This past Sunday afternoon, the Digital Liberal Arts Lab (DLab) was filled with students from Assistant Professor Patrick Inglis’ tutorial, The Presentation of Self in Digital Life, busy at work. For their latest assignment, students were tasked with creating a podcast that profiled a community organization in Grinnell devoted to social justice and change. Creating a podcast required them to think about how to present an argument and then tell that story in a nontraditional way, coordinate and collaborate amongst themselves and outside partners, and learn a new technical skill in the process.

“For this assignment,” Inglis explained, “I wanted students to actively engage with more of the technology and hardware of digital media. I chose podcasts because in the past decade they have become a more popular way of encouraging dialogue and conversation and a means of presenting the self in digital life.”

Sunday’s afternoon activity in the DLab closed out a busy weekend focused on new media at Grinnell. On Friday, Veronica Pejril, the Interim Director of Instructional and Learning Services of DePauw University, led a student workshop, “ ‘So you want to start a podcast?’ Publishing Spoken-Word and Oral Histories with New Media.” Approximately thirty students attended this workshop.

Among the students at Friday’s workshop was Elise Brod ’20 who attended because she is interested in starting a Grinnellian podcast along with Zane Silk ’20. “Neither of us have any background in podcasting,” Brod explained, “and we were hoping to get some baseline information just to jumpstart our process.” Pejril’s workshop, Brod added, “was really helpful for me. She did a great job of getting the breadth of all you needed to know without getting too detailed into any one topic. Overall, I really liked it.”

Saturday morning faculty from Grinnell and the University of Iowa attended a second workshop led by Pejril, “Digital Storytelling: Transcending Text with New Media”. “I attended the workshop for two reasons,” said attendee Professor Shuchi Kapila, “to learn how to use digital storytelling assignments in my courses and to think about creating digital stories from my own ethnographic research. I also found much food for thought in the excellent discussion we had about the social justice aspect of using visual materials in storytelling. Alerting students to how we use people’s stories and represent them ethically is a very important part of the education we impart as humanists.” 

Both events were co-sponsored by the Digital Liberal Arts Collaborative, Digital Bridges for Humanistic Inquiry, the Center for the Humanities, and the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights.

The past few years has seen a marked increase in faculty developing assignments that engage students with developing the new media literacies that are essential to a twenty-first century liberal arts education. For example, students in Associate Professor Andi Tracy’s neuroscience senior seminar last fall used iMovie to create public service announcements for their peers based on their research into sleep. Last spring, students working on the Grinnell Religious Diversity Project produced podcasts based on their research.

“Students are communicating using new media all the time,” said Assistant Professor John Petrus who also attended the digital storytelling workshop. “It’s become part of the way they interact with the world, so any way we can harness these tools to have ethical and academic conversations and ways to present research is extremely positive.”

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