Meghan Finnerty | March 27, 2020

A Classroom in Your Earbuds

Professor creates podcast to enhance learning.
two professors sit facing one another with headsets on, to record a podcast

Kyle Green didn’t want his classes to be dry and boring.

So, to better connect students with the core learning of theory and methods, the assistant professor of sociology started creating podcasts that told stories of sociologists and their real-life work.

“I wanted this thing to exist, so I went out and created it,” said Green, who is in his second year teaching at SUNY Brockport.

An expert in geography, sociology, theory, and culture, Green earned his undergraduate degree from SUNY Geneseo and his master’s and PhD from the University of Minnesota.

In 2014, he and his graduate school office mate Sarah Lageson (now an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice) started a podcast, “Give Methods a Chance,” as a way for sociology students to better connect with their discipline. Green was teaching sociological research methods for the first time, and he found the books to be incredibly boring.

“They were dry and required a lot of memorization,” said Green, whereas the performance of research “was filled with excitement, improvisation, and discovery.”

For example, Green has researched into the allure of mixed martial arts and even trained alongside the participants in his study. Lageson has interviewed the owners of websites that share mugshots and some of the people impacted by the publicity of their photos.

More stories were to be told.

Green started interviewing social scientists about their experiences conducting research. He asked them how they chose their research method, what went wrong, what went right, and why someone starting a research project should give that particular method a chance. Those conversations turned into podcast episodes — which eventually turned into a book.

“The two most central classes in sociology are theory and methods,” Green said. “Yet, over and over, students tell me that they are the ones that they dread.”

So, in addition to giving methods a chance through podcasting, Green started his second podcast, “Give Theory a Chance,” while at Brockport.

“The podcasts have gotten a lot of attention and praise from instructors and scholars, because they’re so refreshingly authentic,” said Amy Guptill, chair of the Department of Sociology. “They’re about sociologists describing the real-life joys and dilemmas of doing research and thinking about what their findings actually mean.”

“In Theory, students get to engage with some of the best explanations of different aspects of the world we are in,” Green said. Theory looks at patterns in the world and then draws claims as for why things happen the way they do, he explained. Sociology helps us understand how individuals are shaped by larger forces like society, culture, the economy, and geographic location.

Green says a basic problem with the classic classroom materials is that the readings are difficult to decipher. Many were written 100 years ago and have been translated from German or French. Plus, the big three theorists in sociology, Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim, were all European white men whose perspectives don’t take into account newer conversations on race, gender, and sexuality. “One of the things I’m trying to do with the podcast is expand who we consider to be the core theorists,” Green said.

Green hopes the podcasts can be useful tools for other instructors. He believes that if students can hear why a well-known contemporary researcher connected to a theory, what it was like for them when they were just getting started, and how they put those ideas into action, it will help motivate the students to also understand that theory.

In the fall of 2019, Green integrated some of his podcasts into his Brockport class materials. After receiving students’ positive feedback, he plans to integrate them even more next semester.

Three Brockport students — Simone Graham, Beth Heberger, and Alysha Rios — have helped produce “Give Theory a Chance,” which included podcast editing and transforming episodes into book chapters. In the past year, the team has published 10 new podcasts and recorded 32 total.

With the current push to online learning, Green is working to get more of the podcasts released to help fellow professors across the country.

The project as a whole is an extension of his passion for teaching and enjoyment in seeing a student connect with the information.

“For academics, it’s depressing when you figure out how few people actually read your research,” Green said. “The classroom is the place where you get to share your ideas and have a direct influence. My favorite thing is having a good conversation with a student where it is clear they connected to an idea or reading.”

“Sociology has long been interested in sharing the insights from the field with the broader public. That has often been focused on predicting and assessing the impact of public policies,” Guptill said. “Kyle Green is doing something even more innovative: inviting the general public into the sociological conversation. It’s a real feather in the cap for an institution like Brockport with a mission that includes promoting vibrant community life.”

Kyle Green at home