Category Archives: Podcasting

What Makes Terry Gross So Darned Good?

Terry Gross. Photo from WHYY, Philadelphia.

Terry Gross. Photo from WHYY, Philadelphia.

No doubt you’re familiar with the NPR podcast series, Fresh Air.  Terry Gross, the host of Fresh Air, has been on the radio with the show since 1975. From rock stars to politicians, artists to economists, the roster of the Fresh-Air-interviewed is long and impressive.

I’ve been a loyal fan for years. While I listen to other podcasts too, Fresh Air is always tops on my list. That’s mostly because the show is just so darned good. In fact, I would say that Terry Gross’s skills as an interviewer have informed my expectations of all the other podcasts and interview-style shows I listen to. When I check out a new podcast, I ask myself, does it measure up to Terry Gross and Fresh Air?

So what makes TG so good at her job?  After giving this consideration, I’ve come up with six features of her work that continue to impress me. Six aspirations for producers of interview-style podcasts or, for that matter, anyone who interviews people for a living, to consider.


Terry Gross…

  1. …does her homework.  She is always well prepared. She’s read the book, seen the movie, researched the interviewee’s background. That homework pays off in her well-informed, carefully-worded questions that take the interview efficiently to the heart of the matter.
  2. …doesn’t just ask questions, she comments and builds on answers. Listen to this segment from her interview with Lin Manuel Miranda where her insight into an earlier answer of his (about compartmentalizing his behavior between home and school as a child) leads him in a new direction to talk about the way he knit together his culture through the theater.  [Audio]
  3. …is respectful. Even when it’s clear she doesn’t personally agree with the interviewee, she maintains her professionalism. For example, in this clip from her December 7th interview with Megyn Kelly, of Fox News, Kelly explains the “reset” she was able to achieve with Donald Trump after months of abusive and terrifying death threats, tweets, and phone calls from Trump supporters. TG remains respectful and even-handed throughout this interview, even though she and Megyn Kelly hold strongly different opinions on journalism and politics. Note too the way that TG pushes for a more fulsome explanation of this “reset”, quietly insisting on the fact that it doesn’t take away the horrible things that were said. [Audio]
  4. …never makes it about her.  All too often we hear interviewers who drift into telling their own story. They might, generously, be attempting to make the show more conversational, but an interview is not a conversation. It’s an interview. Stick to your candidate’s story.
  5. …pushes past superficial.  If her interviewee provides a simplistic answer, Terry Gross doesn’t let it stand there. She (politely) asks a further question or asks for an example. Often, that next question is precisely the one I’d like to ask. It’s her way of extending the interviewee’s reach, leading them to a richer explanation. Listen to this segment of her interview with Kenneth Lonergan, the director of the Oscar-winning film Manchester by the Sea. Lonergan talks about the fact that, as a playwright, you have to get used to the fact that your audience might not always find your words as funny as you think they are. What does he mean by that?  [Audio]
  6. ..builds anticipation. Often in her interviews TG will lay the ground work for something you’d like to know or hear – and then she serves it up to you. One of my favorite examples of this came in her recent interview with Michael Pollan, about his new book, How to Change Your Mind, an investigation into the use of LSD and psilocybin to treat mental health conditions. In the interview, Pollan recounts his own, first-person experience with hallucinogenic compounds (a ‘reluctant psychonaut’, as he puts it), making particular note of a Bach unaccompanied cello suite (No.2 in D minor) playing during his trip and what an impact it had. As you listen to the interview unfold, you – of course – want to hear that cello suite. Needless to say, she delivers. And just so you can hear it too, here is Yo Yo Ma, playing the Bach Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor.


Filed under Podcasting

Report from Orlando: Attending My First Sloan-C Conference

Fun From Orlando, FL

I’ve always wanted to come to this conference, and here I am.  Reporting live. I arrived this afternoon (it’s in Orlando, FL this year – the 17th annual – at the Dolphin Hotel on Disney property) and, as I’m beginning to scribe this first post, the Disneyworld fireworks are going off in the background (a fitting end to a very exciting day).

