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15 Higher Education Podcasts That Pique Curiosity and Drive Innovation

Relevant and timely, these educator-created series offer insights into the tech, politics, sociology, and pedagogy affecting teachers today.

Like the “pod people” in the 1978 movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, podcasts are multiplying like crazy. And according to the Pew Research Center, an estimated 44% of Americans aged 12 and older are tuning in. But unlike those invading aliens, this relatively recent form of communication and entertainment is—by and large—here to do global good, not harm. Case in point: podcasts for professionals in higher education.

As teaching evolves alongside our changing political, social, and demographic landscape, educators are increasingly seeking resources to help them keep current on the latest issues and ideas shaping their profession. This can be challenging, given educators’ rigorous schedules, so podcasts—which require the attention of only one of the body’s five senses—provide a perfect solution. You can listen to podcasts whenever you have a few free minutes, such as during your morning commute or while waiting for students to attend office hours.

Our three criteria for picking the podcasts

There is an enormous number of higher-ed podcasts, so we searched the Internet to find 15 that are truly relevant, current, and unique. To be considered for our list, the pods had to:

  • Focus on the professional development of higher education professionals. This could include pedagogy/teaching strategies or technology/business that is pertinent to higher education. (Some great podcasts that came up, such as Revisionist History, are fascinating and beloved by many professors, but not directly related to teaching.)
  • Have been updated in 2018. To keep the list relevant and current, this article includes only shows that are up to date and currently in production. (Other podcasts may also be a good resource, such as Re:Learning, but that one has not been updated since 2016.)
  • Have at least five episodes in the series. We listened to 7–10 episodes of each podcast (at minimum) to discover what made each one special. Some, such as Student Caring, had shorter episodes, so we listened to those seasons in their entirety.

We have categorized the resultant list as follows: exceptional discussions of pedagogy and teaching strategies, themes and use of educational technology, professional development and motivation, and thought-provoking issues affecting higher ed.

Whether you are interested in being one step ahead on teaching trends or you are simply looking for some inspiration, there is a podcast (or two) on this list that is sure to suit your needs and interests.

Pedagogy and teaching strategies

1. Tea for Teaching

Cohosts Rebecca Mushtare (a graphic designer and assistant professor of art) and Dr. John Kane (an economist) lead candid, informal conversations with higher education professionals over, you guessed it, a cup of hot tea.

Together, this duo runs the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego, so they are always in search of unique and often unusual strategies to engage students in and outside the classroom. In each episode, you will hear a Q&A on one such topic. Examples include Episode 43’s interview with Brian Moritz, an assistant professor of digital media production and online journalism who used Twitter meme wars to motivate students; and Episode 46’s conversation with Dr. Wendy Watson, a political science lecturer who unlocks her students’ creative potential by having them rewrite the US Constitution within the context of a zombie apocalypse.

What sets this podcast apart is how the hosts maintain an off-the-cuff authenticity, making the listener feel as if they are overhearing teachers chatting in a cafe.

2. The Teach Better Podcast

Sex and evolutionary psychology lectures … within the walls of a chapel (Episode 5). Med school teachers who role-play as patients to help students learn about diagnosis (Episode 27). Professors who ditch dull final presentations in favor of student science fair–style carnivals with a DJ and cotton candy (Episode 19).

These are the kinds of teaching adventures you will hear about if you subscribe to The Teach Better Podcast, hosted by Dr. Doug McKee (a senior lecturer and Active Learning Initiative project lead in Cornell University’s Economics Department) and Dr. Edward R. O’Neill (former senior instructional designer at Yale University in the Center for Teaching and Learning).

What sets this podcast apart is its growth mindset: After the week’s guest lays out the successes of their unique teaching strategies, O’Neill and McKee ask them to describe a memorable mistake in their career. This practice reinforces the idea that all educators are lifelong learners—and that we cannot be truly creative without pushing the boundaries far enough to make the occasional flub.

3. IBD (Instruction by Design) Podcast

You can think of IBD as a 30-minute crash course on big-picture thinking in the context of curriculum design. It is delivered in the form of a conversation among three instructional designers from the Academic Innovation team at Arizona State University: Jinnette Senecal, MEd; Celia Coochwytewa, MEd; and Aaron Kraft, MA.

What sets this podcast apart is that every episode opens with a question that initiates a goal-driven discussion about solving issues within existing models in higher education. Examples include: “How does one develop the criteria for rubrics to effectively and accurately measure learning?” (Summer 2018 Bonus Episode 4); and “How can we innovate in higher education classrooms—and scale that innovation to meet increasing enrollment numbers?” (Season 2, Episode 16).

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4. Student Caring – A Podcast for Professors

Led by Dr. Daniel de Roulet (English) and Professor David Pecoraro, MFA (arts/theater), Student Caring addresses the everyday challenges professors face in their classrooms, as well as what they can do to address them. These educators—from Irvine Valley College and Vanguard University of Southern California, respectively—are cofounders and leaders of the Student Caring Project, whose goal is to help students succeed by understanding and appreciating their unique strengths and challenges.

