Episode 56:
Sophie Bjork-James

In this episode, we first hear a short, speculative fiction audio story by Vanderbilt undergraduate Sarah Saxton Strassberg called “Hagar Rising” that explores the future of gene editing. Sarah Saxton created this piece for a course on the politics of reproductive health taught by Vanderbilt anthropology professor Sophie Bjork-James. After Sarah Saxton’s audio piece, Derek Bruff talks with Sophie about the course and her podcast assignment.

“Hagar Rising” originally aired as an episode of another Vanderbilt podcast, VandyVox, which features the best student-produced audio from around campus. The podcast also has student audio exploring names and identities at a Hispanic-serving nonprofit in Nashville, a narrative produced for a women’s and gender studies course called “Women Who Kill,” and an excerpt from a graduate student-produced podcast taking a critical look at video games, among other student work from around campus. To find these episodes, search for VandyVox in your favorite podcast app, or head to VandyVox.com. If you visit the website, you’ll also find some behind-the-scenes information about the assignments that led to these student podcasts, which should be of particular interest to the Leading Lines audio.



[00:00] [music]

Derek Bruff:  [00:00] This is “Leading Lines.” I am Derek Bruff. Podcasts are having a moment. Well, they’ve actually been having a moment for a few years now, ever since the investigative podcast “Serial,” took the world by storm back in 2014.

[00:19] But, here at Vanderbilt University, there are a number of faculty members adding podcasted assignments to their syllabi. And they’re not just asking their students to listen to the podcasts, they’re asking their students to produce audio as part of course assignments, and in some cases they’re creating class podcasts.

[00:36] Last summer, I was working with some of these instructors at the Course Design Institute that my teaching center hosts each year. “Wouldn’t it be great,” I thought, “if there were podcasts of podcasts featuring the best student‑produced audio from around campus?” I pitched this idea to my colleagues at Vanderbilt Student Media.

[00:52] They were excited by the idea and the potential it had for helping Vanderbilt student‑work reach a wider audience. I reached out to faculty and students for audio to include, and the student media team went to work on production and distribution, and this February we launched season one of our new podcast called “VandyVox,” with episodes featuring student audio created for courses and research projects for honor’s theses and internships.

[01:17] Here on Leading Lines, we’re exploring uses of technology to enhance student learning that point the way to the future of educational technology. I think that future includes more creative digital assignments, like podcasts and other kinds of audio production by students, and so I’m excited to share VandyVox here on Leading Lines.

[01:36] What follows is a short audio story by Vanderbilt undergraduate Sarah Saxton Strassberg called Hagar Rising, that explores the future of gene editing. We shared this piece on the first episode of VandyVox a few weeks ago.

[01:50] Sarah Saxton created this piece for a course on the politics of reproductive health taught by Vanderbilt Anthropology professor Sophie Bjork‑James. I talked with Sophie about the course and her podcast assignment, and we’ll play that interview, which did not air on VandyVox, after we hear from her student.

[02:07] Here is a piece of speculative fiction called Hagar Rising by Vanderbilt student Sarah Saxton Strassberg.

[02:12] [music]

Sarah Saxton Strassberg:  [02:12] Hagar Rising, part one.

[02:14] [music]

Sarah:  [02:14] Tuesday, the 17th, 9:02 AM. [sighs] I’m late to work again. My inducible salt count was way too low and my alarm went off at 7:20, and I had to take through my freezer for 10 minutes to find the injections I needed. It took a quarter‑hour to find the right site to stick myself and another 20 minutes before I felt better.

[02:49] [music]

Sarah:  [02:49] Kids these days have it so much easier. Their inducible lines are built in the instant of conception. They don’t have to worry about keeping their cell count up all the time the way that my generation does.

[03:03] Ignore the pleated inducible count for a while and your Mosaic cells will start to show patchy skin, heterochromia, strings in your hair, immunocompromised, organ failure, not pretty. Hopefully Dr. Jennings will understand he’s old enough to have being a naturally randomize kid.

