Teaching Innovations at Vanderbilt: McKanders and Refugee Policy Podcasts
By Faith Rovenolt, CFT undergraduate intern
In the spring of last year, three students from Professor Karla McKanders’s LAW 7620: Refugee Law and Policy course contributed podcasts to the Life of the Law Blog New Voices series. This amazing opportunity for students came about from a final project for the course.
The course focuses on the 1951 Refugee Convention, international refugee law, and its application in the U.S. and comparison to other countries. For the final project, the students wrote a paper on a relevant issue and then turned that paper or a section of it into a podcast two to three minutes long. The three featured podcasts, created by Joshua Minchin, Simina Grecu, and Rachael Pikulski, tackled topics from the definition of “well-founded fear” to judge bias in hearings to the effects of UN funding changes. Students gave brief presentations on their podcasts in class and listened to each others’. Each podcast’s clarity and accuracy was judged and then students evaluated each other’s projects via an online form, considering
- relevance to the course
- integration and use of resources like interviews and news clips
- strength of the argument or thesis
Students were aware of the opportunity of their podcast to be featured on the Life of the Law blog from the beginning of the project. McKanders had contacted Nancy Mullane at the Life of the Law at the beginning of the semester to create this opportunity. Mullane then called into the class to get the students excited about the project. She went over what the blog was about and some tips for podcasting, especially for the blog’s audience. McKanders worked with the CFT to find and create resources for students to use as they developed their podcasts. McKanders also showed students podcast samples to get them started.
The project went smoothly and students enjoyed creating and listening to the podcasts. McKanders received feedback from one student that this was the most impactful project she did in law school because it allowed her to interview someone and forced her to be judicious in selecting what to include in the podcast because of its succinct format.
McKanders’s motivation for this assignment came from a course goal of ensuring that students understand and can communicate the content and concepts of the law.. Her course is helping to ensure the next generation of lawyers is not only educated on this topic but able to communicate it to the public, a crucial skill in an age where more and more lawyers are creating podcasts or writing op-eds.
McKanders would repeat this project the next time she teaches this course but might not with other courses that are less policy-based. I think that any course where communicating content to the public would be well suited to do a similar project, allowing students to hone their communication skills to check their understanding while also interacting with the public.