What sets this podcast apart is its focus on the development of the student as a whole person. To this end, the hosts seek not only to increase success in learning but also to develop productivity, creativity, and equity. Their commitment to caring for students beyond the academic is so thoughtful, it comes off as revolutionary—even though they would be sure to remind us it should not be.

Some of their standout episodes have focused on their efforts to genuinely understand the needs of their Millennial students instead of jumping on the generation-bashing bandwagon (Episodes 233–35).

The charisma of both hosts is palpable, and the short, well-defined episodes make this the kind of podcast you can binge within a single weekend—or snack on while walking your dog.

5. Podcasts on Teaching

In this series, Allison Pease, the associate to the provost for faculty and a professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, interviews faculty at her own institution who have received a Distinguished Teaching Prize. Although her guest list is limited, Pease’s pods are packed with wisdom that can be appreciated by anyone who works in higher education.

What sets this podcast apart is Pease’s personal knowledge of her guests, which enables her to ask each of them distinct, specific questions about how their experimental teaching styles drive student success. She also digs into each guest’s story on why they value what they do as an educator and how they came to be inspired to teach in the first place.

Episodes have highlighted one professor who employs a boot camp approach to reading wherein his students read Dostoyevksy’s Crime and Punishment in a single evening (Season 1, Episode 5). Another segment explores why one professor refuses to let her students use the word “topic” in her classroom (Season 1, Episode 9).

Overall the podcast has an intimate feel that is reminiscent of James Lipton’s Inside the Actors Studio interviews, but with teachers instead of thespians.

6. The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast

A self-described “former teacher and teacher of teachers,” Jennifer Gonzalez created this series to bring together passionate educators who want to talk (and hear) about the joys and challenges of teaching. Whether it is about supporting marginalized students or delivering feedback in a more positive way, each episode of this podcast speaks to educators who—like her—have felt discouraged when trying to share innovative ideas in the teachers’ lounge.

What sets this podcast apart is its ability to cross disciplines and grade levels with helpful advice.

Thanks to her roles teaching in middle school and higher ed (as a teacher of education majors), Gonzalez’s well-established podcast covers topics relevant to all levels of education. One standout episode, podcast 65, includes a conversation with Dr. Norman Eng, author of the book Teaching College, about higher education’s failure to train college instructors to become actual teachers. It is an insightful discussion that underscores how subject-matter expertise depends on clear communication in order for it to be meaningful in a learning environment.

Educational technology

7. Leading Lines

“We want to explore the future of edtech and try to not so much predict but to shape that future.” That is how Derek Bruff, director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and cohost of Leading Lines, describes the purpose of this podcast.

What sets this podcast apart is that every segment asks a professor, tech leader, or an administrator to define exactly what they want students to achieve by integrating technology with their learning process. It is an interesting question that challenges the belief that modern technology in the classroom exists solely for the sake of convenience.

A particularly interesting example is Bruff’s Episode 32 interview with Dr. Cornelia Lang, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Iowa. In it, Lang addresses the debate over the use of laptops in higher ed classrooms. Throughout the conversation, Lang illustrates how the intentional and focused use of technology can foster collaboration, motivation, and, in some ways, personal accountability.

8. Edsurge on Air

Have you ever wondered whether using computers in the classroom is actually driving inequality among students? What about if telling students they need “grit” is more harmful than motivational? These questions exemplify the kinds of topics EdSurge on Air seeks to explore. (You will find the answers in the episodes from October 8 and April 20 of 2018, featuring Mimi Ito and Angela Duckworth.)

The weekly podcast features a rotating cast of hosts, but two of EdSurge’s editors, Jeffrey R. Young and Sydney Johnson, appear most frequently. Each episode highlights the current impact of technological trends on student learning and issues that shape the structure and future goals for education.

What sets this podcast apart is its selection of interviewees—all of whom are innovators and thought leaders in education technology (even if the topic is not always strictly tech focused). Its approach is frank and fun, with its homepage promising this: “Podcasts produced by EdSurge on education technology include weekly news updates, interviews, and debates (and the occasional snarky observation).”

9. Dr. Josie and the Podcast

If you have been urged to take care of your “digital hygiene,” your initial response might be to raise an eyebrow. But this is an essential concept that Dr. Josie Ahlquist—digital leadership author, researcher, speaker, and educator—discussed with guest Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab on October 16, 2018. The topic: how educators can best cultivate a reputable online presence. The episode: “Hope, Social Media, and Changemaking.”

What sets this podcast apart is that, in each episode, Ahlquist draws connections between tech and leadership in education. Her series focuses on helping educators make the best possible use of today’s technology in their own careers and lives and, ultimately, empower students to become critical thinkers and productive citizens.

While it is a departure from the traditional edtech podcast, Ahlquist’s passion for sharing intentional and meaningful uses of social media is sure to convert even the most staunch Instagram skeptics.

