Challenges and Advice for Students
Karis Brown; Jack Harte; Jessica Saunders; and Tami Albin
[Karis Brown:] Welcome to the discussion of Podcast Perspectives of Environmental Geopolitics. In this episode, the crew will be discussing student difficulties and our advice for other students.
[Dr. Shannon O’Lear:] We are here in the Makerspace of Anschutz Library at the University of Kansas. My name is Shannon O’Lear. I’m a professor of Geography and the director of the Environmental Studies program here at KU, and I am here with three students from the Environmental Geopolitics class. And I will ask them to introduce themselves.
[Jessica Saunders:] Hi, my name is Jessica Saunders. My pronouns are she/her. I am currently a junior at the University of Kansas, majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Political Science.
[Jack Harte:] I’m Jack Harte. My pronouns are he/him. I’m working towards a Bachelor of Arts in Geography at the University of Kansas. I’m about a senior and a half at this point, I guess I’ve got one more semester to go, but we’re working towards it.
[Karis:] You minor in anything?
[Jack:] I’m minoring in Business.
[Karis:] Look at that. [laughs] Well, I am Karis Brown. I’m also a senior and-a-half right now. Oh, I use they/them pronouns. I am also majoring in Environmental Studies and I minor in Anthropology and Journalism. I like to write, ya know?
[Jessica:] And we are also accompanied by our superhero Librarian Tami Albin, who has been the glue for our podcast projects and our OER project, which we will discuss now.
[Dr. O’Lear:] What do you guys think was the hardest part of this assignment?
[Karis:] I think it was kind of trying to break apart what we had been taught where objective truths or like the idea that claims are kinda just naturalized as the way things are. Because, ya know, institutions or institutions like governments or corporations are like, “Yeah, this is the way it is,” and like, oh, okay, yeah, it’s published, so that’s the way it is, but there’s a lot more working behind the scenes. I think that we were able to delve into as we slowly fit our projects into your framework slowly, bit by bit.
[Jack:] Uh yeah, I think I think I definitely struggled the most with wrapping my head around, like you’re saying, what discourse is. We’re surrounded by discourse and by information in our daily lives, and we talk all this talk about combating misinformation and checking our sources and everything. But this really allows— the Environmental Geopolitics framework allows for that breakdown of discourse that a traditional research paper or other framework, whatever might not entail.
So the hardest part for me was specifically with my podcast was, like you’re saying, differentiating between the topic of wildfire, wildfire management, and the claim only you can prevent forest fires— a la Smokey Bear. There’s a major difference in that that you wouldn’t think of in your daily life, you would just accept, right? Smokey Bear says prevent wildfires, obviously. Duh. Move on. But you know there’s a lot of-
[Jessica:] But why?
[Jack:] Right, why? And there’s a lot of evidence— There’s not evidence necessarily, but there’s a lot of- there’s just nuance to any claim that anyone makes. And the Environmental Geopolitics does a great job of allowing analysis of that.
[Karis:] When I picked my particular claim, I was just interested in the topic of concentrated animal feeding operations in general. I knew that they were bad and causing pollution and I was just kind of like looking for anything, any information on that. And my best friend who also took the class, she emails me one day and she’s like, “Oh, look at this article from the EPA, like they’re pushing bio-gas recovery system. That’s kinda cool right?” And I was like, “Yeah!” And then I looked at it and I was like, “This is the claim.”
[Karis, louder:] “This is the claim!”
[Jessica simultaneously laughing]
[Karis:] And so I just started like breaking that down and I was like, Well, are these biogas recovery systems actually good? No. I mean, it’s like the practice itself, but it’s like we’re looking at the way that institutions encourage certain practices like new biotechnologies or like just stopping wildfires altogether. But in reality it’s like we’re not thinking ecologically. We’re thinking more like capitalistically, economically in the ways that it supports that.
[Jessica:] I think that ties into my biggest struggle too, is because I was tackling the menstrual product market, which is, as I called it, a monster of a market like it’s so hard, it’s impossible to touch on everything that they’re involved in. You know, they literally shape society for the majority of the population. So I think my most difficult part was probably just trying to explain that and prove it because it is so deeply embedded in our society. Yeah. And I could still go on about it for hours and not even be able to scratch the surface. So I think that was the most difficult part is just trying to condense all of my information into something that makes sense.