[03:20] A Nat Rando as the Nova Reach people call them now, though they have never seen him injecting inducibles. I practically turned my car off before I put it in park and I grab my bag at half walk, have run towards the Frosted automatic doors of every route conception clinic.

[03:36] Hopefully my scrubs don’t look too rumpled. Great, the protesters are here. I’m not in the mood to push by them but I have to. They’re holding up signs that say things like, “Make Gene selection equitable,” and, “Choice should be affordable,” and as usual, they’re silent.

[03:54] Apparently they stay quiet to represent how the lower classes have been silenced, just like the knockout genes the richer people can pick for their kids. At least that’s what I heard from Judy a while back.

[04:06] Honestly, I feel a lot less unsettled if they would just yell and scream instead of keeping their judgemental eyes fixed on me as I make my way to work. I keep my head down trying not to make eye contact but I can tell that most of the protesters are darker‑skinned and wearing worn clothes.

[04:23] Apparently relations with these people used to be even worse before conception clinics became mainstream, but I’m not sure I believe it. I pushed past the last of the protesters and enter every route.

“[04:36] Queenie, you’re late,” Claire gives me a stern look over the top shelf of her desk.

“[04:42] You have clients coming in 13 minutes.”

“[04:44] I know, I know,” I say breathlessly as I clock in.

“[04:47] I’m sorry my count was way down this morning.”

“[04:50] Excuses, excuses,” Claire snatches the sign‑in sheet from me but her tone softens a bit. She hands me a Manila folder.

“[04:58] Joanna and Peter Alistair, your clients and Dr. Jennings is in template room before you ask.”

“[05:04] Thank you,” I say flipping through the client’s files and make my way towards the template room.

[05:09] The interior area of the clinic is light blue, white, rich green, especially green. All the chairs and tables are a deep ivy color, surrounded by succulents and ferns. The woman who designed the building for us said the color scheme would evoke a sense of growth and nurturing for the clients. Just what we’re looking for.

[05:29] The template room, however, is a different story.

[05:31] [background music]

Sarah:  [05:32] The walls are sterile, stark white, interrupted only by the rows and rows of steely microscopes and machines, injectors hovering over Petri dishes and holograms of DNA and chromosomes spinning lazily at eye level.

[05:45] At the center of it all is the master template, a hologram of a perfectly proportioned child, its features symmetrical and vaguely Mediterranean. Tabs poke out from its head and body, detailing mutations and certain genes ‑‑ intelligence, athletic aptitude, resistance to the flu.

[06:04] This is what the doctors base every conception on, simply tweaking each embryo to the client’s liking at the single cell stage before implanting it directly into a client, or more commonly, into one of the pulsating artificial wombs that line the warm, humid incubation room.

[06:18] It’s like our Jango fad of sorts, if you don’t mind the outdated reference. Dr. Jennings is hunched over a microscope in the far corner of the room peering at a Petri dish. He barely looks up from loading guide [indecipherable] inducibles into an injector as I approach.

[06:36] First clients? Yes. “The Alistairs,” I reply. “Joanna is 34. Peter’s 32. Both work in finance. Very few prior health issues. They’ve been here once, but decided they weren’t ready.”

[06:49] Dr. Jennings nods. I remember them. They’ll probably want an artificial carrier. Don’t be surprised if they ask for a lot of mods. Just tell them insurance might not cover all the mods they might want. I’m here if they want to talk to me directly.” “OK,” I say. “I’ll keep all that in mind. I’ll get the boxes to you as soon as they fill them out.”

[07:07] [background music]

Sarah:  [07:09] The Alistairs are waiting. When they come out of the template room, they’re dressed in business casual attire. They both keep their right leg crossed over their left. Peter’s pale skin is slightly patchy in color, a sign of low inducible counts, and Joanna’s blond hair is streaked with light brown, like mine.

[07:26] We’re all mosaics. We’re guinea pigs of our generation. The younger ones have it so much easier.

[07:31] [background music]

Sarah:  [07:37] Part two. We have lots of options for modifications and carriers. I say it’s the Alistairs as I start my well‑rehearsed spiel. You can just check off these boxes and mark approximately where you want on the sliding scales.