10. TOPcast

Short for The Teaching Online Podcast, this monthly show from the University of Central Florida tackles news in online education while addressing the obstacles that are specific to supporting a productive learning environment in a digital space.

Past topics have included how to define accessibility (Season 2, Episode 21) and academic integrity in online courses (Season 3, Episode 33). The show has also touched on broader issues that apply to blended classrooms, such as the concept of how “failing forward” encourages students to practice empathy (Season 3, Episode 38).

What sets this podcast apart is the witty banter between Dr. Thomas Cavanagh and Dr. Kelvin Thompson about their mutual love for quality coffee. (Like Tea for Teaching, this is conducted over a steaming mug of hot liquid.) That alone is entertaining enough to justify adding this podcast to your monthly subscriptions.

Professional development and motivation

11. You’ve Got This

The title says it all. This attitude is what life coach and author Dr. Katie Linder tries to instill in listeners on the Radical Self-Trust Podcast Channel.

What sets this podcast apart is that it is dedicated specifically to helping professionals in higher education “increase their confidence and capacity for juggling” their numerous roles as educators, researchers, leaders, and more. She promises to help you “nurture your superpowers, playfully experiment, and practice loving kindness toward yourself and others.”

In addition to her weekly motivational talks, Linder uses her 12-minute segments to provide verbal guidance on things like writing recommendation letters for students, developing syllabi that are motivational (not just instructional), and organizing life outside of the classroom. She also reviews books on teaching and other professional development literature.

12. PodcastPD

Started by Stacey Lindes—a two-time graduate of the College of New Jersey who has an MAT in elementary education—PodcastPD takes a lighthearted approach to challenge the standardized model of professional development seminars. Every week, Lindes joins cohosts Christopher J. Nesi (who holds a master’s degree in curriculum design and instruction) and AJ Bianco (a seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher) for an amusing discussion on how to become a better educator.

What sets this podcast apart is its ability to strike a good balance between sharing practical advice while offering the occasional joke about what some “leaders” in professional development think is effective motivation (but is not).

For educators looking for a podcast that feels less like a lecture and more like honest peers providing some hard-hitting truths, this is it.

Thought-provoking issues in higher education

13. Higher Ed

For those who are totally new to educator-directed podcasts, this one from Austin’s NPR station KUT 90.5 is the perfect introduction. The hosts of Higher Ed are KUT radio personality Jennifer Stayton and Southwestern University President and mathematician Dr. Ed Burger.

What sets this podcast apart is that the broad education-related questions addressed here are sourced directly from listeners. Although the podcasts are brief (no episode is longer than 15 minutes), make no mistake: Burger does not use that as an excuse to give his content short shrift. Some of the topics covered include how to define student agency, whether the major-model for college is effective for preparing students for the real world, and whether counselors and professors really know what is best for students.

Best of all, it closes each thought-provoking episode with a brainteaser cliff-hanger that is answered on the following episode.

14. The Crush

Named after “the way most people feel about the college admissions process and the college experience itself,” The Crush boasts a roster of notable guests. Recent episodes include a talk with MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient and filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Episode 24) and another with educational leader Eric Waldo (Episode 27), who worked on former First Lady Michelle Obama’s college access initiative.

What sets this podcast apart are the thoughtful conversations between admissions counselor Davin Sweeney and his guests on relevant political, cultural, sociological, and economic issues that influence people’s perceptions of what college “should” be.

While the pod’s primary focus is college admissions, it is one that educators will certainly enjoy being privy to, as it provides interesting perspectives on the factors that influence which students enter their classrooms and how that informs the future of the campuses where they work. For example, past episodes have covered the inequity created by the transfer model for community college students and the effect of the present political climate on attitudes toward the value of higher education.

15. Teaching in Higher Ed

This podcast practically merits its own category. The Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast, hosted by the inimitable Dr. Bonni Stachowiak—a renowned keynote speaker and a professor at Vanguard University—is arguably the gold standard for higher education podcasts, given its long history and overwhelmingly positive reviews. (It boasts close to 200 five-star reviews on iTunes.)

With more than 200 episodes of material, Stachowiak’s enlightened conversations with her diverse guests—who include professors, administrators, researchers, authors, and social justice activists—reveal noteworthy lessons about how to become a more attentive, effective teacher in today’s world.

Recently, she interviewed Jeffery Galle (a former professor, current supporter of higher-ed initiatives in Georgia, and coauthor of Teaching, Pedagogy, and Learning) who inspires student creativity through challenging them to examine how knowledge is constructed in different disciplines. There are also nuanced discussions about educational technology, including the evolving meaning of digital literacy, with edtech leaders such as Dr. Bryan Alexander (of Georgetown University) and digital scholars including Dr. Remi Kalir (of the University of Colorado, Denver).

What sets this podcast apart are the more serious talks that go beyond academia, such as how to care for grieving students and how racial identity informs the learning process (and the necessity of understanding this).

Teaching in Higher Ed is a mixed bag of high-quality content that will tap into your desire to both hone your craft and become an even more committed lifelong learner.