And Dr. O’Lear said from day one, talk about this topic or claim like you’re trying to explain it to a high schooler. And I’m like, “Yeah, but how do I explain to a high-schooler this massive system that shapes our lives?” Where, where do I begin with that? It was a little challenging to fit that all into an under 15 minute podcast. And maybe I’ll redo it one day. Maybe I’ll make a series about it. You never know.
[Karis:] Well, it’s like, how do you dismantle an entire market of products? How do you dismantle Smokey Bear? How do you dismantle like our agriculture industry at large, like it— they’re massive topics in general.
[Jessica, simultaneously:] Or, or Brynna. She, she talks about Disney. How do you defeat the mouse? The mouse always wins.
[Karis:] While it’s like you do more research behind this and you realize like how far-reaching their influence is.
[Karis:] How many things that they are invested in-
[Jessica:] And how deep their little tentacles go.
[Jessica and Karis:] Mhm. Yeah.
[Dr. O’Lear:] Let me ask you guys this because there will be future iterations of this class and I will do some form of probably this assignment or something like it. What advice would you give to students who are in future iterations of this class when they’re faced with this, “find a claim and analyze it using this framework?”
[Jessica:] I would say first of all, find something that you’re passionate about. In light of—ooo should I even bring this in— in light of Roe v Wade? Women’s rights and menstrual hygiene and all of that that encompasses— I don’t want to say females, but you guys know what I’m saying?
[Karis:] People with uteruses.
[Jessica:] Yeah. People with uter- thank you. All of that, that encompasses a market that controls people with uteruses. That’s something that I’m very passionate about as a woman who doesn’t want to have kids. I think just delving into something that you’re passionate about, that you want to know more about is the most important thing or something that you centr- I centralize my passions of the environment around I’m kind of a- kind of an “F— the System” type of person in case you haven’t noticed. I just kind of wanted to elaborate on that and pick something very specific as to why I feel the way that I do about certain things, and try to explain that from a certain perspective.
[Karis:] I did the same thing,
[Karis:] Like I’m a vegetarian and already like hypercritical of the meat industry and I knew that it was bad. And so I was like, “Alright, well I’m just gonna do the research to justify that.”
[Karis:] And it was like, yeah, it’s about picking that like the topic in general that you’re passionate about and then getting more specific. Pick that topic like, yeah, I really give a crap about cow crap. I mean, I guess-
[Karis:] but I gave— I was concerned about agriculture and its effects on the environment. And I was like, okay, so then make it smaller. And so I looked more into specific cattles, specific like cattle operations and it got even smaller and I was like, okay, so like what institutions are putting out information about this and who can I look at? And that’s how I ended up on the EPA because, ya know, they kind of- they’re supposed to be in charge of the environment around here.
I don’t know if they really are, but yeah, just going— start broad because start with where your passions are because that’s why our podcasts in general were successful. I mean, not everyone in the class successfully created a podcast. You’re not saying everybody’s research because some people did the research showcase and but like the people that did produce a podcast, they put their passion into it and that’s how they were able to go from these broad sweeping like monster markets to individual, like the small scale of individual industries, corporations, governments, like individual actors. You have to start big and then just keep whittling it down.
[Jessica:] But then we’ve talked about spatial focus and then you can bring it back up to that big, you know, whatever you’re passionate about.
[Jack:] And that’s where I would— you know my opinion on the question is just kind of understand the framework. Maybe even before you start thinking about a claim for it. Or if you do think about how that framework can be put into that claim because for me, I didn’t— I’ll admit you know like probably for the first month I didn’t-
A) I didn’t understand that there is even a geopolitics framework underlying all of this.
And I also didn’t understand the difference between discourse and a topic.
