Week 1: Why Storytelling

It's finally here! Our first semester with college students! We are so excited. Quick reminder: our Interdisciplinary Innovations Fund grant required that we transition the program so that it benefitted Mizzou students. We were trying to figure out how to recruit and retain college students when I proposed the class as a course in the Honors College. It was accepted, so now we're teaching Making Waves as a 1030H course. It's a two credit class for first year college students in the Honors College from all majors. We meet on Thursday mornings. 

On the morning of our first class, we met our students at our assigned classroom in the Arts & Science building. While I love Mizzou and have a degree from A&S, the A&S building kind of sucks, all fluorescent lights and uncomfy squeaky desks and linoleum floors. So I used grant money to rent a conference room in the Student Center to use as our classroom. The conference room has big squishy chairs around a big rectangular oak table that fits us all perfectly and facilitates group discussion. The change in location makes a HUGE difference, in my opinion. So the first thing we did on the first day of class was move everyone over to our new classroom in the Student Center. 

We started the class off by introducing ourselves, and then asking each student to introduce themselves to the group. Just simple stuff: name, major, year in school, hometown, and why they were in the class. Then we told them a little about Making Waves - how it started, how it used to be a high school project, why we love it, how and why we focus on audio storytelling and social issues. We talked about the statement that has, in the past two years, become our mantra: "Truth-telling is a radical act of courage, and listening is a radical act of empathy." 

Next we went page by page through the syllabus. It feels so good to have a fully-formed syllabus that we're proud of. Since we've been teaching this class for more than a year, we had all the content, but it wasn't until about three weeks ago that we had it all written down in its best version on one comprehensive Google Doc. It's exciting. We told them about the two big projects, and we explained a grading scale (that is so arbitrary and made up). A bullet point on our slide about the grading scale said Grade = Passion. We said "Put a little bit of your heart into this, and you'll get the grade." 

Our guiding question this week was "How does storytelling shape the way we see the world?" Reflecting on this guiding question now, it doesn't totally make sense. But whatever, everybody got what I meant. To dive into our guiding question, we did a story-sharing activity. A week before our first class, we emailed everyone to welcome them to the class, and we asked them to think of a story that was important to them to share with the rest of the group. We had each student go around and share a short story, and then talk about why that story was important to them. It was suuuuper cool. Their stories were awesome. I think it was a good move to have them think about it beforehand so they weren't put on the spot. We talked about how the stories helped us get to know each other better immediately, even though we were all strangers. We talked about the importance of storytelling, and we talked about being excited about telling stories over the course of the semester. 

Then we watched a StoryCorps video from an interview with Studs Terkel. It's 2 minutes long and it's awesome. Studs asks, "What happened to the sound of the human voice?" It's really cute, and leads into a conversation about audio and "voice." 

After our conversation about "the power of the human voice," we watched a video Michaela made for HoJo (History of Journalism) about KBIA and the Public Broadcasting Act. It basically orients them to the history of public media, and we had a discussion about the medium and industry itself, and what makes it different (and better than all other media). 

We wrapped up by talking about using the Google Drive, how to access podcasts from their phones, and how we'll send them a weekly email with the homework to help keep them on track (and since we anticipate changes to the syllabus). For homework, they're doing a handful of great things. One is filling out a Google Doc that asks them a bunch of questions, one of which is "Is there anything we should know about you to help us make this class great for you?" I think this question allows students to disclose any kind of mental health/disability/issue that might come up during the semester, and I'm glad it's a confidential question we ask on the first day. They're also listening to old Making Waves stories. But the homework I'm most excited about are their audio diaries. They're each recording a one minute audio diary that tells us something about them. We'll share them in class next week. The assignment will get them thinking about sounds in their life, and also work as a "get-to-know-you activity." We're pumped.