Audio Astra: Farmers saving water, virtual reality med school and other surprising sounds

A rundown of the week in Kansas audio news

May 28, 2021 3:33 am

A recent Up to Date podcast featured an interview with a professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, where students are using virtual reality to learn what it feels like to be a patient. (KU School of Medicine-Wichita)

Audio Astra will review recent audio reporting on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio stories. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

In the coming weeks, I look forward to showcasing reporting from the previous week. In this first installment of Audio Astra, however, I have the luxury of spotlighting podcasts from the past few weeks, which is a privilege because there are a few noteworthy episodes to review.

First, though, I’ll direct readers to the Kansas Reflector podcast, in this case the May 17 edition in which Kansas Department of Health and Environment secretary Lee Norman has a refreshingly informal conversation with host Tim Carpenter. Norman discusses the personal impact of managing the state’s response to COVID-19, starting with the state’s first case.

As Kansas Groundwater Dries Up, Experts Look To Farmers To Conserve
NPR’s Here and Now, May 19

This is a terrifying story each time it is told: The Ogallala Aquifer, a multistate water source, is shrinking.

“More than half of the water supply is already gone,” David Condos of the Kansas News Service reports.

The intervention? Technology, and lots of it. We hear about “precision agriculture” guided by GPS and other computer technology aimed at efficiently using the water that is left in the aquifer. Because, as Condos reports, more than half of the water used at the start of irrigation decades ago was lost to evaporation.

But Condos’ sources say innovation doesn’t come quickly in agriculture, so advocates are helping to show that “saving water makes money.” One hopeful development: In one part of the state, farmers who had a goal of reducing water use by 20% exceeded it with a 31% reduction.

KU School Of Medicine-Wichita Teaches Empathy With Virtual Reality
KCUR’s Up To Date, May 25, 2021

Brian Ellison hosts this interview with Tiffany Schwasinger-Schmidt, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita.

Schwasinger-Schmidt relates how her teaching stresses “service” to the community, but also the tension that doctors often feel to see many patients (too many?) in their daily work. That tension between service and what doctors can personally manage has never been more salient during our lifetimes than this year of the pandemic. Schwasinger-Schmidt describes students who have been denied the experience that they hoped for: to be in a fully in-person medical school environment.

Virtual reality, however, aims to teach students how it feels to suffer from particular conditions. How do people with Alzheimer’s disease experience memory loss? How does it feel to hallucinate? To relate to their patients, doctors need empathy. Virtual reality hopes to teach students how it feels to be the patient.

Kansas City School District Retires Offensive Native American Mascots
NPR’s All Things Considered, May 21

In a story that got picked up nationally, KCUR’s Jodi Fortino covers the recent changes of mascot names within the Shawnee Mission School District, most notably the elimination of the “Indian” as the team name for Shawnee Mission North High School. Kansas Rep. Christina Haswood, a Democrat from Lawrence, tells a personal story about when she was a high school basketball player and four fellow American Indian teammates competed against Shawnee Mission North.

“We felt like we were mocked,” she remembers. “So now to see the youth after us being in high school really take this and lead this change has been really great to see.”

The report poses a more expansive question: What about city names and school district names that include “Shawnee?” Will those names be changed? Should they be changed?

A Cheerleader, a Snapchat Post and the Supreme Court
The New York Times “The Daily,” May 25, 2021

When not listening to podcasts, my work life is largely spent encouraging young voices to speak up. So, I am kind of obsessed with a particular blurry and moving line in American life: What can students say and when can adults step in — and how? I would argue that we all should be obsessed with this question.

This episode, moderated by Kevin Roose, hinges on an interview with the New York Times’ Supreme Court expert Adam Liptak. He relays the story of a high school cheerleader who posted a Snapchat message that expressed her frustration with not making the cheerleading team, using colorful language that my kids would call “F” bombs. The school suspended her from the team for a year, even though the post was not sent from school grounds.

While I have been tracking this legal case closely, the conversation helpfully filled in the nuance and predicted how the court will rule. To me, it’s a must-listen episode for any parent, teenager or school administrator, but not because it neatly answers the question of how to handle students who speak up against a school on social media. Instead, the podcast acknowledges how messy this area of law and modern life is — and will continue to be.

For episodes that can be linked via Spotify, please visit our weekly playlist.

What did we miss? Email [email protected] to let us know of a Kansas-based audio program that would be interesting to Audio Astra readers.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.