And so I spent the first month probably looking for, like I was looking through like ecological studies and stuff that they were helpful but like not necessarily looking at discourse. So the first thing I would look at is just the first chapter, read it and reread it and specifically kind of understand what the environmental geopolitics framework is, what those three questions mean for your topic. Because you know once there is a moment, again, like after a month where it just clicked and I was like, “Oh, we’re specifically looking at human agency. We’re looking at spatial focus. We’re looking at all these things.” And you can’t really apply that to a topic as a whole. You have to narrow it down to a claim of discourse. And so understanding that really helped me in this project.
[Karis:] Yeah because like all the human agency that goes into all of these different topics, like there’s so many different forms and so many different actors and tentacles reaching in from all different directions. So it’s like how which tentacle? Like which uh- which arm, which actor you looking at the most?
[Jessica:] Yeah. That’s one of the other things that was really difficult for me. It’s like I’m such a broad conceptual thinker like here in my brain, I can be like, “Oh yeah, the menstrual product market is bad.” But why? And that’s what was super-helpful about Environmental Geopolitics, is that our three questions really just helps clarify and solidify things. And I could go on and do research papers all day, every day for the rest of my life. But it’s not going to solidify in my brain the way that my brain works, the way that researching this topic for a podcast was.
[Karis:] Because it was about having a conversation.
[Karis:] Like how do I as an individual convey this to another individual? Yeah, like that was the whole point.
[Jessica:] And some people might not like that. Like you’re a little more of a technical thinker than I am. We think differently, but I mean, we still both executed the podcasts really well. So that’s one thing that I would caution on in the future is like if you have a very techie, thinking person who’s very much numbers and not super philosophical or conceptual, that this might be a little bit challenging for them. You never know.
[Karis:] Oh yeah, I was definitely lost in the data for a long time.
Like I was like, “Look at all these numbers! AHH!”
And I was like talking more about the numbers that- than what the numbers meant. It was like that was difficult for me was like- No, no, no. Don’t just state the numbers like what do they mean to the topic.
[Dr. O’Lear:] So the podcast assignment actually had seven steps throughout the course of this semester. It was kind of like step-by-step, you’re building this podcast. And we had the librarians come in and talk to you about podcasts and you had me trying to help you narrow down the claim you’re going to analyze. But what would have made this process more clear to you or what information was missing that you wish you had had?
[Jessica:] Knowing how to use Audacity? Um no I ended up using an app through Spotify. I can’t remember off the top of my head what it was called, but my podcast is now posted on Spotify. Um and it was super easy to use. I guess just if you’re not like a super techie person like me, just do your research and see what kind of programs work for you. If you’re not a techie person, don’t use Audacity. I looked at it once and it was a nightmare.
[Jack:] Yeah, I know just along the technical side, you’ve got a Mac Garage Band to be pretty good for this. We’re really just, there’s a lot of surprising softwares out there you wouldn’t think would be good for podcasting that are. So just do a quick Google search for that.
Then another thing was also just finding open-source sound effects if one wants to use those, and making sure that those are attributed correctly. I know- I know I kind of spent a lot of time looking for libraries where you could get open-source sound effects. And there are those libraries out there. I believe those will be in the appendix of the Open Educa- of the podcast OER you’re looking at right now. So take a look at those, but that’s a major hurdle for me for sure.
[Jessica:] Be really careful about the sound effects that you used too. We did have one podcast to just straight up put Disney music right? No? Something like that. Don’t do that. Don’t do that.
[Karis:] Yeah. You can’t just use the MP— like the video to MP3 file converter from YouTube.
[Karis:] There’s actually like a lot of weird licensing things that go into all of these different like sound effect databases, music databases. Kind of along the lines that we- we learned throughout the semester of copyrighting our own material like, copyright is crazy and copyright laws are scary. So do your best to like specifically research like free sound effects, databases-
[Karis:] Royalty-free. If you can look at the license and see how you can use them. If it is just for free to listen to versus free to use. I’d say, don’t be afraid of Audacity. I used it, but I do bring some technical skills already in. Garageband is a good one. Also, use your librarians. Come to the Makerspace, um, that is what Tami is here for. She is literally like- basically your free access point to knowledge about how to record anything.
[Jessica:] They wear superhero cape for a reason.
[Karis:] Period. The music featured in this episode is MB_weatherwav by Connum from freesound.org.
“MB_weatherwav.wav” by Connum is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0