[07:50] I hand them the mods tablet where they can play around with the physical appearance and internal traits of their possible embryo.

“[07:57] I think we’ll use an artificial carrier,” Joanna says. “We’re just too busy to naturally carry.” I mark that down. Most people choose that option. “It’s so convenient,” Peter says. “You scientists are geniuses.”

[08:10] Oh, I’m just the physician’s assistant. I laugh, far from a genius. Dr. Jennings is the real brain behind it all. “Look, honey,” Peter says to Joanna, scrolling through a section on the tablet. “We can make her skin just such a beautiful dusky shade. She would look so exotic.”

[08:26] [background music]

Sarah:  [08:27] But don’t make her look too ethnic,” Joanna says. “We don’t want her to look like Nat Rando, whose parents couldn’t afford a conception clinic,” like the protesters outside, I think.

“[08:37] We can make her an athlete and an artist,” Peter says, “And a good student.” “Yes,” Joanna practically squeals. “She’ll play soccer and paint. She’ll be the best in her class.” “Insurance can cover certain mods but not all,” I cut in. “Just FYI, we can calculate the co‑pay after you finish choosing.”

[08:56] Joanna waves me off. “We have a lot saved up for this. Insurance or no insurance, we’re making our daughter exactly how we want her. Making our daughter, like some kind of Frankenstein, I think. Oh, I don’t want that kind of image in my head. What we do is science, art. It’s not some bizarre galvanization in a lightning struck dungeon.

[09:20] Yet, much like the monster, the kids have no say in who they are and what they become. We’re all just playing God, generation after generation. “Can Dr. Jennings guarantee everything?” Peter asked. “Can he guarantee all the mods we choose?”

[09:37] [background music]

Sarah:  [09:38] I was just getting to the legal side of things,” I say. Because of the laws of epigenetics and unavoidable variations in polygenic scores, we can guarantee some physical traits but not all internal ones. There’s a disclaimer you need to sign at the bottom.

[09:52] That, basically, says you understand the risk that your child may not have the presence of the level of certain traits you selected for. Nurture can be equally as crucial, in many cases, as genetic selection. However, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of genetic markers we mutate right before and right after conception to give you the best possible outcome.

[10:13] We choose from possible embryos based on the receptive need to those mutations. We monitor the embryo throughout the entire process. We have it all down to a science, literally. Dr. Jennings and the rest of the staff are the best in their field. The legal disclaimer is just a requirement. The Alistairs look at each other. “Oh no, am I losing them?”

“[10:35] That’s a risk we’re willing to take.” Joanna says, scrawling her signature with the tip of her index finger. Peter agrees and does the same. I breathe a sigh of relief. “All right,” I say, taking back the tablet and scrolling through their selections to make sure everything checks out.

“[10:50] Claire, at the front desk, can calculate your copay now. We’ll let you know the status of your carrier as soon as we implant the embryo. After that, you can set appointments to come in and track it’s progress.” “Her progress,” Joanna corrects me, stroking her husband’s arm absentmindedly, “It’s going to be a She.”

[11:08] I open my mouth to respond, think better of it, and just give a curt nod and a smile. Here, we only refer to the embryos as “it” until they’re well past Bible. It helps us not get attached to something that might die or end up disposed of because it isn’t exactly what the parents wanted.

[11:24] It’s just as bad as it sounds. Usually, I try not to think about it. The Alistairs are making me think about it way more than I’d ever wanted to. I don’t like it, but I can’t tell if I just don’t like thinking about it, or if I don’t like the actual practice.

[11:40] Part three. “There you go, Dr. Jennings.” I hand him the tablet with the Alistair selections and take a step back. Dr. Jennings whistles as he scrolls through the dozens of mods Peter and Joanna have chosen. “They know how much the copay will be?” “Yep,” I reply, “Claire calculated it for them and they were OK with it.”

“[12:11] You think you’re up to the challenge?” “Of course,” Dr. Jennings says. “I’m always up to the challenge.” “Can you get put together a basic template? I’ll be over in a few minutes to put in the mods.” I nod and head over to the master template machine.

