Podcasting TechShop at the Philadelphia McPherson Library

A group of kids huddle around an iPad and a deck of cards. One kid picks up a card and reads: “Should people be allowed to change their appearance surgically?” They all start talking over each other, citing examples of celebrities who have had plastic surgery and their opinions on the results. Once they all have a turn and write down their points, the instructor picks up the iPad and presses the record button. The room is silent. One kid introduces the topic and reads a sentence from his notes. “No, stop, I messed up.”

The McPherson Square Library, a branch of the Philadelphia Free Library, recently used the TechGirlz Podcasting TechShop to run some after school workshops. A few kids sat down with an instructor, an iPad with the audio recording software GarageBand, and a deck of cards called “Controversy” which contained questions about controversial topics. After choosing a card from the deck and reading the topic, the instructor gave the kids five minutes to write down their opinions, then hit record while they each read from their notes, creating an audio file to be published as a podcast.

The library recently received a grant which they used to purchase some iPads. According to the librarians, the kids who frequent the library after school are very familiar with social media tools such as Facebook but rarely use the computers for anything else. The library decided to use a TechGirlz TechShop as a way to teach the kids how to use computers and iPads for purposes other than chatting with friends. Since GarageBand is a free software that was already installed on the iPads, no cost or setup was required to run the TechShop. The librarians did not need any formal training on how to use Garageband, although they suggested including some basic instructions in the TechShop materials. Fortunately, when the instructor had trouble finding certain settings on the iPad, the kids jumped in and found them right away. By the end of the workshop the iPad was in the kids’ hands as they listened to themselves over and over, playing with the controls to distort the audio tracks.

Although the goal of TechGirlz workshops is to teach technology skills to youth, the exercise of choosing a podcast topic and articulating opinions is a valuable byproduct of the podcasting TechShop. The most difficult part of the session was not making the recording or speaking slowly but overcoming teenage insecurities of stating a controversial opinion and hearing your own voice on playback. The kids kept recording then stopping midway, saying they messed up. The instructor eventually covered the iPad with a piece of paper so that the kids were not staring at the record button and relaxed enough to have a discussion about their opinions, which just happened to be recorded. This informal approach was the most effective in getting the kids to talk as well as encouraging experimentation.

The recordings came together in snippets throughout the session and responses to the questions were eventually articulated by each of the kids, interspersed with sound bytes such as “I messed up” and “wait, stop.” The library would like to continue to hold podcasting workshops, possibly progressing to an audio editing session resulting in a complete podcast published on their website. The librarians have considered taking classes themselves in topics such as HTML/CSS so that they can then teach other TechGirlz TechShops. They also have plans to share the iPads and the podcasting TechShop with the five other libraries in their area. Most importantly, the TechShop allowed the children to learn about a productive use of technology that most of them do not have at home and challenged them to think critically about a topic and articulate their opinion, discussing differences with their peers.

Written by Sarah Johnson.