Faculty Podcast Examines Coronavirus Pandemic Through Political Lens

Faculty Podcast Examines Coronavirus Pandemic Through Political Lens

Image of Radio Microphone

The weekly broadcast is just one of the many innovative new ways Fairfield professors are enhancing students’ online learning experience.

This is an unprecedented time for all of us, and even if Aaron and I don’t have all the answers, we hope the podcast shows our students that the skills we are learning in class provide a way for us to examine social and political phenomena.

— Gayle Alberda, PhD, Assistant Professor of Politics

Fairfield politics professor Aaron Weinstein, PhD, is no stranger to podcasts. Before joining the College of Arts and Sciences faculty in 2018, he spent nearly four hours a day streaming episodes on his commute from Fairfield to Providence, R.I., and as a visiting assistant professor, he’s often found success assigning podcasts to his students in lieu of readings. A self-proclaimed “podcasting evangelist,” he occasionally toyed with the idea of starting one of his own, but never quite found the motivation. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic forced him and professors across the U.S. to make a sudden and dramatic switch to an online-only learning environment.

Recognizing this shift would require a fresh and innovative approach to educating and connecting with his students, Dr. Weinstein reached out to fellow politics professor Gayle Alberda, PhD, with the idea of combining forces to create an informative podcast that would use the COVID-19 pandemic as a means to teach and explain public policy to students. A few days later, the “Plugging into Politics” podcast was born and hit students’ airwaves for the very first time.

“The Coronavirus is a seminal event in all of our lives, but especially for students who may not remember the Great Recession very well, and who certainly do not remember 9/11,” Dr. Weinstein explained. “When we teach, we emphasize applications to current events, and right now there is a massive, confusing, and understandably scary current event. Political science can help us understand the world, and I see it as my job to help students understand what is happening by applying our studies to the situation.”

In just two weeks, Dr. Weinstein and Dr. Alberda have already recorded and released seven episodes of the poignant and often playful podcast to students via Blackboard, with each show examining the impact of the global pandemic from a different political angle. Topics have included the virus’ widespread effect on federalism, the U.S. economy, environmental policies, and the 2020 election. Some episodes feature interviews with expert guests such as Dr. Gbenga Ajilore, senior economist for Center for American Progress, and political leaders like Connecticut State Senator William Haskell (D-26). 

While the show’s discussions are often driven by the news cycle and unique opportunities to speak with public policy leaders, they are also used as a supplement to the professors’ coursework and are inspired by questions submitted from students.

“Students from our classes can submit questions — be it a question from a previous podcast, questions regarding the news of the day, or questions on their course work — and we pick a few that fit with the episode's topic and answer them during the show’s ‘Office Hours’ segment,” Dr. Alberda explained. “This is an unprecedented time for all of us, and even if Aaron and I don’t have all the answers, we hope the podcast shows our students that the skills we are learning in class — critical thinking, research, et cetera — provide a way for us to examine social and political phenomena.” 

Both Dr. Alberda and Dr. Weinstein have been blown away by students’ positive responses to the podcast so far, and look forward to tackling even more topics in the weeks to come, including the pandemic’s impact on public health policy, the role of the president during a time of crisis, and how COVID-19 has affected the way the media presents the news.

“It goes without saying, but we have exceptional students. Despite the sudden move to online/virtual learning, they have been resilient, patient, and deeply engaged,” Dr. Alberda said. “We get to see their engagement not only by the questions they submit, but the conversations they are having in our classrooms about each episode and the encouraging emails that they send. It really makes us grateful to be here in this moment with them.”

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