Welcome to Blogvale

Posted: April 8, 2015 in On Life
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Weird at last, weird at least, god almighty, weird at last.

Commonplace Books Photo Copyright – Commonplace Books

Story Time

When I was a wee lad, my mom would read me Goosebumps books before bedtime (explains a lot, right?) Being read to then created images just as vividly in my mind as reading itself did. When I got older, I obviously fell out of touch with being read to – I’m an adult, dammit! I can read my own books!

Well, turns out, being an adult has literally nothing to do with it. Make a 6 hour commute (one way) every two weeks with only country and gospel stations at your disposal, and you’ll find something to pass the time in a big fuckin’ hurry. I decided to give a few e-books a whirl, ones by Stephen King which I had already read, but it had been a few years. Why not, right? What I wasn’t expecting was to have images play in my head, just as vividly as when I read, just as vividly as when I was a kid.

What a revelation! In between Stephen King books, I would tune in to NPR for as long as I could get the signal. All Things Considered and This American Life became staples of my journey – and major sources of news for me as well. Something clicked in my head, here: I can listen to these people talk about things.. Podcasts are usually just people talking about things.. I think I’ve got something here. But where do I start? There are literally an infinite number of podcasts on an infinite number of topics, and some people just are not interesting enough to listen to.

Welcome to Nightvale. Figuratively and literally. Short version: Imagine “This American Life” from a community radio station in a small desert town in the Twilight Zone. Ms. Fish and I have been tuning in for several months now, and this addiction is far more rewarding and less expensive than crack. The most intriguing thing about Nightvale: It’s not a one-shot deal. It’s a continuous, ever-extending plot line. It’s a story. It’s a book that comes to us chapter by chapter. There are characters that appear continuously, plot lines that have ran (and continue to run) since the beginning of the cast almost 3 years ago, and a wide and interesting array of voice actors. Nightvale has become so ridiculously popular that they go on tours regularly, performing live renditions of shows, and have a novel coming out in October. Pre-order on lock.

Scottish Libraries Photo CC-by Scottish Libraries


Certain classrooms in the U.S. are utilizing podcasts as tools – why bother forcing students to slog through classics if you can give them a story they’re interested in? Podcasts give stories that students can most likely better relate to. They can listen to podcasts while doing other activities. I know several people that would be more inclined to listen to a podcast as a homework assignment than read 85 chapters of Great Expectations. Digital storytelling as a medium, whether we like it or not, can appeal to students who rely so heavily on tech more than a conventional book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for ink and paper, but e-books are a thing, it’s still an e-book, the second half of that phrase being book. Pen-and-paper elitists can get right the fuck outta my face wit dat.

That being said, it’s significantly more difficult to take notes in the margins of a podcast. Unless you can find some pretty interesting readings of said classics (which I hate but are necessary at times), students may miss out on some pretty important literary / story milestones if classics are skipped in favor of podcasts. Digital storytelling allows for an infinite realm of creativity and access, but also allows some pretty garbage material through. Many podcasts are poorly-written, gimmicky, or recorded through something that provides the audio quality of a potato. Quality control is an important consideration.

When it comes down to it, I’m of the opinion of “whatever you can do to get students interested jesus go with it why would you give up that opportunity.” The less students rolling their eyes in angsty disgust and actually engaging in something, the better.


  1. kaylahall02 says:

    I love your blog! I agree with you, podcasts and digital storytelling may grab at the students’ attention better but why resort to that if it won’t benefit them as much as a good novel? I think this totally depends on the teacher and their style of teaching but students need that experience of reading a book that is paper and ink. I think sometimes it gives the students more of an appreciation for books but it all depends on the experience the students have while reading the books. I think both books- paper and ink- as well as podcasts should be used in the classroom just so students can have a taste of each. From there the teacher can determine which would work best for their lessons there on out. We need to keep in mind that it is all about the experience the students have that will shape their opinions to the different approaches.

    • jamcfarland says:

      I by no means think podcasts or digital stories should replace books. But the truth is, high school kills any passion a lot of people have for reading. Students who aren’t good at reading or don’t like reading are forced to read huge, draconian novels that they can not relate to even a little bit (*cough* The Scarlet Letter *cough*) and it kills any potential interest in reading.

      It’s true what you say about it being up to the teacher. A good, creative teacher could successfully pull a lesson out of a podcast just as well out of a novel. Unfortunately, a lot of school teachers’ version of a test over a novel is over trivial, meaningless details like “what color was the protagonist’s scarf in chapter 12?”

  2. Sarah Cline says:

    Jeff, I agree that students can make good connections to a well written and delivered podcast, as find it better homework than a really long book. I also appreciate how you said that it needs to be well written, because it needs to serve a purpose beyond giving students busy work. I don’t think it matters what format the literature is in (book or audio) or when it was written (modern or classic) if it is written well and presented well it can make an impact.

    • jamcfarland says:

      Exactly! The issue is quality, not quantity. “Of Mice and Men” is ridiculously short, and yet is still considered a classic, and one of my favorites (I know I rag on the classics, but Steinbeck is my bro).

      Studies have been done on students’ brains while doing a variety of activities, such as reading, reading graphic novels, listening to e-books, etc. and the results wind up the same – the same parts of the brain fire off.

  3. I, too, was intrigued by the podcast story that I listened to, but I think it’s only because I’m a little older and a little less angst-y than your average high school student. A lot of students hate any sort of schoolwork, even if it’s innovative and exciting. That being said, the less angst-y students would probably welcome an opportunity to learn in a new medium.

    Still, I’m a huge proponent of books, digital or ink-and-paper. Audio books are convenient, especially for avid readers who just can’t find time to commit to long novels. However, a lot of students did not grow up reading in their free time, and may not have well-developed reading skills. And even if times may be a-changin’, anyone who wishes to succeed in college is going to need to read. A lot. Podcasts are a fun way to expand students’ knowledge of learning resources, but when it comes down to it, I think students need to read books more than they need to do anything else.

    • jamcfarland says:

      I sometimes get ahead of myself in forgetting that not everyone is as well-read as my friends / colleagues and I. I cringe when someone says something like “i haven’t read a book since high school.”

      You do bring up a great point about certain high school students just not going with any options, regardless of innovation. I considered being a teacher for a while, since I know not all students are like this, but I felt no strong desire to dedicate time and energy to teenagers who are just “too cool” to give a shit about anything.

  4. tristyfishy says:

    Well. I agree. Carlos *does* have the best hair. And while I disagree with you on the classics and getting out of your face with pen and paper (I *will* stay in your face, thank you very much!), I do agree that we should give the kids something that they will enjoy and is actually proven to get them better grades. I mean. Why not? As I said, not every kid out there is like I was. But I have a special fondness for pen and paper. So. Meh. I am completely for technology in the classroom, however.

    • jamcfarland says:

      Until Telly the barber got a hold of him, at least. *menacing squint* Telly.
      I love pen and paper! And a few of the classics (not many, though). I just disagree with the weird retro-elitists who hate tablets and e-readers. There’s a reason we’re not all still using those old-ass Apple computers with the handles in the monitors that were only really good for playing the Oregon Trail.

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