PWR 91JS: The Stanford Science Podcast

PWR 1, PWR 2

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 podcast subscription services such as iTunes and on our course website:

Annotated List of Major Assignments

Science Minute Episode (20%)

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 acquisition of language in infants, optical computing, and urban agriculture.

Podcast Journal (25%)

Throughout the quarter students will listen to podcasts (selected both by the instructor and their peers) and write short reflections about their structure, production, and audience engagement strategies. These reflections will form the basis of in class discussions, and students will apply what they learn about podcast genres to their own projects.

SciCast Episode (55%)

Students, working alone or in teams, will produce a podcast episode based on Stanford research. As part of the assignment, students will pitch possible stories to the class, 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 podcast episodes will be published on iTunes. Previous podcast episodes topics have included the complexities of water management in California, possibilities for bringing back extinct species, and an exploration of the nature of human altruism.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Jennifer Stonaker

Advanced Lecturer

Human Biology Writing Specialist

Areas of specialization: biology, genetics

Genre expertise: lab reports, personal statements, and dissertations

Enjoys coaching writing productivity, brainstorming, and revision strategies

Jennifer Stonaker is an advanced lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric and Writing Specialist for the Program in Human Biology. She has a PhD in plant biology from UC Berkeley, where she employed genetic and bioinformatic tools to study gene regulation in maize. Her current research focuses on science communication and writing pedagogy, particularly in how electronic portfolios and reflection can promote learning. She is also interested in science outreach, having previously worked as a science instructor and curriculum developer at the Tech Museum in San Jose and the Cal Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.