[12:25] It’s not hard to create the template. All I have to do is hit a few buttons, fuse two basic gametes stored in the system, and hand the resulting unicellular organisms to Dr. Jennings, so he can inject an inducible line and then all the mods the parents selected. I’ve done it so many times before. Why am I hesitating?

[12:45] The Alistair’s mods came out to be well over $8,000 in copay. Insurance covered an additional $15,000. $23,000 in total. That’s not even counting appointments to see the growth in the carrier, weekly checkups and DNA tests, to detect on one and mutations. Of course, the cost of taking care of the child. $23,000 could be someone’s salary for a whole year.

[13:13] Most of the protesters outside probably earn even less than that. The working class mosaics have it the worst. If their inducible count drops too low and they can’t afford medication, their bodies can literally rip apart from the inside. Patchy skin is just the tip of the iceberg. No way can they begin to afford the mod kid.

[13:36] Maybe the people standing outside with their signs have it right, and the rest of us have it wrong. What would happen if I destroyed the master template? Smash the machines to smithereens and kill all the gametes?

[13:48] No doubt I’ll be fired and blacklisted. I’ll lose my income, my apartment, my healthcare, my inducibles. It could kill me. What difference would it make? What difference would it really make?

[14:00] It could put every [indecipherable] business. At least, for a short while, allow our competitors to catch up and overtake us. They have similar templates. All of them. Ours is just one of many.

[14:18] Doesn’t every revolution start with a single act, no matter how small? I have a hammer in my apartment, in the toolbox on the top shelf of my closet. The revolution might begin on Wednesday, the 18th, at 8:34 AM.

Derek:  [14:37] Thank you, Sophie, for talking with us on Leading Lines today. I’m excited to share one of your student’s podcasts on the episode. I’m looking forward talking with you a little bit about the background for that.

[14:59] Tell us a little bit about the course itself, and why a podcast assignment was a good fit for that course.

Sophie Bjork‑James:  [15:08] Thank you for having me. The course is an upper‑level anthropology class called the Politics of Reproductive Health. I’ve been teaching it for a few years now. It’s a survey of many different issues around reproduction and how they are shaped by cultural factors.

[15:31] Really, we look at how reproduction is a lens for understanding various forms of inequality, so racial inequality, class inequality, issues of immigration and nationality.

[15:43] Because reproductive politics are in the news all the time, I’m always bringing in…My students are always sharing contemporary news articles and news stories. We’re often talking about the news and talking about issues that are in the news.

[16:00] We use a lot of academic sources. We also are drawing from popular media. Partly because of that, I started to have the final project to be not a traditional paper, but a digital media product.

[16:14] They had to do all the research that they would have to do for a traditional paper, but then they’re translating that into a format that can be shared more broadly. Part of it is about wanting them to think of the research as having a broader audience other than the class, contributing to this broader public conversation, which we’ve been having in the class throughout the semester.

[16:41] Part of it is, I feel like, there can be a way that writing and translating one’s research for a more popular media product can actually help them clarify their research findings and their arguments in a way that the formula that they end up learning about how to write a traditional research paper cannot be as effective.

[17:09] Sometimes it’s not as effective. It allows them to be more creative and really draw from a broad variety of sources, both academic and news sources.

[17:21] A goal of mine throughout all my all of my teaching is around digital literacy, given that we teach digital natives who spend so much time on online and in digital communities. I want to give them the experience of being producers of that media as well.

Derek:  [17:40] What you said about having a multimedia assignment like this help them communicate better, essentially, explain themselves better, position their arguments better. I see this a lot and these types of assignments, and I think the audience is a piece of it. It’s that when the audience is just you, the instructor who’s going to read the research paper.

[18:02] There’s somehow less motivation and sometimes there’s fewer tool to express themselves really effectively. Once you move to that public audience, then students start to realize, “Oh, I need to explain this in a way that I actually makes sense because I don’t have a professor here who can fill in the gaps when I don’t explain things well.”

Sophie:  [18:23] Yeah, for sure. There’s the fascinating thing that happens where eloquent students, when they get to the computer trying to write an academic…sound academic can end up making their idea so obscure and overly complicated and each try and verbose.

