May 11, 2023
Class of 2023: Allison Bennett Dyche found few resources on how to teach podcasting to college students. So she created her own.
Dyche, who is earning a Ph.D. in Media, Art and Text, is “at the forefront of a growing conversation about how universities can help prepare students for careers in this growing industry,” her dissertation director says.
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When Allison Bennett Dyche, Ph.D., was coming up as a student media adviser, she wanted to learn more about audio production and a growing field in media – podcasting – and didn’t know where to begin. Turns out, a lot of other people didn’t either. So, Dyche became the expert.
At the center of her dissertation, “Teach Me How to Podcast: Understanding the Rise of Audio Journalism and its Place in the Curriculum,” for Virginia Commonwealth University’s Ph.D. in Media, Art and Text program were a podcasting course she created from scratch and the lessons from it that she is now sharing with journalism instructors and budding journalists around the country. Dyche will graduate from the interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences this month.
“I’ve had a few students who have reached back out to me after class and have said, ‘I didn’t even realize this was a potential career opportunity for me. And now I want to go into podcasting, I want to go into audio production, I want to go into public radio,’” said Dyche, who has taught three semesters of her Audio Storytelling & Podcasting course at Appalachian State University. “And that wasn’t something that was even on their radar ahead of time, which to me also shows that this should be taught to everybody [who studies journalism and mass communication] and not just students who happen to sign up for the class.”
When Dyche first tried to learn the ropes of audio production, she had begun advising student media organizations at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she was also earning her M.A. in documentary photography. She’d spent several years working as a newspaper reporter in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia, after earning her bachelor’s from Georgia Southern University, and was eager to continue learning – “I definitely consider myself a lifelong student,” Dyche said.
She turned to the audio news director of the college radio station and the college newspaper, a student who had just transferred from VCU, to teach her the technical details. The session, where he showed her all the complexities of audio production software Pro Tools, left her feeling overwhelmed.
“I was like, ‘You know what, never mind, I’m not going to do this.’ So I continued advising students through their audio projects but focusing more on story structure, interviews, sourcing,” Dyche said. “The actual technical part of it, I could not help them with because I didn’t have that background. But my love of audio never really went away.”
After a few years advising student media at SCAD and Appalachian State University, Dyche came to VCU in 2016 to become the director of the VCU Student Media Center, advising student media organizations such as The Commonwealth Times and Ink Magazine. The MATX program was part of what drew her to VCU.
“Media, Art, and Text is a really interesting program just in how it’s set up – you can go in and make your own path in so many ways. VCU is such a great university to support a program like that because it’s one of the very few that I know of in the country that is an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program,” Dyche said. “The program gives you the space to make it your own, which I really appreciate. I feel like I was able to really mold it into what I wanted.”
As she began considering topics to study for her dissertation, Dyche came back to her interest in audio.
“When I came to VCU, I knew that there was a well-known community radio station in Richmond, there was a lot of interest in podcasting and audio in general in that area,” Dyche said. “So I knew that there was going to be some expertise that I could potentially tap into if I decided to go that route.”
Dyche wrote two papers on audio production during introductory classes in MATX to “get my feet wet, see if it was something I wanted to pursue. And it was,” Dyche said with a laugh. “So then I jumped in with both feet.”
She attended a Women in Audio Workshop at WRIR-LP 97.3 FM down the street from VCU in Richmond. From there, she started doing immersive learning, including taking courses and training workshops on the technical aspects of production. She completed a weeklong summer intensive audio workshop with Transom in Boston and interned with VPM, the NPR member station in Richmond, the following summer. She also worked with and took a Podcasting While Black course at VCU with NPR radio announcer Chioke I’Anson, Ph.D., director of community media at the VPM + ICA Community Media Center.
The research led to her creating a course where students learn the building blocks of audio production and storytelling and then, at the end, produce a podcast episode or audio story, similar to an NPR profile piece. The course, she said, shows students that creating a podcast is “not scary.”
Part of her focus in the course – and in the sessions she has led at national conferences, including the College Media Association conference this past March – is on opening up radio and audio storytelling as an accessible space for all students. Her lessons in class and at conferences include an emphasis on developing your own voice.
“A lot of it is making sure that people understand that that traditional white Midwestern male voice that you hear, in broadcast TV specifically, does not translate to podcasting and that there’s a lot of making sure that that space is more accessible to everybody now, recognizing the traditional whiteness of those spaces and making room for everybody,” she said.
The dedication Dyche has shown to improving journalism education for students is apparent to those around her, said Mary Caton Lingold, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of English at the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences who served as Dyche’s dissertation director.
“She’s really at the forefront of a growing conversation about how universities can help prepare students for careers in this growing industry,” Lingold said. “Allison has said that, even over the course of her research, more work on this topic is popping up everywhere like mushrooms. There’s a lot of momentum, but she’s really riding the crest of that wave in her work. And I think that that’s really unique: For a graduate student to be poised to have a real impact at the vanguard of a new conversation is really incredible, and I look forward to what she’s going to accomplish professionally.”
Lingold and Dyche first met in 2018 as Dyche was building her dissertation committee. In fall 2019, Dyche took Lingold’s sound studies course, where students produced audio stories.
Lingold was impressed by how much she has learned from Dyche.
“What’s neat about the MATX program is that it allows students to diverge from traditional disciplinary pathways,” Lingold said. “In this case, Allison has identified a problem that her own discipline was not addressing. So [it’s about] being in a space where you can build bridges across disciplines, and it allows for students to kind of step outside the box and do innovative work.”
Now, Dyche again works at Appalachian State University, where she is adviser to The Appalachian, the student newspaper, and The Peel, the literary arts publication, and also adjunct teaches in the Digital Journalism major.
In the coming years, she hopes to publish a textbook on teaching podcasting and, as advised by her dissertation council, do consulting work on teaching instructors how to teach podcasting.
“I’ve had so many advisers – and students too – reach out to me and ask for copies of my presentation,” Dyche said. “So I know there’s definitely a need for this kind of content and people wanting to learn how to do this. Professors and advisers are also wanting to learn how to teach their students, to ensure that there’s a space for their students to learn these types of digital audio skills.”
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