Brenna Clarke Gray says… You Got This!
By Amplify Network Date: February 21, 2022 Tags: Podcasting
Amplified is an audio blog series taking us behind the scenes at the Amplify Podcast Network to explore the different ways our team is reimagining the sound of scholarship. This month we go behind the scenes to learn more about the You Got This! podcast from Brenna Clarke Gray, Amplify project collaborator and Coordinator of Educational Technologies at Thompson Rivers University. Brenna and I sit down over Zoom to talk about the podcast and what vulnerability and embodiment can offer to our current state of teaching and learning in the post-secondary system.
Stacey Copeland: Welcome to Amplified a podcast about the sounds of scholarship from our team here at the Amplify podcast network. I’m your host and the project manager here at Amplify, Stacey Copeland. At universities across the globe, COVID 19 has brought significant changes to how we teach, learn and do research navigating questions of remote learning, education, technology and both physical and mental health has become an everyday experience. These drastic shifts online and at home also brought to the forefront conversations of what counts as scholarship. And what it means to be doing critical and community engaged research in these times, and in fact, these conversations brought a new attention to podcasting not only as a teaching tool, but as a space of community building and critical conversation as campus buildings remain closed and in-person events cancelled. Amongst all of these new teaching and learning podcasts that have sprung up over the past few years of the pandemic, a favourite of mine comes from a small, tight knit university in Kamloops, B.C., a podcast hosted by none other than our very own amplified collaborator and edtech extraordinaire, Brenna Clarke Gray. On this episode, Brenna and I sit down over Zoom to talk about her podcast. You got this and what vulnerability and embodiment can offer to the current state of teaching and learning in our post-secondary system.
All right, so I’m here with Brenna Clarke Gray, who is one of our podcasters with the Amplify podcast network. And we’re going to talk a bit about, you know, what is it about podcasting that really draws Brenna in and keeps her coming back to continue to make more podcasts? (laughs)
Brenna Clarke Gray: So many podcasts!
Stacey Copeland: Yeah, so thanks so much for joining me, Brenna. I’d love if you could introduce yourself and your role with Amplify to get us started.
Brenna Clarke Gray: Sure. So my name is Brenna Clarke Gray and I’m coordinator of Educational Technologies at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C.. My role on the Amplify Podcast Network is I’m one of the four podcasters and I’m creating a show called Community of Praxis, which is teaching and learning podcast targeted at higher ed folks. But I think applicable to most people who are even interested in education. We talk to big thinkers in the field and then try to pull apart those theories and really target what’s applicable. Or at least that’s the plan. Halfway through, we’re working on it.
Stacey Copeland: Yeah, in the deep depths of production and feedback at this point. And then could you tell me a bit about your role with Thompson Rivers University?
Brenna Clarke Gray: Yeah. So I started here in August of 2019, so it’s a faculty support role. I help faculty use technology most effectively in their classrooms. But what’s nice about it, from my perspective, as someone with a big mouth, is that it’s a tenure track faculty role as well, which means that I also get to spend time writing and publishing and talking about sort of practice in higher ed. And particularly, I’m very interested in thinking about educational technology support as a kind of care work and about things like good data security and good data privacy and the way we treat student intellectual property. I see all of those things as ways we enact care over the students who don’t have a choice, whether they use the tools that we offer them or not. You know, I hear a lot of my colleagues at other institutions who don’t have that protection of the faculty space. They don’t get to be kind of as outspoken on issues as I have the privilege to be. And so I take that really seriously, but I also really enjoy it. I enjoy getting the opportunity to, you know, critique the institutional structure and the way we do technology, which I don’t think is great. Most of the time.
Stacey Copeland: So yeah, and I mean, that’s I think a lot of the heart and a lot of the questions that you are bringing into Community of Praxis and definitely what I can hear in the you got this series that you’re doing too. So I mean, outside of our work together with the Amplify, you are quite a busy, prominent voice in edtech and also on Twitter. For anyone who doesn’t follow Brenna on Twitter and you do a lot of podcasting! Ao you have your young adult literature podcast, Hazel&Katniss&Harry&Starr. And then you also have another podcast through Thompson Rivers University called You Got This! exclamation point, which tells a lot about what it’s about, which is like teaching and learning encouragement and support, which I think is very needed right now.
