai Weiwei And Dissent In China
The Budget Fallout
Reimagining Malcolm X

Ultimately I am able to rest my eyes for a spell and gain deep insight and wide exposure into our world through this show.

In addition to On Point, I sometimes mix it up with RadioLab, a show that has short and long versions. The long shows are typically an hour, while shorter ones are about twenty minutes. The innovative feature of this show is the way that it uses sound effects to bring the listener into a story, and the way that it mixes stories to provide new and creative spin on a big idea. The most memorable show, perhaps with the best educational potential given what I do everyday, is the show on race. The teaser for the show reads "When the human genome was first fully mapped in 2000, Bill Clinton, Craig Venter, and Francis Collins took the stage and pronounced that "The concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis." Great words spoken with great intentions. But what do they really mean, and where do they leave us? Our genes are nearly all the same, but that hasn't made race meaningless, or wiped out our evolving conversation about it." I remember first hearing the way that urban students responded to their questions on race, and how they frequently answered with their nationality, for instance "Dominican" or "Jamaican." 

Radio opens on all kinds of possibility, if only we could use it more! I am glad as a professional and private citizen that I can podcast and stream, and gain access to both enjoyment and insight while on the move, doing chores, or just closing my eyes. These shows in particular, if listened to by students could truly supplement their education, but they have to be trained to access them and taught how to discern what is worth listening to--perhaps this is a perfect method of teaching them how to exercise the power and responsibility of choice. 

Finally, radio serves as another important conduit for the dissemination of ideas about education itself. We should look at how this medium processes information about education reform and understand how it is used, or not used, to advance a deep understanding. Perhaps we can advocate the wider podcasting of these two shows as a way to educate, and educate on education?

Below, just one example of a book who's author was featured on On Point, and that I now have on my wish list!  

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