What makes a family? What kinds of stories do we pass down about our families—either ones we are born into or ones we create ourselves, our “found” families? What impacts do these stories have on our sense of family?
These questions and others inspired students in the first digital storytelling course at Wittenberg taught by Catherine Waggoner, professor of communication & digital media. In the podcast-focused course, participants tackled the art of storytelling by taking up their recorders in search of family tales that resulted in a 10-part series titled “Forging Families.” The series takes a close-up look at all aspects of families, from uplifting twin and birth stories to horrific but courageous accounts of refugee families and familial bonds.
“As someone who studies rhetoric and cultural studies, I’ve long been interested in storytelling, intrigued by questions such as ‘what makes a good story?’ and ‘what functions do stories serve in our everyday life beyond entertainment?’ We know we use narratives to inspire ourselves and others, to promote ideas and concepts, to teach life lessons, to build bridges across differences, and to solidify our identities as individuals and community members,” Waggoner said. “Stories are particularly powerful when they are heard and not just read; I wanted to explore the power of orality in a manner beyond face-to-face contexts.”
Since her department is committed to the study of digital media, Waggoner thought that podcasting would be a natural fit for this interest.
“Narrative-based podcasts such as ‘This American Life’ are increasing in popularity, and I thought: Can I learn to do narrative podcasting, and then, can I teach students to do this?” she said. “The knowledge of narrative theories, the practice in interviewing others and creating stories from interviews, and the technological skills used in audio recording, editing, and mixing will serve students well in their personal and professional lives after Wittenberg. I quickly found out that learning narrative-based podcasting and then teaching a class on it within a short time frame is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and yet the challenge has been rewarding on many levels. There are so many good stories out there just waiting to be shared!”
Waggoner hopes to offer the class each fall, but it will depend upon the needs of the department and students. Because the class is project-based, it was capped at 20 students, and there was a waitlist for the inaugural offering. The class is available this fall 2023, and again, it closed quickly with a waitlist. This year’s theme will be different, so stay tuned.