Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 753, f. 32r
Emerging Medievalisms, Sound Pedagogies
Kenna L. Olsen
I launched this website, Emerging Medievalisms: Method, Media, Manuscript, nearly a year ago last Spring. At the time, I had been granted a “Teaching and Learning Enhancement Grant” (TLEG) from my institution, Mount Royal University (MRU), and this website’s genesis (along with many of the resources you’ll find on it) is a result of the energy and time I was able to discover as a result of the TLEG.
As medievalists know very well, Spring “priketh” the mind to many places and projects, and the advent of Spring has certainly fulfilled this promise for me. As the Winter semester wanes, I’m reflecting on all sorts of teaching moments from the past year. I’m a lucky teacher – I’m inspired and encouraged by my students regularly, and my work on emergence in the classroom (“Emergence as Method and Theme for SoTL Research, see “Research,” with Dr. Ada Jaarsma, Philsophy, MRU) has, in part, allowed me to work with the concept of emergence in the classroom and for medieval studies. What this focus on emergence has meant, is that I’ve spent much of the last few years really and sincerely thinking about pedagogy and different teaching methodologies. And more, over the last year especially, I’ve been busy trying new ideas, projects, and approaches in my classes, which tend to focus on medieval studies, especially medieval English literature and History of the English language (see “Teaching“).
This Emerging Medievalisms blog, then, is – for the next little while – going to play host for some reflection and some emergence of teaching and learning practice. This post’s focus: sound. What does medieval English literature sound like? For some audio-visual clips of me reading Old and Middle English, you can visit the “multimedia resources” section of my website, but the question I’m really curious about here is how the medieval literary mind wrote and conceived of sound. I’ve become a bit charged by this question, actually. Chaucer’s “House of Fame,” a poem I’ve recently become reinvigorated by, seems to respond to this interest in a variety of ways. And, as my students will know, I’m impressed by how the Gawain-poet writes violent sound throughout his works, perhaps most obviously in the hunt scenes of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but also beautifully and in latent fashion through the tête à tête moments between Gawain and Mrs. Bertilak.
But if we turn our focus to a different question of sound, one that “questions method and engages media” (see the Emerging Medievalims landing page), what does successful teaching sound like? Good teaching? Perhaps uninspired teaching has a particular aural quality? My friend and colleague (and SoTL co-investigator) Dr. Ada Jaarsma thinks about this question in her The Learning Gene project. And I’ve wondered, too. I’ve recently had some students create podcasts as part of their coursework, and I’ve been bolstered by the constructive creativity many students have engaged in the process of podcasting.
I asked a student, Chelsea Fritz, BA Honours English student extraordinaire and my critically talented Research Assistant (alas, now former) to engage with questions Ada and I were (still are!) employing. We wonder(ed) how we can turn teaching into a sustained and interesting object of inquiry. How might podcasts engage with “teaching” in ways that foreground the specificity, relationships, embodiment, and emergence, that are part of teaching and practice? I asked Chelsea to find some podcasts that are about the undergraduate classroom, but in unexpected or surprising ways.
Here’s Chelsea Fritz’s response. I’m very pleased to include it as the first post of the Emerging Medievalisms blog:
An Undergrad’s Take on Teachable Podcasts
by Chelsea Fritz
I was given a snippet of advice from my older brother prior to entering post-secondary, “do the readings, and you’ll be fine.” This same advice, I have passed on to freshmen in my faculty, but now, as I traverse through the black and white print of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Conan Doyle, I find myself wondering whether simply reading the assigned pages allows for full engagement with the work. I know firsthand that making it through the allotted readings per semester is a challenge, and as the undergrad years progress, the busier the students are. Excuses start piling up, procrastination kicks in, and the fifty pages of daily reading are sent to the back burner. In many of my classes, the choices of listening to a novel’s audio book or watching its film adaptation are available (if you’re ever reading Wordsworth and find it dry, search for MC Nutz on YouTube, and enjoy) but for programs outside of English, those options are not widely available. When it comes to the Humanities, in general, students find themselves reading essays more than anything else. The old school notion of read, memorize, regurgitate might have value, but in our technologically dependent society, perhaps its value is depreciating.
The SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) project I was invited to work on focuses on emergence in the post-secondary classroom; this loosely refers to new, emerging formats of teaching and learning. My supervisor, Dr. Kenna L. Olsen, has a particular interest in audio learning, especially in regard to her specialty, the medieval. With the notion of audio learning at the forefront, the SoTL project assigned me a task: cast a wide net and find podcasts I deem worthy to teach in a classroom setting. Simple enough? Maybe not. I’ve had the idea that I am a visual learner crammed down my throat since childhood, and my experience with podcasts was very limited, so at first, paying attention to a voice coming out of my phone – no face, no video stream – was a challenge. The adjustment time was, however, very short, and the challenge of listening turned into enjoyment. Hearing the intonation of a voice or the laughter of a podcast host kept me present. In time, I was able to multitask while listening to my favourite podcasts; I could do the dishes, fold laundry, play it in my car while driving – all while absorbing the information presented to me.
The process of picking and choosing which podcasts to listen to wasn’t easy, for there are a few doozies out there and some that entertain but don’t exactly teach. And, as per advice given to me by Dr. Olsen, I found that many of the podcasts advertising themselves as “educational” were often bland and did the opposite of educate. My podcast net was cast wide, but as an Indigenous feminist millennial and self-proclaimed geek in her final year of undergrad, my preferences veered towards those whose episodes cover my interests. I made a habit of listening to each podcast’s inaugural episode, followed by some of the newer ones, and popping in a few from the middle, all in an effort to see the journey each podcast makes and how their methods of teaching potentially change.
After two months of steady podcast listening, I can attest to the convenience, enjoyment, and plethora of knowledge available right from my iPhone. As an English major, I feel compelled to add that my support for audio essays shouldn’t be mistaken as a hatred for the printed word; quite the contrary. I always have a paperback in my purse and a novel downloaded on my tablet. But overall, the value of listening to a well produced podcast with a focused message is equally as worthy as a printed essay, and I wager many of my undergrad colleagues will prefer the audio over print.
Below, I have curated a list of my five favourite podcasts. With these are episodes of each that I find especially teachable.
Cited is produced at UBC and hosted by Sam Fenn and Gordon Katic. Each episode discusses one recently published academic article that aligns with the episode’s theme. There are fantastic interviews with members of Canadian and American academia, and they always include a well cited bibliography for each podcast. Really, any of Cited’s episodes could be deemed teachable. It’s very well produced and covers a wide range of topics from the Sixties Scoop to Climate Change.
Especially Teachable Episodes:
Ep. 3 “Who Killed Canadian History”
Taking inspiration from the Heritage Minutes/Drake mash-up (if you haven’t seen this, it’s 1:20 of your life you won’t regret), this episode begins by discussing Heritage Minutes, a collection of commercials from the early 2000’s that show Canadian history. For me, this part of the episode is more nostalgic than anything else. Further on, the episode contemplates the teaching of Canadian history in both post-secondary and to our youth in schools. It questions what we teach, why we teach those particular topics and not others, and the perspectives being taught.
Ep. 61 “The Ongoing Cultural Genocide of Indigenous Canadians”
This episode focuses on child welfare, especially highlighting the Sixties Scoop. The podcast asks the question of why social workers believe removing children from their homes is in the child’s best interests. From 6:30 to about 31:30 of the episode, the hosts interview Chief Wayne Christian, a Sixties Scoop survivor, and he tells his story, from struggling in foster care to his triumphs as an Indigenous leader in his community.
SMNTY is hilarious, contemporary, fearless, informative, and oh yeah… it’s hosted by all women. The podcast has been running since 2009 and is produced by The Stuff Media Network. The current hosts, Bridget Todd and Anney Reese, are fierce feminists, and the podcast is even more appealing because of them. The topics of episodes range greatly – which makes sense since the show is almost ten years old – and you can find anything from discussions on Me Too, Donald Trump, Cosplay, or HIV.
Especially teachable episodes:
“Policing Women’s Speech” from July 7, 2017
How women speak and act is not only up for criticism in the workplace, but also in the classroom. The hosts discuss their experience of being told to speak differently as undergrads, simply because there is a negative connotation associated with sounding “girly.” I can wholeheartedly relate to this episode, and I find its commentary on gender biased treatment in the classroom to be especially relevant.