Stacey Copeland: So I’d love to hear more about the You Got This! project in particular today, because in listening to it, I can hear a ton of resonances with what we’re trying to do with the Amplify project too in asking questions firstly about what it means to be doing research today. And secondly, what podcasting maybe can offer to the university community as a space of critical engagement. So I’d love to hear more about the podcast from your insider view, Brenna, and maybe more on how and why it all got started.
Brenna Clarke Gray: Yeah, thank you. Because it’s really it’s the best part of my job making that podcast, and I really value the time that I spend on it and the kind of community that it’s been able to build. So the genesis of it was, you know, when the pandemic first hit, we were like all hands on deck. We’re very small learning a technology support team supporting a campus that is like traditionally not super interested in online modalities. We have a five hundred faculty complement of that, only about a third were using Moodle in any kind of significant way, like using it to do any kind of assessment or – Moodle is what we call learning management system. Other examples that you see at other institutions Canvas, Brightspace. These are like teaching and learning kind of platforms. And so the learning curve for those other two thirds was huge because it wasn’t like, Here you go. You can test out a few little features and get your feet wet. It was like, No, this is your modality now, and you need to learn it. So we spent that summer really engaging in what we call digital pedagogy summer camp. So it was like lots of sessions we were doing, like, I think, three workshops a week with over 100 people at every single one, and it was a really lively time. And then we were leaning into the fall and we knew that the workload for our unit was going to be too high when full numbers came back to campus.
For us to maintain that level of programming, it was just not sustainable. But I also had really come to value the community of summer camp. You know, people would like log into sessions early to chat first, and we gave out these like digital badges for all the sessions that were super cheesy and it was just like a really fun, playful environment. And I was worried that we would lose that when we hit the real workload of the fall, both for us and for the faculty we support. And so around right around that time, I was like, I think we should do a podcast like, I think that that would be a way to stay connected to our community. It would be a way to highlight the exciting, good, positive work that’s happening on campus. It would be a safe place to talk about the troubles and the struggles people were having, but we wouldn’t need them to come to us at a specific time to have those conversations. We could meet them where they were at, and my boss was like, ‘We absolutely don’t have time to do a podcast, but OK.’ Which is generally how he deals with everything I come up with. And so, yeah, we just ran with it. And it’s been really fun because the structure of the show is that every week I have like a little mini essay, which is usually meant to be either sort of encouraging around teaching practice or acknowledging that we’re in a particularly difficult moment and trying to tease that through.
And then I do an interview, a feature interview with someone who’s in our community, and all of the guests have been TRU employees or students. And it’s been really fun because first of all, I’ve gotten to know people across campus in a way that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to previously. And it’s just been really nice to celebrate the really good work people are doing through this really hard time. And yeah, that’s the exclamation mark is important because at its core, even when we’re talking about tough issues on You Got This!, which you know, we certainly do, we don’t shy away from. There’s a pretty big controversy on our campus around our senior management team right now. We don’t shy away from those issues on the show. But the tone is one of you can do this. We can do this. We’re a community. We’re supporting each other. It’s like celebratory and encouraging. And I think that’s what we needed. This past September, when we were transitioning back to face to face, it was kind of like, Well, do we keep the show going? And I ultimately decided to with the change in focus of it not being about this pivot, but instead making it about how do we sustain community through this really difficult time?
Stacey Copeland: Yeah. Even though you’re making it for the TRU community, a lot of the topics are very applicable to literally anyone at any university at this particular point in life, especially if you’re moving from, you know, working at home and working through COVID transitions at universities. There’s a lot of really great conversations happening, and I was just listening to your overcoming apathy episode, which is just, you. It’s one of those rare moments where we get the featuring just Brenna moments. You know, you hear this in your more personal podcast with your friend Joe, Hazel&Katniss&Harry&Starr, but it’s a bit more unique to hear someone being so open and honest about where they’re at in life in a podcast that’s made within the university institution. So I was curious to hear, you know? More about that decision of really opening yourself up and being honest in this space within the confines of the university community.