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Filed under Online Learning, Podcasting

Digital Media Student Projects

Picture 1I’m always looking for good student media project examples from clever teachers and, lucky me, I hit the jackpot this week when I met Larry Schmidt.  Larry is a high school English teacher in Minnesota who teaches online courses for EdVisions High School.  EdVisions sounds like a pretty interesting idea….to quote their web site, it’s a “learning community offering students througout Minnesota personalized, project-based learning experiences”.  According to Larry, he tries to find out what his students are passionate about, and then works with them as a coach/mentor/interlocutor to guide them to tools and resources that would be most useful.  He’s done some pretty amazing things with them —  poetry, writing songs, making movies, graphic novels — and I’m going to share two of them with you in this post.

The first was a grammar project.  Grammar….eeeewww, you’re probably thinking.  But that was part of Larry’s plan.  He thought he’d take the most compelling new tools and apply them to the most boring topic to show students how it could come to life.  So he started by asking students to review each others essays and color-code them for typical grammatical issues… things like subject/verb agreement, correct use of plurals, dangling participles…that sort of thing.  By reviewing each other’s work, his students came up with a set of the most commonly encountered grammatical problems in their class.  And then Larry challenged them to work in teams and create a movie that would fix each of the problem.  Sounds easy?  Not really.  The movie had to, first, correctly identify and explain the problem and then offer a solution.  The students had to plan it, script it, figure out lighting, music, and editing.  I’ve seen two of these student-created productions and they’re terrific.  Here’s one that helps to identify and correct  run on sentences. And here’s one on that common bugaboo of when to use woman/women. Priceless.

But wait, there’s more.  Another project that Larry got his students interested in is making their own graphic novels about an historical event or a concept.  He first had them read Persepolis (by Marjane Satrapi) and Maus (by Art Spiegelman), engaging them in a discussion about what worked and didn’t work in those two books, what they liked and how this genre works.  Then he showed them how to use toondoo and set them loose.  The students created their own stories, with themselves at the center.  Here are a few of them for you to savor: one student’s perspective on the Islamic revolution in Iran, a little time travel through the Italian Renaissance, and a walk-through of  Women’s Rights in Iran.

What I love about all of these examples (and about Larry’s approach, in general) is that he’s making it possible for students to be producers, to be in charge of their own learning. I can only imagine how much “Ravy” learned about Iran from putting together her online graphic novel.  And while she was at it, she learned about page layout, photo research, permissions/creative commons, maps, and how to construct a clear narrative flow.  

It’s when we hear from educators like Larry Schmidt that we realize what this new world of participatory media is all about.

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Filed under Podcasting, Reflections on Teaching, Teaching with Technology, Technology Trends

From the NABT

Two weeks ago, I was in Atlanta at the 2008 NABT conference.  It was a fabulous four days – full of interesting sessions, great speakers, useful ideas, and – as always – incredibly talented teachers. My own small contribution to the meeting was a session called “Teaching with Technology” where I shared some insights about using web tools, podcasts, and blogs in the science classroom.  In addition to a whirlwind tour through a number of my favorite web sites, we broke into small groups to share ideas and – at the end – try creating a podcast using some of the equipment I brought with me.  Ever resourceful, the teachers in the room came up with some great stuff.  They successfully put together a couple of short podcasts and also came up with a few suggestions – for instance, having students submit podcasts as an assignment, asking knowledgeable parents to create podcasts, and some creative ideas for working with reluctant IT coordinators on campus. For those not able to attend the meeting, I thought I’d share a few of the web site resources that the teachers seemed to like here in the blog.  So, for a start, here’s an interesting site, Gene2music.  Started by a few UCLA scientists, this site converts genome-encoded protein sequences into musical notes in order to hear auditory protein patterns.  The idea is to make protein sequences more approachable and tangible for the general public and it’s an interesting intermingling of art and science. You can submit a gene sequence for conversion or listen to a few examples on the site.  For instance, they have the audio files for the Huntington and LacYPermease proteins sequence (it’s interesting to notice how many repeats there are in the Huntington’s sequence).   So, check it out.  And let me know what you think.   

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Filed under Podcasting, web resources