September 22, 2023
Learning and Research

Digital Storytelling

New podcasting class takes students on a familial journey

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.

“Students appear to be eager to take this kind of course,” she said. “I plan to teach CMDM 220 in the Li Room in the fall to be close in proximity to the new recording space in the reconfigured Morris Lounge. Once ready, I will have students use it for recording their interviews and editing/mixing their final audio files. I’m eager to see new energy on campus around audio, including a revival of WUSO as an online streaming radio station with a new multi-media advisor.  Exciting things are ahead in this area.”

WUSO, 89.1 FM, "The 'Berg" will soon be up and running again for students to gain valuable knowledge. An internet-only digital radio and podcast studio, WUSO will be stationed in one side of the remodeled Morris Lounge in the Benham-Pence Student Center as renovations are nearing completion. Students will be able to use the space for projects like Waggoner’s podcasting class. The other side of Morris Lounge will remain meeting space that can be reserved.

Waggoner also mentioned that National Public Radio (NPR) has a contest for college podcasters in the fall – the NPR College Podcast Challenge. She hopes to have her students enter the contest and perhaps even collaborate with students in a music class taught by Brandon Jones, professor and chair of music.

“Wouldn’t it be exciting to have Wittenberg students’ work showcased on a national level? I can just hear them now,” Waggoner said.

To listen to the 10-part “Forging Families’” series, click here. After listening, send feedback to Waggoner at

Forging Families
Students in this course tackled the art of Digital Storytelling: learning the elements of the narrative arc; interviewing others; drawing stories from those interviews; and editing all of this into an audio file with narration, music, and other sound effects.
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Cindy Holbrook
Cindy Holbrook
Senior Communications Assistant

About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

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