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Education in the Time of COVID-19 #038 – Eringfeld

By CEID Blogger, on 9 July 2020

Podcasting during a Pandemic: How can we Reimagine the Future of the ‘Post-Covid’ University?

By Simone Eringfeld

This article reflects on conversations about the future of the ‘post-coronial’ university, hosted by the Cambridge Quaranchats Podcast. Fragments of podcast episodes have been integrated into this article. Double-click on the images to hear the audio. You can listen to the full conversations on any major platform, including SpotifyAnchor and Apple Podcasts.

The past academic year has undeniably been one of large-scale disruptions. Of all the things I had imagined my Education MPhil at Cambridge to be, I certainly hadn’t envisioned picket lines, lockdowns and emergency meetings on racism. Due to this unprecedented collision of crises, combined with cancelled fieldwork and a felt need to document the turbulence of this time, I decided to try something new: I started a podcast. From here, my new thesis project emerged, using podcasting as a research method to ask: how do students and academics at Cambridge’s Faculty of Education reimagine the future of the ‘post-coronial’ University?

Cambridge Quaranchats has a simple format: each week, I invite a new guest for a ‘quarantine chat’ about work and studies during the pandemic. With nearly 20 episodes produced so far, guests have come from a wide range of backgrounds, positions and expertise. The series ties together around a few central questions: What are our biggest hopes and fears for the future, and what kind of post-pandemic University do we want? How can we reimagine possible ways forward, and will institutions like Cambridge be able to embrace necessary change? In episode 16, Professor Susan Robertson, Head of the Faculty of Education, reflects on the ways in which she envisions a more creative ‘mixed economy’ of on- and offline teaching:


Professor Robertson highlights how the Faculty has started to think about the learners’ journey in more reflexive ways, whilst preparing for a ‘new normal’. This theme of reflexivity, and of approaching the pandemic as an opportunity to turn inwards, is central to the entire Quaranchats series.

In some ways, this reflexivity is what sets the podcast conversations apart from the classroom discussions we typically had in my MPhil course. We didn’t spend much time analyzing Cambridge itself, or the curricula we used and the dynamics at play in our own classrooms; instead, we mostly focused on development issues elsewhere, often in the ‘Global South’. In one of my earliest episodes, I express feeling conflicted about this:


The question of social injustice at Cambridge has continued to inform my podcast trajectory. Through a mindful curation of conversations, I have sought to bridge the distance between intellectual engagement with themes like inequality, race, and gender in education, and the lived realities connected to them. Beyond debating hot topics like ‘decolonizing institutions’, or ‘widening access to education’ in a decontextualized manner, what about the exclusionary practices taking place here and now, within our own academic community? It is no secret that Cambridge is deeply attached to whiteness and upper-class privilege, so why do we hardly address it? In episode 13, MPhil student Nia-Cerise Conteh points out that such questions are hard to raise in an institution, that ‘wears diversity and inclusion like a badge’:


The dissonance between Cambridge’s outward representations and the lived experiences from within, is both striking and deeply unsettling. In my recent article for Times Higher Education, I wrote about using this moment of disruption to take a step back and reconsider: what kind of higher education system do we ultimately want, who will this space belong to in the future, and what role do we want academia to fulfil in society at large? While these questions might seem overly vague, the answers have often been surprisingly defined. In episode 6, Michelle Anjirbag, PhD candidate, describes her vision for the post-coronial university as follows:


I see podcasting as a potential tool to bring us closer to the vision that Michelle describes: this audio-based, open access medium can – quite literally – help ‘raise our voices within academia’, and it can challenge institutional hierarchies by placing the voices of undergrads right next to those of senior professors. Podcasts can also contribute to making knowledge more freely accessible and thereby help to steer clear from the ‘ivory tower’. On top of that, podcasts can be used as an educational tool: one Cambridge lecturer recently reached out to me about including one of the Quaranchats episodes in next year’s ‘essential reading’ list. This brings up the question: can we also start developing ‘essential listening’ lists?

In academia, we have embraced the ‘written word’ to the extent that we rarely question the core academic activities of reading, and of writing. In episode 11, Dr Mark Carrigan, researcher at the Faculty, interprets this lack of reflexivity around the tools so integral to our craft, as problematic:


This makes me wonder how we can make more space in academia for the ‘spoken word’. How do we think and understand differently through speaking and listening? What kind of co-construction of knowledge occurs when we engage in conversation? How can we optimize the contribution of such conversations to society and make them available to a larger audience?

Of course, there are also plenty of caveats when it comes to podcasting, such as the power differential between ‘host’ and ‘guest’, the choices a podcaster makes around who to invite, how to structure dialogue and how to edit episodes in post-production. In addition, it is worthwhile to ask how people change the way they speak when they are ‘on-record’ versus ‘off-record’.

Nevertheless, I have found it exciting to explore the variety of ways in which podcasting can be used as a research method. For my thesis, I am working both with podcast and private interviews. I conducted the latter ones by using the podcast as ‘elicitation device’, whereby I created a compilation episode for participants to listen to in advance. In addition, the thesis itself will be partly delivered in audio format – and published as a podcast. Besides writing my thesis, I am thus also recording it; rather than submitting the final product, I will be airing it.

Ultimately, my thesis has become a disruption itself, of the academic norms, tools and practices that need continuous questioning. I couldn’t have stayed within the standard thesis format, for how could I speak about ‘open access’ in a document only read by supervisors and assessors? How could I deliver my call for more ‘spoken word’ in written format? It would be like uncritically researching how to make education more inclusive, from within one of the most exclusive education institutions in the world. As always, reflexivity is key.

Simone Eringfeld is an MPhil student in ‘education and international development’ at the University of Cambridge. She produces and hosts the independent podcast Cambridge Quaranchats. She tweets: @SimoneEringfeld

Opinions expressed on the CEID Blog are only those of the author, not the Centre for Education and International Development or the UCL Institute of Education.

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