Brenna Clarke Gray: Yeah, it’s a choice. I really strive to achieve a level of vulnerability. You know, everything is like a performance of one’s identity, right? There are like only certain aspects we show in different places. But I do think that when you work in faculty support, the least useful thing you can be is perfect because people need a foothold into asking for support. Asking for support is really hard to do and teaching is this strange beast because on the one hand, it’s obviously a very public performance. You look, you are out there and you are teaching and you have no control really over who’s paying a ticket to come in and see you do your thing. So it’s very public, but it’s also deeply, profoundly personal the choices we make in the classroom. They say a lot about who we are as people and what we value and asking for help with that, especially in a post-secondary context where it’s like most of us have no training, right? Most of us are not trained educators. We are subject matter experts and someone just decided that subject matter experts should be good teachers based on nothing. It’s this very strange thing. And so to then ask for support with that, with this skill set that you’re supposed to just kind of have and that is so personal, like, that’s hard.
And so I’ve always taken it really seriously. The power that vulnerability has to make that safer for folks to come and ask for help. It sounds weird to say it’s like a calculated decision, but it is. Ultimately, it’s a choice that I make to be open about the things that I struggle with because I think it has value for others. I did sort of halfway through the pandemic, kind of look at my body of work in the last couple of years and realise, like at some point, just like performing my shortcomings on the internet became like my scholarly practise. Which is kind of a weird place to be, as I know I’m about to approach going up for tenure, and that’s a little bit scary because I can articulate to you what I think the value is, but much like the work that we’re doing with Amplify, we can articulate the value of it. Will the institution respond back in kind like we don’t know yet? And I also don’t know yet if the institution will see the value that I see in the power of vulnerability. I don’t know. It’s a risk, but I think it’s a worthwhile one.
Stacey Copeland: This is what I think is most exciting about your work. And in following you on Twitter, you get a taste of that, but you get kind of the full meal of it with the podcast, right? So –
Brenna Clarke Gray: It’s a lot of Brenna (laughs)
Stacey Copeland: Yeah, you know (laughs) go check Brenna out on Twitter, you can get a taste of it and then jump into the you got this podcast for the full for the full meal. I also am very interested in ethics of care and what it means to bring your own position positionally the particular context we’re in and bring that into critiquing the institution that we’re working in. So of course, this would apply, and I would be excited to listen to it, but I think I think this kind of conversation is perfect for this moment and long overdue. The COVID-19 scenario, I think, brought a lot of this out for other folks who weren’t initially interested in ideas of care and initially interested in vulnerability and mental health in the university space in the same way. Beyond, you know, the one-hour weekly yoga or the one-hour free mental health workshop each term, but having more ongoing, fruitful conversations with each other. How has the feedback been with the You Got This! podcast so far?
Brenna Clarke Gray: It’s been really positive. I think, you know, you said earlier that you listen even though you’re outside of the true community. And I think that that has been the surprise to me. I would say half of our listenership, you know, we get about like two hundred listeners a week and about half of them are coming from outside of TRU, which I just find awesome. I think especially for teaching faculty and for staff members within the university. There are not a lot of opportunities for people to see you and see the work you do, especially outside of the institution. And you know, our institutions don’t do a great job of celebrating that work anyway. So for me, it’s been wonderful to see the uptake outside of the institution because all of these stories should be known and known more widely. But in general, the work I do, you know, whether it’s writing about the failures of the institution in this moment. And I mean, that is like the institution sort of writ large as a structure across the sector or being open about things like I have experienced three miscarriages during the pandemic and talking about what an impact that has on my ability to work and what healing has looked like for me. And, you know, all of those kinds of things, I’m not sure what compels me always to speak. Sometimes it feels like, a mistake in the moment, but the feedback is always really generous, and people are always, really grateful to hear those conversations happening somewhere.