[18:38] [crosstalk]

Derek:  [18:38] [laughs] Yes. I’ve read those papers. Yeah.

Sophie:  [18:40] I think having them have to write something that is clear, is accessible, and translating complicated research, helps them to learn on a deeper level, and helps their writing and thinking.

Derek:  [18:58] I frame this as a podcast assignment, but it’s not really just podcast, right?

Sophie:  [19:04] Um‑hmm.

Derek:  [19:05] It’s not your first time doing an assignment like this. Can you tell me about how this assignment has changed every time?

Sophie:  [19:09] Yeah. I had a lot of trepidation about having it be a digital media assignment because I was worried about that I would need to do a lot of hand‑holding and technical training. Then I just realized…The first time I did it was an experiment [laughs] .

[19:27] I taught this class once and had them do a traditional paper, and then the second time I taught it, I just said, “OK,” and just basically I was like, “This is your assignment. You got to figure it out.” The parameters for the first time was that it had to be a digital product that could be showed broadly.

[19:46] They still have to write a short academic analysis of their topic because they start with their research question, and they have to engage with the literature, and so they still have to write a short analytic answer to their question. That includes the description of their process.

[20:06] They still have a little bit of academic writing. The first time I taught it, the other thing they had to do is some kind of digital product that could be shared more broadly that they could choose to share or not. I had some students who did really incredible…building a website and then shooting a video that was embedded in the website, or producing really interactive and highly researched websites.

[20:33] Then I also had some students who would submit a PowerPoint that was poorly edited. [laughs] The range was just too broad.

Derek:  [20:40] From high‑quality digital storytelling to crappy PowerPoint.

Sophie:  [20:43] Right.

Derek:  [20:44] No one wants that.

Sophie:  [20:49] Nobody wants that, yeah. It doesn’t demonstrate any learning. [laughs]

[20:53] I’ve had to refine the parameters. Now I teach it where everyone has to do either a podcast or a video. I let them, say if they have a really creative idea for a website, I’ll let them do that, but with websites, too, it’s hard to tell how much effort someone’s actually put into one, given that so many websites are so easy to create now.

Derek:  [21:19] What does the assignment look like now? I know it has some stages to it and some pieces that they’re responsible for turning in.

Sophie:  [21:25] Yeah. They have to submit a proposal, but I tell them that it’s pass or fail and I generally fail half of them the first go‑round, because I want them to be very specific in terms of a narrowly defined research question that relates to a body of literature that we have covered. It has to have a very specific format that they’re ending.

[21:51] There’s often some back and forth around that. I want them to be really clear at the outset, which is really helpful. The next step is they have to create a storyboard ‑‑ either a storyboard or an outline for a podcast that they get feedback on. I’ve been lucky to work with TAs that have been really motivated. I’ve had the TAs really work one‑on‑one with people.

[22:24] They’ve had to meet each student one‑on‑one a couple times over the semester, first around the proposal and then around the storyboard or outline, so that they have a really clear conceptual map of the content that they’re including ‑‑ for podcasts, the sounds and the voices, the narratives, as well as just the words that are the script. Then they get feedback on that and then the final product.

[22:54] I also give them time to work in teams. I’ll divide up teams based on who’s doing podcasts or who’s doing videos, or if there are similar kinds of projects, where they just check in in class. We’ll have some class time.

Derek:  [23:09] Some in‑class time to help them workshop what they’re doing.

Sophie:  [23:14] Yeah.

Derek:  [23:12] They turn in the product, but then you also have them turn in some type of written product to go with it, right?

Sophie:  [23:17] Right. Yeah. Their final exam has three parts. They have to do the digital product, three to five‑page description which is both an essay addressing their research question and a kind of artist statement about what went into the product. What decisions they made. Having them elaborate the translation of their research into the product so I can see the thinking that went behind that.

[23:51] It’s also chance for them to describe if they experienced technical challenges which is helpful because I don’t know with the end product if they had to record this interview like 10 times or they didn’t know how to use the equipment or they spent 30 hours editing because they weren’t familiar with it or, you know, if they were a computer science minor who had a really easy time say like building a website.

