Storytelling in higher education

Stories are a big part of my life.  In my professional career as a radio news journalist, I wrote stories constantly (and rewrote other people’s!)  And at home, my two young daughters love listening to stories, reading stories and writing stories.

Stories are how we make sense of the world.  They help us to formulate our thoughts and rationalise them to ourselves.  They’re how we relate experiences and events to other people.  We’re usually very good at storytelling in conversations, but we’re often less keen to write them down!

Stories have structure – a beginning, middle and an end – not necessarily in that order.  There’s some kind of a journey or process or transformation.  There are characters with different viewpoints.

My natural milieu for storytelling is the spoken word – very flat, black and white, non-visual, low-tech.  Julia’s form of storytelling is all about images and action.  Rob’s stories come to life through music and movement.  But what would happen if we all swapped?  How would that affect our stories?  Would they end up in the same place?

Now, thanks to the abundance of (mostly free) online tools for digital storytelling we can all try different, unfamiliar media for telling our stories.  I’m not arty or techy but digital technology helps me at least have a go at using images, video, animation and explore a whole new, richer side of storytelling.

It enables me to reach out to a whole new audience.

In the last year or so, Iv’e become a big fan of curation.  I use Storify which allows you to pull together all the content (text, images, video, audio) about a certain subject which people have shared on social media.  I can then choose the bits that interest me most and incorporate them into my own story in a way which acknowledges the original photographer or commenter.  I add background, context, narrative.  When you publish, Storify gives you the option to share your Storify with the people whose contributions you used – which can start a whole new conversation!

Curating appeals to me because it enables me to see an event through the eyes of lots of different people with first hand experience of it.  So much better than just using my own memory and a couple of photos I took.

And that is probably the most important aspect of storytelling and why it could be so useful in teaching.  Storytelling enables us to see a situation from a different character’s viewpoint.  Perhaps they could help us see situations from our students’ perspective…..

In a couple of weeks’ time, my 1st year students have their first Newsdays – a simulation of an actual newsroom where they have to output live news bulletins.  They are usually nervous, unsure, reluctant to volunteer and the first one usually goes a bit wrong because they haven’t prepared enough.  But they end up loving it and usually tell us the news days are the highpoint of the whole module!  “I finally get radio now,” one student told me.

How can I convey this to my students?  Well, I’m a teacher and the way university teachers communicate with their students is through bullet points, right?  I should write a list of bullet points:-

  1. Thou shalt do this…..
  2. Thou shalt not do this….

But maybe there’s another way.  Bullet points are all about how I see the Newsdays rather than how the students see them.  Perhaps I should turn things around and try to get inside the head of a student facing their first Newsday?  So this is how I ended up doing it…

What do you think?  Too cheesy?
I don’t know but I’m glad I gave it a go.  It’s up on Blackboard for the students to see.
And once they’ve done their Newsdays, I’m going to suggest they produce their own Strips of how they saw the experience.

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