April 11, 2020

Virtual podcast clubs – creating communities to discuss science and more

Posted by Laura Guertin

Full disclaimer – the original idea is not mine. At a conference last year, I heard about a group called the Podcast Brunch Club (https://podcastbrunchclub.com/). Think of it as a book club – except for podcasts. A thematic listening list is prepared each month with 1-5 hours of audio listening. Then, individuals come together in one of the over 70 chapters in cities across the globe to discuss the conversation starter questions posted at the bottom of the listening lists.

Although I have a chapter close by in Philadelphia, I haven’t been able to attend the face-to-face discussions. So last month, I logged on to the virtual chapter discussion for the March 2020 listening list of happiness. Our Zoom session included individuals from France, England, Ireland, China, Kenya, Malaysia, and the United States. Although I didn’t have a chance to listen to all the podcasts on the list, I was relieved to learn that it wasn’t a requirement for participation. And it was a lively discussion – dynamic, respectful, thoughtful, reflective… I had no idea a list of individual podcast episodes could create such an engaged community.



So this had me thinking…. with all of the physical distancing going on during the COVID-19 pandemic, could this model keep communities together, or create new communities, around science topics? My campus has a strong partnership with a local arboretum that no longer is open to visitors and had to cancel all of its on-site programming. Looking for ways to keep connected with their membership with their physical site closed, I suggested we connect and try a virtual podcast discussion on the theme of water.

I took the Podcast Brunch Club listening list for water and modified it to include a locally-relevant podcast on Philadelphia water. I partnered with a communications faculty member on campus for our version of an online podcast club called Listen To This! We invited our campus community and the membership of the arboretum, but opened the discussion to anyone that wanted to participate. In our group of ten that logged in the day of our event, seven were active participants (three only wanted to listen), we spent an hour discussing the broad themes of water access and water rights. We dove into the topics of environmental justice, communicating and messaging water science, making it relevant, identifying sources of reliable information, and talking about the solutions. From bottled water to tap water, from Cape Town, South Africa, to Flint, Michigan, we had a continuous conversation that clearly could have continued beyond the hour. We were so pleased with how our first discussion on water went, we are doing our next discussion two weeks later on the topic of Earth Day.

If you are looking for a way to create a community across a common theme, perhaps think about creating your own virtual podcast club, or join the virtual chapter of the Podcast Brunch Club (their April theme is conversation). There are science-themed listening lists on the Podcast Brunch Club website for nuclear power, citizen science, ocean conservation, space, climate change, and more. Happy listening and community building!