[24:20] That’s really helpful. And then they have to submit a bibliography so that I can see the literature that they’re tying them to.

Derek:  [24:27] I’ve done a podcast project a couple of times now and I had students submit a set of show notes for their episode which is helpful because when I put it on the website, I had what I needed to put up there, but the references list was not formatted. It wasn’t obvious how they used some of their references. I love the idea of doing the bibliography with the product as well to see how they work those verses in.

[24:56] You said some of the students might have some challenge with some of the technology, are there other ways the students found this assignment challenging?

Sophie:  [25:05] Some students say they would rather do a paper because that’s what they’re comfortable with and that’s what they know. The challenges that I find are, there’s a couple of general challenges students may face. One is they’re really ambitious.

Derek:  [25:22] OK. Yeah.

Sophie:  [25:24] Vanderbilt students are often very ambitious and so they’ll often come up with these suggestions or these proposals that, you know, involve like interviewing a hundred people or doing a survey and interviews and focus groups and they’ll produce a website and a video. Something like that. Which is why the proposal process is often…

Derek:  [25:44] Right. That might be a bit ambitious for one course in a semester.

Sophie:  [25:48] I mean sometimes they actually follow through and do do 80 interviews and produce a video and a website. Like that can happen but often if they’re too ambitious then it can lead to failure because they get to the end of the semester and they realize they don’t have three weeks to spend solely on this project.

[26:10] I’ve found that with a lot of help formulating their project at the beginning that that can stave off some of that. And the other mistake or problem students can run into is they’re like “Oh Yeah, media. I’m gonna do something about media” and they get out of the realm of academic thinking and into purely pop culture.

Derek:  [26:37] OK.

Sophie:  [26:38] And so they’ll end up had a few projects that are just talking about something in pop culture and there’s not analysis.

Derek:  [26:48] They haven’t grounded it in any literature or research?

Sophie:  [26:52] Right. They make this leap from, you know, the academic topics that drive our class conversations to “This is about pop culture.”

Derek:  [27:00] Right.

Sophie:  [27:01] That’s been hard sometimes. Again, the proposal and making sure they have a research question can help stave off some of that but sometimes students just can’t think of the digital literacy piece and the academic piece together. But that’s not a super common problem.

[27:24] I know students struggle with the technology but honestly most of them figure it out. When I first started, I thought I would have to do trainings on everything and most people can figure out using a combination of YouTube and their phones [laughs] …

Derek:  [27:46] Yeah.

Sophie:  [27:48] how to create a podcast that sounds OK or how to create link of video that sounds OK.

Derek:  [27:56] Yeah. I have a teenager, and I’m always surprised at how many of her friends have YouTube channels. They’re not always that highly‑produced, but there’s some basic familiarity with how to use a camera and do some basic editing. They do often walk in with the skill set.

[28:13] By giving them the choice of a podcast or a video, if they already have some experience with one of those, they can go in that direction.

Sophie:  [28:25] Right.

Derek:  [28:24] Are there any other lessons learned as you’ve iterated this or things that you’re planning to do differently with the next version of this assignment?

Sophie:  [28:34] It’s funny. They’re contradictory, but the lessons that I’ve learned I really want to trust that they’ll figure it out and to trust that it’s going to be a useful process. When I first decided to start giving digital media assignments, I had nervousness. Is it going to be a less academically rigorous experience for them?

[28:58] You know, are they going to be so focused on the technical issues that they’ll spend less time thinking through their arguments and their theories and the literature they’re drawing on? I’ve come to see that it can almost be a better format for them to work through the literature, partly for the reasons we talked about.

[29:19] It also is really memorable for them because they… unlike a paper which has an audience of generally me…

Derek:  [29:29] There are some who call those disposable assignments. Not only does it have an audience of one, but then when she’s read it, it’s gone and nothing else comes of it.

