San Francisco Schools Amplify Student Voice Through Cross-Curricular Podcasting

Stu Jernigan, a digital learning partner and teacher on special assignment, is busy integrating technology into the curriculum for San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). A few years ago, he and his colleague, Ricardo Elizalde, decided to initiate podcasting as a learning tool and introduced a program with the ninth grade ethnic studies department.

They improved the program last year by launching a district-wide pilot of free yearly Soundtrap licenses for the district’s entire K-12 segment. With an increase in podcast popularity, the program migrated outside the ethnic studies department, establishing itself as a useful tool in the humanities from 4th grade through 12th. Some notable projects consist of book review podcasts, recorded world language book reading, and oral history projects where students interview members of their family or community.

As Jernigan explains, “The idea is to elevate voices that typically aren’t amplified in our society and to tell humanizing stories around issues or groups of people that are often dehumanized in the media and society.” 

He points to an increase in projects around social justice issues that bring up essential questions around building compassion, empathy, and understanding across differences and the humanizing stories found within.

One of the initiatives of SFUSD is around deeper learning as a district, and project-based learning is a component. The project design elements center around authenticity, authentic problem solving, engaging with an authentic audience, and students’ experience in choice. Podcasting is a great way to accomplish that because students can choose the topic they’re passionate about or wish to impact. 

“They can create a product that can be shared with an audience beyond the classroom. Podcasting can be a great way to facilitate deeper learning in the classroom,” says Jernigan.

Even though today’s digital native students are growing up with technology, it remains helpful when a tech tool is easy to understand and multi-faceted. “One of the great things about Soundtrap is that it’s an easy-to-use, yet powerful platform,” explains Jernigan. “It solves the problem of audio editing software being complex and challenging to learn. Soundtrap is pretty easy to learn, so students can quickly jump in and learn how to create a song or record their voice. It’s intuitive. There’s a low barrier for learning the tech, but it creates an entry point for a wide variety of students.”

The recording process can help a reluctant student discover a new expression platform that, in turn, jump-starts their learning. The creation of podcasts is a skill set that folds in 21st century media literacy, critique, and production.

“It allows students whose writing skills aren’t as strong to express their thinking by creating a song or podcast. Participating in a project that’s motivating and engaging for them helps draw them into the writing process,” says Jernigan. “Students come away from a project not only building foundational literacy skills, but also understanding that they can create a podcast and have technical audio editing skills that they can put on their résumé.”

“If you think about 21st century learning, 21st century skills — creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking — Soundtrap is a great way to facilitate all of those skills. It’s students engaging in critical thinking to make a claim supported by evidence, collaborating to produce an end-product, and communicating their ideas.”

Jernigan sees the collaborative aspect of Soundtrap as one of the essential elements in supporting 21st century learning. “It’s a collaborative online audio editing software that students can leverage from any device,” he adds. “We have some students with Chromebooks, and others with iPads ─ students across various classrooms with different devices can use it.” 

Jernigan finds that the platform’s chat window allows teachers to add value as collaborators without being too controlling of the creative process. “Teachers can act as collaborators and provide feedback as students iterate on their project.”

About Stu Jernigan
Stu Jernigan is a Digital Learning Partner for the San Francisco Unified School District. He leads professional learning and instructional design centered around leveraging technology to support 21st century learning. He has a passion for amplifying student voice through digital storytelling, as well as making films himself. He spends his free time rafting rivers and climbing mountains as much as possible.