And we’re sold this notion when we’re grad students in particular, we really get treated like we’re supposed to be brains in jars. Like, there is no embodied experience of the intellectual right? Like it’s all happening in our brains and everything else is extraneous and should be cast aside, you know, and the whole post-secondary sector is built on, like, don’t have families, don’t have friends, move as often as required, do whatever you have to do to be appealing to an institution and that has only ever historically worked for a very small subset of the population. You know that brain in jar idea of unacceptable body in the university, it’s not a disabled body, it’s not a depressed body. It’s not a postpartum body. It’s not a pregnant body, it’s not a bereaved body. It’s a it’s a very specific person who can do that, and I’m really over it. I just I also think that the most interesting work often comes from a place of embodiment. And I think that if our work doesn’t reflect back on our humanity, particularly those of us who work in the Humanities and they don’t actually understand the point of it. And so, you know, I guess at a certain point, I just um I just stopped caring about that ideal and started trying to construct a different ideal.
Stacey Copeland: I love that and it makes a lot of sense, you know, hearing how much you want to really prioritise the embodied experience of being a scholar and working in these spaces, it makes a lot of sense that you came to podcasting. (laughs) I feel like that’s a thing a lot of podcasters in the university sector are excited about is these kinds of conversations that you get to have and being more personal and getting to know people as whole beings rather than just as scholars.
Brenna Clarke Gray: I think about the ways in which we can capture embodiment in a podcast in a way that doesn’t capture on the page nearly so readily. You know, I’ve had people in an interview setting like you can hear them getting upset about something that they’re talking about, or you can hear them swelling with pride and we can describe those things on the page. But the immediate connexion that we feel and the intimacy of audio means that, that moment is all the more pronounced in a podcast. And I really value those moments because again, traditionally and I do think it’s changing and I don’t think I’m the person changing it, there’s a whole movement of people who are pushing back and changing it.
Stacey Copeland: Of course, yeah.
Brenna Clarke Gray: But I think that that change feels, I mean, it feels so necessary. And there’s something about podcasting, you know, like, I just think about how I listen to podcasts, even scholarly ones. I don’t listen to a scholarly podcast at my desk with a pen. I listen to a scholarly podcast like in bed or on a walk or while I’m doing the dishes. And that really changes my relationship to the work. And it changes my relationship to the person doing the work. And I think that those are all things that need interrogation. But at their core, I think they’re also all a really necessary shift in the way we think about what scholarship can be.
Stacey Copeland: I think that’s a great place to leave it off right there.
Brenna Clarke Gray: Thanks, Stacey, this was super fun.
Stacey Copeland: Yeah, thanks so much for taking the time.
Thank you for listening to our audio blog series. You can, of course, follow Brenna on Twitter at and you can check out the You Got This! Podcast at yougotthis.trubox.ca. I’ll make sure to put both of those links in our show notes. In our conversation today, we only just hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to conversations on vulnerability and podcast scholarship. So if you have comments or want to take this conversation further, or if you have ideas of who we should talk to next or topics to cover, please do reach out. We’d love to hear from you. We also have some new voices coming to Amplified in the months to come, so make sure to stay tuned for more episodes of Amplified behind the scenes of scholarly podcasting from our team here at Amplify Podcast Network.
Brenna Clarke Gray is Coordinator, Educational Technologies at Thompson Rivers University, where her research interests include the history and future of open tenure processes and the role of care and care work in the practice of educational technology. Prior to her transition to faculty support, she spent nine years as a community college English professor and comics scholar, and has published extensively on Canadian comics and representations of Canada in mainstream American comic books. She holds a PhD in Canadian Literature from the University of New Brunswick. Outside of the academy’s walls, Brenna co-hosts Hazel&Katniss&Harry&Starr, a podcast about young adult literature and film adaptation, and plays the role of a public intellectual on Twitter, when you can find her @brennacgray.
Banner Background image from Unsplash
Brenna on Twitter at @brennacgray
You Got This! Podcast: yougotthis.trubox.ca