“The Secret History of International Women’s Day” from March 8, 2017
I am guilty of posting #internationalwomensday pics on Instagram this year, but until I heard this podcast episode, I had literally no idea what inspired the day. I assumed the suffragette movement – I was wrong. No spoilers, for I honestly recommend you all go and take a listen to this episode. In my opinion, hearing the story of some strong women kicking ass and taking names more than a century ago pulls at my old heartstrings.
Excuse me while I geek out in this segment, but Imaginary Worlds is a superb podcast that covers fantasy and sci-fi movies and films, and most episodes are less than twenty minutes. On the surface, it might not seem like the most educational of podcasts, but with episodes regarding gender roles in superhero films or othering in the fantasy genre, I deem Imaginary Worlds worthy to be heard in academia. Fresh out of a fantasy literature course, I know that some of these episodes could have come in handy for better understanding and fuller engagement with the topics and texts we read. Host Eric Molinsky is informative and has a voice that sounds like butter.
Especially Teachable Episodes:
Episode 23: “Heroines”
Molinsky interviews female film critics regarding the trope of “strong female characters” in action/sci-fi films. They argue the flat female characters we see on the big screen are anything but strong. With The Avenger’s Black Widow and Mad Max’s Furiosa in the forefront, the episode discusses audience expectations on female action leads that echo western society’s views on “strong females.” Women are expected to be strong, but still physically attractive; independent, but not aloof; and sexual promiscuity is still an awkward topic for women to discuss.
Episodes 52, 53, & 53: The Harry Potter trilogy of episodes
All three of these episodes, whether taken alone or in the set, are worth listening to. My favourite aspect is the discussion of the phenomenon of the Harry Potter franchise and mention of a study that correlates reading the books as a youngster with higher tolerance for diversity.
There’s no way I could make it through this list without adding a podcast that is all about words. Lexicon Valley is the perfect fit for English majors, lovers of the intricacies of language, or people like me who read the dictionary in their pastime. The podcast is hosted by John H. McWhorter, a Linguistics professor at Columbia University. I have no idea what McWhorter looks like, but as I listen to his episodes, I can picture him standing in front of a classroom in an argyle sweater vest as he teaches the ins and outs of the English language.
Especially Teachable Episodes:
Episode 128 “Words, for Her”
McWhorter gives a history lesson on words such as woman, girl, aunt, and daughter. The soundtrack to this episode is phenomenal, and that kept me present while listening.
Episode 115 “New Life for Dying Languages”
This episode focuses on how quickly languages can die, especially if they are not taught to children; skipping one generation can be fatal for the spoken word. McWhorter focuses on Indigenous languages, their complexities and diversity, and interviews the CEO of The Language Conservancy, an organization that aims to keep these endangered languages in usage.
Canadian made, utterly hilarious, and dispels the stigma around physical and mental illness. What more could I ask for from a podcast? Hosted by Jeremie Saunders, a lifelong sufferer of Cystic Fibrosis, and his two friends, Brian and Taylor, each episode interviews a person living with a disease. They discuss everything from cancer to endometriosis, and with humour as their number one tool, each episode’s difficult matter is easier to digest. ***Warning, the language in this podcast is rated R. I find it funny and relatable; others may not.
Especially teachable episodes:
Episode 1: “Cystic Fibrosis”
Sickboy’s inaugural episode has stuck with me since the beginning of my podcast research. Jeremie, Taylor, and Brian are all candid and bloody funny in their awkward attempt to send out the message that living with a disease does not make someone less of a person. Jeremie wants it known that his disease is invisible, but it’s always there, constantly affecting his quality of life. From the outside, no one could guess that he’s living with a disease that could have killed him many times in his life.
Episode 136: “The Sad Doctor – Depression”
The guys interview a working psychiatrist who, herself, has been diagnosed with depression. The doctor openly discusses the double standard in her profession, since the public has a misconception that doctors never get sick. Her situation is compared to teachers and how students tend to forget that their teachers are human beings as well, all of us equally susceptible to the negative side effects of life.
 The credit for the beautiful design of this site goes to Khethwen Woo, Graphic Designer, Web Developer, and all around amazing digital design person, of the Academic Development Centre at Mount Royal University. I’m also extremely grateful for the help and guidance of other ADC superheroes: Pattie Mascaro, Dr. Erika Smith, and Bree Smith. Jeremy Blunt and Logan Pollon, my 2 Research Assistants on the TLEG, were crucial in moving the project forward.