HLC: Professor, librarian co-teach students to create open access podcast

Fri, 03/29/2024


Savannah Rattanavong

LAWRENCE — With University of Kansas instructors invested in educating leaders, building healthy communities and making discoveries that change the world, KU is committed to providing the resources and tools to help them and their students thrive.

The university is continuing efforts for reaffirmation of accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission, whose peer review team will visit KU in March 2025. The HLC determines whether an institution merits accreditation or reaffirmation of accreditation based on the standards of quality outlined in its Criteria for Accreditation.

Criterion 3 focuses on teaching and learning, particularly in their quality, and level of resources and support to students, instructors and staff.

HLC in action

To connect with and engage students, as well as use KU’s resources to the fullest, Shannon O’Lear, professor in the Department of Geography & Atmospheric Science, and Tami Albin, associate librarian, have partnered to teach Environmental Geopolitics. As part of the class, students learn to communicate their research through podcasting and publishing their work as a collection in Pressbooks, an online publishing platform. 

The Pressbook, “Podcast Perspectives of Environmental Geopolitics,” has received more than 19,500 views from people around the world since its launch in fall 2022. From analyzing the impact of fast-fashion giant Shein to looking deeper into U.S. fire suppression practices, students critically analyze a wide range of topics through O’Lear’s environmental geopolitics framework.

Albin said the premise of the course asks students to do more than just argue for or against an idea; it asks students to question how an idea is put together and promoted.

“It's transformative,” O’Lear said. “It alters the way that students see the world and how the world is being explained to them in product placement or in movies or news.”

Shannon O’Lear, professor in the Department of Geography & Atmospheric Science, talks with students in Environmental Geopolitics.
Shannon O’Lear, professor in the Department of Geography & Atmospheric Science, talks with students in Environmental Geopolitics.

O’Lear had been teaching a version of the course for years based on her book “Environmental Geopolitics,” but she wanted to develop a different research project for the class after receiving a grant from the Center for Undergraduate Research. O’Lear turned to KU Libraries, where she was inspired to assign the project as a podcast and connected with Albin, who runs the Library’s Makerspace. The space includes tools for 3D printing, audio and video postproduction, podcasting and general creative discovery.

Instead of having Albin occasionally serve as a technical adviser, however, the duo thought students might be better served learning from both of their perspectives as co-instructors.

“Tami is a co-instructor in the schedule of classes and is just as much of an instructor as I am,” O’Lear said. “It takes that much commitment, focus, time and effort. I also wanted it to be really visible that she was not just visiting the class but an equal co-instructor in this whole thing.”

Albin said she and O’Lear make themselves accessible to students to help develop their ideas, as well as regularly communicate their expectations and opportunities for feedback.

Tami Albin, associate librarian, works with students in Environmental Geopolitics, who are producing podcasts about their research for the class.

“As trust gets built, students are pretty honest with us, and I think they’re more willing to take risks,” Albin said. “Your brain is having to really shift how you think about things, and that is what is so challenging for students with the assignment and working within the framework that Shannon has created. There’s a lot of growing pains with this, so we’re helping students build those skills and they really pull through.”

Maggie Grandsire, senior in environmental studies and psychology, said it was initially difficult to narrow her focus as her research ended up taking her down multiple rabbit holes. When she explained her concerns to O’Lear and Albin, Grandsire said their support encouraged her to take time to reinvigorate herself before tackling the project again.

“The empathy they showed me is ultimately what got me through the project and it’s what made my project successful,” Grandsire said. “They showed me that they care more about my well-being as a person than my performance as a student, which in turn made me a better student. Although the content of the class was so interesting, ultimately their dedication and commitment to students made this class so great.” 

Making learning available to all

As students’ work will be showcased online, scholarly communications librarians specializing in Open Educational Resources help explain Creative Common licenses to the students, who will then be able to choose how their work is used or repurposed by others.

“I don't know if students have ever had a conversation with someone about who owns the right to their work or how they want their work shared,” O’Lear said. “It really makes them think, ‘I can actually make a contribution to a conversation and put it out there in the world,’ which is really empowering.”

The Pressbook not only makes learning more accessible to the public, but it also serves as an example to instructors who may be interested in emulating it.

“Students have the right to not have their work online, but if they've committed to having it up, it kind of makes the podcast all that more real because people are going to be listening to it and take away things from it,” Albin said.

Equipping tomorrow’s leaders with valuable skills, knowledge

Toward the end of the semester, O’Lear and Albin make time for students to prepare themselves for the world beyond the classroom by helping them translate their new skills into resumes with the help of the University Career Center. O’Lear said one of her former students shared with his prospective graduate school adviser his podcast in the Pressbook, and he believes having that piece of work to showcase helped him get accepted into the program.

Noah Faddis, junior in environmental studies, said as challenging as the project was, he enjoyed the process of putting together something he could be proud of and being able to better examine information around him. 

“One of my biggest takeaways from the project was just how complex the topics we cover in our classes are,” Faddis said. “There is always going to be information missing from an author's point, so just analyzing research with that in mind has helped me to better critically analyze and understand any material that I am reading. This class gave me so much perspective when it comes to the media that I consume, so I feel that it has made me a much more informed civil participant.” 

Being able to see students become more confident in themselves and their work over the course of the semester is particularly rewarding, Albin said.

“Everybody has the right to have the opportunity to develop skills they need to work,” she said. “I think once you kind of demystify it for them and show them that if you don't hit record, well, you just record it again. I love watching students have those Eureka moments. Someone might be a C minus student but watching them grow to the point where they might get a C plus in a class — maybe that’s not huge for a lot of people, but for that student, it's really big because they've worked really hard to develop certain skills to get there.”

Co-instructing doesn’t necessarily mean less work between the two, the pair said, but they have found value in combining their strengths to educate students. O’Lear said this effort brings education back to the foundation of what a university is about, which is bringing students in on the creative work of learning.

“Making co-teaching work is about letting go, which is not what people who do my job often want to do,” O’Lear said. “You’re going to have to give up a lot of stuff and trust that what the other person is bringing in is of value. This has completely changed the flavor and color of this class, which I think is great. We haven't figured out the final formula just yet, but we’re going to revise it every semester because we're always trying to make it better.”

Core components of Criterion 3

3.A. The rigor of the institution’s academic offerings is appropriate to higher education.

3.B. The institution offers programs that engage students in collecting, analyzing and communicating information; in mastering modes of intellectual inquiry or creative work; and in developing skills adaptable to changing environments.

3.C. The institution has the faculty and staff needed for effective, high-quality programs and student services.

3.D. The institution provides support for student learning and resources for effective teaching.

For more information, visit the HLC Accreditation 2025 website.

Fri, 03/29/2024


Savannah Rattanavong

Media Contacts

Savannah Rattanavong

Office of the Provost