How a group of creative Canadian academics are changing the face – or is it the sound? – erudition
In a first episode of his new podcast, Our Parent Creatures, Daniel Heath Justice, a renowned professor of First Nations and Indigenous studies at the University of British Columbia, will focus on coyotes. He will interview ranchers, trappers and environmentalists, detailing the animal’s biological evolution and the trajectory of its relationship with humans, and exploring representations of the cunning predator in media and folklore. (The equally crafty Cedar, Moss, and Raccoon will also have their own programming slots.)
“There is a lot to learn from the people who interact with these beings in their daily lives,” Justice says. ” I approach [the project] as a researcher rather than a journalist, but I think it opens up the possibility of thinking of expertise as something that you get not only through university degrees, but through lived and professional experiences.
The podcast is not simply an offshoot of Justice’s “real” written research or an elaboration of an existing newspaper article; this is the research. In fact, Justice’s podcast, which will be peer-reviewed ahead of its release – a first in North America – is part of a bold new approach to research that treats new media like scholarly, challenging informational hierarchies traditionally. rigid in academia.
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The Justice podcast is one of three planned by Amplify Podcast Network, founded in spring 2020 by co-directors Dr. Hannah McGregor, assistant professor in the publishing department at Simon Fraser University, and Siobhan McMenemy, editor-in-chief at Wilfrid Laurier University Press. “The idea that only written knowledge can be ‘serious’ knowledge has a long history in settler colonialism and the devaluation of oral traditions – and it doesn’t make much sense when you put pressure on it,” explains McGregor. “This has led to the default assumption that something like a podcast can talk about a stock market, but can’t be a stock market.”
Peer review as a legitimation exercise – in which one or more academics with similar expertise appraises, criticizes, and ultimately approves (or disapproves of) research – has deep roots: used for first seen in 1731 by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the process rose to prominence thanks to advances in communication technology after WWII and became standard practice for academic journals during the last quarter of the 20th century. While some Amplify podcasts will use scripting, the peer review process will focus on the audio component. “Peer review is essential to maintaining the quality of academic work,” says McGregor. “But that doesn’t mean it can’t be reinvented.”
So how does a peer rate a podcast? Much the same way you edit an article, except that you use audio files, which are sent to two or three academics whose own work is relevant to the topic. They will provide comments for the revisions before the podcasts are released to the public. Some concessions will have to be made on the format, of course: podcasts cannot be double-blind or completely anonymous when the delivery of information is vocalized.
McGregor notes that the emergence of scholarly podcasts coincides with a wider push in academic circles towards open access publishing, a model that distributes research online for free. “Much of our academic output has been blocked by a small number of for-profit companies that make research deeply inaccessible to anyone outside of a university,” she says. “Numerous [of us] want to challenge the status quo.
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A 2019 meta-study found that although universities, both public and private, overwhelmingly use terms such as ‘public good’ and ‘community’ in their mission statements, open access scholarships are generally not not a priority – and is, in some cases, actively discouraged – in guidelines that dictate what types of work count for an academic’s tenure or promotion. There are also no community-committed scholarships, which involve members of the public in the research itself.
Another culture-changing inclusion is Amplify’s involvement with graduate students, from podcasting to production. Stacey Copeland, supervising producer of Amplify, has a PhD. candidate for SFU communication school. “I produced a three-part audio documentary as part of my master’s thesis, but it was not considered ‘the thesis’. I still had to write it down, ”she says. “Amplify shakes it. And, with podcasting, I can combine two things that I love: I can write critically, but I can also bring in creative elements like storytelling and sound design. Kendra Cowley and María Alvarez Malvido, producers of another Amplify podcast called Crossfade borders—Which focuses on borders, literal and otherwise, and explores themes of identity, land and mobility — were master’s students at the University of Alberta when they joined Amplify.
“It was very important for us to ensure that early career and emerging researchers were central to this work,” said McGregor. “In my experience, graduate students are motivated by the idea of creating a fun and accessible scholarship that their friends, communities, and families might also be able to listen to and engage with.”
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“I think we are living in a remarkable time where the scholarship can take many different forms and still retain the same rigor, reliability and peer reviews as any other type of research effort,” said Justice. “A lot of people listen to podcasts that probably wouldn’t take a college book or journal on the subject. Podcasts reach a large audience, but also have the potential to build on a large knowledge base.
Our Parent Creatures is currently in the interview stage and, like other Amplify podcasts, is slated to launch in late 2022. It remains to be seen whether podcasting will be widely adopted as a research medium, but for students who fear their work may be trapped in the ivory tower of the third cycle, Amplify programming is a welcome sign of things to come. “Academics have always pushed the boundaries,” Justice says. “I am excited by the possibility that this work will take research into new spheres and to new audiences. “
This article appears in print in the 2022 University Rankings issue of Maclean’s magazine with the title “media studies”.