Workshop Report: Digital Storytelling With Audio Primary Sources

The Educational Division is expanding its outreach efforts! This July, the Division worked with The History Project, a professional development organization at the University of California Irvine, to sponsor a digital storytelling workshop for primary and secondary school educators interested in integrating more audiovisual media into their classrooms. 

Led by Ed Division Co-Director Stephanie Sapienza, the workshop provided a general overview of the value of digital storytelling for meeting diverse educational goals—from presenting new material and alternative assignments to supporting students’ digital literacy. You can watch the full video of the presentation or directly review the presentation.

In addition to outlining a wide range of user-friendly tools for digital projects and tricks for production, the workshop supported efforts of RPTF Divisions and Caucuses by showcasing archival materials from radio collections that can be integrated into student projects as primary resources. Some of the highlights include: 

  • A reel of sample projects created with the Studs Turkel Radio Archive and the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, as well as other sources, in order to demonstrate how digital stories incorporate audio and other archival media
  • A short video guide about how to search the RPTF/ARSC Sound Collections database (about halfway through the presentation)
  • An introduction to a new online collection about pre-NPR educational radio, Unlocking the Airwaves

All of the resources discussed in the workshop (tools, audio collections, articles and guides) can be found here.

screenshot of the resource guide

This spreadsheet-style document is organized with a list of archival materials, storytelling tools, tutorials related to research and production, and recommended readings. We are constantly updating our stable of resources for educators; if you have suggestions for additions, please let us know! In the near future, we plan to have these resources and more available on this website. 

The second half of the workshop consisted of several focus groups asking participants about their interest and experience with audiovisual media in the classroom.

The Education Division Executive Committee led these focus groups and we are delighted to report that educators in primary, secondary, and museum settings are interested in utilizing more audio. It is clear that many educators have some experience with digital projects, but for the most part, teachers use video. The most prominent uses for audio come in the form of learning activities where students record each other, conduct interviews with family (e.g. oral histories), provide voiceover narration, and/or collect sounds of their communities. In other words, radio and other auditory archival sources are underutilized, falling under the radar for various reasons ranging from not even knowing such material exists to being too overwhelmed to figure out how to integrate into existing and new curricula. Nevertheless, the focus group participants expressed strong interest in audio in order to broaden the scope of students’ understanding of primary sources as well as additional opportunities for digital projects. 

Across the focus groups, participants stressed five major points that we find are beneficial for the RPTF to keep in mind as we develop our education outreach. 

  1. The span of time for students’ attention and teachers’ lessons. Short audio clips are best if students are to listen to them in the classroom. A podcast or audio source that is 20 minutes long is too challenging to hold everyone’s attention and taxing on the teacher to keep stopping the audio for discussion. One focus group suggested that nine minutes was the max for a video, so likely that might mean the max for audio, or even shorter.  

  2. Desirable kinds of resources. How can we make it easier for teachers to integrate audio? Many of the answers we received to this question focused on the following suggestions for learning activities: 
  • Already have selected audio clips, with timecodes and possibly also captions to follow along 
  • Provide an accompanying discussion guide and/or lesson plan. Even a short set of questions will make it more likely that an educator will use audiovisual materials.  
  • If the audio source also has a parallel or related video source, which offers the opportunity to, for example, set up stations where students explore the same topic through different media and activities, gallery walk, etc.
  • Link to teaching standards that educators are required to follow and can incorporate into their year-end reports  
  • Provide PowerPoints with student-directed instructions for facilitating the lesson, along with the activity’s end-goals. This cuts valuable time for teachers in both planning and execution.
  • Develop assessment guides, especially geared towards critical listening and how to evaluate digital projects
  1. Future workshops about tools as well as existing databases. There is definitely value in holding such workshops! There is an in interest in workshops – for students and for teachers – to train them to use tools and develop creative work. One participant floated the idea that maybe if we can teach some students how to utilize audio sources and create digital projects, that then the student can create tutorials to share with other students. Aside from the nuts-and-bolts of how to produce, there is the interest in how to find and navigate archival resources. One participant suggested that if they were first made aware of a particular resource (e.g. AAPB), that then they would like a workshop with some guidance but more so, the chance to ask questions. 

  2. Accessibility. Access to technology in primary and secondary education is challenging – arguably more so than at the college level. For example, some schools exclusively use Chromebooks, which constrains opportunities for production. Some schools and programs may have some tools for audio recording and production, but overall, it is hard to assign projects that feature recording, downloading, and/or editing audio. There is also, of course, the issue of internet speeds in both school and home settings. One participant noted that their school’s WiFi blocks certain websites. In another sense of accessibility, participants emphasized that supportive materials should be targeted at people at all levels of familiarity and dexterity with digital tools and research practices. 

  3. Community. Many of the teachers wanted to find ways to use digital tools to help students connect to, learn about, and honor the diverse communities from which they hail and to better understand their own families and backgrounds. Some participants drew the connection to audio primary sources as opportunities for English language learners as well as Spanish language learners. One participant recommended that it would be great to be aware of the location of and how to use local and regional archives, or even a guide for how to use regional radio stations as a primary source. 

This event was the first of a number of workshops to be offered by the RPTF Education Division and will guide our efforts to develop useful resources for educators.

Please get in touch with us at rptfeducation@gmail.com if you want to participate in future workshops, contribute to the creation of lesson plans, help create guides for archival collections relevant to teachers, and/or have additional feedback about what would be useful for integrating sound into classroom lessons and assignments.

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