Sophie:  [29:43] I also think it encourages innovation and research where students are really interested, and they’ve done surveys and gotten hundreds of responses, digital surveys. Or, you know, they’ve done interviews. I feel like it encourages them also to think about if they are producing knowledge, then they are thinking about, “How can I produce data as well and not just the analysis part?”

[30:10] I think I’ve learned to trust that if I give them this assignment that it will be a real learning opportunity, and they don’t need to have, like, the technical training in the class. The other thing that I’ve learned is that the parameters are really important. It’s a testing experience.

[30:32] Each semester I feel like I’ve finessed my requirements a bit more, but those parameters are really helpful too to preempt some of the mistakes that students will make.

Derek:  [30:48] There’s often some creativity that comes by working within some parameters too. On that note, maybe I’ll ask you, is there anything you can tell us about Sarah Saxton Strassberg’s piece that we shared here in the podcast, about her process or anything?

Sophie:  [31:06] Yeah. One of the approaches I’ve taken is that students, I encourage them to be creative, and their understating of the literature in their research has to show up and guide the framework of their media project but that they don’t have to be citing papers in their product. It needs to shape it, but it can be in creative ways.

[31:40] Sarah is one of the few students who actually really took that to heart and decided to take the latest literature on genetics and genetic modification into imagining what a future society might look like. It’s on the one hand very much based in the research, in genetic research, but it’s also a creative way of exploring the ethics around that.

[32:07] Taking a lot of the themes from our class around gender and inequality and imagining in a future society how genetics might end up shaping these dynamics. I really was proud of her work in both being very creative and academically rigorous.

Derek:  [32:27] That’s great. I really enjoyed it. I’ve listened to a few podcasts that are fiction podcasts that do short form fiction, and often, it’s a little speculative, a little sci‑fi. That genre can work really well as a podcast. It was really neat to see your student go in that direction and see what she could do with that.

Sophie:  [32:50] Yeah, I was really impressed with her work, and I have to say I’ve had so many students whose work has blown me away because in some ways, giving the parameters but also the freedom to pursue the project. Using their own creativity in the way that makes the most sense to them, ends up allowing them to produce really incredible projects.

Derek:  [33:13] Thanks for talking with us, Sophie. This has been really great.

Sophie:  [33:17] Thank you so much, and thanks for giving Sarah this bigger platform. She totally deserves it.

[33:26] [music]

Derek:  [33:26] That was Sophie Bjork‑James, assistant professor of the practice of anthropology at Vanderbilt University. Thanks to Sophie for speaking with me about her digital video and audio assignments and to Sarah Saxton Strassberg for being willing to share her piece, Hagar Rising, first on VandyVox and now on Leading Lines. By the time you hear this, we’ll have posted the first seven episodes of VandyVox.

[33:51] In addition to Hagar Rising, which is in episode one, we have student audio exploring names and identities of a Hispanic‑serving nonprofit in Nashville, a narrative produced for a Women and Gender Studies course called “Women Who Kill,” and an excerpt from a graduate student produced podcast taking a critical look at video games among other student work from around campus.

[34:13] Our final episode of season one, which posts later this week, featured some really amazing audio from an English major who did her senior honors thesis on podcasting. To find these episodes, search for VandyVox, all one word in your favorite podcast app, or head to VandyVox.com.

[34:31] If you visit the website, you will also find some behind the scenes information about the assignments that led to these students’ podcasts, which should be of particular interest to the Leading Lines audience. Look for a link to VandyVox in the show notes of this episode of Leading Lines.

[34:45] You’ll find those show notes as well as past episodes and transcripts on our website, Leadinglinespod.com. If you have thoughts about this episode, please share them either on the website or on Twitter where we can be found at Leadinglinespod, or via email at leadinglinespod@vanderbilt.edu.

[35:01] Leading Lines is produced by the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching, the Vanderbilt Institute for Digital Learning, the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries, and the Associate Provost for Education Development and Technologies. This episode was edited by Sarah Saxton Strassberg and Rhett McDaniel.

[35:16] Look for new episodes the first and third Monday of each month. I’m your host, Derek Bruff. Thanks for listening.

[35:21] [music]


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Sophie Bjork-James

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